11 simple guidelines for being healthier than ever 

Our society seems to be stuck between being incredibly health-conscious and reliant on fast, processed food. It’s an odd state we seem to be in, with influencers promoting flat tummy teas on Instagram one minute and then reviewing a 4,000 calorie meal on YouTube the next.

Due to this parallel, it can be quite difficult to stay on top of your health. So in this article, I’ve collected 11 simple yet incredibly effective tips for how to live a healthier lifestyle than ever before. I will be taking a look at diet, cooking, and exercise tips, and offering advice from my own experiences. This is written from the perspective of a vegan, but the advice should be adaptable for vegetarians, paleo vegans, and others.

Cut out heavily processed foods

One of the main pieces of advice to follow when trying to live a healthier lifestyle is to avoid heavily processed foods. The term ‘processed foods’ refers to food items that are altered during preparation and can include anything from cereals and cakes to crisps and soft drinks. Obviously, it’s difficult to avoid buying anything that’s been processed at all (unless you’re going down the raw vegan path, which is great) but it is possible to be more mindful about what you’re buying.

Steering clear of processed foods can help you cut down on unnecessary sugars, fats and salt that is often added to products during production. This can be a great way to help cut calories safely and to avoid health problems such as heart disease, obesity, and liver disease.

A key tip to bear in mind while trying to cut back on processed foods is that some food will be advertised as ‘slim line’ or ‘sugar-free’, but still contain other harmful ingredients that you need to watch out for. Advertising laws vary depending on where you’re based, but it’s always important to check the label of what you’re buying.

Focus on whole foods

Following on from the last point, it’s crucial to try and base your diet around whole foods, where possible. In this context, the dictionary tells us that the term whole foods refer to “food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances”.

A good plant-based diet should include a lot of whole foods, so if you’re vegan/vegetarian, you should be quite familiar with this term. Good examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Eating whole foods doesn’t mean that you can’t process them yourselves, of course. You can make your own jelly with organic fruit instead of buying sugar and preservative-filled one from the store, for example.

One of the main reasons to focus your diet on whole foods instead of processed foods is simply the health benefits. Whole foods are packed full of natural vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, and aren’t as crammed full of sugar, salt, and additives as their processed food counterparts. If you’re looking to increase the amount of fiber and protein in your diet, you’re better off leaning towards whole foods than processed junk food.

Of course, it’s not entirely black and white. Not every processed food is bad, and not every whole food is a superfood. There’s a real spectrum when it comes to food. It’s all about balance and finding a way to incorporate the most amount of nutrients into your diet as possible. Don’t beat yourself up for having a slice of cake, but don’t replace all the water taps in your house with lemonade either.

Give yourself cheat days

This is more of a psychological way to stay healthy than a physical one, but it can be incredibly useful to give yourself a cheat day. Sticking to a strict, healthy diet is very important, but it is just as important to give yourself a rest where possible, too. This is especially relevant if you’re following a so-called ‘extreme’ diet, such as veganism, raw veganism, or paleo veganism.

There are psychological benefits to giving yourself a day to ease up on strict, self-imposed health rules. It can help prevent binge-eating, for a start. If you know that you’ve got a cheat day coming up in the next week where you can snack on some chocolate and have a few glasses of wine, you’re less likely to sneak down to the kitchen at three in the morning to fill up on snacks. It’s all about controlling your unhealthy cravings, and for most people, cheat days are a great way of doing this.

Of course, this isn’t applicable to everyone as it really relates to your personal levels of self-control. Some people can feel guilty about their cheat days (as it says in the article I linked previously) and this isn’t a healthy way to feel. Some people may struggle with impulse control here, and be unable to stop themselves after one day of eating junk food.

It’s all relative to how well you can control your eating habits, but for the most part, it’s important to give yourself a break and a reward when you’re living a healthy lifestyle.

Cook at home

This point follows from the idea that you should be eating more whole foods and steering clear of processed food. Cooking meals at home can help your health in a number of ways, the most notable being that it allows you to know exactly what is going into your food.

Planning and creating your own meals with whole ingredients means that you can provide the correct nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that you need to stay healthy. Home-cooked meals are often lower in calories, can help with weight loss, and are great for helping prevent and manage to get diabetes. Additionally, cooking yourself a meal at home is better than eating out or getting takeout in terms of lowering blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

It can be hard to know where to start with home-cooking, I’ll be the first to admit. My repertoire used to consist entirely of pasta, pasta with pesto, toast, pasta with oil and herbs, two slices of toast, and occasionally a pot noodle. Glamorous, I know. 

The best way I found to expand my cooking abilities and help improve my health in the process was to spend time online, scouring cooking websites and YouTube channels. Pinterest is an amazing tool for cooking inspiration. I often find myself scrolling aimlessly for a few minutes, then I’ll suddenly have my whole week’s worth of meals planned out. I find the visual aspect of the content inspiring, so I’d suggest checking it out if you’re stuck for ideas.

Websites like The Stingy Vegan and Minimalist Baker are great for new, unfamiliar chefs too- especially if you’re vegan. They have simple, easy-to-follow recipes that can all be cooked up in a pretty short amount of time. The Stingy Vegan is especially good for plant-based consumers on a budget, so I am a big fan.

Small, consistent exercise

Moving away from the diet for a moment, it’s important to get enough exercise to support your food choices and lifestyle. However, it can be quite daunting to start working out if you don’t already. Motivation and energy can be severely worn down by the thought of a long-distance run, or hours spent sweating it out at the local gym.

Healthy lifestyle

Luckily, it’s been proven that consistently doing short bursts of exercise instead of just one big workout can actually be just as beneficial, if not more. This article from LiveStrong does a great job of explaining it in more depth. On average, we should all be getting roughly 2-3 hours of moderate exercise per week- but you don’t have to do it all in one go. Fitting in a 15-minute jog in the morning and a 20-minute yoga session at night can be greatly beneficial for your health, perhaps even more so than trying to overdo it with a marathon, for example.

There’s a lot of useful exercise resources available that fit this exact form of working out. For example, there are apps that you can download that are normally named something along with the lines ‘ 7-minute workout’ or ‘10 minute exercise routine’. These apps contain workout guides that are (surprise, surprise) very short but also very effective. If you struggle to fit exercise into your daily routine, these apps could be the answer.

Additionally, there are some great exercise channels on YouTube. I’m a huge fan of the Blogilates channel, for example, as she creates short but intense workouts that I can do when I wake up in the morning or during downtime at the weekend. They’re very accessible, and there are videos that will appeal to everyone. 

There are also channels like BodyFitByAmy, which focus on more intense workouts that tend to involve dumbbells or kettlebells. I enjoy her kettlebell workouts, but I definitely couldn’t do more than one in a day as they’re very tiring!

Lean towards slow carbs

Coming back to the topic of food, it’s important to make sure that you’re focusing on getting slow carbohydrates in your diet instead of fast carbohydrates. According to this great article from SFGate, slow carbohydrates have a low glycemic index and provide your body with crucial, slow-burning energy. They’re often high in fiber, which can be tricky to get- especially if you’re on one of the aforementioned plant-based diets. 

Examples of slow carbs include most vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes. They’re great for giving you energy, and can also be very useful for helping manage your weight. They also don’t increase your blood sugar too dramatically, which could be very useful if this is something you’re aiming to combat.

One of the easiest ways to avoid fast carbs and include more slow carbs in your diet is to focus on whole foods. This is something we’ve spoken about already, but it’s especially important to avoid overly refined grains where possible too. Easy switches to make include changing white bread for brown bread and replacing white rice with brown rice or lentils. You should also find that these whole grain foods are a lot more filling than their refined counterparts, which is very useful for weight loss, too.

Make sure you’re getting enough nutrients

Something that I personally believe is missing out from a lot of healthy eating guides is simply the advice to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients in your diet. Are you eating enough iron? Could you be deficient in calcium? Try keeping a food diary for a week or so, then reflect on everything you’ve eaten and try to point out the problem areas.

It’s worthwhile considering less obvious vitamins and minerals, such as zinc or iodine. They’re not talked about as frequently as nutrients like calcium or iron, but they are just as important. Zinc is crucial for your immune system, metabolism, and cell repair-ability. Iodine is strongly linked to thyroid issues, and a lack of it can cause all sorts of health issues involving your metabolism, energy levels, and brain health. 

To sum this point up, make sure you know what you’re consuming. Keep track of what you’re buying, and aim to make informed decisions with your meal-time planning.

Healthy fats

This is another point that may sound incredibly obvious, but it is very important. In your diet, you should be aiming to avoid overly fatty foods, like sweets and chips. However- not all fatty foods are as bad for your body as some people might have you believe.  There are a number of healthy foods that are loaded with fats that will help keep you full and provide you with the nutrients that you need to stay fit.

Avocados are a great example here. They’re made up of a whopping 77% fat- yet they contain oleic acid, potassium, and fiber, which are all great things to have in your diet. They can help HDL cholesterol levels and reduce body fat levels too. They’re very filling- why not try homemade guacamole or smashed avocado on toast for your next lunchtime meal?

Another good example is dark chocolate. It’s actually classed as a superfood, which is great. Dark chocolate is packed full of antioxidants, fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese. It’s been proven to lower cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease. It’s an easy switch to make if you’re a chocolate fan. Next time you’re craving chocolate, go for a dark chocolate bar that’s at least 70% cocoa in order to reap all these benefits.

Plan your meals

We briefly touched on this point earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Having a proper plan when it comes to your diet is immensely beneficial for staying healthy, losing weight and feeling good about yourself. There are a number of key ways that you can get your diet organized, the main one of those being meal prep. 

Preparing your meals in advance can help you analyze exactly what’s going into your food- whether you’re getting enough vitamins, what nutrients you’re lacking and what you need to change going forward. Even if you’re not a huge fan of cooking, there’s a huge variety of quick and easy meals that you can cook in bulk for the week. 

Buddha bowls with roasted vegetables and mason jar salads are really good choices for meal prep. You could also make a stew or a soup with large quantities of ingredients, then freeze a couple of servings to have throughout the week. Simple options like vegetable wraps, vegan samosas, and quinoa burritos also work really well. 

Take supplements/vitamins

This may not be an option for everyone due to cost, which is completely understandable. But, if you have the means of doing so then I’d suggest finding out what vitamins you need to take. You could do this by researching online, and speaking with a doctor.

If you often drink smoothies and milkshakes as part of your diet, supplements could be great for you as well. I would encourage you to do as much research as possible and get a second opinion before taking anything though, as they don’t work for everyone.

Try new things 

To finish this article up here’s a slightly broad but very important point. When you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle, it can feel really frustrating not being allowed to snack on chocolate and chips all day. Trust me, I struggle with junk food cravings a lot. 

The way that I’ve found to deal with this is to keep trying out new things. Did a new restaurant open up in town? Go check it out. Learned about a new cuisine? Try cooking one of the dishes for dinner. Craving your favorite candy? Figure out how to make it at home. As long as you keep an open mind, do your research, and try new things, eating healthily and getting in shape doesn’t have to be a chore.