Trying to get healthier and lose weight can be stressful — and many people struggle with that stress. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 49% of adults surveyed were trying to lose weight during the prior 12 months. 

While there are countless fad diets that claim to help you lose weight, the key for sustainable weight loss is small, easy changes that add up to big results, says Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D.N., a leading nutrition authority, contributor to the Today Show, Woman’s Day columnist, and bestselling author of 14 books.

“I follow a 90/10 approach to eating, and have raised my kids with this same food philosophy,” Bauer tells Thrive. “If you eat healthfully 90 percent of the time, you can allow yourself wiggle room the rest of the time to enjoy your favorite – not-so-healthy — foods. There’s no guilt, no stress, and no calorie counting. It’s really that simple.” 

Bauer wants people to feel confident that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be stressful, and that eating well can mean eating delicious food. She sat down with Thrive to give some of her top tips to make small, easy changes to your nutrition, starting today.

TG: How do we shift our mindset to actually want healthy foods?

JB: It’s all about finding tasty ways to prepare wholesome, nutrient-rich foods — one of my most favorite things in the world to do! For instance, steamed broccoli can be a bit boring, but whip up creamy, luxurious broccoli soup, or roast it with garlic and extra virgin olive oil until it’s perfectly charred and addictive, and suddenly the vegetable becomes a family favorite. In other words, search for delicious recipes or create your own inventive ways to elevate the flavor of healthful picks. 

TG: Often times, people feel like health is all or nothing. What happens if we fall off our healthy eating wagon? What are small ways to course correct? 

JB: One of the keys to sustainability and long-term health is learning to forgive slip ups.

Everyone slips up, health nuts included. But often, when people give into temptation and subsequently fall off the wagon for one meal or one day, they tell themselves they’ve blown their diet and throw in the towel for good. This is an incredibly common reaction that I see time and again. To be successful, you have to learn to overcome these temporary setbacks. You can’t let one binge or one off-day turn into a full week, or month, of splurging. Don’t dwell on your mistakes. Instead, shake them off and get right back on track at your very next meal — or the very next day. 

And always remember, nobody gains weight or drives up their cholesterol from one rich meal or a single slice of cake. The real trouble starts when you allow that isolated splurge to snowball into an all-out eating frenzy. So take it one meal at a time… one day at a time… and learn to forgive yourself. Everyone has slip ups, but the folks who achieve long-term health success know how to keep those occasional lapses contained.

TG: What are small ways we can make healthy eating exciting? 

JB: One trick I use in my house is theme nights! I  choose a different dinner theme every evening: Meatless  Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wok Wednesday, Pasta Thursday, Breakfast for Dinner  Friday, Poultry  Saturday, Surprise Sunday. This way, the cuisine is already chosen (more structure means less stress), and I simply vary the meal and ingredients. I often take requests within those themes from my family. So, for Wok Wednesday, I’ll take votes: shrimp, chicken, or tofu as a lean protein for your stir-fry, and then toss in whatever veggies I have on hand or look good at the market. When flipping through your  recipe repertoire, try to choose dishes that feature in-season foods to get the biggest bang (and flavor hit) for your buck. When the kids were little, we really went all in with the themes — showing up to the table in bathrobes and slippers with stuffed animals (for our Breakfast for Dinner theme). You get the idea. Dinner was fun, and everyone felt included.

TG: What are some of your favorite meals? 

JB: My grab-and-go breakfast is a Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit. But I’m also crazy for eggs, so when there’s time, I’ll whip up an over-stuffed omelet with whatever I have lurking in the fridge — herbs, tomatoes, cheese, leftover veggies from dinner, you name it! And always a few dashes of hot sauce. I also flip for this Jumbo Oatmeal Pancake and an Apple, Sausage and Caramelized Onion Frittata.

Lunch is often a kitchen-sink salad with chicken and beans, or some sort of open-faced sandwich piled high with veggies.  

Dinner is when I like to experiment in the kitchen, so it can range from miso cod with saucy bok choy to hearty pumpkin turkey chili or layered eggplant-chicken parmesan. And a million other things, as my brain is also in food overdrive!  A dish that was a big hit in my house and on the TODAY show a few weeks ago is a No Noodle Cheesy Spinach Lasagna. 

TG:  What are some easy food swaps?

JB: A few of my favorites are:  

Swap sour cream for low-fat/nonfat Greek yogurt in dips and dressings. Creamy Greek yogurt is flavor-neutral, loaded with protein (which can help rev metabolism and keep a lid on appetite), and lower in saturated fat. Trust me, you’ll never miss the sour cream!

Swap bottled oil for spray bottles filled with oil when sautéing. You’ll use far less in your cooking, which makes it an easy way to stretch your oil and save cash and calories.  

Swap regular pasta for zucchini or squash “noodles.” This swap is so versatile. You can use it when cooking Italian (think Zucchini Linguini with Meatballs Marinara) or Chinese (I use this trick for my Vegetable Lo Mein).

Swap white rice for riced veggies or quinoa. I love cauliflower rice — it’s easy enough to make your own (try my recipe) or you can look for premade in the freezer section. But really, broccoli and carrots rice up beautifully, too. Quinoa is rich in protein and is also a smart substitute.

TG: Any solutions for stress eating?

JB: I often recommend this three-step interference plan whenever stress strikes and you feel like you want to reach for a food solution:

  • Munch on two handfuls of baby carrots. The act of munching and crunching relieves stress, plus, carrots have fiber, which makes you feel full and takes the edge off hunger, even if it’s just psychological hunger.
  • Sip a warm cup of soothing and comforting tea. Any tea will do, but chamomile, in particular, has been shown to ease anxiety and tension.  
  • Pick up a stress ball (keep one handy) and pump it for one minute. If there’s any anxiety left after the first two steps, this will definitely help dissipate it.

TG: What are some easy ways to stay more hydrated? 

JB: Make your hydration choices tastier. Water can get a little boring, so find creative ways to make it more appealing. I often add fresh fruit or veggie slices to my glass — cucumber, lemon, lime, oranges, and so on. Or I’ll add fruit to cubes; strawberries or blueberries are great, or toss a few pieces of a chopped fruit like orange or pineapple into each ice cube compartment. You get a pop of color and some nice flavor as the ice melts. I also enjoy flavored sparkling water. Some of my favorites include LaCroix Pamplemousse, Peach Pear, and NiCola Cubana. 

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