When you hear the word nutrition, you may think of buzz words like keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, low carb, if it fits my macros, calorie counting and other trendy topics. While these have their place, depending upon the individual and the goals they seek to strive for, they all have one thing in common, habit formation. This is because, like any diet, whether it is for weight loss, health or performance, it’s hardly a quick fix and relies upon long term application for success. This is where habits present themselves.
According to Merriam-Webster, a habit is defined as “a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior”1. Otherwise put as an involuntary behavior that comes naturally with minimal effort to perform and is repeatable. It is theorized it takes someone 21 day or 66 days to create a new habit, depending upon the source you refer to2. Now this can vary depending upon the person and task being performed greatly, making it difficult to predict the exact amount of time to form consistent new habits. What we do know is habits or small changes over time can make lasting impact, positive or negative. In this article we will discuss some basic nutritional habits that anyone can start implementing today.
A few guidelines to follow:
- First, I highly recommend you start by picking one habit and focusing on it solely. From experience with myself and clients, new habits require a large amount of energy due to breaking down old trends and replacing them with the new.
- Second, pick the simplest habit first, then build up from there.
- Third, if you discover you failed in consistency from day to day, don’t just give up and call the day a wash. Begin again immediately, holding yourself to your goals. It’s worth it in the end.
Water is arguably the most important nutrient we can consume, only second in importance to oxygen. We know how essential it is, but more often than not, we don’t consume the proper amount we need from day to day. Start by pick one of the below methods to determine your needs3.
- Current recommendations for men (19 years and older) to consume 3 liters (101 oz or ~13 cups of fluids)
- Current recommendations for women 19 (years and older) consume 2.2 liters (74 oz or ~9 cups of fluids)
- 1/2 your body weight in ounces (Recommend for those of ideal body weight)
- Consume 1 ml of water per calorie ingested (240mL in 8 ounces FYI)
Fluids you can count towards this total include water, milk, coffee (especially if you consume daily), teas, juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sodas.
While there is much more to the topic of hydration, focus on this for now and begin consuming your determined daily fluid needs to start. Once you have built this habit up, then we can add more complex habit building to further optimize workout performance, health, and wellness.
2. Eat breakfast
When you have breakfast, you are literally breaking a fast (period without food consumption). By having breakfast, you are providing the body needed nutrients to improve energy levels, sustain blood sugar, and ramp up metabolic processes through supplying nutrients to cells.
When we look at the research, individuals that miss breakfast often have a higher risk of being obese, developing diabetes, heart disease, a history of avoiding exercise, and other health complications4. Additionally, those that skip breakfast are more inclined to eat larger portion-sized calorie-dense meals for lunch and dinner. Not to mention the extra snacking due to being famished.
If you’re someone that misses breakfast and has low energy and feels sluggish during the day, this would be a great one to start with!
Some easy meal ideas could include:
- Overnight oats
- Scrambled eggs
- Yogurt parfait
- Fruit smoothie with protein
- Oatmeal with added protein
I could go on as there are thousands of ideas and recipes available.
3. Consume 1 Serving of a Fruit and 1 serving of a Vegetable a Day
The majority of individuals do not come close to the recommended daily intake of fruits and veggies. While it would be ideal for everyone to follow the nutrition guidelines, it can be rather daunting if you have never tried or enjoyed these foods.
Start by picking one of each to try for a week. If you find you don’t care for them, you have two options. Pick a different food item in that category or simply find another way of preparing it. With so many recipes of how foods can be prepared, you will be surprised of all the ways you may enjoy the food you have been avoiding due to a bad experience.
As you grow in this habit and start to feel more comfortable, begin adding more variety, trying different options. Also remembering to look at foods that are in season, which are often cheaper and fresh.
Ultimately, the goal is to reach our daily recommended consumption of fruits and vegetables regularly. If you don’t know what your recommended intake is, you can find it at choosemyplate, which gives basic guidelines and is a helpful resource5.
4. Take a fish oil
Taking supplements is not my go-to, but they do have their place and can play an important part in any nutrition prescription. Keep in mind, supplements are not regulated by the FDA and you need to find a reputable brand that you trust and provides what is stated on the nutrition facts label6.
When it comes to fish oil, there are two forms you can find them in, pill and liquid form, pill being much more common. Both have their place and help you, the consumer, get past certain boundaries like avoiding any fishy taste, fishy burps, or swallowing a large pill. But why fish oil?
Fish oil is composed of two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are almost exclusively found in salmon, mackerel, flounder, shrimp, sardines, anchovies and other varieties of seafood. While most individuals may not get the recommended consumption of at least 2 servings of fish a week, taking fish oil helps fill in the gap, but is still no true substitution for the real thing.
Regarding the research, omega-3s like EPA and DHA have been touted for their protective cardiovascular benefits like lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure, decrease plague formation from atherosclerosis and decrease inflammation3. So, if you’re someone that doesn’t enjoy or partake in consuming fish weekly, this is an easy habit to begin by starting to take 1000mg of fish oil daily.
For more specific recommendations, you are welcome to reach out with questions regarding your situation.
5. Avoid Drinking your Calories
For many, drinking sodas, juices, lattes, mochas, sports drinks and other calorie-dense beverages have become a part of our daily routine. In moderation, these drinks can be enjoyed, but often overlooked for the extra calories they may provide. With no surprise, the second most popular drink in America is carbonated soft drinks7. The average soft drink (based on 12oz can) consists of roughly 150 calories, all from added sugar. This may not sound like a lot, but that’s an extra 40 grams of sugar added to the diet, which provides zero nutritional value. Additionally, if you have one of these drinks a day over a week period, that’s an additional 1000+ calories. Assuming the average person trying to lose weight is on a 1600 to 1800 calorie diet, consuming one soft drink can make up 9.3% and 8.3% respectively of their daily calories.
For coffee lovers, limit the cream and sugar, looking for alternatives that you enjoy which are not as calorie-dense.
If you are unaware of what composes your drink nutritionally, you can always look at calorie counting apps like MyFitnessPal8 or go straight to the source if you are a frequent flyer at Starbucks9.
Juices, while often providing additional vitamin C, they are typically fairly sugar-rich. These sugars, unless stated to have added sugars, is from the fruit itself, which is not a bad thing. Rather, juices have removed the other vital nutritional components in fruits like fiber and phytochemicals, both of which help with gut and immune function. It is best to simply eat our fruits rather than drink them.
Last is sports drinks, which are a great source for quick carbohydrates and provide valuable minerals for a performance like sodium and potassium. It’s optimal to consume this beverage before or during a workout, optimizing fuel sources and performance. However, if your workout plans to be less than an hour-long, you most likely will not need the extra calories and it is best to minimize these drinks outside of the physical activity.
The key here is to enjoy these drinks in moderation. If you’re someone trying to break this habit, begin by setting a reasonable goal you feel is attainable, focusing on slowly diminishing your total consumption over a week time period. Look to long term progress for this and aim to limit calorie-dense drinks to special occasions, rather than it is a daily habit.
With any good habit routine, you always need accountability. This could include friends, family, your nutritionist, personal trainer, spouse and anyone else you know who’ll hold you to your goals. This becomes especially important when life starts to get busy, providing distractions and excuses. While we may not be perfect withholding to new habits, we need to ensure we don’t give up and have someone help us get back up when we fail.
Another great way is to build habits within groups. See if anyone you know is willing to join you on this journey and grow together. As you will be less likely to give up and provides powerful motivation in teams.
If you specifically have any medical conditions that require professional nutritional guidance to work with medications, prescriptions, or your medical care plan, reach out to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). They are medical professionals that work with any doctor’s treatment plan to help optimize your health with nutrition.
To sum up, I hope you found this helpful and feel free to reach out with feedback or questions!
Paxton Boyer, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-CPT
- Definition of HABIT. Accessed December 17, 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habit
- How Long Does it Take to Form a Habit? 21 Days? 66 Days? Develop Good Habits. Published March 8, 2020. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.developgoodhabits.com/long-form-habit/
- Fink H, Mikesky A. Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition. Fourth Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2015.
- How to Make Breakfast a Healthy Habit | American Heart Association. Accessed December 9, 2020. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/how-to-make-breakfast-a-healthy-habit
- MyPlate Plan | ChooseMyPlate. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/resources/MyPlatePlan
- Commissioner O of the. FDA 101: Dietary Supplements. FDA. Published online September 9, 2020. Accessed December 17, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/fda-101-dietary-supplements
- 12 Most Popular Drinks in America—Ranked! MSN. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/nutrition/12-most-popular-drinks-in-america%E2%80%94ranked/ss-BB198x2X
- MyFitnessPal | MyFitnessPal.com. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.myfitnesspal.com/
- Starbucks®. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.starbucks.com/menu