Healthy eating isn't complicated – just focus on whole ingredients prepared in your own kitchen, rather than jumping on the latest fad diet or miracle product. "Be skeptical of any food with a claim on it that it's going to heal your woes," says Toronto nutrition expert Meghan Telpner. "Only look at the ingredient label, not the promotional claims." Beyond that, how can you reboot your eating habits this spring? Here are seven simple ways.
Hydrate in the a.m.
"Dehydration is the root of so many issues," says Telpner, author of the new book UnDiet. "If we are chronically dehydrated, it causes us to crave more sugar, reduces energy, increases cholesterol and blood pressure." In other words, that lethargy and candy bar craving might be a signal that your body needs water. Rather than resorting to OCD tricks like counting rubber bands on water bottles, make an easy change by starting every day with a glass of water – yes, even, before your coffee – and work your way up to a litre. You might be surprised at how much better you feel.
"Lose a box"
Leading Canadian obesity expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff sees improving eating habits as a lifelong process, not an overnight makeover. To start, he recommends a method he calls "lose a box": Identify your least healthy regular meal, "whether it's a meal out or a really horrific thing that you nuke in a microwave," and commit to banning it from rotation and subbing in a meal cooked from scratch in your kitchen. "In my home we didn't exactly start off living healthfully," Freedhoff says. "Slowly but surely, we tried to have a survival of the fittest-style approach to eating."
Sit down and relax
"We're just constantly inhaling food," says L.A. nutritional therapist and health coach Margaret Floyd, co-author of The Naked Foods Cookbook. "We never pause to really chew or swallow." Speed-eating promotes overeating – by the time satiety signals get through to your brain, you're already stuffed – and it hurts digestion. Floyd suggests putting down your fork, spoon or sandwich after each bite, chewing and swallowing before you pick it up again – ideally while consuming a detoxifying vegetable like dandelion greens, lightly sautéed in coconut oil. "It's hard to overeat [if you're] eating that slowly," she adds.
Eat tapas style
We're all naturally suspicious of fast food, but restaurant eating – even fine dining – can be a calorie bomb, too. (Just ask your server how much butter goes into that risotto.) To mitigate the damage, get in a habit of sharing, suggests food writer and eating-out expert Peter Kaminsky, author of Culinary Intelligence. "If you're a couple, order one appetizer per person and one entrée to share," he says. "If you're more than one couple, order an appetizer per person and an entrée per couple," a tapas-style approach to dining that will keep excess temptation at bay.
Taste the rainbow
If you find it a challenge to eat enough fruits and vegetables, Kelowna, B.C., registered dietitian Brenda Davis suggests focusing on the superficial. Davis classifies produce into five categories: purple/blue (blackberries, blueberries), red (tomatoes, watermelon), orange/yellow (squash, carrots), green (kale, broccoli) and white/beige (potatoes, cauliflower). "Try to consume one of every colour of the rainbow every day," she suggests. "Each of those contains different classes of phytochemicals," plant compounds – like lycopene and beta-carotene – that help keep the body healthy and may reduce the risk of some cancers and other diseases. Want bonus points? Serve half of your daily 10 servings raw.
Drink a smoothie
For vegan athlete and businessman Brendan Brazier, author of The Thrive Diet, good nutrition is about peak performance every day, whether that means optimal muscle recovery during marathon training or simply waking up every morning full of energy. "One of the first things people notice when they eat better is they start to sleep better," he says. His favourite trick is a daily whole-foods smoothie. "You can make them taste like whatever you want." To make Brazier's ginger-pear smoothie, blend together a banana, half a pear, a tablespoon each of ground flax seed, hemp protein and grated ginger, and two cups of water, or 11/2 cups water plus a cup of ice. Make it sweeter by tossing in a couple of soaked dates.
Go antique shopping
"Portion distortion" is a major contributor to overeating and gaining weight, says Dr. Tom Ransom, assistant professor of medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "It didn't use to be inevitable to gain weight as you age." To help control portion sizes, he suggests replacing the modern crockery and glassware in your cupboards with antique dishes. "It's not that they're small; it's that the plates today are big," he says. "The house my wife and I moved into has an old dishwasher, and the [newer] plates didn't even fit."