If you’ve been following my Small Steps toward a fit life program in 2014, you’ve taken control of your daily calorie intake (January’s portion control), practiced planning ahead to minimize high calorie meals and maximize opportunities for exercise (February’s plan ahead) and used strategies to manipulate your environment to decrease the odds that you’ll fall back into unhealthy habits (March’s accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives). Congratulations!
This month’s step is more of a tweak than an all-out change. These substitution suggestions will work in tandem with the new habits you’ve adopted over the last few months.
If you’re already following the first small step, portion control, you’re careful to consume the right amount of each food at snacks and meals. This small step is about substituting a correctly portioned higher quality item for all or a portion of one food item in each meal or snack. Higher quality items are high in nutrients while lower in calories and saturated fats. This ensures you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs but reduces your total daily saturated fat and calorie intake.
The first option is to make the portion of proteins and grains smaller and substitute what you’ve eliminated with fruits or vegetables. Some examples:
For one cup each of cereal and low-fat milk, substitute: 3/4 cup each of cereal and low-fat milk & add fresh berries
- For a full deli meat sandwich, substitute: 1/2 sandwich with extra vegetables
- For a soup and 1/2 sandwich lunch special, substitute: soup and side salad
Another option is to substitute all your protein or grain with a higher quality version. For meats you can substitute fish, egg whites, beans, nuts or seeds. Substitute low-fat dairy for the full-fat variety. In the grain department, choose them in as close to straight-from-the-farm as possible: quinoa, barley, wheat berries, farro, bulgur, whole oats, potatoes baked in the skins and brown rice are some examples. When they are processed (cereals, couscous, breads, pasta) look for 100% whole grains as the first ingredient. But, remember, portion size is king. Don’t sabotage your substitutions by portioning out more than a serving. Some examples:
For a snack of 1 oz cheese & serving of crackers, substitute: 1 oz reduced fat cheese & medium apple
- For a salad with 3 oz of grilled chicken, substitute: a salad with 3 oz of chickpeas or tuna
- For a 1/2 cup white rice, substitute: 1/2 cup brown rice
- For a cup of cream-based soup, substitute: a cup of broth-based soup
- For a granola bar, substitute: a small banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter
What you don’t want to do is eliminate proteins and whole grains. Both contain macro and micronutrients your body needs to thrive and help keep you satiated until the next meal. This is about making smart choices, not elimination.
There’s a common refrain among my clients – 150 minutes of exercise every week (the minimum recommended for all adults by the US Dept of Health and Human Services) just to maintain one’s current weight is an unrealistic and unattainable goal for most adults. But most people interpret this number the wrong way. Most imagine that the recommendation refers to structured exercise, otherwise known as workouts, and that the workouts would need to be strenuous to count. Neither assumption is true. The 150 minutes refers specifically to moderate exercise and it can be in the form of duties within a paid job or household chores. Housecleaning, yard work, dog-walking and professions that require manual labor or extensive amounts of time standing or walking (floor nurses, security guards, chefs, restaurant wait staff, just to name a few) all rack up minutes toward the suggested 150 weekly total. In other words, you don’t have to log 150 minutes sweating in a gym to meet the standard. So, this month try to substitute more movement for what otherwise would be a sedentary or passive activity.
At every chance you get throughout each day choose standing over sitting, walking over standing, and walking further distances or faster paces. Examples: stand while on the phone, take the stairs, park in a space furthest from the door. Can you incorporate walking or bike riding in your commute or errand running? Use half your lunch hour to take a walk. Always use the restroom on a different floor or furthest from you. Before you know it, these choices to move more will be incorporated into your life without you ever thinking about it and, coupled with structured workouts, make logging 150 minutes (or more) of exercise each week realistic and attainable.
Incorporate these substitutions even if you already exercise. The latest research shows that even those who exercise regularly are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease if they are sedentary for long periods during most days.
If you need external motivation, get an inexpensive pedometer (Omron Pocket Pedometer, $25) that you can wear discretely all day. Aim to top your total amount of steps each day. Some pedometers (Striiv Smart Pedometer, $100) come with access to apps for your mobile phone so you can compete against frenemies or win prizes.
My One Small Step Philosophy: A fit life is attained by making small, manageable changes in food consumption and exercise over time. This allows a person time to create and hone new, fit habits that then become adopted and integrated into her everyday life. The result is a person who is living a fit lifestyle each and every day, making her healthy and strong for a lifetime. I have used this philosophy to create my One Small Step blog series. Each month, I give you one healthy change to work on for that entire month. Sometimes it’s a diet change, sometimes an exercise change and sometimes one of each. The idea is to concentrate only on that one change for a month so that it becomes ingrained into your daily meals or weekly exercise routines, making you able to take on another small change at the beginning of the next month.
Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional. My food recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry publications I receive and my personal experience. Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals. If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet.