Smart switches: Top changes I made on my nutrition to become healthier over the past year
As you may recall, a few years ago I moved from a totally sedentary lifestyle to a healthier one. I wrote a little more about the beginning of my journey on this post.
This change took place in 2013. From 2013 to 2018, like any normal human being, I went through ups and downs, there were times when I took more or less care of my health but I kept an overall improvement.
One of the major difficulties I faced during this period was, in fact, having a basic routine. I had a crazy (and pretty amazing job). In the past years, I went on many business trips (over 20 countries, countless cities), and I was used to very few hours of sleep, on top of a not-so-incredible financial situation.
In 2018, I started a new job and moved “definitely” to Brussels. I realized it was time to focus a little more on my long-term health, my quality of life, and not just losing weight. Stability and routine brought me a different view on life itself, and that's when a big change occurred: a change of mindset. In practice, I went through a transformation of mentality, of how I see life and how I face everyday situations.
The changes I made were intended to answer the following questions:
How do I improve my energy throughout the day while keeping it more stable?
How to increase my focus?
How to increase my overall well-being?
And last but not least: How do I become more productive not only at work but also in my hobbies and personal life?
In this article, I will share the main changes I made in the last year related to my diet. These changes have helped me not only lose weight but also improve my quality of life and increase my energy levels. It is important, however, to know that along with dietary changes, I also made changes in lifestyle. I will share these in an upcoming article.
So here are the main changes I made:
Change # 1: Swap processed foods/meats for more natural options
Last year, if you asked me what my favorite food was, I would probably tell you something like "a board with ham and lots of cheese". I must admit that here in Belgium we have great ham and sausages, so I ate something like that (ham, salami, etc.) almost daily.
Nevertheless, I found that these foods contain nitrites and nitrates and high concentrations of sodium. They are terrible for our health, as they can not only raise cholesterol but also cause cancer as well as bloating because of sodium.
For this reason, I challenged myself to eat processed meats only on special occasions, and nowadays I must say that I don't even like it as much as before.
Change # 2: Swap milk chocolate for healthier ones (with higher % of cocoa)
One thing is a fact: I am crazy about chocolate. But especially after moving to Belgium, I learned one thing: If you like chocolate, you don't like the milk chocolate that is sold at the supermarket, because it is made of sugar and milk and contains very little cocoa in itself.
Yeah, do you know the benefits of cocoa? They basically do not exist in milk chocolate, as it often contains not even 30% cocoa in its composition. Also, the biggest problem with milk chocolate for me is the fact that sugar will always make you want to eat more, as they are a trigger. This makes it very easy to eat half a bar (or even a full bar!) of chocolate in half an hour.
My tip? Get used to dark chocolate.
Believe me: No one likes it at first! So, start at 50% cocoa and go up little by little. Nowadays, I eat chocolate with 85% cocoa, and I find it amazing, which wasn't the case when I started
Change # 3: Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Everyone knows that alcohol is not a great health ally, especially in large quantities. In 2018, there were many social occasions (even at work) where I started with an innocent glass of wine, and when I saw it I was already on the second or third one. That also made me eat more than I should - because alcohol is a trigger for appetite.
My challenge was to leave alcoholic beverages for special moments and change the way I see things. Nowadays I ask myself: Is it worth it?
Another tip is to opt for “healthier” types of alcohol, such as dry wines or gin & tonic without sugar.
Change # 4: Include foods with lower calorie density
Caloric density is the measure of the caloric content of foods in relation to their weight or volume. In general, foods with a low-calorie density increase the feeling of satiety and tend to be healthier than average. The advice here is to choose foods that will make you feel more satisfied, rather than going for more caloric and less nutritious options.
- Oils: Although oils like olive oil are super healthy foods, they are highly caloric. Did you know that a tablespoon of olive oil has 100+ kcal? Yeah ...
Nowadays I still use olive oil and coconut oil, but I create my own sauces and mixes, including lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, etc. That made a big difference in my calorie consumption over the day.
- Cheese and nuts: I also reduced the consumption of cheese and nuts in general, as these have a lot of calories and don't make me feel full. Nowadays, I prefer to eat more and feel satisfied for longer.
Change # 5: Feel like eating something different? Cook it yourself!
I believe this is one of the most important changes you can make today: eating home-made food.
Today, even when I want to eat pizza, cake, or pasta, I choose to make it myself or go to restaurants that offer fresher food.
Want to eat a pizza? Bake it yourself!
Not only will you see the difference in taste, but you'll also enjoy the process more. Just starting to prepare something from scratch will make you more aware of what you are putting in terms of ingredients.
When it comes to candy or sweet treats, if you can't make them yourself, look for better options. I don't eat ultra-processed ice cream anymore, for example. I buy more natural ice cream, like Oppo and Halo Top.
It goes without saying that there are these kinds of days when we are very eager to eat a pizza, or a hamburger, or something else. We are human and we have the right to do that. However, we should not do it all the time - not because calories are high, but because foods like these will reduce your sense of well-being and longevity.
Conclusion: Eat anything, but not everything.
Thus, the most important message in this article is: You can eat anything, but be conscious about the portions, and stop to assess the potential consequences of your choices before making them.
Implementing these changes will be more difficult at first (as usual when it comes to implementing a new habit). In the long run, though, I can promise you it will be worth it.
These changes have had a major impact on my daily life, and I've never felt so energetic and productive throughout the week.
In terms of dietary changes, these were the main ones that I implemented. As mentioned beforehand, I will soon write a more routine-focused article, including productivity tips. If you are interested, leave a comment for me to know, please :)
I hope you enjoyed the article, and see you next time!