Do you struggle with counting calories, eating healthy and getting closer to your dream body?
The whole nutrition thing might be easier than you think. If you follow the guidelines in this article, you’ll know enough to work toward your goals. Let’s start by taking a look at how eating the wrong things can affect you:
Effects of bad nutrition
In the short term, poor nutrition can contribute to stress, tiredness, and impair your capacity to work. Over time, it can contribute to the risk of developing some illnesses and other health problems such as:
- Being overweight or obese
- Tooth decay
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease and stroke
- Type-2 diabetes
- Some cancers
- Eating disorders
What even is good nutrition?
Healthy nutrition means eating a variety of foods that give you the nutrients you need to maintain your health, feel good, and have energy. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals.
How much of those you need varies from person to person and depends on your goals. There’s a chart at the end of this article with some more insights.
The most important nutrients
The macronutrient protein is one of the most essential building blocks of our body. Every cell, every bone and every muscle in our body contains protein.
Your body makes protein out of amino acids you consume throughout your day. While we can synthesize 11 out of the 20 amino acids ourselves, we need to get the 9 remaining acids from our nutrition.
Protein isn’t something only bodybuilders need to care about, but essential for the health of every person. The required protein dosage mainly depends on your goals, age, weight, and gender. The Institute of Medicine recommends the average adult get at least about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Healthy protein sources
Fish, meat, eggs, nuts, cottage cheese, beans, seeds, soy, and similar foods contain lots of protein and amino acids.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you might need to take special care to get the required protein from plant-based sources.
Carbohydrates are the next important macronutrient. They are divided into 3 categories:
Sadly, carbohydrate isn’t always carbohydrate, and there’s lots of discussion going on around them. One diet might recommend staying away from carbohydrates; the next recommends eating only certain kinds.
What you can focus on is general rules of thumb for bad and healthy carbohydrates.
The different types and sources affect your blood sugar, hormones, sense of satiety and appetite.
The main problem is sugar, which spikes your glucose levels for a short amount of time before you come crashing down again, tired and craving more sugar. Stay away from high-sugar foods like soda, fruit juices, and candy.
Next, focus on processing when looking at carbohydrates. The less a product has been processed, the healthier the carbohydrates will be.
Healthy carbohydrate sources
Whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and whole-wheat pasta, fiber-rich fruits like apples, berries, and bananas; vegetables like broccoli, leafy greens and carrots, and beans all are healthy, little processed sources of carbohydrates and other nutrients.
You can incorporate them easily as snacks, garnish or main dishes.
Fats have a terrible reputation, which is primarily based on propaganda funded by the sugar industry back in the 60s.
Truth is that fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. But, you need to limit your intake and watch the type of fat you eat.
Fats are essential and needed for our bodies to function properly. That’s why they should be a part of your daily nutrition.
Of course, there are some rules as to what types of fat are healthy and which ones are not.
The 3 big types of fats are:
- Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats.
You can read more about each of the types, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll only provide some rules of thumb:
- Stay away from the obviously unhealthy stuff. The first rule is to use your common sense when it comes to unhealthy, fatty foods. Everything that is deep-fried or from a fast-food chain should be kept to a minimum.
- Lots of fat usually means lots of calories. Most foods with lots of fat have lots of calories, no matter if healthy or not. Be aware of that. It is absolutely possible to only eat unprocessed foods and still gain weight.
- Source matters. The fat from something like nuts is healthier than the same amount of fat from heavily processed foods like a burger.
- We eat too many Omega-6 fatty acids and too little Omega-3 fatty acids. Generally, Omega-3 fatty acids are seen as healthier. The reason for the imbalance is mainly caused by Omega-6 rich plant oils used in our food and the lack of Omega-3 rich foods like fish, seeds or soybeans on our plates. Adjust your diet accordingly.
Healthy fat sources
Unsaturated, healthy fats can be found in different types of fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
Try limiting your intake of deep-fried food and high trans-fat foods like ice cream, butter, cheese, and red meat.
Vitamins are necessary for our body to function, ward off diseases, stay healthy and heal wounds.
We need 13 different essential vitamins to function properly. The good news is that some vitamins can be found in almost every meal. That’s why you shouldn’t have any special needs for them if you’re eating a balanced diet which incorporates lots of fruit and vegetables.
Minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron or zinc all have different functions in your body. Whether bone structure, wound healing, immune system or blood pressure, they all have a vital job.
A balanced diet should provide you with the needed minerals. If you are looking for a handy table showing which foods are rich in which minerals, check this Wikipedia article out.
Water is one of the most underrated parts of nutrition. Most people do not get enough of it throughout their day.
Even small amounts of dehydration cause significant drawbacks in brain function, so it should be a high priority to stay hydrated. Roughly 60% of your body weight is made up of water after all!
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that adequate daily fluid intake means:
- About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
- About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages, and food. About 20 percent of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks. That means you must drink:
- About 12.5 cups (3 liters) of water for men
- About cups 9.5 (2.2 liters) of water for women
For me, the best way to make sure I stay hydrated is to fill up my 2-liter bottle at the start of the day and make sure it is empty by the time I go to bed.
Also, know that your body can only process a limited amount of fluids at once. Drinking a 1-liter bottle in one go only means you are wasting most of it. Drink a maximum of 250ml per 15 minutes.
Bad nutrition habits and their healthy alternatives
Using large plates and containers
It is scientifically proven that eating out of a large plate or container will make you eat more than eating from a smaller plate.
That’s because your brain perceives the portion size in relation to the plate, meaning that the same portion can be seen as a lot on a small plate and as a little on a larger plate. Keep that in mind when you try to lose weight or eat less of specific foods.
When you cook, put unhealthy food on smaller plates on purpose. The same goes for snacks like popcorn or chips. Simply use a smaller bowl to put them in.
If you order food, you can take the 5 seconds to take it out of the original container and put it onto a smaller plate before you eat if you’re trying to eat less. You’ll feel full even though you ate the same amount as before!
Eating too quickly
Your brain needs between 15-25 minutes from the moment you start eating to signal your body that you are full. This means that you can absolutely overeat in those first minutes of a meal.
You’ve probably experienced this before when you ate great food or were really hungry. We eat quickly and suddenly we feel like we’ll explode.
Eating too quickly is especially dangerous with products like fast-food and snacks. Those foods are designed to be eaten quickly, which can lead to consuming a lot of calories before your body has time to tell you that you’re full.
Something I noticed is how much slower social eaters eat compared to those who barely talk during meals. When my family eats, there’s usually barely any conversation going on at all, so a restaurant visit often takes less than an hour.
If eating quickly is something you do too much, work on your eating habits. Put your fork or food down completely between bites and take the time to chew properly. Also, try taking smaller bites and drinking lots of water to feel full more quickly.
You could also try consuming meals with friends or while talking to create natural gaps between bites.
Skipping breakfast is a fairly common bad nutrition habit. Whether you’re in a rush or simply not feeling hungry in the morning, there are lots of reasons to leave the house without eating anything.
The first meal of the day gets your metabolism started, provides you with a boost of energy, and prevents hunger. Studies have shown that people who skip breakfast tend to overeat later on in the day.
You might not always have the time for a real breakfast, but it is crucial to get some nutrition early in your day. You could try eating snacks like fruit or low-sugar cereal bars if you’re in a hurry.
If time constraints in the morning are a frequent problem, prepare a lunch box with some sandwiches and vegetable snacks in the evening and eat it at your workplace or on the go.
If you’re like me and you struggle with feeling hungry and eating in the morning, you might be eating too much in the evenings. Remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, not dinner. Also, try getting your nutrients through fluids like oatmeal protein shakes or similar; those are easier to consume than solid food.
Eating lots of snacks
Snacks often turn out to be the downfall of a diet. Always keep in mind that not only the main meals matter but also what you eat in between.
Common unhealthy snacks like potato chips, French fries, cookies, or popcorn leave you craving more. Especially when paired with another activity like watching Netflix, we can mindlessly munch through insane amounts of snacks.
Eating too late in your day also influences your sleep. If you want to learn more about sleep and how to get the optimal amount of rest, read my sleep article.
Look at your favorite snacks and try finding healthy alternatives.
You don’t have to go full vegetables and fruits right away, but replacing french fries with some nuts, or finding a healthier potato chip alternative are already good steps in the right direction.
The general rule of thumb is always the less processed, the better. However, the nutrients per serving are just as important. Eating healthy foods doesn’t necessarily equal balanced nutrition, losing weight or gaining muscle.
Going all-in on diets and nutrition changes
This applies to pretty much all lifestyle changes and habits, not only nutrition.
We’re inclined to believe that we have the willpower to make big changes and to revamp our nutrition or lifestyle completely. Even when we hear experts say that changing super small things leads to the best results, we question it.
Why would I start with 1 push up a day when I can do 10? I’ll just start with that instead. It’ll get me to my goal faster.-You, me, and everyone else
Truth is, the start of any lasting change is only about one simple thing:
When you’re getting used to a change, implementing a habit, you’re not getting used to doing 10 pushups. You are getting used to preparing the workout space and getting in the pushup position. Your body, on the other hand, is getting used to the 10 pushups.
Habits fail because you did not get used to the act of starting. Not because your body suddenly can’t do those pushups anymore.
Now let’s say you start with 10 pushups every day. The whole process might take a minute, so you’ll probably keep it up for a few days.
Then you forget it one day until you’re about to go out with some friends and you think: “I already got ready and I don’t want to sweat, I’ll do them later”. Of course, it doesn’t happen.
The next day you might say: “I ruined my perfect streak even though I’m not even really working out; it’s only 10 pushups. I’m a lazy piece of shit”
And then you do those pushups again, until, one day, you forget them again. This repeats until you say: “You know what, it’s only 10 pushups anyway, they probably don’t help me gain mass or build muscle and it’s not worth beating myself up every time I forget it, I’ll just stop altogether and go to the gym for an hour every day.”
That gym habit is even more likely to fail.
You could do 1 pushup per day. There’s always room for 1 pushup. It takes 5 seconds, doesn’t make you sweat and doesn’t require preparation.
Of course, you will not get far with it, but the difference is that after a month you will still do pushups. Most of the time, you’ll be doing 10 anyway by then, because once you are in the pushup position, going from 1 to 10 is no large feat.
Even though this article focuses on nutrition, I wanted to take the time to write the above analogy because it’s so important to understand it.
We all think we are better than the “unmotivated, lazy” people who need to start with 1 pushup. We’re all world champions in failing at big goals and losers in sticking to small ones.
Now to come back to diets and eating changes, start with that one pushup. Don’t go from fast food every day to vegan. Go from fast food every day to ordering water instead of soda. Do that for 2 weeks. Then take the next baby step, maybe eat some homemade vegetable snacks instead of ordering French fries.
Go slow, steady, and consistent. It might take you a year to get to healthy eating, but you’ll stay there for the next 60 years.
Overeating healthy foods
Yes, vegetables, fruits, fish and similar are healthy foods and great alternatives to fast-food and snacks.
However, it is important to keep their nutritional value in mind. Fruit can contain lots of sugar, avocado or nuts contain lots of fat and oats have lots of carbs.
So if you’ve switched to those healthy alternatives but still keep gaining weight, you might need to look at your portion size and the frequency and amount of your eating.
You’ve taken in lots of information throughout this article, but you still might not be sure where exactly to start working towards better eating.
That’s why I’ve prepared some simple challenges and changes you can make to get started.
1. Work on replacing different drinks with water
Water is the best, cheapest, and healthiest thing to drink. At first, the taste might not be great, but you get used to it fairly quickly.
Whether you usually indulge in soda, fruit juices or sports drinks, try water instead. Always have a bottle close and drink from it regularly.
You can make an exception for coffee if necessary.
2. Make candy special again
If candy or other sugary treats are your weakness, work on replacing them with healthier snacks. Throw out all the candy you have at home and instead snack on fruit, nuts or vegetables.
This change might sound terrifying at first and you should definitely try going slow, else the cravings for sugar will overwhelm you.
At the bottom of this article, there’ll be an infographic with healthy alternatives to fix unhealthy cravings; it could come in handy for this challenge.
3. Write the nutrients of one thing down every day
This exercise will make you aware of what nutrients are prominent in which products.
When I started my nutrition journey, the amount of information on packagings quickly overwhelmed me. Having to know and look up how much protein, carbs, and calories are in everything I eat seemed very time-consuming.
Truth is that you don’t need to know the exact numbers at all; You just need a general awareness of what nutrients are most prominent in a product.
This knowledge can be acquired quickly, and it is usually enough to look at a product once to get a rough idea. If you do this with one product every day, you’ll soon have a good awareness level.
4. Have a meat-free day every week
Most of us eat too much meat. I used to consume meat daily, sometimes multiple times a day.
Not only is this amount of meat consumption bad for the environment but it also raises your cholesterol and blood pressure among other negative effects.
Heart diseases are still the most common cause of death, so it’s worth preventing those.
A great alternative for meat is fish or meat substitutes. I used to be a firm believer than vegetarian and vegan food tastes worse, but nowadays the meat substitutes are almost indistinguishable from real meat in taste and texture.
5. Use less sugar in your nutrition
Whether you are putting it in your coffee, tea or cakes. Try reducing the amount of sugar you use in your daily life or substitute it with something like honey.
6. Implement a healthy snack in your day
Healthy snacks don’t mean eating the vegetables you don’t like. It’s fine to dislike some stuff. Instead, find something you enjoy that is also healthy.
I love to snack on cocktail tomatoes, nuts, fruit, and carrots.
Where to inform yourself about nutrition
Nutrition is a big field and there are hundreds of methods, diets, and tips on how, what, and when to eat. This article is supposed to be a great starting point and guideline, but as new research comes out or as your goals change, you might need more advanced advice.
The best way to find out what you should eat would be to consult a dietitian who will evaluate your eating habits and tell you exactly what to do.
Sadly, this is not a realistic option for most people. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of a few helpful free resources down below:
For general nutrition and weight loss:
- The r/Nutrition Subreddit FAQ
- The Healthline website
- Your country’s dietary guidelines
- Independent nutrition and fitness blogs
For gaining muscle/mass:
Different diets and trends come and go as research continues in the nutrition industry. There is no best way to eat, but keep the important nutrients in mind and make sure that you always get them. They are vital and some diets make it hard to get specific vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients. Special food supplements can also help your diet if you lack specific nutrients.
Helpful nutrition resources
Nutrition Infographic by PrecisionNutrition
Healthy craving fixes
And that’s it for this article. I hope you learned something new and become more mindful of your eating habits.
If you have any questions, thoughts, challenge reports, anecdotes or resources you want to add and discuss, please let me know in the comments below. I love to hear what people could take away from my articles!