I hope that week two's sleep challenge helped you identify areas to improve upon for a higher quality and quantity of sleep. Even if you chose just one of the challenges, keep up the work through the next few weeks so it becomes a sustainable part of your routine.
For week three, we're going to improve our nutritional habits. Despite our best efforts, eating well can be a challenge. Navigating through the aisles of colourful and well-marketed products in the grocery store can leave your head spinning. The good news is that we all have the capacity to make better selections.
While there is plenty of information on what to eat and what to avoid, it's also important to focus on our eating patterns. In other words, we should look at not only what we eat but how we eat it. There are a number of challenges this week, so pick a couple that you feel are possible and then choose one more that seems out of reach and go for it.
Challenge 1: Clean out your cupboards and fridge
Start your week by clearing out processed items and junk food that may be be easy to reach for, but are not rich in nutrients. When you clean out your cupboards, you will leave space for healthier items (see challenge 3) to fill the space.
Challenge 2: Pack your lunch
When you have kids to put to bed or an overdue presentation to prepare for, the last thing you're thinking of is tomorrow's lunch. While this takes some preparation, by packing your lunch you control what ingredients are being used and you save money along the way. A fun option is to co-ordinate with your work place to have a "salad day" once or twice a week where everyone brings in a healthy ingredient (chickpeas, spinach, etc.) and then you share in a healthy, homemade lunch together. If it's overly challenging to pack your lunch every day, try for one or two days this week and increase as it becomes more manageable.
Challenge 3: Swap it out
When it comes to snacks, try to alternate out the not-so-good with some easy and healthy options. For example, if you always add cream to your coffee or tea, swap it out for 2 per cent or 1 per cent milk. Instead of potato chips, try kale chips. Grab an apple instead of drinking a sugary juice. Get creative with your swaps and share your ideas with your friends and family. If you're at a loss for options, check out the Australian swap it challenge website which has a searchable tool to find healthy alternatives.
Challenge 4: Focus on what you're putting in your mouth
We've all done it. We've sat in front of the TV and without even realizing it, the previously full bag of chips is suddenly empty. Try sitting at your dining table or turn off the TV while you're eating to avoid mindless consumption. Another way to focus is to put your fork or spoon down between bites. By simply making less use of the utensils, you will feel fuller faster, be able to eat less and control your portions.
Challenge 5: Resist the upsize
Even though it's just a few more cents or dollars, say no to extras or upsizing when you're eating out. A relatively healthy option can quickly become unhealthy with an increase in size or add-ons such as whip cream on coffee or the extra fries on the side of a sandwich. Save yourself the money and calories by saying no to the upsize.
Challenge 6: Use smaller plates
Change the size of your plate from a 12 inch to a 9 inch. As a result, it will take a smaller amount of food to fill up your plate and you will be able to control your portions better.
Challenge 7: Be accountable
Rally the support of a friend or family member to help you keep track of your healthy diet changes. There are also an abundance of free phone apps available (MyFitnessPal, LoseIt) to share your daily food and exercise logs. Several studies have shown that those who write their food down in a journal are more successful with weight loss or maintenance goals. The bonus of an app: if you're tempted at midnight for a snack – it may be inconvenient to call your friend for support but you may think twice if you know you have to write it down in your daily log.
Listen, it can be challenging to make these changes but the long-term effects on your health can be powerful. Even as I write this article in a coffee shop known for its cookies, I'm tempted to treat myself to get me to the end of this paragraph, but I'm going to commit to choosing an apple instead. Join me this week and swap out the not so great options for better ones and manage your portion sizes by taking on one or all of these challenges.
If you're looking for specific healthy food options, visit eatrightontario.ca for direct support from a dietician through phone, chat or e-mail.
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens' Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women's Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.
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