Healthier Eating Strategies For Busy Professionals
Last week I met with a new client who wanted to improve his fitness and nutrition. I created a number of healthier eating strategies for him to stimulate weight loss, and I realized that these strategies could also help many other busy professionals do the same.
As with any new client, I ask that you complete an intake form, a 3-day diet log for nutritional analysis, and a few questionnaires that show how ready you are for change as well as your level of social support (which is particularly important when making any nutritional change or starting a new exercise program).
This information is vital because it gives me a number of important clues that I use in combination with a personal interview to learn more about my client’s personality, lifestyle, work obligations, relationships, injury history, and so on.
Essentially my approach is to look at the whole person, your lifestyle and environment, because it’s never just about things like, eating too much pasta, or not enough protein.
For example, you might be used to eating a lot pasta, because you grew up in a household where pasta was a sociocultural tradition at mealtimes. Or you might not eat enough protein because you’re somewhere between vegetarian and vegan. Perhaps you read somewhere that veganism is the best diet for health and longevity, but it’s just not supporting your individual metabolism, activity level, or health issues.
I never know what I’m going to learn when I meet a new client and it’s impossible to make the same recommendations for two different people. There are, however, strategies that can work well across the board, when modified slightly to fit your needs.
If your goal is to lose some bodyweight (or just improve your health) keep reading!
I’ve designed these healthy eating strategies to help you quickly and easily start a new practice (or call it a habit). Any one of these strategies, practiced for a few weeks, could be that one change which stimulates the weight loss you’ve been working to achieve.
Remember that regular, frequent, high intensity and sweat-producing exercise is still needed to fire up your metabolism and burn more calories, but ultimately 80% of your success in weight loss and healthy weight management will come from what and how you eat.
How To Choose Your #1 Healthier Eating Strategy
Below, you’ll find a list of strategies. Don’t feel like you need to accomplish each one. All I have done is to create possibilities that may address the needs of a busy professional like you.
Make a Choice
Score each strategy by writing a number beside each bullet point between 1 and 10, with “10” being “This is so easy to do I’ll get started now,” and with a “1” being, “Nope, Absolutely not now!”
Once you have your 9s and 10s, pick only one option from one of the 5 strategies – choose the strategy that speaks to you on a gut level.
If you have a radically different weekend from your work week, you could choose a second practice if that choice would better serve you on the weekends. Many busy professionals eat out during the week for business, but come the weekend they eat meals at home. Activity levels may also be different, i.e. you may sit all day during the week, but are more active with family and friends on the weekend
Be kind to yourself. We are not aiming for perfect, or for right or wrong. We are aiming for easy improvement. If you fall out of your new practice for a day or two, just start fresh the very next day.
Strategy #1: Keep A Food and Feelings Journal At Meal Time
This is not logging what you eat, or tracking macros, instead this is where you record feelings, sensations, awareness, digestions issues, etc. These observations can tell you a lot about how food affects you and how mood and stress affect your food choices. If I was working with you I may have you log only one to two of the following:
- Hunger level before eating, fullness/satiety after eating, fullness 20 minutes after.
- Stress level during a meal.
- How quickly or slowly you ate.
- Enjoyment of meal, satisfaction with personal meal choices, social influence on choice.
- Physical reactions like tiredness, sluggishness, congestion, indigestion, or hyperactivity following a meal.
Strategy #2: Make One Meal Healthier Every Day
Chose only one:
- Get up 30 min earlier on weekdays and eat a high protein breakfast (try my quick and easy mini quiche recipe) with vegetables and optionally, whole oats.
- Eat a large, healthy salad with lots of protein and healthy fats for lunch.
- Consider making a healthy, green protein smoothie to bring to work. Tip: prepare in bulk, store in mason jars and bring one with you each morning. I’ve done this in my Ninja Blender and I can make three smoothies at a time.
- Eat your starchy, grain-based carbs (rice, bread, oats, pasta) ONLY after vigorous exercise to refuel lost blood sugar stores.
- Plan to eat as healthy as possible during the week and allow for cheat meals on weekends. This is easy for some professionals if your week is booked with meetings and deadlines, which limits distractions.
- Visually control food portions on your plate to create a balanced meal. Download the visual calorie control guide here.
Strategy #3: Control Over-Eating at Meals
This is a great strategy if you eat out at a lot of restaurants. Chose only one:
- If you’re eating at a restaurant that serves small dishes (Chinese, Japanese, tapas) or at an all-you-can eat buffet, start with protein and vegetables dishes first before ordering anything breaded, rice or pasta, etc. Start filling up on meat and vegetables first, followed by starchy carbs.
- Order a large mixed greens type salad as an appetizer with the dressing on the side. Ask for oil and vinegar, balsamic, raspberry dressing, etc. Avoid the rich and creamy dressings, or if you take my suggestion of ordering the dressing on the side, at least you can control how much dressing you put on your salad. This strategy is similar to the soup strategy below, but in this case you get a big dose of nutrients from salad that has a small amount of calories (minus the dressing) but provides satiety. Another positive side-effect is that you might be more inclined to order a healthier entrée after the salad.
- Use the “fork down for 5-minutes technique.” After you’ve eaten for a while, and well before you think you are getting full, put down your fork and note the time (or set a timer for five minutes). Sit back, relax, visit, and when the five minutes are up, check in with your body to see if you still feel hungry. If yes, eat some more. If not, ask the waiter to take your plate away and tell him/her you finished eating.
- If the 5-minute fork down technique is wildly successful for you and you find you always have food left on your plate, try this: Ask the waiter to bring a second plate when your meal arrives. Take away half (or whatever amount you know you will not eat), put it on the other plate, and ask the waiter to box it up for you. Voila! Now you have lunch for tomorrow.
- Drink a large glass of water with fresh lemon juice before dinner. Lemon will help to improve digestion, will hydrate the body (I know many of you don’t drink enough water) and it will start to fill you up in advance of eating solid food. Learn more in my post, 9 Tips to Improve Digestion and Reduce Heartburn.
- Order a broth based soup (no cream, dumplings, etc.) before eating any solid food, e.g. miso soup, vegetable soup, gazpacho, etc. The liquid will start to fill you up and by the time your entrée arrives you will have more control of your appetite.
For more restaurant strategies, read my post, Weight-loss Strategies for Eating Out.
Strategy #4: Replace the Pasta or Rice
This is a major culprit for a lot of people, especially when eating out or grabbing a stir-fry or noodle dish for take-out at lunch time.
A stir-fry dish is typically served with about 2 cups of white rice. Most busy professionals who sit long hours at work do not need that many calories from grains, let alone a processed grain. A more appropriate serving size of rice is a cupped palm. Take a look at your cupped palm, now. How much do you think that is? It might be somewhere between ½ to 1 cup.
If you want to lose weight, chose to eat grain-based carbs only after exercise. Otherwise, replace the rice or pasta bowl with a vegetable or liquid:
- Replace a bowl of rice with a bowl of soup, mixed vegetables, boiled or baked potatoes, sweet potato, or a healthier grain like quinoa or buckwheat (but if choosing a healthier grain, limit the portion size to a cupped palm).
- Replace a vermicelli or pasta bowl with a side salad. Add beans to make your salad more filling (garbanzo, black beans, pinto beans, etc.) and 8-12 almonds or other nuts for healthy fats.
- Love Pad Thai? I sure do, but what a load of pasta! Well over 2 cups in most cases. You can ask the server to give you half of the pasta or replace half with a cabbage and bean sprout salad.
Strategy #5: Involve Your Partner in Your Healthier Eating Choices
This is the social support aspect of change. If the people closest to you do not support what you are doing to improve yourself, you will have a very difficult go of succeeding.
Share your needs and goals with your partner and/or family. Explain why losing weight is important to your for your self-esteem and confidence. Ask for their support which can come in the following ways:
- Can you unanimously chose to eat at one healthy restaurant per week, or stay in and cook a healthy meal together, or come up with a plan to cook more often at home and in bulk? Read more about my 7 Top Meal Planning Tips.
- Make it a family affair: plan, shop, and cook a week’s worth of meals in 3-4 hours. Shameless plug, but I did write the book, Cook a Week of Meals in 4 Hours! 🙂
- If your beloved brings home unhealthy food or desserts ask them to put them in the back of the cupboards or in the back of the fridge, bottom shelf. This will help keep trigger foods out of sight. Even better, if it’s not there, you can’t eat it. Read more in my post, The Most Important Weight-Loss Tip Ever.
- Is there a physical activity that the both of you would enjoy doing together? A long walk or bike ride is a great idea, but feel free to come up with other options.
There you have it! By no means an exhaustive list, but I’m sure you can take immediate action on at least one of the strategies above.
Leave me a comment below and tell me which one speaks to you the most and why.
Eat well to be well!