There is a lot of confusion about how and what to eat in this country. That’s not surprising when you consider that a search for nutrition books on Amazon.com returns more than 50,000 books! Are there really 50,000 ways to eat? Possibly, but my opinion is that effective nutrition programs tend to have more similarities than differences.

Let’s put the differences aside and get back to basics. Here is a list of basic nutritional tips to help you start losing weight and improving your health:

1. Drink more water

Start your day by drinking a glass or two of water when you first wake up, then drink water throughout the day. How much water should you drink? Expert opinions vary on this, but I personally use half my body weight in ounces of water as a guide. I weigh 194 pounds, so I should drink about 97 ounces of water a day. Try to drink only water or green tea if you feel like you have a lot of weight to lose.

2. Eat balanced meals

There are many different expert opinions on this, including the Zone diet, Atkin’s, Pritikin, Metabolic Typing, the government food pyramid, etc. I like to keep things simple. Eat some meat (lean meat, chicken, fish, or eggs), starch (brown rice, quinoa, etc.), and some vegetables (spinach, chard, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, etc.). Nutrition research is beginning to show that we are all individuals and that our metabolism is affected by our genetics and lifestyle. There is no definitive answer on what to eat unless genetic testing is done and it fits your lifestyle. Nutritional genomics is the future of dietary prescribing, but consuming all of the foods listed above will put you on the right track.

3. Have breakfast

I meet so many people who start their day with coffee or coffee and a bagel and then end the day with a great meal before going to bed. This is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. When you wake up in the morning, your blood sugar is low because you haven’t eaten during sleep. Make sure to start your day with breakfast by following the guidelines I mentioned earlier about eating balanced meals. Aren’t you hungry in the morning? No problem, just eat what you can and gradually increase the amount until you have a full breakfast. After a while of doing this, you will find that your body craves a meal when you first wake up. You should also find that your energy levels and mood improve as you start giving your body what it needs earlier in the day.

4. Eat several small meals throughout the day.

Not only should you have a balanced breakfast, but you should also eat 3 to 5 meals / snacks per day. These meals and snacks should be consumed every 3-4 hours. How many should you have? This is a complex question that must be addressed with a professional. A more general answer would be: eat if you are hungry. Some people have metabolic or psychological problems that make them hungry even when they have recently eaten. Chances are, you’re not one of these people, so don’t starve yourself. Eat when you are hungry.

5. Minimize processed foods.

I really mean never eat processed foods, but let’s face it: some of these things taste good and many of us will never completely eliminate them from our diet. That’s fine, but keep in mind that the more you eat, the more difficult it will be for you to maintain weight and improve your health. How do you identify processed foods? Just read the label. Forget what the marketing says on the package, the nutrition information on the label will give you the best information about the product. Ingredient labels must list certain things and meet government standards.

Ingredients are listed from largest component to smallest component. For example, if the ingredient list has: water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and orange juice, you know that the product is actually made up of water, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar; it probably doesn’t have much juice. Also, if you read the label and the product has words that you cannot pronounce or sound like chemical warfare agents, it is very likely that it is processed food. Keep your intake of these products to an absolute minimum.

6. Eat or prepare your meals at home

This can be time consuming, especially if you don’t consider yourself a decent cook, but I think preparing your own food is a necessary key to steer your eating regimen in the right direction. Many restaurants and fast food places keep costs down by buying the cheapest ingredients they can find. Also keep in mind that most restaurant food is prepared to taste good, not necessarily to help you with your nutritional goals. For some chefs, to taste good, you need to add things that you might not do if you were cooking your own food. You do not know how to cook? Okay, just learn a few basics to get the job done. Cooking scrambled eggs and making salads is a great way to start.

7. Follow the 90/10 rule

We are all busy and we all give in to tasty temptations. Don’t get too stressed out about it, and don’t set unreasonable expectations for yourself. Instead, try to follow the principles of good nutrition 90% of the time. Even if 90% is too big of a behavior change for you, try 60/40. Eventually, you can increase the percentage, but start with something that is reasonable for you. Just make sure your healthy eating outnumbers your unhealthy ones and you’ll be on the right track.

8. Listen to your body

Our bodies are very complex and there are many systems to give you feedback on how what you eat is affecting you. For example, you can eat too much ice cream. It might taste pretty good when you’re going down, but the stomachache or sluggishness you feel afterward is your body’s way of giving you feedback on your eating habits. Your body is an amazing machine, so be sure to listen to it!

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