Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD
Interested in spring cleaning your diet to boost health this year?
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
As the weather becomes warmer and you put away your winter coats, you may notice the influx of ads for diets. Commercials and print ads about pre-packaged diet programs, exercise machines, fat burner pills, and fitness apps on your phone overwhelm the airwaves. This deluge of ads can make you feel like you should "clean" up your daily lifestyle to lose weight, get fit, etc. If it does, then what do you do and how do you start? Read below to learn about how you can make positive changes to your daily routine to create a lighter life this spring.
Fast facts on the word diet
Diet is not a dirty word like the media may make it out to be. By definition, diet is simply a way of eating. In turn, everyone is on a diet of some kind. However, over the years, diet has become connected with the term "weight loss," so when someone mentions diet, restriction and deprivation usually comes to mind. Before you revise your diet for a healthier lifestyle, you must ditch the term diet as you know it and instead see it simply as a way to describe the way you are eating.
How to start building a healthy lifestyle
If you want to lead a healthier life, but don't know where to begin, then start by taking inventory. This means taking 15 minutes to sit down with an old-fashioned pen and piece of paper to write down what you status is on the following five pillars of health:
Limited Unhealthy Lifestyle Behaviors (i.e. drinking alcohol, smoking, doing drugs, etc.)
There is no one healthy diet for everyone. A healthy diet is one that makes your body feel good inside and out. It is one that helps control your health conditions, if you have any, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, gastrointestinal conditions, kidney disease, etc. The basics of a healthy diet typically include:
A lean source of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, tofu, beans, legumes, or low-fat dairy
Colorful fruits and vegetables
Healthy fats like plant-based oils, nuts, seeds, or avocado, for example
Plenty of healthy fluids like water, tea, coffee (in moderation), unsweetened plant-based milks, and low-sugar fruit or vegetable juices
Ask yourself if your diet is missing any of these basics, and if so, how can you add them into your daily routine. If you need help doing this, then don't hesitate to ask a registered dietitian for help.
Experts suggest that most adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This means about 30 minutes per day for about five days a week. And it doesn't have to be all at once. It can be in minutes at a time that add up throughout the day. Walking, biking, jogging, dancing, housecleaning, gardening, or walking stairs, for example.
If you're not moving much during the day, then your goal would be to make time to move more in any way you can. If you're not sure how to do this safely, due to mobility issues or health conditions like heart disease or breathing issues, then see a physical therapist for advice.
All of us experience stress each day whether it's small stressors from sitting in traffic, or bigger stressors like financial despair. The question is do you manage your stress in a healthy way to lower your risk of letting it affect your health in a negative way. If stress leads you to become angry, upset, or anxious easily, then this can cause inflammation in your body that can increase blood pressure, upset your gut, and make you lose sleep, which can in turn impact your overall health.
If you are aware that you don't manage your stress well, then this is one pillar you need to work on. Talking to a therapist, having regular sessions of acupuncture or massages, working out, or taking up yoga may help you manage stress better. These methods can be helpful for those with emotional or mental stress, as well as those with physical stress. For example, if you have an injury or illness, it can cause stress on your body and mind. You can learn about ways to help deal with such stress by reading this article from worldcrutches.com.
Experts suggest that most adults sleep between seven and nine hours daily. This may seem like a mighty task if you have kids, a busy job, a house to take care of, etc. But without enough sleep, it can increase your risk of high blood pressure, higher blood glucose levels, mood changes, and cognitive issues, to name a few.
If you have trouble sleeping, then you can try some of the following tips to help:
Avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol, or eating a large meal in the hours before bed time
Creating a bedtime routine to follow each night such as a certain time to settle down and turn off screens, a certain time to turn the lights down, etc.
Making sure you have a mattress and pillows that support your body and provide a comfortable environment for sleep. Experts suggest you replace your mattress every ten years and pillows every year or two.
Use calming scents like lavender to help relax your mind and help induce sleep.
Try meditation or relaxation breathing before bedtime.
If none of these tips work, then you should see a sleep specialist or your primary care doctor to see if a health condition like sleep apnea or hormone imbalances may be preventing you from getting enough sleep.
Limited Unhealthy Lifestyle Behaviors?
If you drink more than one standard alcoholic drink daily, then you may be at higher risk for chronic diseases like liver disease or heart disease than those who don't drink alcohol. One standard drink is equal to:
12 ounces of beer (5% ABV)
8 ounces of malt liquor (7% ABV)
5 ounces of wine
1.5 ounces of hard liquor
How to start making changes
If your list of missing lifestyle behaviors seems overwhelming, then just take it one change at a time. If you're not sure where to start, then visit a registered dietitian to help you figure out where to start. One change at a time can lead to more healthy changes, which can eventually lead to feeling better inside and out. And if lifestyle changes are not enough to help you feel better, don't feel ashamed to make an appointment with your healthcare provider to see if an undiagnosed health condition may be preventing you from feeling your best.
American Heart Association (updated April 18, 2018) "American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids." https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults
Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School (May 2019) "Do short bursts of exercise help?" https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-short-bursts-of-exercise-help
National Institute of Mental Health (accessed March 21, 2021) "5 Things You Should Know About Stress." https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
Singh, M.D., A. (updated March 9, 2021) "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?" National Sleep Foundation, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need#:~:text=National%20Sleep%20Foundation%20guidelines1,to%208%20hours%20per%20night.
Wright, M.D., H. (updated October 27, 2020) "Physical Health and Sleep." https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health
Hamzeh, S., Safari-Faramani, R., & Khatony, A. (2020). "Effects of Aromatherapy with Lavender and Peppermint Essential Oils on the Sleep Quality of Cancer Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2020, 7480204. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/7480204
Dietary Guidelines for Americans (accessed March 21, 2021) "USDA-HHS Response to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: Using the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Report to Develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025." https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/about-dietary-guidelines/related-projects/usda-hhs-response-national-academies-sciences-engineering
Centers for Disease Control (last reviewed February 23, 2021) "Alcohol Use and Your Health." https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (last updated 05/04/20) "How Smoking Affects Heart Health." https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-information/how-smoking-affects-heart-health