Getting "fit" can be tough, but for most people, maintaining your fitness is even harder. It's not just about reaching your goal, but staying there. Living a healthy lifestyle (whatever that personally means to you) requires a long-term change, but it is possible if you adopt some of the nutritional habits of people who've gotten fit.
You already know the basics of physical fitness: eat less of the foods that don't offer your body the nutrients it needs, exercise more regularly (however you enjoy!), and make food choices that arm your body with the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates it's in need of. But, the majority of us only take that approach when we're trying to reach a short-term goal such as fitting into a dress, or losing a few pounds before a big event. As soon as that milestone passes, it's easy to fall back into bad habits. The secret is not doing it, but becoming the kind of person who does it everyday.
How do you become the kind of person who lives a healthy lifestyle? Start by reaching out for help. Make an appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist to learn how permanently incorporate healthy eating habits into your long-term life plan. Meet with a trainer who can teach you how to get fit, as well as ways you can continue to exercise daily once you've met your goal. Talk to a counselor to help you overcome issues that may prevent you from maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And make sure you define why you want to get "fit," and understand that fitness and health look very different for every single person.
In the mean time, here are some habits the experts want you to pick up in order to get fit and stay fit.
1. Become A Planner
It can be fun to fly by the seat of your pants, but sometimes spontaneity can work against your health. Rebecca Baer, RD, a registered dietitian in Florida, tells me in an interview with Romper that one of the most important habits a person can create is planning. It's especially important to know where you'll during meal times. If you'll be going out to eat, try to choose places that offer options in line with your dietary plans and decide what you'll order before arriving. She says:
Planning is so important when making changes to a person's diet – and keeping those changes. If you haven't prepared ahead of time to cook a healthy meal that night, chances are you will end up choosing a food that is convenient and not necessarily healthy.
Rhode Island-based pediatric dietitian, Kaitlyn Ware, RD, agrees. She believes meal planning is the key to healthy weeknight eating. "If meal planning seems overwhelming, pick three meals to cook each week. Shop on the weekend for ingredients and do prep work when you have extra down time."
2. Stock Your Fridge And Pantry
How often do you order a pizza or run to the drive-thru because there's nothing to eat? Ware recommends first checking your fridge and pantry to see if there's something you can throw together that's healthier than fast food. "Eggs can be whipped up quickly and made into a scramble or omelet with cheese and veggies. Add a whole grain piece of toast and some fruit, and you've got a balanced meal that is much healthier."
Another one of Ware's tips is to use your Crock-Pot. Put in a whole chicken on Sunday seasoned with lemon, salt, and pepper, and you have chicken ready to use in sandwiches and salads for the whole week so that you aren't running out at the last minute to get take out.
3. Be A Smart Shopper
Baer recommends grocery shopping on a full stomach to keep unnecessary purchases at bay, and to always shop with a grocery list. Not only does this keep you from missing key ingredients in your meal plans, it also makes shopping much quicker for people (like me) who detest going to the grocery store.
While you're at the store, Ware suggests picking up bags of frozen fruits rather than fresh fruits that you can keep in the freezer for quick breakfast smoothies, or to drop into a jug of water for a tasty, calorie-free beverage. This is a great tip for those of us who have a hard time finishing a 16-ounce bottle of water, but can drink the entire pitcher of cucumber water at the hair salon or hotel lobby.
4. Get Moving
It's no secret that people who live healthy lifestyles exercise regularly. Anne London, MS RDN, a Connecticut-based registered dietitian nutritionist, suggests that people who have become more sedentary as they age should try to rediscover an activity they enjoyed growing up. "I played tennis everyday as a kid. Then I took about a 10-year break." London says, "When I joined a tennis team, I remembered how much I loved it again, made new friends and got great exercise. Go back to your roots and get playing an old sport you loved."
A 20-minute strength training routine is a great way to build up lean muscle mass, suggests Baer. "I do squats, crunches, sit-ups, plank, and a few yoga poses everyday."
If you haven't quite committed to an exercise routine, Ware suggests creating everyday habits that will increase your activity, such as adopting a "two- to three-flight rule" for stairs. This is when you give yourself a rule that unless you have to climb more than two to three floors you can't use the elevator and must take the stairs. Also, it's important to remember that exercising takes many, many different forms. For some, it's taking the two flights of stairs to and from the office. For others, it's a 60-minute interval-training class at the gym. No matter what, find an exercise you enjoy, and stick to it because you enjoy it. And remember, it's not a competition!
5. Don't Get Hangry
You've been there: that feeling you get when you've gone too long without eating and suddenly your body starts to crash and your mood takes a dark turn. Baer recommends eating small, frequent meals throughout the day to keep your energy levels up and help you make food decisions that will help keep your spirits high.
When mealtimes roll around, Ware serves a first course "veggie appetizer" to help curb that pre-dinner starving feeling, as well as getting in an extra serving of vegetables. Drinking a full glass of water after your first helping may fill you up and prevent you from getting a second helping.
Baer notes that your dinner plate should be 40-percent salad, 40-percent vegetables, and 20-percent protein. Fill that plate up with bulky salad and veggies to help fill you up. "I like to keep my salad on my dinner plate (rather than a separate bowl), because it is much more visually appealing to have a totally full plate rather than a tiny piece of protein and some veggies on a large plate."
6. If You Need To, Nix The Tempting Foods
It's hard to stick to a healthy lifestyle when you constantly have temptation staring at you. Baer says that you should make your environment a safe space by getting rid of junk foods. If you do have to keep some temptation foods around for your spouse, kids, or roommate, keep those items hidden in opaque containers or on high shelves so that they aren't staring at you every time you open the refrigerator or pantry.
Another good tip when you have cravings is what Baer calls "move a muscle, change a thought." She adds, "When cravings and temptations are descending upon you, it is a good time to get up and do something else. Call your mom/sibling/best friend and ask how their day was. Clean your room, vacuum, or organize your bag for the following day. You'd be surprised how helpful it is when you simply change what your doing in order to forget about what you were thinking about before."
7. Include Your Kids
Getting your children involved in a healthy lifestyle is key to a parent's nutritional success. When London's children were little, she ran pushing them in a jogging stroller. Now, they often join her on runs and jump in while she's working out to fitness video. "Involving your kids in working out is one of my favorite tips." says London, "Not only does it allow you to get your workout in, it is a nice, productive way to spend time together." She also suggests introducing your children to a sport you love when they are young, so that you can play together as a family as they get older.
Baer suggests bringing your little ones to the grocery store and using the time to help educate them on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You can also get your shopping done more quickly by splitting your grocery list with older kids, helping them learn how to shop healthfully for themselves. When you get home, include the kids in the dinner prep. "My kids started by playing with Tupperware and pots and pans. They they were mixers and lettuce tearers." Now they love to cook and beg me to help or even make a meal themselves," says London.
Baer's advice for late-night cravings? "Go to sleep early. The earlier you get to bed, the less time you're awake eating. Easy as that!" She also notes that a good night's sleep will pay off the next day because you will think better and feel better. Lack of sleep can trigger sugar and refined carb cravings because your body is looking for a pick me up.