The birds are singing, the flowers are popping and if you’re still eating like it is winter, it’s time for you to spring clean your diet.
Like hibernating bears, so many of us hunker down during the winter months. With colder temperatures, shorter—and darker—days, and fewer outdoor activities, it’s no wonder that like bears we tend to crave more sleep in the winter. But when it comes to eating during the winter, that’s where we, and the bears, go our separate ways.
Bears generally don’t eat while they’re hibernating, while humans tend to look at winter as a potpourri of lush stews, slow-cooked meals, and hearty soups. Even the pasta is richer in the winter. Therefore, it’s not surprising that we’re more likely to pound-up when the weather is colder.
As winter fades from this year’s memory, there’s good news.
If you want to lose weight, spring is as good a time as any to start, with some experts advising that the sweet spot for dropping a few pounds is right between spring and summer. In fact, an online article in Health.com cites six reasons why spring is the best time of year to lose weight.
- You’re less hungry as temps heat up
- You burn more calories in warmer weather
- Your mood is brighter
- The “sunshine vitamin” might help
- It’s easier to find—and enjoy—healthier food
- You can sip your way to weight loss
It all makes sense. But before you replace your New Year’s diet resolutions with your Spring Slim-down, keep this in mind: losing weight should not be a one-and-done seasonal exercise but rather a year-round approach to maintaining what is a healthy weight for you. It’s your best practices that matter here—making healthier food choices and learning to retrain your mind to like what’s good for your body.
Here’s where we’re going with this. Spring is a time of rebirth and fresh beginnings. It’s not just your home, your yard or your automobile that needs a spring check-up—it’s also your body. So, let’s take a good hard look at what we’re putting into our bodies and how we can switch up those habits for better ones. It may not happen immediately—remember when it comes to habits, some experts refer to the 21-day rule, meaning that at a minimum it takes 21 days to strike a bad habit and/or replace it with a good one.
Specifically, when it comes to food, most of us can teach our body to love making healthy food choices by breaking habits that aren’t helping us and replacing them with habits that better serve us. When you’re eating foods that are healthier for you, you’ll likely feel better, are flush with energy and don’t have to fight food fog on a daily basis. We’ll offer up some practical suggestions later on in this week’s blog.
Many food science experts recommend you’ll do better if you don’t go cold turkey (no pun intended) in eliminating food groups or actual foods that you crave but that might not be your best choices. The theory here is that it’s harder for your mind to wrap itself around the idea that you can never eat ice cream or French fries or pizza ever again. Instead, the theory goes, if you have ice cream once in a while, and not cram six servings into your once-a-week happy dessert treat, it’s okay to indulge a little from time to time. You know how that goes: if someone—even if that someone is you—tells you not to do something, what’s the first thing you’re going to do?
Other experts in the field, however, believe that training your mind to be more discerning about what your body considers a treat is an important element of breaking old dietary habits and establishing new ones—reframing the way you think about eating. Add to that the fact that certain foods can actually be addictive, not just psychologically, but actually physically addictive. And there is research that agrees with that concept. An article in Healthline says that up to 20% of us may have a food addiction or exhibit addictive-like eating behavior.
In other words, if you can’t quit the pizza, it might not be simply because you’re not trying hard enough; there may be actual biochemical reasons why people just can’t help themselves when it comes to food. It likely won’t surprise you to know that processed foods have been linked to addictive food behavior, especially those high in added sugar or fat, or both. So, in cases of food addiction, you may not be able to have just one, to paraphrase an old potato chip advertisement. And in those cases, similar to alcohol addiction, it may be best not to tempt yourself by having any.
We’re not here to take sides on which way works better—but to tee up conversation, or food for thought, so to speak. And to suggest that there are solutions—from changing habits, if you can, to seeking help if you need it. There are therapists who specialize in weight loss and/or food addiction.
But if you’re looking for simple ways to spring clean your diet, here we go. There are healthy tips galore for high impact food swaps that can reduce calorie intake, boost your energy, and just help improve your health overall. Here are five to get you started:
Tip #1: Swap pasta for vegetable “noodles”
Zucchini and carrots are just two of the spiraled pasta replacements showing up in grocery aisles. And like the growing craze for “designer dogs,” more options, with irresistible names pop up daily. There’s squoodles (spaghetti squash noodles), boodles (broccoli stem noodles), and even poodles (parsnip noodles—okay that name actually was stolen from the dog category). If you’re looking to cut down on the carbs, and add more fiber and extra vitamins (A, C, E, K), veggie noodles are the way to go. And, with several spiralizer kitchen tools on the market, you can even make these non-pasta pastas at home.
Tip #2: Replace the rice
Similar to pasta, rice is carb laden. And if you’ve already switched from white rice to brown rice, you’re heading in the right direction. But now, there’s another option for rice—this time it’s cauliflower that serves as the newest hero. While carbs are certainly ok in moderation, it’s a smart idea to swap them out from time to time. Rich in antioxidants, low in carbs, cauliflower rice (in actuality “riced” cauliflower) is a great substitute for rice. Pulse the vegetable in a food processor so it takes on the texture of rice; then lightly sauté it up to take away the “rawness” of the cauliflower and add spices to make it more flavorful. (And cauliflower also makes for a trendy swap out as a pizza crust—just don’t overdo it on the cheese).
Tip #3: Ditch the soda, pinch-hit with water, iced-green tea, or kale juice
We know. There’s nothing like an ice-cold soda. And today’s options include zero-calorie and reduced sugar sodas—but still there are healthier options that also taste good. Starting with good old-fashioned water. Drink it plain or add some juice from a fresh lime or squeeze in half a lemon. And an iced green tea can hit the refreshing spot reminding you that summer’s not far away. Granted the kale juice may be an acquired taste, but it’s likely a taste worth acquiring.
Tip #4: Switch up your snacks
Less potato chips, more all-natural snacks, we say. Slice up red peppers, celery, carrot sticks and to add a little flavor, swipe them in hummus (plant-based protein!), tzatziki (low calorie, creamy, not much fat), or smashed avocado (need we say more?). Or try stacked tomatoes and cucumber slices, with a sprinkle of feta cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, maybe some fresh pepper. (Yes, you’ll need a knife and fork, but that will also serve to slow you down, giving you time for your body to say it’s full.) Remember: just because these are healthy options, don’t overdo how much of them you eat, especially the dips and cheese.
Tip #5: Mustard makes the grade
First of all, we’re no longer talking about your grandfather’s mustard. With so many different and elegant mustard flavors to choose from today, surely, you’ll find one that suits your needs and your taste buds. Aside from upping the flavor profile to foods, mustard generally contains just a hint of calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates—and even turmeric. Whether you’re looking for a healthier way to dress up your sandwich (take a back seat for now mayonnaise), or grill or bake your salmon (ta ta sugary barbecue sauce), you can’t go wrong with mustard. Unless you’re planning to sit down in front of the tv with a full jar and a large spoon and go to town. Yes, it’s just that tasty a condiment. Moderation, everyone. Moderation.
While you’re spring cleaning your diet, don’t forget your vitamins and other dietary supplements. This is a fine time of year to assess your overall supplement regimen. Here are three tips to do just that.
Three More Tips Make Eight
Tip #6: Store your supplements smartly
Where you store your vitamins and other supplements matters. Experts say you should store them in a cool, dry place to maintain potency. Not the fridge and really not the medicine cabinet. You don’t want the bottles or boxes or containers near the shower as the exposure to humidity and heat is not a good thing for the shelf life of your vitamins and other supplements. A better option is the kitchen. After all, dietary supplements are regulated as food and intended to supplement a healthy diet. Plus, a number of supplements—such as vitamin D—are recommended to be taken with food or just after a meal. Some people store their supplements on the kitchen countertop, or even the kitchen table, both locations serving as a visible reminder for you to take them. But keep in mind, if you have young kids at home, it’s probably safer to store them up high.
Tip #7: Check the expiration date
There are a number of reasons to keep your vitamins and other dietary supplements in their original bottles or other packaging, so you can see the product label. One reason why that could be important is so you can check to see if your supplements have expired. Now if you don’t see that information on the bottle, don’t be alarmed. The FDA, one of the government agencies that regulates the dietary supplement industry, doesn’t require companies to list an expiration date. Some companies choose to use an expiration date or a “best by” date as a best practice to provide more information to their consumers.
If your supplement product has expired, it’s a sign that it’s a good time to replace that product. It isn’t that expired vitamins or other supplements are dangerous, it’s more that over time these products lose their potency, and if that’s the case, you’re not getting full value from the product. Even without an expiration date, if there’s a change in odor or color, it’s time to throw that supplement product away. And that leads us to our next tip.
Tip #8: Reassess Your Vitamin/Supplement Regimen as Part of Spring Cleaning Your Diet
If your supplement has reached its expiration date or if it’s gotten funky (see tip #7), ask yourself these questions: 1) have I changed my diet in some way to make the supplement redundant; 2) why did I start taking it to begin with—was it a fad selection, a friend’s recommendation, something else; 3) in short, do I really need to be taking it—especially if I’m actually not taking it?
On the reverse side of the coin: are there vitamins or other supplements that I should be taking? Ask yourself these questions: 1) have I changed my diet in some way so that I’m not getting the nutrients I need from just food; 2) did my doctor recommend a supplement that I forgot to check out; 3) are there areas of my life where a supplement might add some value by, for instance supporting immunity (e.g., vitamin D, elderberry, vitamin C), supporting better sleep (e.g., melatonin), or helping with my workout (e.g., protein powder, energy bars)?
While you don’t need a doctor’s prescription, it’s smart to have an open conversation with your doctor about the supplements you’re taking. Keep in mind that with most supplements, you’re not going to “feel” an immediate difference. There be exceptions with energy supplements, and others, but if you’re taking vitamin D, for example, the benefits will be best achieved with consistent use and in the long-term.
For some nutrients and vitamins, there are blood tests that your doctor can order to check your levels and help determine if a supplement can help. Here at OmegaQuant we offer a variety of at-home tests to check your blood levels for either (or both) omega-3 EPA/ DHA and vitamin D. It’s best when possible to figure out where you are, so you get a roadmap as to where you need to go. As part of OmegaQuant’s at-home tests, once you know your blood level for omega-3 and vitamin D, the results include recommendations for how much of these nutrients (either through food or supplementation) you need to add (or take away) to achieve the target level.