Eating & Wellness: Small Steps

This page is about overall wellness of mind and body, and how we can improve those things through food and lifestyle. Here you’ll find tips on cooking, eating, exercise, fitness, and much more. These tips can be hard-hitting, and are based on what I’ve learned through much research and through my own experiences with clients, friends, and family.  They’re not sugar-coated, because we get enough of that in our diet as it is.

Tips are organized into categories, and will be updated regularly It’s an ongoing project and repository, which I hope will inspire and educate. Small steps can give big results, and that is what this page is all about: small steps to a more healthful lifestyle.

Nutrition Basics

Get started with my 10 Nutrition Rules.  You can find the first post here, with all 10 rules.  Just click on each rule to take you to the specifics.

Healthy Eating

  • The single biggest key to weight loss is to remove processed and “convenience” foods from your diet. Fresh foods are more satisfying to your body, and lead to a more satisfied and sated feeling, so you’re likely to eat less. Plus, they don’t have all the chemicals in them that are now shown to directly to contribute to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more.
  • Read labels. This starts out being time-consuming, but after a few trips to the store, you’ll know what brands are the most nutritious and the best value.
  • Keep a food journal. This is one of the most effective weight and health management tools there is. It increases your likelihood of maintaining a healthy weight substantially. Even if you’re not worried about weight, it will help you eat better and make wiser food choices. Keep it in paper, online, or on your PDA, but be diligent. Also, record exercise and mood. You’ll make some fascinating discoveries about your food triggers, your mood triggers, and other lifestyle issues.
  • Eat at the table, not watching TV. You’ll eat less.
  • Eat as locally as you can. Local food can be picked when it’s ripe, which means it’s not only more nutritious than food picked green and gassed to be shipped across the country, but it also tastes better.
  • Yes, you have to eat vegetables. The more of them and the more colors they come in, the better. Vegetables are an irreplaceable source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that will help you be healthier, fuller, and fitter.
  • Legumes, such as lentils and black beans, are great sources of cheap protein that are terribly underutilized. Per pound, they’re usually cheaper than pasta.
  • Stop eating meat like an American. Huge slabs of meat are an American thing, and one that will make you fat. You do need protein, and meat is a fine way to get it; but, most Americans eat 2-4 times the amount of meat they should at each sitting. Start using your meat in a more Mediterranean or Asian way: as a flavoring and protein source, not the bulk of the meal.
  • Drink red wine. Okay, don’t drink the bottle or anything, but drinking a glass or two of red wine a week provides resveratrol, which can help shrink & eliminate fat cells. You can also get this from red grapes!
  • Eat dark chocolate. Anything over 72%. And eat it slowly. Dark chocolate is a great way to sate your chocolate craving while doing good things for your body that won’t destroy your calorie count. Half- to one ounce. It provides antioxidants, as well as mood lifters. And, being decadent once in a while can’t hurt!
  • Don’t eat cereal and sugar in the morning. Unless you need to carbo-load for running or training, eat protein an fiber instead. It’ll keep you full longer and kick-start your metabolism more effectively. Eggs, oatmeal (regular, not instant), Greek yogurt, whole-grain toast, and grapes are all great breakfast foods. Trix and Captain cruch are not.
  • Throw out your unhealthy snacks. Right. Now. Get them out of your house.
  • Replace your unhealthy snacks with creative ones. Make frozen yogurt from Greek yogurt and melted dark chocolate. Less calories, more protein and antioxidants. Roasted chipotle almonds instead of Pringles, hummous and veggies instead of wings with ranch.
  • Plan your meals. Eating on-the-go is one of the biggest pitfalls when trying to eat healthy. Take a few minutes before you go shopping, and plan out your breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. This takes some getting used to, but it’s one of the most effective health and diet strategies there is. It’s also one of the absolute biggest money savers.
  • Ge vegetarian one day a week. This is good for everyone and everything: it’s better for you, it’s better for the environment, and it’s better for your grocery bill.
  • Drink water. This could go into exercise or fitness, but it’s really about imbibing, so I am putting it here. Water is key. I drink 12-15 glasses a day, easily. It cleanses your body, it plumps your cells, it keeps you full so you don’t feel the need to eat as often.
  • Get used to foods that have flavor, not sugar. Real tomatoes, ripe ones, do not need sugar.They’re not supposed to be sweet. Ergo, neither should tomato sauce. Either make your own, or buy a brand without sugar or HFCS. This goes for most foods–they do not need sugar, it’s simply there to hide lack of flavor.
  • Eat pastured, grass-fed meat, dairy, and eggs whenever possible. These products have far higher nutrient value (and, if they’re not fed grain, far fewer calories–many people can lose 10lbs just switching their meat to no grain fed!) than commercial, grain-fed products. These nutrients, such as CLA and Omega Fatty Acids, are missing in most of our food today, which is truly a problem since they’re responsible for helping to protect and heal our bodies from diseases, including cancer. They help us maintain a healthy weight, look and feel younger, and are better for our environment when raised locally.
  • Learn to cook. Cooking is the biggest money-saver most of us will ever be able to control, and the health benefits are difficult to overstate. Money invested in a few spices, some recipe books, and even a basic cooking class or two will be repaid within a matter of weeks if you use them. Your health, and your families, will improve visibly (as will your budget) if you stop eating out and start eating in. You’ll know what’s in your food, so you can control it.
  • Use smaller plates, and teaspoons instead of soup spoons, to help control portions.
  • Try one new food or ingredient a week. Research shows that people who eat diverse diets are fitter and healthier. Your body is a very efficient machine. If you eat the same thing all the time, it learns to process it to make the most of it, which unfortunately means it learns to store the calories. Shake it up! Eating a wide variety of foods can also help you look younger, since you’ll get a wider variety of antioxidants and other nutrients.
  • Stop eating High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Science has shown us repeatedly that this substance is directly linked to obesity.
  • Do not eat “low fat” or “diet” foods. Studies prove that people who do usually end up simply eating more of these items, and actually consume more calories than their counterparts who ate the full-fat versions.
  • Learn portions. Let’s face it, most people will not count calories for the rest of their lives. It’s cumbersome and inconvenient. Use calorie counting to readjust yourself to reasonable portions, and pay attention to what those portions look like. That way, you can eventually give up counting calories for the easier way of eating healthy: knowing what a reasonable portion is, and sticking to it.
  • Starving yourself won’t work in the long term. Your body will start to collect fat because it thinks it’s starving, and it’ll slow your metabolism. Once this happens, it’s difficult to restart. Lose weight slowly through good diet and exercise, and make it a lifestyle. It’s not as dramatic, but it’s far more permanent and healthy.
  • Weight management is 80-90% diet for most people. Very few people burn enough in just exercise to see appreciable weight loss, though exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and weight maintenance.
  • Truth: you don’t always get to eat your favorite foods. Neither do your children. There are foods we all love, but you can’t make a complete diet of your favorite foods. We all have to eat stuff that we’re just “meh” about, but that is healthy for us. American’s are really spoiled overall, and it’s something we have to get over if we’re going to overcome the obesity running rampant in our country.  See that person with the fitness level or body you aspire to? Ask them what they eat on a weekly basis. I promise you it’s not all their favorites all the time. Yes, treating yourself and eating your favorite foods can be a part of a healthy eating plan; but, it cannot be the whole thing.
  • Short of food allergies, most people in the world only have a few true, honest dislikes or “hates” in food. There may a lot of “not thrilled withs,” or “would rather haves,”  but that’s not the same thing.

Children and Food

  • Give your children choices between healthy foods.  Instead of asking “what do you want for a snack,” ask “would you like an apple or an orange?” This gives children some control over their diet, while keeping them within reasonable limits.
  • Encourage children help in the kitchen. Children are far more likely to be excited by healthy food if they help prepare it. Young children can help by filling salad bowls with greens or adding dried fruit or cheese. Older children can do things like peel vegetables with a peeler, stir batter, help you read recipes, and more. Middle school and teen children can help with actual cooking. I was cooking–on a stovetop–by age 6. I was able to cook unsupervised by age 10. This will vary by child, but teaching them young will help keep the excited while encouraging safety through early learning and habit. It also helps reinforce reading, math, and motor skills.
  • Take your children shopping. Teach them about produce, meat, and nutrition as young as possible.
  • If a child doesn’t like a food, try preparing it a different way. Ask them what it is they don’t like about the food–color, texture, flavor, too spicy, etc. Give them a vocabulary, and allow them to use it. Probably about 80% of the kids I’ve met who didn’t like broccoli turned out to like it roasted, but not boiled, for example. If a child tried 3-4 preparations of a food and can articulate what they don’t like about it, then they probably don’t have a taste for it. We all have things we don’t like, and within reason this is something we all work around. But, don’t allow them to give up just because they don’t like it one way.
  • Do not hide your children’s vegetables, especially not in sweets like brownies. This isn’t teaching healthy eating.  If the recipe calls for it because it’s zucchini bread, that’s one thing. If the only way your child gets veggies is through a puree hidden in cake, it’s a problem that needs to be corrected.
  • Make food fun. Instead of buying chocolate chip cookies, make them at home. You’ll leave out the preservatives and HFCS, and the cookies will be a special treat instead of something that becomes an easy expectation.
  • Children do not get to dictate what they eat, no more than they get to dictate if and when they go to school.
  • Children do not naturally only like one or two foods. Everyone has foods they dislike, as I say above, but unless a child has neuro-biological issues such as autism, they are capable of eating more than 2 or 3 foods. Those 2 or three are actually their favorite foods, which is what they would prefer to eat. Wouldn’t we all? But, that isn’t healthy, especially since our bodies are programmed to “like” high-calorie, high energy foods, which also translate into sugars and fats. Teaching your children to eat and accept a wide variety of foods is essential for them to have a healthy lifestyle in the future.
  • Show children where their food comes from. There’s a lot of solid research showing that children who visit farms and markets to see how their food grows will make healthy choices without much prompting. Children like to learn, and having a connection with their food makes it more fun for them to eat. It also encourages them to get outside and play, which is always good!
  • Grow herbs or a food plant with your child. Even if it’s just a basil plant or a cherry tomato plant, children like to see things grow. It will encourage them to try new things, and will show them the difference in the flavors of freshness compared to processed.
  • Teach children good eating habits by example. Children learn most of their behavior by watching those around them, especially their family. If you’re not eating well, don’t expect your children to. So, make it a family project, and include them in it.
  • Eat at the table together whenever possible. This encourages sit-down eating, which is associated with eating more slowly and less–both good habits.
  • Do not let your children eat in front of the TV. Research shows that both children and adults eat substantially more and make poorer food choices when they do this.
  • A child will not starve to death if he or she is not fed only “what they like.” I have heard this more times than I can count: “But Johnny won’t eat anything but pizza or macaroni & cheese! I can’t not feed him those, or he just won’t eat. He has to eat!” Very, very few children in the US are so malnourished or underweight that they “have to eat!”  Johnny may throw a fit, scream, yell, etc, but this is learned behavior. And, a touchy subject with parents, since the behavior was learned because the child was allowed to have what they wanted if they threw a fit. This behavior has to be broken, and it is unfortunately a painful process for parent and child alike. It’s also necessary if the child is to grow up a healthy adult who makes good choices.  I am not advocating starving your child into eating, but I am saying missing one meal won’t hurt them. Providing healthy meals with a range of option to choose from instead of macaroni and cheese every night will work, it will just take time and a lot of patience.
  • Children learn to like what they’re fed, and children will figure out very quickly that they’ll get their favorite foods all the time if they throw a fit and it works. Children in India are not born liking curry, and children in Japan are not born craving sushi (though what the mother eats while breastfeeding can have an impact). They eat what they are taught to eat, and your children will, as well.  If you’re coming to this late, it’ll take time, a lot of saying “no” and listening to the whining, but given the long-term health risks of obesity and diabetes, it’s worth it.

Exercise

  • Being uncomfortable is okay. Let yourself get used to being sweaty, out of breath, and tired. Those are signs you’re doing it right. Stop worrying about your makeup, no one cares. If they’re noticing, they’re not working hard enough. If you’re thinking about it, neither are you.
  • Don’t be intimidated. You will get more fit. No one started out fit. I had to leave my first spin class and toss my cookies. I don’t recommend that. I was an idiot. The point is, now I am a fervent, motivated spin instructor. I got more fit. You can do this. It just takes time and practice. Everyone was once new, everyone had to learn the correct form, everyone had to work up to where they are right now.
  • Pain and discomfort are not the same thing. If you feel sharp or sudden pain in your muscles, chest, or head, stop immediately and seek medical attention. If you feel achy and stiff the day after exercise, that’s not pain–that’s work and a job well done. Drink lots of water and stretch, stretch, stretch. It gets easier.
  • Sweat is sexy. There is nothing hotter than someone–anyone, of any age, race, build, or sex–who has just completely thrown themselves into a physical activity until they drip. Plus, sweat helps your skin stay younger looking for years!
  • Exercise is about YOU, not about anyone around you. As Brian Kest says, there’s no health benefit in being stronger than someone else. The benefit is being stronger tomorrow than you are today. So, leave your inhibitions and your self-consciousness at the door. You’re exercising for you, not the person next to you.
  • You can have the best instructor or trainer in the world, but if you aren’t motivating yourself, it’s never going to stick. Find a goal, and focus on it. A real goal, an attainable goal, a specific goal. It often helps to have “mini-goals,” or milestones, within your larger goal. Instead of “I want to lose weight,” try “I want to lose 2 lbs this week through diet and exercise.” “I want to be healthier” can be “I want to be able to complete a full spin class without stopping.” “I want to be healthier for my family,” might have a smaller goal of “I want to be able to hike a trail with my children before the end of summer.” Keep goals realistic, but keep them challenging enough you have to work for them, as well.
  • Find something you love, and do it with zest. Seriously, how many people love the stairmaster? You can get a workout, but you’ll get more of a workout doing a mixed martial art if that’s what you like. Or hiking. Or spinning or biking. Or yoga. Or whatever.
  • Cross train. Taking one class or doing only one activity will make other parts of you weak. Cross training helps keep your body strong, and will tone you faster.
  • Just get there. Getting to your workout is the hardest part. Whether it’s at home, the gym, or outside, your biggest hurdle is starting.  Set an alarm, get a workout partner, keep a public fitness journal, join a sport, take a class…whatever it is that you need to do, just get there. The rest will usually take care of itself.
  • Age is irrelevant. My 50+ MMA/kickboxing instructor can and has totally kicked my butt and not been out of breath. Then she goes out and does an extreme triathlon–and wins. My favorite spin instructor was in his mid-50s, and outrode me every time. He was often outridden by a man in his 60s, who also outlifted many of the younger big guys in the weight room. The oldest person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail was in her 80s. If you stick with it, you only get better.

Lifestyle

  • There is no magic pill. There is no easy way. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something. Being fit takes work, or everyone would be fit. You’re worth it. Your kids are worth it. Your spouse is worth it.
  • Many mental issues, such as depression, ADD, and ADHD can be very successfully treated with lifestyle and diet changes. In many cases, these changes are more effective and have longer-term success than medications. Consult your doctor, or a nutrition expert, to see what could help.
  • Looking younger doesn’t have to mean Botox. Studies show that frequent strenuous exercise helps skin look significantly younger, helps manage or eliminate cellulite, keeps bones stronger longer, and more. All for free or a fraction of the cost of a plastic surgeon.
  • Coconut oil isn’t just for cooking anymore. It’s antioxidants are also great for many people’s skin and hair. Dab a bit on your face, elbows, or other problem spots before bed, or put a very small amount on the ends your wet hair. It sinks right in, and you’ll wake up with more supple skin and hair.
  • Get out. Sitting slows the metabolism, a lot. Forgo that nightly TV time, and go for a walk,  go to the gym, window shop with friends. Anything that gets you out of the chair and onto your feet and moving.
  • Be positive, and surround yourself with people who are, too. Surrounding yourself with people with similar goals and lifestyles you aspire to or share is one of the best ways to change your life. If you want to lose weight, join a group of people doing the same, and also find some friends who’ve already made those changes. They can encourage you! Share your goals with those around you. You’re not only more likely to stick to them, but also to inspire change in someone else.

*I am not a doctor. You should check with your physician before starting any diet or exercise program.


4 responses to “Eating & Wellness: Small Steps

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