Welcome to another edition of 52 healthy habits when each week we tackle a new healthy habit. This week we are talking about preparing for a healthy day. With a little planning and preparation we can set ourselves up for success. So when your boss asks you to stay late, your child remembers at 7pm he needs 36 cupcakes for school the next day or your dog's stomach disagrees with his new food (gross), you'll have the tools to manage stress and make good decisions, despite the things going on in your life. Because let's face it, life is always crazy. If we plan for success only on days where everything goes smoothly, we wouldn't stand a chance.
That's where healthy habits come in. The beauty of habits is that once they are practiced and developed they become automatic. They are the behaviors that we lean on when we have more important things to worry about. You're probably never too busy to make your morning coffee, brush your teeth or take a shower (you somehow always manage to find time). Your habits (good or bad) are how you live your life on autopilot. Taking the time time to develop healthy habits will serve you when life gets in the way of your best intentions.
IT ALL STARTS THE NIGHT BEFORE
Meal prep doesn't necessarily mean 21 tupperware containers with each meal for the week perfectly portioned, carefully measured and weighed. Meal prep isn't an all-or-nothing scenario. Anything you can do to set yourself up for success by preparing in advance counts as meal prep.
It can mean taking the time in the evening to chop vegetables for a salad or snack the next day.
It can mean packing your healthy lunch a day in advance.
It can mean deciding on what meals you will make during the week, buying the ingredients and having them prepped and ready to go for meal time.
It can mean doubling a dinner recipe so you have leftovers for lunch the next day.
It can mean cooking three pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast on Sunday afternoon.
It can mean hiring a meal prep service. It's about what works for your lifestyle.
I like to spend some time on Sunday cooking meals in the crockpot, meats in the oven or on the grill so that I have cooked protein ready to go at any time. (ok, truth: hubby does the cooking part.) He cooks a few pounds at a time and freezes what we won't use in the next several days. It is a lifesaver for quick healthy lunches and dinners.
Anything you do in advance to prepare and plan for healthy meals and snacks is meal prep. You don't have to start big. Chop veggies, wash fruit, bag up raw nuts for a snack on the go. Every little thing you do in advance will help you make better decisions when you're stressed, scattered or in a hurry.
If you are running on five hours of sleep it makes it harder to make good decisions. I know it may seem like you get more done when you stay up late and get up early, but most of our body's recovery processes happen during sleep. Your body has work to do while you sleep. Poor sleep can disrupt appetite regulation and cause you to feel hungrier during the day. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Create and follow a bedtime ritual to set yourself up for success. I know it is easier said than done. If you are getting less than seven hours a night, start by going to bed just 15 minutes earlier. Every little bit will help. You'll make better decisions when fully rested and restored.
Drink a cup or two of water before you gulp down your coffee in the morning. It helps rehydrate your body, it supports feeling alert and may help with appetite control.
15 MINUTES OF MOVEMENT
Schedule some movement in the morning: a 15 minute walk, 15 minutes of body weight exercises or a 15 minute Yoga or stretching sequence. You don't need to run a 10K or join the local CrossFit box for their 5am WOD. Just start with some light movement to energize you for the day. If you end up not having time for your regularly scheduled/structured workout, at least you got in 15 minutes of movement. It will give you a boost of endorphins and the feeling of accomplishment all before you make it out the front door. If you don't have time for 15 minutes, do 10, or 5 minutes. Whatever you can fit into your lifestyle is a great place to start.
PLAN AND EAT A HEALTHY BREAKFAST
Eat a healthy breakfast with protein, carbs and fat and you'll know that whatever life throws you that day, you'll at least have had one healthy meal at home. I like to eat two eggs, cottage cheese with berries and a piece of fruit. It can all be cooked/consumed in under 10 minutes. Don't have 10 minutes for breakfast? Try prepping hard-boiled eggs for the week or throw together a healthy protein shake for the road. Healthy can be quick and convenient too.
No day will ever be perfect. The best we can do is aim for better choices, not perfect. Healthy living isn't about perfection, it's about making the best choice of what's reasonably available to us. That means if you packed your lunch for work but there turns out to be a mandatory lunch meeting that's catered by a chain restaurant sandwich shop, just make the best choice possible. You don't have to be perfect. What's reasonable? Even with a less-than healthy meal in front of you, you can still pay attention to portions, try to fill up on protein and stop eating when full. If lunch didn't go exactly as planned, you always have dinner to make better choices. I don't get too caught up in the meal to meal decisions. One meal will not make or break your health or progress. I try to make the best choice I can with what's available to me and I move on. Don't obsess.
I know. It doesn't seem like it would matter much, but a lot of little movement throughout the day adds up. You body doesn't know the difference between incidental exercise and intentional exercise. Park in the farthest spot away from the front door at work or school. Do the same at the grocery store (and return your cart back to the store, not the closest stall). Take the stairs. Use the restroom on another floor. Pace while you're on the phone. Take a short brisk walk after you've finished lunch. Walk to talk to your co-workers rather than emailing them. Go the long way. It all adds up. If you have time for a regular exercise session during the day, then great. Find an exercise that you enjoy and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days a week.
If you planned your meal ahead of time, you're more likely to make a healthy choice. Try to eat dinner at a consistent time at an actual table (no, the coffee table doesn't count). Eat most meals at home. If you can put away electronic devices, turn off TVs and actually talk to your family/housemates during dinner, that is the best case scenario. (I'll admit this is a hard one in our house.)
Eat slowly. Chew your food slowly. Pay attention to fullness cues and stop eating when you've had enough. Even with slow eating, we can usually eat a dinner in our house in about 15 minutes. Hubby is the cook, he has mastered the quick and healthy dinner. Most dinners take 15-20 minutes to prepare, are delicious and healthy. He calls himself Chef Boy Russ G. Maybe he needs a guest segment on the blog to show us some of his favorite recipes. What do you think?
THE WIND DOWN
Turn off electronic devices 60 minutes before bed. Relax with a book or magazine, or talk to your family/housemates about their day. Take a bath, call a friend, journal your thoughts. Take a little bit of time away from electronics for some self care at the end of the day and you'll likely fall asleep faster and more soundly. If you don't have 30 minutes before bed for self care, take five. Start somewhere.
If it all seems like common sense, it is. The problem is the common sense doesn't seem so common anymore. The messages from the fitness industry tell you that you have do more, be perfect, eat organic, eat clean, lift heavier, run farther, work harder...when the truth from my point of view is that we just need to develop healthier habits, cultivate environments that enable us to make better choices, spend time with people who encourage and empower us, move a little more doing the things we enjoy and love ourselves a lot more.
You don't have to do everything at once. Tackle one thing at a time and work on it for a few weeks. Grow a little each week. Get better each month. Become a little healthier each year. A healthy lifestyle is not a 21 day challenge or a 12 week solution, it's a journey for the rest of your life, you might as well enjoy it.
Have questions? I'd love to help.
Like this post? It helps me a lot when you share with your friends and followers.
I am a NASM personal trainer and RRCA adult distance running coach that specializes in strength training for runners. I offer in-person training in the Shredshed, online training and nutrition coaching. If you are interested in coaching, please contact me. Have questions? I'd love to help.
While I am a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, I am not your personal trainer and nutrition coach. Since I don't know your exercise abilities, injury background or medical history, please see your doctor before beginning any new exercise or diet program. This is an opinion blog. No information in this blog is intended to be taken as medical advice or prescription. Please see your doctor and/or registered dietitian for any health concerns.