confident female walking in street holding groceriesShare on Pinterest
MStudioImages/Getty Images

There are so many benefits to improving your eating habits that have nothing to do with changing your body’s shape or size, including:

  • more energy
  • better mood
  • improved focus
  • increased exercise stamina
  • reduced disease risk

My first recommendation is to actually listen to your body — it’s wiser than you think! Diet culture is rife with rules about what and how much to eat, but it’s usually better to trust your body’s innate wisdom.

Start by paying attention to how different foods make you feel. What gives you energy? What keeps you satisfied? Learn to tune into and respect your natural hunger and fullness cues instead of following external guidelines for timing and portion sizes.

Which foods do you enjoy, and which do you dislike?

From that foundation, you can then focus on incorporating more nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats while being mindful of how often you choose less nutritious foods.

Rather than aiming for a complete overhaul, I usually encourage folks to start small. Commit to one or two doable but impactful changes and practice them consistently until they become a habit.

Some examples of small goals you can set for yourself include eating a vegetable with each of your main meals and making sure your breakfast includes a protein source.

Remember that while some foods offer more nourishment than others, ultimately, no single choice is going to make or break your health.

Keep an eye on your overall dietary pattern rather than getting hung up on the nitty gritty. All foods can and should fit into a health-promoting, sustainable eating pattern — and no health goal is worth sacrificing your sanity or quality of life.

This is such an excellent question. All of us have a limited amount of time in our days, so it seems like there should be a better way of meeting the physical activity guidelines than powering through a workout you despise — and there is!

First, consider possible ways to easily and practically fit more movement into your daily life, like:

  • Park farther away from the entrance of your office building instead of seeking out the closest spot.
  • Get off a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way if you take public transportation.
  • Take the stairs instead of using the elevator.
  • Do errands on foot or by bike instead of driving.
  • Shop in-person instead of online.
  • Take a walk during work calls if you don’t have to be on camera, or ask coworkers to do walking meetings.
  • Meet friends for activities like ice skating or kayaking instead of drinks.

All movement counts!

You can also experiment with different forms of more traditional exercise until you find one you enjoy. Jogging may not be for you, but you could end up loving Zumba.

If you’re social, try group classes. If you like accountability, seek out a personal trainer. If you need solo time, consider a hike. If you’re cooped up all day, a brisk walk in a nearby park might feel wonderful.

A variety of free fitness apps can also help you work out at home with minimal equipment.

Remember: What works for one person may not work for you, and the best form of exercise is the one you actually enjoy and will be able to do consistently.

More movement means you need to pay closer attention to nutrition, including the amount, timing, and quality of your food choices.

Properly fueling your body for exercise will help you get more out of your workouts, feel better while doing them, and optimize recovery.

Carbs are the best fuel for working muscles, so if you last snacked or ate several hours ago or if you’re exercising first thing in the morning, consider eating a carb-rich snack to provide energy and delay fatigue.

If you’re short on time, the simpler, the better. Thirty to 60 minutes before a workout, consider munching on one of the following options, such as a:

  • banana
  • handful of raisins
  • frozen waffle
  • packet of instant oatmeal
  • cup of applesauce

Limit fat and fiber immediately before exercise to prevent gastrointestinal distress.

And within an hour or so of finishing your workout, refuel with a snack or meal that contains carbs to replenish energy stores and protein for muscle repair, such as a:

  • Greek yogurt with berries and granola
  • turkey sandwich
  • couple of hard-boiled eggs with a piece of fruit.
  • piece of toast with an omelet

You often hear “no pain, no gain,” but this isn’t a mantra I would ever recommend!

Some amount of soreness is typical, especially if you’re newer to exercise or trying a new type of workout, but acute aches and pains may be a symptom of injury.

Some symptoms that show your pain is due to an injury may include:

  • One-sided pain: Pain that pops up on one side of your body is more likely to be injury-related than pain that occurs equally on both sides.
  • Lingering pain: Pain that doesn’t resolve with icing and rest, especially if it lasts more than a week, may also be a symptom of injury.
  • Pain that stops you from daily activities: It’s important that a medical professional check out any pain that limits your ability to perform day-to-day activities.

Don’t try to exercise through the pain. Ample recovery is just as important as the workout itself for gaining strength and improving endurance.

If you want to work out in a public setting, more power to you! Try to focus on yourself and your own goals and not worry about what others are thinking. Most likely, your fellow gym goers are paying so much attention to their own workouts that they won’t even notice you.

Different gyms and fitness studios have different vibes, so it may be worth exploring a few to find a setting and community where you feel comfortable and supported. Body-positive fitness spaces, designed to be accepting and welcoming, are popping up in many cities.

Going to the gym or trying a fitness class with a close friend can make it less intimidating (and more fun!)

Take steps to feel your best, such as investing in well-fitting and comfortable athletic wear. Also, remember that you don’t have to go to a gym to get in a great workout. There are many exercises you can do at home and apps that help you stay motivated.

The first step is to evaluate all the factors that could be contributing to your fatigue.

Sleep is paramount. Most adults need a minimum of 7 hours per night for optimal health, and if you’re engaging in vigorous exercise, you might need even more for recovery. Make sure you have a consistent wind-down routine and practice good “sleep hygiene,” which includes:

  • limiting caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon and evening
  • keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
  • reducing screen time before bed

Also, stress is stress. Your body doesn’t necessarily know whether it’s your workouts, your work deadlines, or your family responsibilities that are making you feel so tired.

When other areas of your life are physically or emotionally demanding, it may not be the ideal time to ramp up your exercise routine.

Regardless, to build strength and fitness, rest is just as important as the exercise itself. Plan rest days or active recovery days in between strenuous workouts. And listen to your body. Sometimes a gentle walk or yoga session is a better option than a high intensity spin class or Tabata workout.

Finally, make sure you’re not only fueling and hydrating properly before and after your workouts but that you’re taking in enough nutrition overall. Constantly feeling lethargic and run-down could indicate that you’re not taking in enough calories and nutrients to support your current activity level.

A qualified professional such as a registered dietitian nutritionist can evaluate your diet with your exercise goals in mind and help ensure you’re meeting your body’s needs.

Alissa Palladino is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Alissa has worked in a variety of corporate, community, medical, and fitness settings with diverse audiences supporting a range of health conditions and goals. Her focus areas include sports nutrition, weight management, diabetes, high blood pressure/cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease.