How to Plan Healthy Meals

Fad science comes and goes. When it comes to eating we all (even if only intuitively) know that healthy foods are whole foods. I think even the most polarizing diet critics could agree to some extent on that. Furthermore, if we want to be highly active and perform well, the best source of fuel comes from carbohydrates. Then we need protein for muscle recovery and good fats for hormone health. When we look to plan healthy meals, we need whole food sources of protein, carbs, and fats.

Plan a Healthy Meal: Include Protein, Fats and Carbs at Every Meal

When you plan healthy meals, make sure to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
When you plan healthy meals, make sure to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

As referenced above, a balanced meal will have adequate protein, carbs and fats. Of course, how much you eat will be determined by body size and activity levels, but healthy eating will always have whole food protein, carbs, and fats.

For example, here is what I had to eat for breakfast today:

  • Whole grain Ezekiel Muffin (carbs)
  • Orange juice or fruit (carbs) if you are juice-phobic, don’t have any
  • Egg White Omelette (protein) have whole eggs if you wish
  • Reduced Fat Mozzarella cheese (protein/fat) have higher fat cheese if you wish, also sub for vegan cheese, avocado, etc.

This meal came out to 574 calories (reasonable for a person of any healthy weight), 71 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat, and 48 grams of protein. Now, depending on your goals the calories and macros would change, but I would still recommend choosing whole foods and just eating more or less of each group.

Find what you like and Eat it Often!

One of the biggest setbacks for people who want to know how to plan healthy meals is the myth of variety. People can tighten up if I suggest that they eat the same thing often. That is not to say you have the same meal every day. However, there are certain foods (and not that many of them) that are the basis of any healthy diet. Bodybuilders, for example, usually eat lots and lots of rice. It is healthy, can be seasoned or paired well with a variety of foods, and is an excellent carb source.

So once you find what you like, feel free to eat it as often as you want. I usually have a whole grain source, egg white omelette, cheese, and fruit OR whole grain source (Kodiak cake, etc.), fat source (peanut butter), fruit or juice, and milk almost every single day. I have been doing this for years and I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. In fact, there is a sense of comfort that I know exactly what I’m going to eat and how it will make me feel afterward.

Hopefully, you found some insight into making and planning your own healthy meals. Thanks for reading!

Three Ways to Make Going to the Gym a Habit

The hardest thing (for most people) about going to the gym is getting there. Not “getting there”as in whether to take a car or bus, but “getting there” in terms of finding the motivation to get out of the house. In this article, I will share a few of my tips that have helped make getting to the gym relatively easy for me. 

  1. Plan in Advance

A good habit to instill is making sure that you pack your bags and all necessary items for the gym the day before. This is a big help for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Obviously it saves you time when you grab your ready-to-go bag the next day, but it also makes it more likely that you’ll grab the bag as opposed to leaving it by the door. Why? Because if you don’t, you’ll have to deal with the bag anyway! You’ll have to unpack it and put all the stuff back. Sounds minor, but if your brain knows the bag must be dealt with at some point, better to make it when it will benefit you. 

2. Take Collateral 

When I say “take collateral”, I mean tie something to your gym trip that will make more work for you if you don’t go (similar to the bag idea above). If you spend time making a pre- and post-workout snack, have it in your fridge and ready to go, every time you open the fridge, you’ll remember your commitment to going to the gym. My trick is that I make a post-workout protein shake each night before I go to the gym and put it in the fridge. I remember (I kid you not) EVERY single time I poured one of the shakes down the drain. One because protein is expensive and two because I had a stark reminder of a broken commitment. 

3. Find what You Like to Do (or find a way to make what you don’t like doing fun)

I think at some point, everyone realizes that to have total fitness you have to do something you don’t like. I hate cardio. I find it repetitive, boring, and even a little physically uncomfortable. I can get hype about lifting weights pretty much any time, but cardio is another story. To solve this problem, I found “hacks” to help me enjoy doing cardio. One of them is to listen to an interesting podcast. Makes the monotony of the treadmill much easier. Another way I hack cardio is by trying to stay at a specific heart rate zone. It seems silly, but having to adjust my effort level makes the cardio feel more responsive and almost like a little game. Moral of the story, try to think of creative ways to make the less pleasant parts of your gym experience more fun.

Thanks for reading!

How to Enjoy the Process

Whenever we set out on a personal development goal, we have a natural tendency to focus on our end result. In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the idea of focusing on habits and systems as opposed to larger desired results. In my experience I find this to be particularly true. I have not yet achieved all of my major goals, but I believe I am on the path. Staying focused on my habits helps me for a couple of reasons:

Focusing on Smaller Goals is Inherently More Rewarding

In my experience, whenever I set out to achieve a goal, I find great solace in focusing on the process (or habit) because when your habits are small and reasonable, completion is inherently rewarding. Brian Tracy says that all of us have an “urge to completion”. This means that when we start a task, we naturally want to finish it, and our brains and bodies reward us when we do. Conversely, if we have a big lofty goal, but no small habits as bridges, disappointment is sure to follow.

When I first started lifting weights, I was bench pressing around 135 lbs. I wanted to be able to get to 225 lbs (the look of two plates on the bench is super appealing ;-)). I didn’t know it at the time, but with a little common sense, I stumbled into the idea of focusing on smaller habits instead of bigger goals. I made a habit of increasing the weight by 5% each week (and later each month), and within a couple years of training, I was there!

This process was rewarding because I got in the habit of going to the gym and I learned how to program and what variables were essential to my success. There were many “micro-successes” along the way. Many miniature personal records. If I had tried to do more than 5% (the scientifically agreed upon intensity increase rate) I would have failed and maybe ditched the goal all together.

When you get Overwhelmed, you can come back to your “One Thing”

I think we all have times in life where we feel like the water is rising and we can’t get ahead. When you have small habits leading to your big goal, you can always redirect your focus and get back to your “one thing” for a small win.

Let’s say your goal is to eat healthier. That is a HUGE goal. But let’s say you’re a smart cookie and begin with one habit such as “eat at least one piece of fruit per day”. When you are stressed, strapped for time, or experiencing some other form of difficulty and you feel the urge to backslide on healthy eating, remember your one thing! When the habit is small, you can always get an easy win, even if the bigger parts of your goal go untended. If you can’t get an easy win from your small goal, you need to make the goal smaller!

Thanks for reading!

Three Easy Ways to Stay Hydrated

Hydration is a very important part of a nutrition plan. While not as important as eating sufficient (not excessive) calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients, after those basics are covered I have found it to be the next most important item.

In my experience, hydration has a significant bearing on how we feel and our energy levels. Obviously our bodies are intelligent and will send a thirst signal when we are low on fluids, but our performance (exercise performance AND/OR daily life performance) will suffer long before then. Read this to see all of the science behind this phenomenon.

For everyday people, the biggest challenge is knowing how much water we drink without going to obsessive means. I have found, and most of the fitness community agrees, that we should aim for about 1mL of water for every calorie consumed. So, a 2000 calorie diet = 2 liters of water. 3500 calorie diet = 3.5 liters of water.

Now…you could be one of those interesting people at the gym carrying a gallon of water, but for most people, these tips should help you ensure you are getting the benefits of proper hydration with minimal inconvenience.

1) Know how Much Water the Cups and Bottles you drink out of Hold.

I have a BIG 1500mL bottle that I fill and drink every day at work. The bottle has clearly labeled mL lines. This way, I know that at the end of the day, if the bottle is empty, I have drunk 1.5L of my estimated 3L each day.

Later on, when I get home, I know how much water each of my cups holds. Most household cups will range from 250-750 mL.

2) Whenever you Eat, Drink Water!

The other part of staying hydrated easily will come from drinking water every time you eat. Not only will this help with your hydration, but it will temper your desire to drink (probably) unnecessary calories. When you drink water with each meal, you get the satisfaction of hydration coupled with better digestions. High water content meals and foods are the easiest on our digestive systems and allow us to digest quickly and efficiently.

3) Aim for Clear Urine.

A good rule of thumb to test your hydration level will be to look and see if your urine stream (if you’re a man) is clear. If you are a woman I would check for a light yellow to clear toilet bowl after urinating. If you are drinking 1mL per calorie, you should be A-ok. Whenever I use the restroom and my urine stream is not clear I immediately grab my water bottle (which…surprise surprise will be more full than usual) and drink 300-500 mL.

Following these three easy tips to stay hydrated should have you feeling the benefits of a properly hydrated body in no time. Until next time…

Seven Ways to Increase Self-Esteem

There is a lot of talk in personal development about building self-esteem. For our purposes, I will define self-esteem as feeling good about yourself as a person. There are many ways we can feel good about ourselves, and I think most of them fall under the umbrella of contribution.

Who’s to Blame for Low Self-Esteem?

When we are young, we are most impressionable. In fact, one may argue that the younger you are, the more impressionable you are. If you were fortunate enough to have mindful parents, they would have made every effort to assure you when you did something “bad” that you were not a bad person. Shame is a very intense tactic to use on a child, and can result in a child interpreting your disapproval with them being a bad person. I would argue that much of our self-esteem when we are pre-school age comes from our parents.

When we enter school, things begin to change. Now people are asking us to do stuff. No longer do the adults in our lives congratulate us for existing, they want us to produce. And they should! I believe that it is around this time that we learn a very important lesson: “people will like me if I do a good job”. Luckily for our little selves, there are many ways to do a good job: you can be polite, funny, interesting, good-looking, cheerful, helpful, fast, strong, and so many other things.

As a teacher, one of the more peculiar things I see happening in education is how lax we are becoming with discipline. I see the good intentions. We want every child to have the opportunity to reach their potential. But I think a lack of discipline may reinforce the anti-thesis of self esteem which I call do-whatever-i-want-itis.

do-whatever-i-want-itis (noun): thinking that you can do whatever you want and people will still not only accept you, but celebrate your questionable behavior.

I see many young people completely confused when they are faced with discipline, because the apparent message they have been sent is that everything they do is okay. There are no boundaries. If someone is hurt by what they do, it is their problem.

Recipe for Disaster

So now we have a recipe for disaster. A person who thinks they can do whatever they want and are also resistant to discipline. Trust me, these people are not pleasant to be around…you know why?…because their self -esteem is low or inappropriately high.

If their self-esteem is low, they feel bad. And they want to make other people feel bad too (of course they won’t admit this). Depending on the person’s personality, this could result in anti-social behavior. If their self-esteem is inappropriately high, they are at a high susceptibility for catching do-whatever-i-want-itis because they think their actions should have no consequences.

Seven Ways to increase Self-Esteem

I would like to make the hypothesis that self-esteem is about what we can contribute. Those ways to “be good” that I listed above make us feel good because humans are social creatures and we want most people to like us and think we are good.

Some of these suggestions may sound trite, but here are some ways we can increase our self esteem:

  1. Be easy to work with (assertive vs. aggressive)
  2. Pick up trash you see in your neighborhood (if it is sanitary to do so)
  3. Be kind to strangers
  4. Speak up if you see someone being mistreated (if it is safe to do so)
  5. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and apply the skills
  6. Help those who are in need
  7. Leave places better than you found them

By developing small habits like those listed above, we will develop a respect for ourselves, and it is very likely that others will respect us too. When we make a contribution to our community, nature rewards us with dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These neurotransmitters not only make us feel good, but make us attractive to those around us.

So, the next time you are feeling down, a good question to ask may be, “How am I contributing to my community?”. Finding a way to contribute may just be the answer you needed. Until next time…

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