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When your healthcare provider tells you to “eat a balanced diet,” it may sound easy and straightforward at first. But there are many conflicting opinions about what it means to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
In functional nutrition, a “balanced diet” is one that works for your lifestyle, health concerns, and food preferences. There isn’t one diet or way of eating that works for everyone. A food plan should be tailored to you to improve your overall health and well-being. For example, a person recovering from a car accident has unique nutritional needs, which are very different from an athlete wanting to maximize their sports performance. Different combinations of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and phytonutrients can help you achieve a variety of health goals. Talk to your functional medicine provider about tailoring a food plan for you. Following are some tips to get you started.
Set SMART goals. A diet of whole, fresh foods may be very different from what you are used to eating. Set yourself up for success by setting small, attainable goals that help you incorporate healthy changes slowly and allow you to ease into the transition. You might start by replacing sodas with fizzy water until you’re comfortable adding another change or tackling another goal. When you’re ready, try adding a side salad to your dinner a few nights a week. Small, realistic changes over time are easier to make and are more likely to stick than a big, dramatic change made suddenly. Work toward improving your lifestyle, not eliminating everything you love to eat.
Staying hydrated helps rid the body of toxins, builds resilience to stress, enhances metabolism, and promotes satiety. Everyone should drink clean, filtered water throughout the day, but specific recommendations will depend on your weight and activity level. Those who are very active or living in warmer climates may have increased needs for hydration. Your functional medicine practitioner can provide personalized water recommendations suited to your lifestyle and health goals. In addition to water, some other good fluid sources are broths, herbal teas, and other decaffeinated beverages. Alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and sugary beverages should be limited, as they tend to dehydrate the body and raise cortisol and blood sugar levels.
Protein helps build and repair every part of the body. Without enough of it, you can feel run down, lethargic, and weak. Meats, eggs, poultry, and seafood are excellent protein sources, but so are certain vegetables. Good plant-based protein sources include beans and legumes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lentils, nuts and seeds, oats, spinach, and wild rice
Healthy fats will help support brain and heart health while providing your body with energy. Aim for more omega-3s (from avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, etc.), and fewer omega-6s (from processed foods, salad dressings, and sauces; as well as processed vegetable oils like canola, safflower, etc.).
Many people associate carbohydrates with sweets and bread products, but these foods are not the only sources of carbohydrates. Many healthy whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and lentils fall into this category, too. When balancing your diet, try to get the bulk of your carbohydrates from vegetable sources. The fiber found in vegetables helps balance blood sugar and improve digestion
Play around with different foods and cooking methods to discover what you like. Aim to try at least one new recipe per week. You might find that you like certain vegetables more or less, depending on how they are prepared. Many people discover that they enjoy vegetables they didn’t like as a child. If you’re not confident in your cooking skills, try taking a cooking class with a friend or browse websites dedicated to food and cooking for free tutorials. The goal is to become more comfortable with cooking. The more comfortable and enjoyable cooking is for you, the easier it will be to incorporate it into your regular routine.
Excessive intake of sugars and refined grains contributes to many chronic health issues. To help prevent or even reverse illness, limit your intake of processed foods. Examples include shelf stable cakes and cookies, candy bars, muffins, and cereals. Read food labels carefully, and select foods with little to no added sugar. Look for foods that contain “100% whole” grain in the ingredients list (rather than “refined”). Try switching the sweetener in your morning coffee from table sugar to a natural sweetener like maple syrup or honey.
Part of eating a healthy, balanced diet includes being flexible and relaxing your rules and restrictions around food. Being too restrictive can lead to the development of disordered eating patterns. Listen to your body’s cravings, and allow yourself some wiggle room. Make a point to indulge occasionally without any guilt or stress about your food choices.
Our bodies function best when they take in nutrients from all different types and colors of whole foods. Aim to eat at least five different colors of fruits and vegetables each day. IFM’s Phytonutrient Spectrum documents can help you plan your intake of colorful foods.
Achieving better sleep can lead to many health improvements. This list of suggestions for better sleep is not meant to be implemented in its entirety. Instead, pick three to four changes to implement to improve sleep quality
You can’t avoid stress, but you can manage it. Many simple relaxation strategies can help you transform stress. When you practice them every day, they will become healthy habits. Learning to adapt well in the face of challenges can bolster your energy reserves, support your health, and improve your quality of life.
Stress is one of the top health concerns of the 21st century—and for a good reason. The majority of visits to primary care doctors are due, in part, to the effects of chronic stress. For example, prolonged stress has been linked to health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and chronic pain. Ongoing stress can also harm your mood, emotions, and energy level. Studies suggest that practicing relaxation methods can help you cope in a wide variety of situations and may improve health-related symptoms. Some of the symptoms and conditions that stress-relief practices can help with include:
Many proven stress-relief approaches are listed here. Choose the methods that appeal to you and work them into your daily routine. For example, do 10 minutes of yoga every day during your lunch break. Or, listen to relaxing music for 15 minutes every night before bed.
Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” —Plato Being consistently active helps you to live longer, have a better quality of life, improve your mental health, and improve your self-image. Adults should aim for either 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, 75 minutes of high-intensity activity, or a combination of both
You can make big improvements to your health and energy levels by incorporating exercise and physical activity throughout your week. Some people feel daunted by the thought of adding physical activity or don’t know where to begin. Here are a few tips to support your journey:
What is something you love? Whether that’s music, birds, friends, trampolines, or books, you can shape your activity plan around the things you love. Walk to and from a spot where you can listen to the birds every day; explore local libraries from top to bottom; take the stairs when you visit friends; take a dance class that incorporates music you love. Make the things you love part of your activity plan.
Create a plan and carve out time for physical activity and exercise throughout the week. If you block time on your schedule for activity, it is much more likely to happen. Spread your exercise minutes throughout the week. Two 20-minute high-intensity interval training sessions, a one hour family bike ride, and a 20 minute jog is a good example of how you can meet the amount of activity recommended.S
Chances are, your friends, family, and co-workers want to be more active too. Set active living goals together and aim for gradual advancement and increased variety in your routine. You could walk an extra two miles a week—or three more flights of stairs. Try to keep moving by walking instead of sitting at the coffeeshop, or walk around the block while catching up with a friend. Many cities have active groups like running or hiking clubs which can be great in your home town or when traveling to keep you moving.
Share your goals with a person you trust and ask them to help keep you accountable by checking in. It can be helpful to partner with a friend or family member who has similar interests to engage in activity together and keep each other accountable. Online groups may also be a great option here to help you meet and achieve your goals. Social media offers many forums where individuals can post goals, encourage each other, and create a community around an active lifestyle.
Goal setting can be a fantastic tool to help you on your fitness journey. Be sure to set SMART goals which stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Post your goal in a visible area and check in with it often. Share your goal with your friends, family, and accountability partner. Perhaps your goal is to run a 5k by the end of the year. Set smaller SMART goals that can serve as milestones to help you make progress towards a larger goal.
Consider using a pedometer app on your phone or purchasing a simple pedometer and have fun with it. How many steps do you take on an average work day? How many do you take on the weekend? Striving for 10,000 steps a day is recommended. However, some is better than none. Many apps will track a variety of activity and health metrics. In addition to daily steps, many will track your total activity at different intensities each week. This can keep you on track to reaching your movement target each week
If you have a sedentary day, let it go. Check in with your body and goals and make adjustments as needed. Sometimes work and life gets hectic. Adjust your goals as needed and find creative ways to be active like walking or jogging around a park while your child is at soccer practice. It is about progress, not perfection
Daily movement reduces the risk of many health conditions. If you already have a condition, movement reduces the symptoms. Research shows that movement helps with conditions across a broad range: