Maybe you’re eating a pretty healthy diet already; you’re all about that morning smoothie and make sure to get a good dose of leafy greens regularly. Or maybe you’re eating a pretty standard diet and looking for a few new ways to make it healthier. To get an energized and healthy body, you don’t need to restrict; you just need to get more mindful. Making your diet more mindful is all about being aware of what you’re consuming, opting for healthy alternatives where possible, and living a little bit greener.
Practicing a mindful diet is pretty simple once you get savvy about a few areas like additives, whole foods, healthier replacements, and new additions. I’ve put together this guide to making more mindful choices accessible for those looking to make both big and small changes to their routine.
Ditch food additives:
This is the biggie. One surefire way to get healthier is to avoid food additives that can range from preservatives to unnatural colorings to weird-sounding substances that you definitely wouldn’t see outside of a lab. Processed foods (i.e., most packaged foods) generally have additives and are linked to chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. A few additives in particular to avoid are sodium nitrites, sulfites, trans fats, monosodium glutamate, and FD&C yellow No. 5 and No. 6.
I go by one major rule: Only buy foods with ingredients you know and recognize. The best way to avoid additives and overly processed foods is to buy and eat whole foods (as in foods that don’t come from a factory in a colorfully designed package), like fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and pseudograins (like quinoa), eggs, organic and antibiotic-free meat, and wild-caught seafood.
Prepare whole-food-based meals during week:
Preparing your own food requires you to be mindful. Cooking with whole foods can have a big impact on how you think about food and eating. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t have to be a talented chef—in fact, simple preparations are some of the best. Look for organic options and non-GMO varieties of your foods when available.
I understand buying organic can sometimes be more expensive than buying conventional, but the good news is, you don’t have to buy everything organic. Look to the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists to determine which foods you can get away with buying conventionally without worrying that you’re taking on too many chemicals.
Cooking and preparing meals with these foods can be as simple as a smoothie or a salad; don’t make it hard on yourself, especially if you’re just starting out.
Observe your eating habits for how much sugar you’re consuming on a daily basis:
We often don’t realize that we’re eating and drinking waaay more sugar than we think. Sugar can be inflammatory in large doses, and while a little bit of sugar daily is natural, it’s a great idea to get most of your sugar from natural (minimally processed) sources. If you’re just looking for a little sweetness in your morning coffee, there are a ton of great alternative ingredients, with sugar-free sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit sugar becoming far easier to find.
If you’re looking to use fruit for natural sweetness, dates and bananas are great for sweetening dishes while still providing healthy ingredients that benefit the body. In addition to the natural fiber they bring, sweetening with fruit also provides essential vitamins and minerals like potassium and magnesium.
Pay attention to how your body feels when you have dairy:
It’s true that many people are dairy intolerant. If you find that your stomach is upset or constipated, or your skin breaks out after having dairy, you might want to explore reducing your intake and see how you feel. It’s easy to find high-quality alternatives to butter, milk, and cream—if you know what to look for.
Unrefined coconut oil is a great alternative to butter for baking. You can also use olive oil, ghee or avocado oil for everyday cooking and sauteing. Try to opt for organic versions where you can. If you’re looking for milk alternatives, consider coconut, hemp, and almond milks—again, being aware of any weird-sounding additives.
If you eat a lot of wheat-based foods, try eliminating them or finding alternatives for a couple of weeks and see if you feel a shift:
While there are plenty of gluten-free products on the market, many aren’t automatically healthy, so as usual, ingredients are something to be conscious of. Or better yet, opt for great healthier replacements to gluten-free foods like oats, buckwheat, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and brown or black rice to get your carb fix.
Eat a super green food with every meal for a week and see how you feel:
While you can elevate your normal greens consumption with concentrated green superfood powders like spirulina and chlorella, don’t forget the original super green foods that are affordable and easily accessible like:
- Brussels sprouts
- Mustard greens
- Collard greens
- Swiss chard
There are tons of ways to incorporate these veggies into every meal.
Get intuitive about eating:
The practice of listening to your body and eating intuitively, is possibly the most important piece of this mindful diet equation. It’s about listening to your body’s hunger cues—so eating when you’re actually hungry and stopping when you’re full. This sounds simple but can actually be quite challenging when you’ve become disconnected from your body. Becoming more aware of how your body feels before, during, and after mealtimes can reinforce this important connection. Get more mindful at breakfast, lunch, and dinner by:
- Removing any screens from the table (hard, I know)
- Eating without any other distractions
- Focusing on chewing your food
- Putting your fork down in between bites
- Taking a deep breath in between bites
- Reminding yourself there will be more food later if you’re hungry
Having a mindful diet can be easy. Don’t get overwhelmed, just pick one change or action from above and start there and look for the positive differences in your life. This is an ongoing process that will ultimately pay you back with improved health and a stronger mind-body connection.