By Mary Vance
Looking to get in the best shape of your life this year? Here are 10 foods and habits to help you get there.
1. Eat protein.
It’s essential because your body uses it for muscle and tissue repair, and it breaks down into the amino acids used to synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain responsible for good mood, sex drive, appetite control, sleep, and regulating cravings.
Lack of quality protein is one of the most common factors I see with clients having difficulty with weight loss. They’re either eating too many grain-based foods for their physiology (and the lectins present in grains can cause inflammation that prevents weight loss), or they’re just not eating enough protein with meals, so they’re not satisfied.
Examples of quality protein are: grass fed beef and lamb; organic poultry; cage free eggs, preferably from a local farm; and wild fish. For vegetarians, legumes are not a complete source of protein, meaning they do not provide all essential amino acids, so combine with quinoa or brown rice.
2. Eat good fats.
If you are fat phobic, listen up: eating the right kinds of fat will not make you fat. You know what will? Sugar. Gluten. Processed foods (and yes, that includes your “healthy” morning boxed cereal). Good fats stoke your metabolism and encourage weight loss! Your brain is mostly fat, and your cell membranes need fat to stay permeable, allowing nutrients to enter. Good fats are coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter, avocado, and fats present in organic meat. Avoid refined vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats.
3. Get some cinnamon.
This amazing and antioxidant-rich spice has a blood sugar and insulin balancing effect for stable energy and reduced hunger, and it may lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. Add 1 teaspoon to your morning smoothie.
4. Drink green tea.
It’s thermogenic, contains antioxidants, and is an all around miracle beverage as far as I’m concerned. Drink it in the mornings instead of coffee, which jacks your blood sugar and can leave you with a crash accompanied by wicked sugar cravings in the afternoon. Green tea gives you a pleasant boost and may reduce cravings. Have a cup after lunch to ward off the dreaded 3pm crash.
5. Drink more filtered water.
It flushes toxins and helps regulate metabolism. We sometimes confuse thirst for hunger, so if you’re feeling hungry when you shouldn’t be, drink a glass of water. Add cucumber slices and lemon wedges to spice it up.
6. Do some burst training and yoga.
Instead of pounding the pavement for hours (I can’t tell you how many marathon-training clients have come to me befuddled by the fact that they’re actually gaining weight), try medium to high intensity interval training.
How it works: Walk for 1 minute; sprint for 30 seconds. Repeat this circuit for 15 to 20 minutes at whatever intensity is right for you. It’s a much more effective way to burn fat than running for hours. Alternate with yoga to elongate muscles and center yourself, and you’re golden.
7. Sleep 7 to 9 hours every night.
Seven to nine hours of sleep is essential to maintain healthy body composition. Your body perceives lack of sleep as a stress, which raises cortisol, increasing sugar cravings and fat storage. Ever notice how you crave sugar and carbs the day after you haven’t slept well? Also, if you’re chugging coffee because you’re not sleeping enough, you’re burning out your adrenals and driving up cortisol. Unplug from your devices, and get to bed by 11pm latest.
8. Enjoy some dark chocolate.
It may contribute to lower overall blood glucose levels; it makes you feel good; and it is chock full of antioxidant-rich dreamy deliciousness. Various studies show that dark chocolate eaters have lower body fat. Choose 70% or higher dark chocolate, which has far less sugar than milk chocolate, and doesn’t contain dairy.
9. Eat 35 to 50 grams of fiber daily.
Fiber binds to toxins in the gut and helps to whisk them out of the body, scrubbing your colon clean in the process. I’ll spare you a lecture on insoluble and soluble fiber, but you need a certain amount of both because soluble fiber (fruit, legumes) makes you feel full and stabilizes blood sugar, and insoluble fiber (grains, leafy greens) feeds the good bacteria in your gut and fosters regularity.
10. Eat probiotic foods.
Studies show that probiotics, the beneficial bacteria in your gut, play a role in weight loss and help prevent weight gain. Probiotics are essential for synthesizing certain vitamins, good digestive function, and immune health. Get them from raw kraut, beet kvass or kombucha, or kefir if you tolerate dairy.