Don't run away! We're not about to ram another trendy diet down your throat. In this age of the extreme slim-down method du jour, the Healthy Living faculty at Kripalu proposes something that you might find shocking: There's a way to completely turn around your eating habits that has nothing to do with carbs, Paleo, or juicing. Really.
By re-conceptualizing how you approach food and making practical arrangements that facilitate the best choices every day, you can train your metabolism to hum along at a rate that keeps your BMI stable, decreases your risk of disease and gives you tons of energy to boot. You're also likely to lose weight and keep it off—seriously, there's more junk on your plate right now than you realize. Here's how it works.
1. Eat food that hasn't been turned into something else.
The items in your cart at the grocery store should look a lot like they did in nature—not processed into Pop Tarts or frozen burritos. By eating whole foods, you gain pure, important nutrients and avoid all the excess sugar, fat and other additives typically found in processed food. Whole foods also tend to be less calorie-dense, meaning you can eat more of them without overdoing it. You'd have to eat 50 fresh strawberries to take in the number of calories in a toaster pastry of the same flavor (but you'll probably get full before then).
All it takes is some mindfulness—to get started, you might want to try a mindful eating meditation. By the way: It seems counterintuitive, but nixing processed "convenience" foods can actually be a real time saver. You won't believe how many supermarket aisles you get to skip when you follow this tip!
2. Redefine "sugar substitute"
When you see that phrase, you think Splenda, right? We're not going there. Artificial sweeteners aren't the answer to a healthier diet. In fact, a new study suggests that these sweet-simulating chemicals might work against our efforts to get healthy by messing with the body's ability to regulate blood sugar. That can lead to weight gain and even diabetes.
But there's a whole world of real, whole-food sugar substitutes right under our noses. We're talking about fruit. Sprinkling blueberries over your French toast instead of syrup, or swapping things like applesauce, pureed prunes or mashed bananas for the sugar in your favorite baking recipes, helps you cut down on the refined sweet stuff while increasing your intake of fiber and antioxidants. Many of our program participants share with us that this tip helps retrain their flavor preferences, so eventually they start gravitating to apples and clementines for dessert instead of ice cream.
3. Discover life beyond olive oil
Of course there's nothing wrong with olive oil—delicious, versatile, and a great source of healthy fat. But there's a whole world of oils out there offering a huge variety of flavors, nutrients and cooking capabilities, just waiting to help you revamp your nutrition profile.
Stock your pantry with walnut, avocado and safflower oils and see how they impact your cooking habits (and taste buds). Not only will you expand your health-food base, you'll also avoid getting sick of your easy go-to meals (goodbye, mixed greens with olive oil and vinegar!).
4. Plan your menus
It's not as fussy as it sounds (no index cards required!). Set aside an hour every seven days to figure out dishes for the coming week. This will keep you organized, efficient, inspired and focused—because what's the first thing you reach for when you get home at 7:30 on a Wednesday night and have no dinner plan? A takeout menu. Voila: another disappointing and not-so-healthy meal.
5. Find your people
Somewhere out there, not too far away, there are people just like you, looking to prioritize a new approach to nutrition. Once you find them, keep in touch—online or in person. Studies show that people with a support network are more likely to adhere to health goals—and lose weight—than those who try to go it alone. Team up and make the change!