When most people are figuring out what they want to eat, they're not always thinking about which foods will energize them the most throughout the day, because it's easier to think about what tastes best in that moment. However, if you can mentally fast-forward to how you'll feel after a meal, it might help you to make healthier decisions before you eat. For example, think back to the last time you had a healthy breakfast, whether it was this morning or maybe even weeks ago. How did you feel after you ate? Chances are you had some pep in your step and therefore continued the healthy pattern for lunch and dinner, fueling your body with feel-good nutrition. Now think about a meal where you went for a less healthy option: Do you remember how you felt then? Were you sluggish, cranky and tired? If there was a lot of sugar in the meal, did you experience a high followed by a drop in energy or attentiveness? How did your skin and body feel after you ate?
Deciding to make healthy choices is the first step, but once you make that conscious choice, it can be a little intimidating to try to figure out which foods are actually good for you and which ones you should avoid. Some people swear by the "blood-type diet" (a personalized, customized meal plan based on your blood type); others stick to The Paleo Diet, while some prefer living a vegetarian lifestyle. Everyone's body is different, but there are some decisions that are universally beneficial across the board.
While you're figuring out which food feels best in your body, you can start replacing some unhealthy patterns with healthier alternatives immediately. For example, nuts are a great source of protein, and they're considered healthy fats, so stock up on almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc. Keep bags in your car, at your workplace and in your purse, and you'll quickly forget about the days of munching on chips and crackers as snacks.
You may also start to feel your energy fade right around the late afternoon, but instead of looking for a boost of sugar to bounce you back, try some sort of fruit or sweet potatoes. This way you'll have more sustainable energy with long-term effects and can avoid the drop-off period, which will only make you want to eat more sugar later on.
Instead of energy drinks, try tea or black coffee. While energy drinks are now announcing that they're using more organic and "healthy" ingredients, that doesn't make up for the fact that most of their other ingredients are completely unnatural. Herbal teas and coffee are a better way to perk up, but just like any caffeinated drink, make sure to pace yourself and enjoy it rather than chugging it just to wake up.
If you haven't tried quinoa yet, now is the time. Quinoa is a healthy grain full of protein, and amino acids, calcium and iron. It's filling without giving you that overwhelming "stuffed" feeling; it holds your hunger over throughout longer periods than most other grains, and it can be mixed with vegetables, meat, and different spices and flavors, so you can make it taste however you'd like. There are some people who swear by eating quinoa for every meal.
In order to figure out what works best for you, you can keep a food log for a week and jot down what you ate and how you felt after. Sometimes seeing it in front of you on a piece of paper is enough to connect the dots as to what is and what isn't serving you. From there, you can start to make changes and then note how those changes make you feel. Before you know it, you'll have more energy than you know what to do with!