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Around this time last year I really started to think about what was going in my body. My daughter had been diagnosed with a dairy intolerance, so my diet needed to undergo an overhaul if I wanted to keep breastfeeding. It felt like a lot of work at first, but I figured it would at least help me get healthier, especially since dairy is in a lot of things that really aren’t that good for you.
As someone with type 1 diabetes, I already look at nutrition facts on the daily, but until going dairy free I had never really had to look at the ingredients list. And boy oh boy–there is some eye opening stuff hidden in that fine print!
Although I don’t need to eat totally dairy free anymore, my experience played a big role in my desire to make some additional lifestyle changes. And it was overwhelming, even though I’d been working at this whole “healthy” thing for a while already.
If you want to get healthier but find yourself feeling similarly bogged down by all the “rules” that come with healthy eating and natural living, I get it! So here are five things you can do today to start making some big changes:
5 EASY WAYS TO GET HEALTHIER RIGHT NOW
1) EAT IN
If last year’s accidental weight loss journey taught me anything, it’s that food has a powerful and dramatic effect on the body. I had always known that diet was more important than exercise when it came to fat and weight loss, but I didn’t really believe it until I saw it in action.
That’s not to say that exercise isn’t important—it really is—but rather that what you eat is going to have a bigger, faster impact on your health than probably anything else.
Overhauling your diet isn’t easy. It’s one of those things where if you go all in, you’re likely to find yourself hungry and burned out. I still don’t eat perfectly, and I took it slow when I jumped on the healthy lifestyle train over three years ago!
But if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to boost your health, eat in today. Cooking from home not only saves money but makes it easier to stay away from the added sugar, bad-for-you-fats, and large portion sizes commonly found in fast food and restaurant meals.
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Eating in is fine and dandy, but if what you’re buying to eat at home comes packaged in boxes or cans, chances are you shouldn’t be eating it—or at least not much of it. Packaged food is more likely to be processed and contain added sodium, sugar, preservatives, artificial flavors and coloring. In short, food that comes in boxes is less likely to be “real” food.
Nutrition is a tough subject, because I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all nutrition plan for everyone. One day low fat is good and the next, it’s junk science. Right now, thanks to a popular documentary on Netflix, it’s all about Veganism, and on the other end of the spectrum, the paleo diet is all the rage. Then there’s low-carb-high-fat, high-fat-low-carb, gluten-free eating, the GAPS diet, autoimmune protocols…the list goes on.
I haven’t tried all of them, but in my search for the best diet for my body I’ve come to learn what works for me and what doesn’t. And I’ve also come to learn that we can all afford to eat more “real” and less processed food.
3) DRINK MORE WATER
Most Americans tend to fill up on caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea (both of which are diuretics and not a good way to hydrate) or sodas, which contain unnecessary sugar, calories, and sometimes artificial sweeteners.
Juice, which is often marketed as a healthy drink, really isn’t good for you, since even natural sugars are still sugar. You’re much better off eating the whole fruit and at least getting the fiber! Even cows milk (which may or may not be a necessary part of your diet) contains about 13g sugar in one eight ounce cup.
Water tastes boring, but for adults and older children it really is the best way to hydrate. The amount you should drink will vary depending on your sex and size, but a good rule of thumb is to “pee clear” (your urine shouldn’t smell strongly or be dark yellow) and drink at least half your body weight in ounces or more depending on your level of exercise, medical conditions, and the temperature outside.
Be Advised: Too much water CAN be a bad thing and disrupt your electrolyte balance, so don’t go overboard. And keep in mind that infants under the age of 6 months should be getting hydration exclusively from breast milk or formula. If you breastfeed past six months, older babies and toddlers who breastfeed without restriction can get all the fluids they need through breast milk. When solids are introduced, which generally shouldn't be until after all signs of readiness and 6 months of age, sometimes a little water with a meal can help prevent constipation.
If you want to make drinking water a bigger part of your day, make sure you keep it around! Freeze bottles beforehand and have ice on hand so you can enjoy it cold, or consider making infused water. I carry a 32 ounce bottle with me so I don’t have to fill it often and so it’s easy to keep track of how much I’ve consumed—I only have to drink two bottles to meet my personal water minimum!
4) BEGIN RESEARCHING NATURAL PRODUCTS AND CLEANERS
For a long time I didn’t want to accept this, but it’s true that much of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bodies (just think about nicotine and birth control patches!). All of this got me thinking about the things I regularly put on my skin—particularly in the form of soaps, lotions, deodorant and other body care items—and the things I’m exposed to when cleaning.
I still assume that the ingredients in a lot of these things *probably* weren’t that bad in the doses I was getting them. I’m not generally one to scream cancer! poison! toxic chemicals! because I understand that literally everything is a chemical and that even “safe” things (like oxygen) have the potential to be toxic at high enough levels. I also know that something being natural doesn’t automatically make it healthy or safe (think poison dart frogs, wild mushrooms, botulism, etc.), so I’m pretty particular about the products I use. I ultimately feel most comfortable leaning a little more “natural” minded in this regard.
You’ll have to decide your own level of involvement (Fight Club reference) when it comes to natural body products and home cleaners, so take a few minutes to begin researching what’s really in the products you use. This might be an ongoing project for you, and if you decide to make some changes, you may find it most cost effective to slowly transition over time, rather than diving straight into a jar of coconut oil to create your own body products.
5) DON'T TAKE A SHOWER
I saved this one for last, because it’s probably the most off-putting to people.
Don’t take a shower? Are you saying I should stink?
Yes. And no. Obviously be considerate of others here, but if you find yourself in a position to not shower every day—or at least not use soap and shampoo every day—you might be doing your body a favor. Shampooing daily strips your hair of its natural oils, and it’s generally not recommended for most people. The same is true of using soap, which also strips the skin of its natural oils and can even disrupt the skin’s population of immune-system supporting bacteria.
So how often should you lather up? Probably not daily, and realistically, as long as you’re regularly washing your hands and clothing, some can get away with soaping up as little as once or twice a week. Of course, you may find you need at least hit your pits and privates more often and you may need to rely on dry shampoo, but the rest of the body doesn’t actually require that much soap.
Again, this all depends on your particular body and lifestyle, so don’t take this as license to never step foot inside a tub!
Healthy, natural living doesn't have to be hard. Start with basics like diet and go from there. Nobody expects you to do it perfectly and there is no award for doing it the best, so don't beat yourself up if you don't! Like so many things in life, this is a process. And it's okay if it takes time.
What have been the hardest lifestyle changes you've had to make? How did you find a way to do it?
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