Healthy eating and regular exercise are important at any age but become even more so as we reach midlife and beyond. Healthy eating along with physical activity can not only reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke but also contribute to stronger bones and enhanced independence and quality of life as you age.
No matter your age or your previous eating habits, it’s never too late to change your diet and improve your health and vitality. Improving your diet now can help you to live longer and stronger.
But how do you eat healthy when life gets busy?
Today I’m sharing three steps to eat healthy in midlife - even when life gets busy.
Before we get into how to ‘fix’ those broken diets and routines, let’s take a breath…seriously…pause…and take a nice deep breath in…and exhale fully out. I’ll wait. Go ahead and Breathe.
Cut yourself some slack. Let’s take a minute to practice some mindful self-compassion.
Recognize that you are struggling…that something isn’t working. ‘Ahhhh…so that’s what’s going on.’
Know that you are not alone. That’s right. Midlife is tough. Many women, especially primary caregivers, are struggling with things such as parenting teens and adult children (and in some cases grandchildren), caring for aging parents, work stress, and/or personal or spousal health issues... to name just a few. And most of us have ‘broken’ routines right now.
Show yourself the same loving kindness that you would offer a friend if she were struggling. A kind, reassuring word or phrase. (‘I understand. I’ve been there too. This is hard and I am with you’). A loving touch or a self-squeeze (wrap those arms around yourself) goes a long way in comforting yourself.
It’s much easier to figure out how to fix things and create a plan when we are ON OUR SIDE, NOT ON OUR BACK.
I can just hear some of you now, ‘Yeah, but if I don’t crack the whip and get strict with myself, I will never change’.
I wonder. It may work in the short term. I’ll ask you this, ‘How has it really helped in the long term?’ In my experience, clients are always more successful when they approach change with self-compassion.
Here are those 3 steps to eat healthy when life feels busy:
1. Identify and Fix Nutritional Deficiencies
When life feels busy and overwhelming, clients often respond best to first adding things in versus taking things out. Our brains are funny…suggest restricting something and it’s like telling someone not to think about a pink elephant. Our brains can’t help but think about a pink elephant. So let’s start easier…with adding in.
When we don’t get the nutrients we need, our function and performance suffer. As soon as we start eating them regularly, we start to thrive. Once we start to feel better, we make better choices. Win - Win!
So how do we know what we are deficient in?
Although blood testing can uncover specific deficiencies, in most cases, they aren’t necessary.
Common deficiencies (and where to begin to address them) among coaching clients include:
Water (low level dehydration) – drink more hydrating fluids
Vitamins/Minerals – eat more foods rich in vitamins and minerals (ie colourful vegetables and fruits)
Protein (particularly in women and people with low appetites) – eat more foods rich in lean protein. Protein makes us feel full longer and helps maintain and build muscle.
EPA/DHA (essential fats) - get a variety of healthy fats (fish, fish oil, nuts, seeds) and decrease saturated fat.
Fiber - soluble fiber (oats, brussel sprouts, avocados, apples, pears) helps reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and helps balance blood sugar levels.
2. Adjust Food Amount and Food Type
Once nutritional deficiencies are corrected and you are eating this way consistently, it’s time to adjust food amount. It’s important to note that I actively avoid calorie counting in my coaching programs. While short-term food journals work well to increase awareness of eating behaviours, calorie counting often backfires.
The following guide is a starting point for portions. As a nutrition coach, I also coach clients to eat mindfully, slowly and according to hunger and satiety (fullness) cues. Portion sizes vary, not only on body type, but also based on activity levels (exercise and daily activity). Using the hand portion guide takes into account body size differences as our hands are typically in proportion to our bodies. The following are starting points - an external guide. It’s important to check in with your internal guide to know when to increase or decrease food intake.
*For clients that have been diagnosed with a health issue and are working with a dietitian, we use their suggestions as your external guidelines and work on optimizing your internal cues and what fits for your lifestyle
How Much to Eat:
The following portion guide assumes 3-4 meals per day. Use your own hand as a portable portion guide. Your palm measures protein, your fist for veggies, your cupped hand for carbs, and your thumb for fats.
1 palm of protein dense foods ✋ 🍣 🥚
1-2 fists of veggies/fruit ✊ 🥦 🥗 🍓🍏
1 cupped handful of carb dense foods 🍚 🍠 🥣 🌾
and 1 thumb of fat dense foods. 👍🏻 🥜 🥑 🫒
3. How Often Should I Eat?
As long as we eat the ‘right’ food in the ‘right’ amounts, meal frequency is a matter of personal preference. You could eat smaller meals more often or larger meals less often. In our coaching programs, we also coach clients to become aware of hunger and satiety (fullness) cues and to learn to honour those internal cues as well as your personal goals and values.
What Should I Eat Before, During, or After Exercise?
For the majority of people, except elite athletes or those training with high volumes potentially multiple times per day, workout nutrition really doesn’t matter.
For most of us, non-elite athletes, plan to eat an appropriate meal as outlined above
1-2 hours before and after your workout. And drink water during your workout.
That sums up how to eat healthy in 3 steps. Now, how do you put it into action when life feels busy?
Systems help us to prioritize what to do and when to do it. They take the pressure off of having to make multiple decisions…especially when we are hungry, tired and short fused.
For most women and primary caregivers, when life gets busy and overwhelming the first thing to go are your personal systems that help optimize our vitality. Systems like:
· Meal prep
· Regular exercise/movement
· Sleep hygiene
New systems. New routines and rituals.
What were you doing consistently to stay healthy when you felt your best?
Eating colourful veggies or fruit with each meal?
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night?
Drinking water with dinner instead of wine?
Connecting with others?
What systems could you put in place to help you start doing those consistently again?
Start small with an action you can consistently and confidently do for the next week. The smaller, the better. Success breeds success. If you don’t believe me, think back to a time when you’ve tried to ‘do it all’. How’d that work for you?
We are in this for the long haul. Diets and quick fixes may work in the short term but are difficult to sustain for the long term.
Adding in or substituting is often easier than taking out. We want you to feel NOURISHED, not DEPRIVED. The more nourished we feel, the more likely we will make more positive choices.
What supports do you have in place? What resources do you have?
Think ahead to the next week. Is there anything that could get in the way of you making one small change?
If so, what are ways to deal with it? Get your plan in place now so you don’t have to think about it in the heat of the moment (or when you’re tired or hungry).
What 5-minute action can you take right now to plan for this new system you’ll put in place this week?
Yours in health and vitality,
Coach Anita 🧡
For more info on:
How to Fix a Broken Diet
How to Stay in Shape When You’re Busy
The Power of Sleep