Healthy Eating: Non-Diet Hacks and Tips

By Leo Cardez

From PHN Issue 41, Winter 2020

At Prison Health News, we try to avoid talking about diets, in part to be accepting of all body types, and also because changing eating patterns is more healthy than dieting. I’m going to focus on healthy eating tips you can use in almost any prison. Some might work for you, and others might work for other readers, so don’t feel like you need to try them all.

  1. Water is your friend. Drink a cup of water before you walk to chow, another during your meal, and another after. Doing this can fill you up, help with digestion, and help clean your teeth.
  2. Slow down. Eat mindfully. Focus and enjoy the meal. Chew your food at least five times before swallowing. Try eating vegetables and protein first off your tray.
  3. It may help to keep a food journal and write down everything you eat, as long as this doesn’t increase your stress. The idea is that being more aware of everything you’re eating will help you get more control over what you are eating.
  4. Here’s another tip that may work well for some of us but not for others: Create a daily meal and snack schedule to plan what you will eat. Stick to it.
  5. Find a healthy eating buddy to hold each other accountable and for support and encouragement.
  6. Try to eat the opposite of traditional meal portions throughout the day. Have a large breakfast, reasonable lunch, and smaller dinner.
  7. Prepare your cell-made snacks and meals in advance. For example, if you plan to have a snack or meal later that day, set them aside in the morning.
  8. Some people find it helpful to eat all their meals in an 8-to-10-hour window, not eating the other 14 to 16 hours each day. This is often referred to as intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting, or limiting your eating to certain windows, draws on 20 years of medical research and literature, encompassing a large number of studies, and has been proven to be safe, effective, and highly beneficial. It’s been associated with longer life span, weight loss, maintaining a healthy weight, and may help prevent cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
  9. Create small daily goals, and start the day with personal affirmations. For example, “Today, just today, I won’t eat any bread or processed sugar.” Review this every morning and mix it up.

You can do it! Think positively and envision hitting your weight and health goals. Put up a list or poster of your goals somewhere so you can see it every day. Many of our readers know what’s good for us and what isn’t.

Here’s a refresher based on the USDA MyPlate food guide, which replaced the famous Food Pyramid in 2011:

  • Vegetables are so healthy you can eat as much as you like. If they are canned, you may need to rinse the salt off. In a research study, rinsing didn’t have much effect on the sodium in canned green beans, but replacing the canning brine with water before heating lowered the salt content.
  • Cornbread, low-fat popcorn, oatmeal, and whole wheat flakes breakfast cereal are great sources of fiber and other nutrients.
  • Canned fish, including tuna, is high in protein, but you may need to rinse any extra salt off. You can also rinse cottage cheese to lower the sodium. When rinsing tuna or cottage cheese, the iron content is not lost, but some of the calcium is lost.
  • Dried fruits like apricots or raisins can be great if you’re craving something sweet.

Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself if you slip up and don’t follow this regimen perfectly. Not to sound cliche, but creating and keeping a healthy lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Make 2020 the year of you. Take care of yourself.

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