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Instead of dieting, focus on these 5 small changes

Here are five simple steps you can take to bust out of an unhealthy food rut, and make some lasting, realistic changes.

Dieting can seem daunting. The good news is that you don't have to go on a diet to improve your overall health. Small changes to your meal plan and exercise routine can add up in big ways. Here are five simple steps you can take to bust out of an unhealthy food rut, and make some lasting, realistic changes.

Step 1: Incorporate produce with every meal.

Bonus points for snacks, too. Veggies and fruit are high in volume and low in calories, so they help to fill you up without filling you out. They’re also packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep your body healthy and strong. Plus, they’re a terrific source of fiber to lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar, which is important for reducing your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other concerning health conditions.

Step 2: Drink half your weight in water.

If you weigh 150 pounds, aim to gulp down 75 ounces daily. This does several things: It keeps you hydrated, which aids in digestion and metabolism, it helps keep you distracted, and it also may help prevent you from confusing thirst with hunger. A win on so many fronts! Flat or sparkling water is fine. If you like a bit of flavor, go for a sparkling flavored water. And coffee and tea count, too.

Step 3: Stick to a 12-hour eating window.

Cut down your eating opportunities, and the temptations, by sticking to a limited eating period. If you eat breakfast at 8 a.m., then your last meal or snack should be at 8 p.m. (You can adjust this backwards or forwards on a day-to-day basis depending on your schedule and plans.)

This is a more flexible version of intermittent fasting, an eating approach proven to be an effective way to reign in your nibbling and the total amount you consume.

Step 4: Make meal times matter.

With work from home and remote learning, it can be difficult to differentiate between your office or classroom and the kitchen. Try to separate being on the job and out-to-lunch by scheduling meal times and making it a "no phone/electronic zone." By having an eating rhythm and removing distractions, you’ll be better equipped to listen to your hunger cues and prevent overeating by fully immersing yourself in your eating experience

Step 5: Get in quaranTUNE with your hunger.

Hunger signals are cues we can use to determine if we are really hungry or not. Being home all the time, having no clear routine and moving less often can create the urge to eat all day long. Thus, it’s important to ask ourselves, “Am I really hungry, or am I just looking for a snacktivity because I'm bored?”

The next time you are heading to your pantry or fridge on autopilot, stop and assess your hunger level before mindlessly munching away. Rate your hunger on a scale of 1-5 (1 = starving, 5 = full). The goal is to never go too long without eating so that you’re at a ravenous No. 1, or to have eaten so much that you’re uncomfortably-full-5.

  1. Ravenous, feeling weak and irritable
  2. Hungry and ready to eat
  3. Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
  4. Pleasantly full
  5. Uncomfortably full

Here’s how to use the scale:

Stop, close your eyes and focus your attention on your stomach. Our mind can often tell us when to eat and how much to consume, by listening to your stomach you bypass the emotional eating route.

  • If your hunger level is between 1 and 2, it’s definitely time to eat.
  • If your hunger level is between 2 and 3, hydrate and take a walk. You may just need to refresh your surroundings and clear your head. If you’re still hungry after that, enjoy a meal or snack.
  • If you’ve just eaten and are unsure whether or not you're still hungry for more food, pause for 15 to 20 minutes, and then reassess your hunger level. You’ll get a more accurate reading by giving your system time to digest the food you’ve just eaten. If after that you determine you’re a 3+, find a non-food activity that’ll help distract you from the kitchen.

See how many of these steps you can focus on this week. If only one or two seem doable, start there and continue to add a step when you feel ready.

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