Here at The YMCA of Greater Toronto, we respect and admire the expert advice provided by our partners at The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. That’s why we’re excited to bring you even more great reading material written by the team at this other health-focused charity! In this next piece, Cara Rosenbloom, Heart and Stroke’s Registered Dietitian, talks about simple ways to integrate healthy eating habits into your life.

First, the good news. Regardless of your gender, age, height, or weight, you can make an effort to eat well and exercise.

Now, the bad news. If you’re fixated solely on the number on the scale, you’re setting yourself up to fail — and missing an opportunity to do something great for your heart and overall health.

But we’re about to change all of that.

Here are three things you can do to build a healthier relationship with food and set yourself on track for better health.

Adopt a new mindset

Have you ever tried a diet? You know, one of those plans that requires you to cut carbs or subsist on cabbage soup for weeks? Sometimes they work in the short term and you lose weight, but they are not always sustainable and don’t always result in long-term success. That’s especially true if the diet you choose:

  • Is a huge departure from how you normally eat
  • Cuts out a lot of foods you enjoy, so you feel deprived and need to “cheat”
  • Is prohibitively expensive, requiring special food or supplements
  • Lacks variety, so you get bored
  • Doesn’t include physical activity, which is crucial for good health
  • Makes you obsessively track calories or pounds lost

Adopting the right mindset takes you out of a diet mentality and leads you to make sustainable changes to build a healthy lifestyle. There’s no deprivation or calorie counting — but there is lots of variety and delicious wholesome food.

Set the right goals

Weight fluctuates, so stepping on the scale daily can be a recipe for disappointment. And a goal such as “I will lose five pounds in a week” leaves you with little control over achieving that exact number. There are much better ways to mark your progress when you make healthy lifestyle changes. Set a goal that you can control such as:

  • I will replace pop with water every day this week
  • I will walk 10 minutes at a time until I reach 150 minutes per week
  • I will have one extra serving of vegetables every day this week
  • I will replace white bread with whole grain when I eat sandwiches or toast

These are small, sustainable changes, and they can add up slowly over time. Start with one, and add a new goal once you feel that you’ve successfully migrated the first goal into your new healthy lifestyle — then keep going.

Build your healthy eating plan

Instead of a limited, restrictive diet that focuses on what you can’t eat, your meal plan should let you make healthier food choices for the long term. Remember: unlike diets, a healthy meal plan isn’t one-size-fits all and should fit your personal lifestyle and goals. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when building your plan.

  • Strike a balance
    Begin by focusing on your plate. At each meal, try filling half with vegetables and some fruit; a quarter with protein sources such as fish, poultry, eggs, tofu, or beans; and the remaining quarter with grains (preferably whole grains), such as brown rice or quinoa.
  • Get real
    Aim to eat fresh, whole, unprocessed food more often than you’re eating take-out or processed food. This “real” food is filled with the nutrients your body needs — fibre, vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats.
  • Limit ultra-processed foods
    Ultra-processed foods such as deli meat, soda, chips, fries, cookies, cakes, and candy currently make up about half (48%) of the calories Canadians eat each day. They’re high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats (like trans fats). Ultra-processed foodshave been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and more. Cutting back on these foods makes a big difference to your overall health. And you may just lose some weight in the process, even if it’s not your specified goal.

Now for the best part: this eating plan can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer. It can also help you reach a healthy weight for your body type.