When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, eating healthy is so common, it’s cliché. And so is the eventual failure.
The key to success may be changing the way we approach the idea of healthy eating. “Improving health and addressing behavior change isn’t ‘succeed or fail’—unless you make it that way,” says TJ Anderson, health coach and author of the soon-to-be-released book, “The Art of Health Hacking.” “If you approach it like an experiment, you’ll become much more patient with yourself.”
It starts with defining what counts as healthy eating for you.
“For me, healthy eating isn’t just about the type of food you’re eating. It’s also about how you eat,” says Anderson.
To help you create successful change, we’ve paired Anderson’s tips with some recommendations for local healthy eating options. Read on for the best ways to bring mindfulness to your meals and make healthy choices for dining on the go.
TIP! Slow down. “When we eat when we’re stressed, we tend to speed up and eat more,” says Anderson. For example, if you’re feeling pressed for time over your lunch hour, you’ll feel the need to hurry. Pausing for a moment between each bite will help you slow down.
TIP! Stop eating when you’re 80 percent full. “Our brains lag behind our digestive system. If we stop and wait for about 15-20 minutes when we feel 80% full, our food will continue to digest until our brain receives the message that we’re satisfied,” Anderson explains. If you find that you frequently become uncomfortably full, consider experimenting with a mid-meal pause. “Set your intention before the meal to take a break towards the end. Wait 10-15 minutes to see how you feel,” says Anderson. “If you’re still hungry, eat a little more. If not, don’t. It’s simple.”
TIP! Exercise choice. “Eating out is either planned or unplanned, and much of the time, it’s the latter,” explains Anderson. Worse yet, it’s usually hurried, so you need to grab something quick. But feeling short for time doesn’t mean traditional fast food is your only option. “I like to go to The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, or Hy-Vee and grab a salad at the salad bar,” says Anderson. He looks for greens, hardboiled eggs, fresh veggies, avocados (he’s a big fan of healthy fats), and nuts and seeds.
Check out: Fresh Mediterranean Express
With a focus on freshness, Fresh Mediterranean Express offers Mediterranean fare with a Moroccan twist and a fast-casual experience. Owners Hassan Atarmal and Jeniffer Betts pride themselves on the way they source and handle their food. Their focus on freshness means they buy everything as needed, as opposed to keeping huge stocks of food in walk-in freezers for weeks at a time. Enjoy four different flavors of hummus every day, fresh falafel, Greek salads, chicken and beef kabobs, and gyros. Their menu is very friendly to vegetarians and those looking for gluten-free options.
TIP! Watch the sneaky calories. Dressings and sauces are likely to be high in sugar and unexpected calories. Anderson chooses to use olive oil and simple vinaigrettes on salads. If you’re at a restaurant and the meal you order comes with sauce, ask to have it served on the side so you can control the portion. The same goes for drinks—cut down on calories by skipping the soda and choosing brewed or iced tea, black coffee, or water.
Check out: Bottled teas from Fresh Mediterranean Express. They come in green, black, or peach and pack light flavor with very few calories.
TIP! Take inventory. Take a few moments to evaluate the places you frequent and the people you usually eat with. “People tend to go to the same places and follow a pattern,” Anderson says. We go on autopilot and go back to the same places over and over again. Think outside your own box and consider that there might be healthier places to eat. Sometimes our patterns are influenced by other people. Take stock of the people that impact your eating decisions. If your coworker always goes for the greasy pizza joint, chances are, you’ll go the same route.
Check out: Z’Mariks Noodle Cafe
While it may seem contradictory at first glance, there are ways to make this local favorite more diet-friendly. General Manager Mike Braun says all of their bowls are easily customized. As an alternative to rice or noodles, customers can choose brown rice, whole grain pasta, or rice stick noodles (which are also gluten-free). They can even forgo noodles or rice entirely and opt for lettuce instead. One of his favorite healthy options is the Veggie Tuscana, which has tomatoes, red and green peppers, red onions, garlic, rosemary, olive oil, and feta cheese.
TIP! Don’t be shy. “It’s okay to ask questions about the source of the food, or how it’s prepared,” Anderson advises. Although it can feel uncomfortable, stepping outside your comfort zone and speaking up is worth it if it means making better decisions about your meals.
Check out: Mixed
With Mixed, you’ll know what you’re getting. Nutritional values are posted in-store and online, so diners can make informed choices. According to General Manager Brad Hopson, if it’s on the menu, it’s 400 calories or less. Their focus is on keeping it simple, and they offer a range of soups, salads, and sandwiches.
TIP! Cut down on the carbs. By this time, it’s an old adage, but that doesn’t make it any less true. “Watch the carbs that are going to affect your blood sugar,” Anderson says. “When people consume carbohydrates over lunch and then go back to work, their energy is all over the place.” Prevent your blood sugar from spiking and diving by avoiding high-glycemic foods and beverages like breads and sweets, and opt instead for sweet potatoes or quinoa.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a novice or you’ve been on and off the healthy-eating bandwagon for a while. The key to maintaining new habits is to take one step at a time and enjoy the journey along the way. With new local options like Mediterranean Express, Z’Mariks Noodle Cafe, and Mixed, making healthy choices doesn’t have to be a challenge.