spinach salad with mandarins and red onion

No one likes the idea of dieting, whether to lose weight or for general health upkeep. Restrictive diets often fail because it's hard to stick to a strict regimen for an extended period of time.

Long-term health benefits don't come from temporary fad diets. They come from making healthy choices you can keep up with for more than a few weeks.

Here are 5 small steps you can make that can equate to big results:

  1. Start swapping: You don't have to make big moves to get big results. Simply swapping out certain ingredients for higher-nutrition options such as spinach instead of pale greens, cooking with "good fats" like olive oil instead of ghee or butter, and getting some of your protein from legumes and grains instead of red meats are a big start. This way you still get to enjoy the foods you like while sneaking in valuable nutrition in there.
  2. Eat fresh: Snacks are usually where most people make their mistakes. While the crunch of salty snacks may sound great to your tongue, they don't have the same effect on your body because of the sodium, calories, and preservatives in that bag. Choosing fresh foods -- such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and more -- are the best way to guarantee there aren't any unwanted ingredients in your food. The more you explore the produce section or farmer's market, the more options you'll discover for snack time.
  3. Drink more water: You've probably heard it enough already, but drinking enough water everyday helps your body operate smoothly. If you feel thirsty during the day, you're not getting enough. If you drink coffee beverages or alcohol, you should up your water intake even more to compensate for their dehydrating effects.
  4. Sneak in exercise: Few people have enough time to get a few hours in at the gym everyday, but if you look around you, there are lots of ways to increase your daily activity. Simple things like taking the stairs, parking in back of the lot, or walking over to a co-workers desk instead of sending an email can add up to some serious results. Walking during your lunch can also break the monotony of your day and help beat stress.
  5. Balance it out: It doesn't mean the end of the world if you succumb to the urge of convenience foods. Occasional indulgences with comfort food can help beat stress, but a diet full of them can put stress on the body. Every time you dig into something unhealthy, balance it out with some exercise, more water, and extra fresh fruits and vegetables. This can help rid the body of the unwanted calories, fats, and salts in those foods. It can also train your brain into a Pavlov's dog-type response where you know if you eat bad stuff, you'll have to work harder to burn it off.

The more you focus on finding healthier and more active choices in your daily life, the more your body will reward you. It can help decrease stress, promote brain health, and more. That can make you mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to take on any of life's challenges.