Dear Lea: I just found your site – love it! I’m 66 and in need of a change – big one – among which I want to become healthier in my older age. What is the best way to start eating healthier – I’m a junk food junkie – mainly sweets. I would rather eat them than a good meal. Also, not fond of many meats, dont eat many fruits/veggies, etc. Basically not a good eater (and I feel it, it shows). –KE
It is a great goal to move to healthier eating as you age. Sometimes our motivation is stronger because as we get older, our poor habits tend to manifest as aches, pains and generally not feeling well.
I would first like to say that it is important to go to a physician and get a good physical including blood tests. There are many chronic illnesses that you do not feel until you have had them for a while and they are fully manifested. It would also be ideal if you could work with a Dietitian in person. It sounds like you may live in an area where you do not have many resources. And I understand that the internet can be very overwhelming. Some insurance companies work with health agencies that do online counseling with a Dietitian. If you have any insurance plan other than medicare, look into what they offer.
Here is some general advice for healthy eating. I can’t take into account your individual situation which is why working with someone in person works better.
- Work on only 1 or 2 changes at a time, be kind to yourself and as non-judgmental as possible. It took you a long time to develop the habits that are bad for you and slowly changing habits may give you a chance to keep the new ones.
- Adequate sleep and exercise help health and weight loss. Get at least 7 hrs. of sleep a night and exercise regularly, even if it is just around your house. See some of our posts on sleep and exercise for more information).
- Foods that are good for you are lean meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, whole grains, fruit (instead of sugary foods!), eggs and dairy.
- It is often helpful to eat protein and carbs together with snacks if you graze through the day. ie. 1 0z lean turkey breast and 2-3 whole grain crackers or a small apple with peanut butter or 1 oz. cheese and 1 slice whole grain bread, 1/2 c. plain yogurt and 2-3 strawberries. If you include protein it may help curb your appetite and need to snack on junk foods. Read our blogpost ” Why Do We Crave Sugar” and “Eating well without depriving yourself“.
- Foods to avoid first are sugary drinks, fruit juices (fresh fruit is better), white flour products like white bread, foods with lots of sugar, snack foods like potato chips, candy and fried foods like fried chicken or french fries. If you are a junk food junky this list may sound overwhelming. Let’s break down these changes into do-able actions:
- Do away with the sugary drinks. If you drink fruit juice, have less and water it down by half as you wean yourself off of it. Water and herb teas are great beverages.
- Replace white bread, rice and pasta with 100% whole grain versions.
- Don’t buy junk food. If you do not have it in the house, you can’t eat it.
- Bake or broil (and boil potatoes) instead of frying.
- You may not like many fruits or vegetables, but capitalize on the ones you do like and keep eating them.
- Search the web for healthy and appealing vegetable recipes that you may be willing to try.
- If you eat yogurt, buy the plain and add a little fruit for sweetness.
This should get you started. Best of luck with this awesome life project!
Lea Basch is a registered dietitian and has been in the nutrition industry for over 30 years, most of which she spent at Longmont United Hospital in Boulder, Colorado, where she was one of the founders of the facility’s nutrition program. Longmont’s Planetree philosophy of caring for the body, mind and spirit of patients is very much in line with Lea’s interest in both traditional and alternative therapies for treating chronic illnesses. Gluten-intolerant herself, Lea now focuses much of her time on the latest research and issues relating to gluten-free diets and other food intolerances. She is a diabetes educator and is a Registered Dietitian with the American Dietetic Association. Lea’s lifelong passion has been combining the science of nutrition with the heart that it takes to change lifelong habits.
Lea received her BS and MS in Nutrition and Dietetics at Florida International University and BA in Education at University of Florida. Ask Lea your nutrition questions at Lea@tastefulpantry.com