Following any diet plan can be a challenge, especially if you are unfamiliar with the rules of fitness nutrition. Here are 25 nutrition rules to get you started in the right direction. Use these rules to design your very own healthy eating plan, or as a reminder of what to do and what not to do!

1. Choose whole foods closest to their natural source and avoid processed foods altogether, which can provide too many calories, pack too much sugar, and may also contain saturated fats.

2. Choose a variety of vegetables and fruits from an array of colors, which provide important phytonutrients, super antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

3. Eat five to six small meals a day, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and two to three snacks in between meals. Smaller, more frequent meals ensure your metabolism keeps burning and helps to maintain blood sugar levels to help you avoid hunger and fatigue throughout the day!

4. Eat within 30 minutes after waking, and then every 2.5 to three hours thereafter until bedtime.

5. Be sure to measure your food to help control portion sizes. Always use a scale to weigh meat portions, measuring cups for both dry and wet measures such as egg whites or brown rice, and measuring spoons for oils and nut butters.

6. When eating out, NEVER order the oversized meals. Ask for half portions or lunch-sized portions. Stick with foods that are already on your regular diet plan, including high-fiber, low-sugar whole foods, lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains.

7. Avoid starchy carbohydrates, which can be high in calories and sugar, such as white rice, potatoes, bread or pasta. These can rapidly increase and decrease blood sugar levels, resulting in hunger and fatigue.

8. Eat low-glycemic carbohydrates including vegetables, or whole grains such as oatmeal, which are digested slower and can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels throughout the day.

9. Eat a diet full of high-fiber foods! It is recommended to get 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Oatmeal packs a punch of 4 grams in just a one-cup serving!

10. Select only lean sources of quality protein that have a high biological value, including chicken, turkey, white fish, lean cuts of red meat, egg whites, low-fat dairy sources and whey protein powders.

11. Consume protein with every meal! Aim for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day depending on your activity needs.

12. Shop only around the perimeter of the grocery store! Almost everything you need to build a healthy diet can be found here.

13. Aim for two to three improvements in your nutrition program each week, until you are completely involved in your diet plan. For example, try adding in a new vegetable, switching to vinaigrettes on salads, or changing cream in coffee in low-fat milk.

14. Consistency is the key. Get into the habit of preparing your meals in advance and having the right foods available to make those meals. You don’t want to be stuck without food, or you will be sure to fall off your plan.

15. Learn to understand nutrition facts panels, so you understand if the food you are considering offers up a solid nutrition profile worthy of your diet plan. Look at the calorie breakdown, the amount of fat and sugar.

16. Get healthy fats from a variety of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources such as nuts, olive oil, fish and flax.

17. Don’t forget that saturated fat in small portions is important too. Saturated fat helps to balance out and maintain healthy hormone levels.

18. Consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day! Veggies and fruit are packed with good-for-you nutrients, soluble fiber that helps slow digestion, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that simply do not exist in other foods. Aim to get three to four of those servings from veggies, with one or two coming from fruit.

19. Stick to condiments that are low in sugar and do not contain cream bases. Examples are mustards, hot sauces, vinaigrettes, lemon, herbs and spices.

20. Keep track of your nutritional intake— track your calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats, and also track how you are feeling when you eat your meals.

21. Stay hydrated— drink at least 3 to 4 liters of water each day. Remember that during exercise more water can be lost, so it is important to re-hydrate after exercise.

22. Avoid sugary beverages that can increase your daily calorie intake and increase your blood sugar levels. Consume calorie-free teas and drink plenty of water. Add a dash of lemon or lime to boost flavor.

23. Limit your caffeine consumption. Caffeine has a natural diuretic effect, not to mention keeps you up at night if taken in excess. Keep track of your caffeine intake in your food log and be sure to reduce those extra calories from the milk/cream or sugar you may be adding!

24. Limit your alcohol consumption. Each ounce of alcohol contains approximately 150 calories. If you add mix to the alcohol, the calories can double or even triple. Not to mention drinking alcohol can halt fat burning until it is completely removed from the body. Restricting alcohol can have a noticeable impact on weight loss.

25. Before jumping into any nutrition program, discuss with a nutritionist and plan steps toward your goals, whether they are to step onstage or just burn off fat and build some lean muscle!

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