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Have a Good (Food) Day

I hear it often – Today was a bad food day. Eating well can be challenging, there is no doubt about that. The question is why is it challenging? Everyone will have a day where they could have made better food choices, but there are steps to take in order to make most of your days “good food days.”

5 Steps to a “Good Food Day”

  1. Determine how many meals and snacks you’re eating each day – Before you even begin choosing your portions, start to mentally prepare yourself for the day. If you didn’t have a chance to plan for the week ahead, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan the day of! Your mind is your most powerful tool in your toolbox, so use it! Tell yourself the plan for the day – say it out loud if must. I’m going to eat 3 balanced meals today, two healthy snacks, and I’m going to go for a walk in the evening instead of snacking on ice cream after dinner. Keep your plan in mind throughout the day, write it out on post-it notes and post on the mirror, on your computer, in your agenda, or wherever is visible. The key is to plan it and live that plan.
  2. Focus on the first half of the day – When I ask my patients for a 24-hour diet recall, it often starts well – or so they think. People don’t typically over-do it quantity-wise in the food department before about 3:00pm when it all goes downhill. What is it about that dreaded 3:00pm lull that sends your plan into a tailspin? It’s everything that happened prior to 3:00pm. The foods that we typically gravitate towards in the morning are fruit, cereal, and calorie-dense breads in some form (i.e. bagels, pastries, croissants). Oh yes, and caffeine. Thanks to that coffee jolt, you feel pretty good through the morning, right? Try removing that caffeine and see how you feel. The effects of caffeine could be hiding what’s really going on – the rollercoaster that your blood sugar is on. There are two components to meals that help regulate blood sugar and that should be included in your breakfast and your morning snack: protein and dietary fibre. Which brings me to the next step.
  3. Plan around your protein – I would argue that the protein portion of your meal may be the most important, especially before lunch. Protein, which is most commonly found in animal products, legumes and pulses, and nuts and seeds, is one of the three macronutrients that are essential to a balanced diet. Protein has many benefits, including helping to maintain and/or build muscle, regulating blood sugar, and keeping you feeling full. If you go by the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range provided by Health Canada, most Canadians are meeting their protein requirements. So, the problem isn’t so much how much are you getting, but rather when are you getting it? Protein should be included in every meal and every snack throughout the day, including breakfast! To ensure you are including a quality protein source each meal, plan around it. For example, plan to have 2 eggs for breakfast, and ½ cup of plain yogurt as a morning snack. Once that’s been established, then begin to think about the other components of the meal such as one slice of whole grain toast, one serving of fruit, or one serving of nuts (for example). This can help to avoid carbohydrate-heavy, and often sugar-laden, breakfasts and snacks that contribute to your mid-afternoon crash.
  4. Eat the protein and fibre first – Timing of meals is important – eating every 2-3 hours can prevent overeating at your main meals. I’d like to take this idea one step further – timing within the meals. Imagine this scenario: It’s 7:30pm after a long busy day. The last time you ate was 12:00pm when you only had time to grab a soup and some crackers for lunch, and it’s been a steady diet of coffee since then to get you through your afternoon meetings. On your plate – chicken breast, roasted vegetables, and a nice big scoop of creamy mashed potatoes. What are you eating first? Most people would answer: the mashed potatoes. When your body is depleted of energy and your blood sugar is slightly lower than average due to the length of time between meals, it wants what it wants – and that’s carbs. The problem with that is, you may end up filling yourself with simple carbohydrates, leaving no room for the fibre and protein and next thing you know it it’s 8:30pm and you’re elbow deep in a bag of Cheetos and you don’t know how you got there. Simple carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, and pasta digest quickly, leaving you feeling for more shortly after. Start with the most nutrient-dense, substantial food on the plate and fill up on that first. Filling up on your protein, such as lean meat, fish, or legumes and a healthy serving of non-starchy vegetables (half your plate, ideally) will not only replenish your depleted energy and sugar stores, but it will keep you feeling full for at least the next 2 hours. You’ll be more likely to avoid that evening snack, maybe even go for a short walk before calling it a night.
  5. Plan a mindfulness exercise for your most vulnerable time – We’re inundated with strategic marketing daily, whether it’s the chocolate bars and candy as you’re waiting to pay for groceries, or the sweet barista at your coffee shop asking you if you’d like a scone to go with your morning coffee. Planning is definitely important, but willpower also plays a part. If you have a specific time of day that you know to be your “trouble time,” identify it, and put an activity in your schedule to help you get through it. Go for a walk, whether it’s alone, with a friend or partner, or with your dog – moving can get you out of that craving zone and allow you to ride it out. Call a friend or family member when you feel the cravings or urges coming. Keep your mind occupied (and your mouth moving)! If your cravings come late in the evening, prior to bedtime, take that time to unwind with meditation, a mindfulness exercise like journaling, or reading a book to allow yourself to shift into a restful mood and prepare for sleep.

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