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Simple steps to start eating healthier today

Eating healthy can be a struggle, and excuses abound. You don’t have the time to plan ahead. Fast food is convenient. You’re stressed. Cookies are delicious. Plus, you’ve earned some cake, you reason.

Many people struggle with making healthier eating choices, but the benefits and rewards can be life changing and long lasting.

“People often fail at attempting to eat healthier because they try to take on too much at once,” explained Cynthia Jamison, MD, of Novant Health Lakeside Primary Care. “Changes need to be sustainable. They can’t feel like a sacrifice or they’ll never last. Many people are surprised to learn there are easy ways you can take a few, small steps to eat healthier every day.”

Here are 10 of our favorite tips to help you on your journey to eating healthier, one day at a time:

1. Everything in moderation.
The first step in eating healthy is learning to enjoy all your favorite foods in moderation. You don’t have to forego favorite treats all together. Healthy eating is about balance and giving your body the nutrients it needs to function while also pleasing your taste buds.

2. Eat the rainbow.
Make your meals like the rainbow – full of an array of natural color. You should eat double the amount of fruits and vegetables as you do proteins and carbohydrates. Reach for your favorite fruits and veggies, but try some outside of your comfort zone as well, and find ways to incorporate them into your favorite meals.

3. Don’t skip meals!
Eating at regular intervals is really important to eating healthy for the longer term. “You should eat all three meals every day, especially breakfast,” Dr. Jamison said. “Sticking to a regular schedule helps to control your hunger and minimizes your chances of overeating or binging on unhealthy snacks to make up for a skipped meal.” If you know you get hungry around certain times, make sure to pack a healthy snack to help control your hunger until your next meal.

4. Water is life.
This one isn’t news. Water is essential for your body. Water aids digestion and other bodily functions. The benefits of drinking water include less fatigue, younger looking skin and feeling full longer, which keeps you from eating when your body isn’t hungry.

5. Choose whole grains.
Whole grains contain healthy fibers, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are removed from processed grains, such as white bread or white rice. Eating a well-balanced meal that includes whole grains has been shown to decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

6. Go natural, never processed.
When in doubt, always reach for the natural or organic foods. Processed foods have been stripped of their nutrients and then preserved with extra salt, fat or other chemicals. These chemicals affect your body and behavior, and can be linked to weight gain, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and more.

7. Reduce, but don’t eliminate, sugars.
Eliminating sugar all together is impractical and unhealthy, and will only lead to binging on sweets. Try to cut back on desserts. Swap sugary treats for berries or fiber-filled fruit. Resist the temptation to add sugar to beverages. Be mindful of what you are eating, and how much, and aim for balance.

8. Pack a snack.
You can’t always plan when a snack attack will hit, but you can be prepared. “Always keep a well-balanced, nutritional snack, such as fruit or unsalted nuts, nearby to keep you from reaching for a candy bar or bag of chips when your stomach starts to grumble,” Dr. Jamison said.

9. Cut back on liquid calories.
The increase in the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks directly parallels the rise in obesity in the U.S. Studies show that cutting liquid calories, particularly anything sugar-sweetened, results in greater weight loss. Beverages to beware of include soft drinks, fruit and vegetable drinks and juices, milk, alcoholic beverages and sweetened coffee and tea. Artificial sweeteners also have been linked to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, so drink diet sodas and beverages sweetened artificially in moderation.

10. Slow down, Sally.
Slowing down to actually enjoy what you are eating can result in eating less. “Most people don’t take the time to sit and enjoy their food,” Dr. Jamison explained. “Drink water between bites to help you feel full quicker. Also, listen to your stomach and stop eating when you’re full, even if there is food left on your plate.”

In the end, eating healthier should be a thoughtful lifestyle change, not a short-term quick fix.

“Healthy eating is about balance, and making sure your body gets the nutrients it needs to function. Simple diet changes can make a big impact on your overall health and well-being,” said Jamison. “It’s also important to not get discouraged. Slipups are to be expected. Every day and every meal is an opportunity to start over.”

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