Spring is arriving in just a few days, and I always get the “starting fresh” mood when March is approaching. Whether you would like to clean your wardrobe, house, diet or life, spring clean can be the perfect moment for fresh new beginnings. This post will focus on diet, and some small changes you can make in this period to improve it.
1. Clean and Organize Your Kitchen
Start with cleaning your cooking and eating space, as your clean fridge and kitchen will definitely help you improve your eating habits. A tidy clean space may encourage you to use it more, so you may want to cook your own healthy meals more often.
Also, donating the sweets and all other food stuff you have in your fridge that you feel guilty about eating when you are stressed or that you want to give up to, can make both you and someone else happy. The best way to get rid of those bad eating habits is to reduce the temptation to indulge in them.
Instead, try reorganizing the kitchen and the fridge by placing close to view some containers with already cut veggies and fruits. By making them the easiest choice to go to when craving food, it is more likely to chew them instead of the chocolate bar that will be hidden in the back of the cupboard, in the tallest drawer, where you must climb to a stair or a chair to rich it.
Lastly, cleaning the kitchen, you should also throw away all nearly emptied condiments, expired or almost expired foods, and the stuff you never used in the last year. If you never used those for a year, you most likely never will.
Cleaning up your diet should start with water. I always struggled with drinking 2 liters of water per day. I was barely drinking a quarter of that amount. But I forced myself to do it for a week, and the changes were significant.
First, I lost all the water weight. My body was so used to being dehydrated that it kept all the little water I was drinking stored in my muscles and fat. After a week of hydrating properly, I lost almost 5kg without making any other dietary changes. Second, my skin never felt healthier. All the effort I made to use brightening and hydrating skincare products was insignificant compared to a week of proper hydration. Thirdly, after one week of drinking 2 liters of water per day, my body finally learned to send me the thirst sensation when needing water.
My body was so deprived of hydration that it no longer activated the thirst neuron signals, and I never actually knew how thirsty I was. Lastly, my food cravings significantly decreased. I was taking the water necessary for my body to function from foods, so my brain sent hunger signals to my body when what I actually needed was water.
It might be difficult to start drinking such a large quantity of water per day, but starting small is the best choice you can make. The first step you should take is giving up sugary drinks, cafeine and alcohol, as those only make you even less hydrated due to the way they affect the liver, which is the organ detoxing your organism.
Switching to clean water may be difficult to do immediately if you are not used to it, so you can make the transition gradual, by drinking green tea or lemonade. Lemon and lime juice also have the advantage of reducing hunger feelings and food cravings.
Two other tips I use to drink more water are always carrying a reusable bottle with me that I can refill during the day and setting up some alarms during the day, in the beginning, to remind myself to hydrate. Moreover, I always start and end my day with two glasses of water.
3. Cut Foods and Steer Clear of Restrictive Diets
Have you heard of these diets that make you eat a lot in a short period of time and then have a day of fasting? Or these that ask you to eat one type of product per day (one day for meat, one for fruits, one for vegetables, etc.)? Or these diets based on eating all food in the liquid form of a smoothie or soup? Or these that severely limit your food choices?
Well, they do not work. Coming from a family with food-based diseases, I have seen them all in action. My aunt was anorexic for 30 years, and she ended up eating only 10 types of vegetables and fruits, and nothing else. I have seen what malnutrition and keeping your body from receiving the necessary nutrients can do, and trust me, you do not want to ever experience it. My mom always tried all diets possible. She always lost many kilograms by following them, but as soon as the diet ended, she gained the weight back even faster, in a third of the time it took her to lose it.
Your body detoxes and cleanses itself, and all you need to do is reduce the amount of processed foods you consume. Cut your daily intake of salt and sugar, and you will feel much more energized. Stop buying those refined grains and processed foods, and your heart and liver will thank you in the long term.
You will need a lot of willpower to stop those sugar cravings in the first few days, but only because they create dependency. This feeling will pass in a week, and you can help the process by starting small and allowing yourself to indulge in your cravings once in a while. Afterwards, your body may not always recognize what is best for it when it comes to sugar and salts, but the dopamine created when eating them does make us happier in the short term.
4. Add New Foods
Remember when I said that restrictive diets do not work? And afterward, I named the foods you should cut from your diet? Well, these two do not contradict each other because the cut foods should be replaced by new, healthier foods. Whole unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (like quinoa and brown rice) are lower in sugar and sodium. Focus on protein sources for lasting energy and fibers to make you feel fuller longer.
Spring is the season when I can find almost all vegetables and fruits fresh in the local market, so I can create many salads and dishes that taste and look amazing. As a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, I focus on eggs, edamame, any green peas, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, and artichokes for protein. While for fiber, my sources are carrots, broccoli, beetroot, kale, green salad, and peas. Brussels sprouts are one ingredient I enthusiastically wait to find fresh in the market as spring approaches because they are a great source of both protein and fiber.
One last piece of advice on this point is not to forget about probiotics. Your stomach needs healthy bacteria to digest food and improve your body’s metabolic rhythm, so you should have some yogurt and cheese in your menu.
5. Mindful Eating
Eating should be a time for taking a break from everything else. Do not eat while standing up or working. Eating on the couch while watching TV or scrolling through your social media apps on the phone is equally bad. Limit all other distractions and activities while eating.
The reason is simple: our bodies are bad at multitasking. They always forget some details when doing that. You might think there is nothing wrong with finishing your work earlier by answering emails and eating at the same time, and you can do both effectively, but your body cannot. Your body will focus on the hardest task at hand, which is the one taking most of your attention, and will send the feeling full sensation signal late. This way, you end up eating much more than your body actually needs. Moreover, food will be less satisfying by hindering the act of appreciating what you’re eating.
If you are interested in learning more about mindful eating, you can check this article about the 7 Benefits of Mindfully Eating Clean.
6. Three Meals per Day
Are you not a morning person, so you don’t have time for breakfast? Do you often skip lunch while at work? Do you skip dinner because you arrive home late and have read about the negative effects of eating late in the evening on your weight?
I have been in all three situations at different periods of my life, and I always ended up gaining weight and slowing my metabolism. It doesn’t matter which situation you are in, you should stop doing this.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and eating it will make you feel full longer and give you energy. Also, skipping breakfast is correlated with higher heart risk and cholesterol levels. Are you always in a hurry in the morning? Prepare your breakfast the evening before and just eat it in the morning.
Are you afraid that eating late will make you gain weight? The advice not to eat later than 6 pm assumes that you will go to sleep around 9-10 pm, so your body has a few hours to digest everything before you go to bed. If you go to sleep closer to midnight, you are actually fasting if you eat at 6 pm, which will not help your body. And the best argument, in my opinion, against the myth of not eating late, is given by looking at Spanish people. They usually eat dinner at 9-11 pm, and only 1 in 6 is obese according to the OECD, with the main causes being low consumption of unprocessed foods, high consumption of cakes, buns, soft drinks, and butchery products, and low physical activity levels, not late dinner time.
7. Meal-prep at Home
There is a higher chance of choosing to eat healthy if options are in your sightline. I started meal-prepping one year ago by cooking every 3-4 days, and now I cook every 2-3 days. Cooking became one of the relaxing activities in which I could detach from work and bond with my partner. Also, having an already prepped meal in the fridge helped me make significant money savings by not ordering food online anymore. I still indulge myself with a dessert or some pomegranate salads (I love pomegranate, but I hate getting the fruit out of its shell) ordered online from time to time, but why should I wait 30 minutes for food to arrive when I have a tasty alternative option close to me?
For instance, the foods I prepped for today include a breakfast Buddha bowl in the morning, Tuscan white bean skillet for lunch, and mushroom carbonara for dinner. I use the Meal-Prep Pro app to help me plan dishes and create my weekly shopping lists.
Eating healthy and hydrating your body is not enough if you do not move your body. The lack of movement slows down your metabolism, and your body will take more time to digest and process foods. A slow metabolism burns fewer calories, which means more calories will be stored as fat. Also, the more you move, the more you can indulge in treats and the more you can eat.
Going to the gym did not work for me as I had to leave my house, and I am too lazy to do it. I also felt self-conscious about my extra kilograms while exercising there. So I started working out at home. I bought a yoga mat, some small weights, Pilates cords, as well as a training ball, and I started working out in my own living room. I started with 30 minutes of yoga in the evening and 30 minutes of sports during a working break in the first part of the day. It was tough in the first week, but now, just like it happened with water consumption, my body feels the need to move.
9. Plant a Food Garden
Spring is the perfect time for this activity, which has numerous benefits. Not only will you be able to grow your own food, but you’ll also feel less stressed, depressed, or anxious. And if you don’t have a garden, herbs can be easily grown on a windowsill. Being outside in fresh air, whether in a garden or on a balcony, will improve your mood, make you feel rejuvenated, and give you an extra dose of vitamin D.
Gardening also has numerous other benefits, such as making you more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, allowing you to control the quantity and type of fertilizers and pesticides that come into contact with your food, and reducing the risk of food contamination. Additionally, fresh vegetables have more nutrients than those found in supermarkets. Although I live in an apartment and can only grow herbs in pots on the windowsill, getting vegetables from my grandma and helping her in the garden when I visit are some of my favorite activities.
10. Think Small
Make spring cleaning a long-term process and start by thinking small. Don’t try to replace all unhealthy foods at once. Don’t force your body to drink 2 liters of water from the first day if you only drank a third of this quantity before. Don’t force your body to move daily if your muscles ache.
Last year, I decided to give up meat, starting with one day without meat per week. I continued by replacing all red meat with fish and chicken, then gave up chicken, and the last step was to eat fish only twice a week. Now, after two months without meat, my body feels no need for it.
Instead of trying to make a fast, major change, think in small steps. Each week, choose 2-3 unhealthy foods you want to replace. When you go to the supermarket, don’t buy them. Instead, buy 2-3 other healthy foods. Drink one glass of water when you wake up and when you go to sleep. Put a bottle of water near your bed so that it’s always an easy option to drink. Take a day off from exercise when your body asks for it. Don’t judge yourself and give up entirely if you slip up on your plans for a day. Small steps will do the trick.
If you want to read another interesting and inspirational article with ideas to spring clean your life and not only you diet, I recommend “12 Free Fun Self-Care Activities“.
What do you think about these methods of spring cleaning your diet? Let me know your opinion in the comments below.