Exercise is great and all, but if you really want to make an impact on your health, you should probably start by first changing what’s on your plate and in your cup. Why? Consuming the right foods will make exercise less of a drag, and far more likely to actually happen.
Think about it this way: You wouldn’t expect your sport sedan to run great if you were to fill it up with diesel. So why do we expect our bodies to wake up and joyfully roll out of bed to succeed at the gym if we fill it up with processed carbohydrates and corn syrup?
When it comes to health, exercise definitely matters, but not as much as food. That said, eating healthy isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Your body is entirely unique unto you, so you’re going to have to work with what works best for you. But the fundamentals of a good diet are pretty universal, no matter if your level of sensitivity to gluten, shellfish, or broccoli.
Make some water goals
Water is trending. Okay, okay, technically water has always been trending due to its necessity for human life (details), but in recent months people have taken their water goals seriously. Check out the #waterchallenge of drinking one gallon of water for 30 days.
Social media influencers are loving it and touting better skin, more flexibility, better energy, and fewer hunger pangs. Yet, unless you’re working manual labor outdoors in Arizona, that’s probably overkill, as one gallon is double the standard advice of drinking eight glasses per day.
Still, all of us could probably drink more water and setting an outlandish challenge won’t hurt (within reason), as the best side effect of the #waterchallenge is getting into the habit of staying well-hydrated. The benefits of keeping your system flush with water include better-functioning joints, removing waste from your body more efficiently, keeping your brain sharp, even helping to prevent heart disease.
Say goodbye to sugar
The sugar industry has spent millions of dollars blaming fat for the obesity epidemic. While popular opinion is slowly coming to understand that sugar — not fat — might be the bigger culprit, sugar remains a main ingredient in many packaged goods. After all, our taste buds have been trained to respond positively to sweet things — from our favorite dipping sauces to our coffee flavoring.
In fact, according to the documentary That Sugar Film, most western cultures consume 40 teaspoons of sugar a day, which causes major health problems in our society. Sugar is addictive so it can be a challenge to limit your sugar intake, especially when it can be found everywhere.
Try cutting out sugar (yes, completely) for a few weeks, and see how you feel. Unless it’s in the form of a fruit, simply avoid it until your cravings subside — and then only indulge on special occasions.
Get to know your cruciferous veggies
We all know veggies are great, but they’re not all created equal (sorry, potatoes). If you’re trying to kick your health into high gear, ignore the starches and focus on learning how to cook your cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower). These kinds of veggies are closely linked to cardiovascular health.
Packed with antioxidants and fiber, the benefits of cruciferous veggies are rather phenomenal: the compound sulforaphane has shown to protect our bodies from free radicals, preventing all kinds of cancers, as well as having antidepressant and pain management capabilities.
Invest in high-quality protein
Protein is crucial for survival. Our bodies need it to build and repair bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood, and it exists in every cell in the human body. Made of long chains of amino acids, proteins play a critical role in coordinating basic bodily functions and keeping our immune system and energy sources in order.
When you’re trying to regulate your diet and focus on consuming appropriate quantities of food, protein greatly reduces impulsive eating because it makes you feel fuller longer than compared to your typical snack. In fact, according to a recent study, increasing protein intake by 25 percent in overweight men reduced their cravings by 60 percent.
All that said, it’s good to focus more on the quality of your protein than the quantity. This means avoiding proteins with a ton of fillers and additives (like gas station beef jerky) and focusing on the kinds that require actual cooking (such as salmon).
Turn your weeknight nightcap into tea
Don’t give me wrong — I love a good glass of wine at night. But when I switched out my weeknight antioxidant ritual with herbal tea instead, I started feeling a little less achy in the morning.
The benefits of herbal teas abound (as do the benefits of reducing alcohol consumption). A non-caffeinated tea is an ideal way to wrap up your day totally guilt-free. It also helps your digestive system, boosts your metabolism right before you sleep, and strengthens your immune system — all while lowering stress hormones and increasing your hydration levels.