Four Tips for Healthier Living from Nutritionist Claire Wade-Hak
Health is an integral part of the Wheel of Purpose, and it’s critical to living your best life. Maintaining a proper diet is a huge part of healthy living that many people struggle with.
I sat down with Claire Wade-Hak, a friend and registered dietitian, to speak about the importance of health and some expert tips for healthy eating. Here are some of the tips she recommended that can set you on the right path when it comes to food.
- Focus on long-term change rather than a quick fix
What often dissuades people from making healthier life decisions is an “all-or-nothing” view of dieting. “Some people are 100% in for a dramatic change overnight,” Claire says. “But for most of us, we need gradual change over our lives that becomes sustainable.” What this means is that the most effective way to change your eating behaviors is to start slow. You can add an extra vegetable to a typical meal, or have fruit with breakfast. Every little bit of healthy food that you add includes more minerals and vitamins to fill you up in place of less healthy options.
Claire also recommends a food journal to keep track of progress and change as you begin to shift your diet in a healthier direction, but cautions against taking it too seriously. “You don’t want to become obsessed with every little thing you do, right?” she says. Rather than a list of “bad” or “good” decisions, a food journal should be meant for you to keep an eye on what your diet is like and give you a general idea of what your intake is like, so you can take steps to alter it in a healthy fashion. Again, this all takes time. There is no quick fix that will solve your food problems overnight.
“It’s really important to listen to your hunger,” Claire says. “There’s nothing wrong with your body telling you that it’s hungry…if you’re talking about healthy portion control, one of the most important things is, again, not just cutting down on the things that aren’t as good, but making sure that you’re really filling out your plate with the things that are really good.” If you can focus on maintaining a balance between filling up on healthy food while still enjoying the foods you love that may not be as healthy, you’ll be on your way to a healthier you.
- Try to maintain a whole plant-based diet while incorporating your favorite foods
Claire recommends establishing your diet on wholly plant-based foods. “Any whole plant food basically has fiber,” she says. “So, something as simple as adding a vegetable to every meal that you’re eating makes a really big difference.” Fiber can fill you up and be the key to a healthy microbiome in your digestive system, which Claire notes is a key part of healthy living.
“A great microbiome,” she says, “can impact your mental health, your physical health, your emotional health, because of things like serotonin and that sort of thing are tied to it…one of the most important things you can do is give all of those really good bacteria what they eat: good fiber.”
Claire also notes that it’s easier to start a whole-plant diet than most people think it is. The key is starting most meals (and as previously mentioned, gradual change is what we’re aiming for) with a focus on beans, legumes, and whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, and others. “Those are going to be foundational pieces of your diet,” Claire says. “And if that is the foundational piece of your diet, then even if you have a little bit of some other things, where they’re processed or even [have] some animal products or anything like that, from a health perspective, you’re already doing a ton with that.”
Produce of all kinds, nuts, seeds, and mushrooms (as well as the other staples mentioned above) are all bases that can be built upon to create meals that can incorporate the more unhealthy foods you may love. It’s important to have that foundation, but if you’re not involving the food that you enjoy, you may not stick with your healthy diet. “You have to choose foods that you like, you know,” says Claire. “When you’re going through vegetables, if you hate Brussel sprouts, don’t eat Brussel sprouts. There’s no one thing that you have to eat, so make changes that you enjoy.”
- Watch for foods that cause inflammation
Many chronic diseases are linked to inflammation, which is often caused by some of the most popular items in the typical American diet. According to Claire, the most important thing to keep in mind is that “there are foods that are going to increase inflammation in your body, and then there are foods that are going to decrease them.” Fried foods, animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs, and others are all linked to increased inflammation in the body. This can lead to sluggish behavior and a lack of activity that compounds many health issues.
“I like [this] metaphor,” Claire says. “If you stub your toe once, your body is gonna heal, and it’s going to be fine, right? But if you stub your toe three times a day, every day, it’s gonna have trouble healing. And that’s kind of your body with your diet.”
Fortunately, there are many foods that can reduce inflammation. Many fruits, blueberries in particular, and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants. Adding these to your diet while decreasing your intake of inflammatory food can be a huge boon to feeling healthier.
- The importance of water and avoiding soda
“I could go on and on about how important water is….to your overall health,” says Claire. Of course, we all know that water is key to our existence, but it can be hard to remember to drink a healthy amount (six to eight glasses per day). Claire recommends a few methods to ensuring that you get enough water each day; she mentions that many people set reminder alarms throughout the day, while others carry a large jug with them wherever they go.
A big problem with hydration is the prevalence of soda, which many will drink in excess and often in favor of water. Claire encourages people to find alternatives to soda. “If you’re someone that’s used to drinking soda, then carbonated water is an amazing choice because it’s going to give you some of that satisfaction of that carbonation without all of that sugar.
Flavor is a huge part of soda addiction, so Claire recommends adding healthy flavor enhancers to water. “I’d say the best flavor enhancers are gonna be things like lemon and lime, even a little bit of frozen fruit in there…can really add a lot.” Since soda can be so damaging to the body, making that switch to water by using these methods to improve your experience can be a huge boon to your health.