The purpose of the post today is to remind myself of why I started on this journey toward a healthier lifestyle. Sometimes I need reminders. Seeing it in “print” often helps me a lot; sometimes things get lost in my ol’ brain. 🙂 I read a lot…a LOT. And over the course of the last year or two, I have read much about healthy living, organics, pesticides, real food, processed foods…you name it, if it’s health-related, I have probably read something about it.
Some of the books that I read that had the most impact on my thoughts about healthy living/eating include Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Karen Kingsolver which I have read several times; In Defense of Food as well as Food Rules by Michael Pollan; and Food Matters by Mark Bittman. I read Organic Gardening magazine (and had my first little organic garden this summer). I read Mother Earth News and Mother Earth Living magazines. I follow blogs online: 100 Days of Real Food; Stacy Makes Cents. Basically, I read anything and everything about changing the way we eat and how what we put into our bodies has lasting effects…and not just with weight.
I encourage you to read, read, read about what you can do – and you CAN do it – to make changes in your life to be more healthy. But here are a few things that I have read over and over to get you started. Remember: You are in charge of your health and it’s up to you to do what you can to make yourself as healthy as possible. I know a lot of people have health issues already so don’t make any drastic changes without talking to your doctor. But if he or she tells you it’s just dandy to eat mac and cheese from a box, it might be time to seek another doctor. Just saying.
1. Never call a healthy eating plan a diet.
Never. Never ever. “Diet” is a four-letter word, and it’s a doozy. If you go on a diet, the implication is that when you reach whatever goal you set for yourself, you will go back to your “regular” eating and somehow maintain your weight loss. From everything I’ve read – and seen – it’s NOT going to go down that way. Diets don’t work. Living off boxed low-fat frozen dinners and sugar-free this and fat-free that will leave you feeling deprived. And hungry. Deprivation and a constant feeling of hunger will eventually lead to a food binge that leaves you feeling bad about yourself – and probably just feeling bad. And the cycle just repeats itself over and over. So don’t go on a diet. Instead, make changes – gradual is fine – to healthier eating habits.
2. Cook your own meals.
Please, please, please…don’t tell me you that can’t cook. I beg you! If you are reading this blog, you CAN cook. Get a cookbook, look through it, pick a recipe, and make it. It might be best not to start with a recipe with an ingredient list a page long. You might get there one day; you might not. But there are recipes that are simple and easy to prepare. And then not only do you have a home-cooked meal, you have the joy of knowing that YOU made it. Homemade mac and cheese is pretty darn easy. To say that it’s better than the stuff in the box with powdered “cheese” would be an understatement. That being said, you can NOT eat the entire dish by yourself. It would defeat the purpose. But in my experience, a spoonful of the good stuff is better than a whole box of the fake stuff. I’m not suggesting that you start out making five-course dinners every night. But with some planning, you can cook meals at home. I believe this with all my heart!
3. Avoid fast food places and chain restaurants.
If the Sysco truck makes a daily delivery to a restaurant, it’s probably not your best option when eating out. For the most part, in our house we save eating out for special occasions such as birthdays (you get to pick the restaurant) and our anniversary. When we vacation, we eat out as little as possible. And no, cooking while on vacation isn’t a hardship. I always pack my slow cooker and dinner is ready when we are. We will eat out once – maybe twice – while on vacation. I hate knowing that I spent $100 on a meal I could have prepared myself for $20. Hate. It. And I have found now that eating out in general leaves me feeling bloated and dissatisfied. I just feel yucky! And, I get a little made when I pay good money for a mediocre (at best) meal. I won’t go into fast food places. Just know that in my way of thinking, if it’s that fast, I question whether or not it’s really food.
4. Read labels carefully.
Know your stuff so that you can make an informed decision. If a label says “less sugar” or “sugar free,” look at the label. Anything that contains “-crose” or “-cose” is some type of sugar. Sucrose. Glucose. Fructose. There’s quite a list. Avoid aspartame. If something says “whole wheat” on the label and the first ingredient is “enriched wheat flour,” it’s not really whole wheat. The general rules are:
*Don’t eat it if it has more than five ingredients unless you can pronounce them all (like berries, oats, rice). If you can pronounce “acetylated monoglycerides” and even know what they are, more power to you. You still don’t need to eat them.
* Fresh is best. Fruits and vegetables and fresh meats don’t have labels. Doesn’t mean they haven’t been treated with pesticides, but they haven’t been filled with other stuff. That being said, I buy organic whenever possible. If it’s not available, I usually skip it. Yes, I know organic is more expensive and if it’s cost-prohibitive, I’ll pass for the week. You can google a list of the “Dirty Dozen” organic fruits and veggies that you should always buy organic because of the pesticide residue that remain on and in them even after washing. Buy local when you can but ask about the farmer’s practices regarding pesticides.
5. You have to get moving.
You can eat things that are good for you at every meal, but if the rest of the time you are in a sitting or reclined (napping) position, you’re still doing yourself a disservice. You have to move your body. I’m not saying you have to run, or do Zumba, or join a gym. Walking is free and it’s the easiest thing to do. (If you are physically unable to get out an exercise, ask your doctor what you can do to get moving inside.) I will tell you that it’s easier if you have an exercise partner – someone to exercise with and to keep you accountable when you can’t exercise together. Getting a text asking if you’ve exercised today will get you up and moving so that you can honestly respond, “Yes.”
6. Set small goals rather than one big goal.
While it’s fine to have an ultimate goal in mind (lost 25 pounds or run a 5K), making smaller goals for yourself gives you reasons to celebrate along the way. Want to lose 25 pounds, set 5-pound goals for yourself. Five pounds is a lot more “doable” than 25 pounds seems. Walking half a mile a month from now is easier- and a lot more likely – than running a 5K a month from now. And reward yourself when you meet your goals. Not with food! A manicure or pedicure. A movie. A massage (my personal favorite). Something you really enjoy but don’t often do for yourself – especially if you’re a mom.
7. Get your family on board.
Try to encourage your family to join you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle. If they aren’t up for it, you can sneak it in on them – especially if you’re the cook in the house. Here is a prime example that I experienced a couple of weeks ago. When I buy ground beef, I always buy the lowest fat content: either 97/3 or 90/10. When it’s available in my store, I buy the grass-fed good stuff. It’s over $6.00 a pound which is one reason why I serve ground beef only once a week. My husband was unaware that I was doing this. He went to the grocery store with me and saw the pack of ground beef in the cart. “What? We’re not paying over $6.00 for hamburger meat! No way!” So he took it and went to the meat department and bought regular ground beef. I don’t even remember the fat content. So I made tacos with it – which I did not even try. He takes a bite and immediately asks me, “Is there something wrong with this meat? Has it gone bad?” My response: “Nope. It’s what you picked out.” When he asked why it tasted weird, I let him know that he was used to eating the “good stuff” and hadn’t even known it, but that he could tell the difference now. I explained that the price is the reason we only have ground beef once a week. (I didn’t tell him that I am reducing his red meat intake, so don’t you tell him.) He has finally gotten on board with “Meatless Mondays” even though he gives me a hard time still. And he’s started walking. Not as often or regularly as he should, but he’s getting there. 🙂
8. Be willing to try new things.
New exercise programs or classes. New recipes. New foods. Some you’ll like; some you won’t. But you definitely won’t know if you don’t try. I’ve discovered that I like roasted veggies way more than those cooked down to nothing (which is probably a southern thing). Except beets. I really don’t like beets. And I still don’t like lettuce, but I do like fresh spinach so I throw that on a sandwich or in an omelet all the time. Homemade cream of chicken soup is the bomb! If you make it, you’ll never use the blob from the can again. And it’s easy! Really easy. I would never have expected to hear myself say, “I’m going to go get my run in now.” And yet I said that very thing yesterday. And I felt good once I’d done it, too. Walking and/or running is a great stress reliever.
9. Know your reason(s) for wanting a healthier lifestyle.
To have more energy. To live a longer life. To avoid some of the health problems that seem to run in my family. To feel better about myself. To eliminate processed foods. To be a better and wiser consumer. The reasons are endless, but you know why you are doing it. That’s the reason(s) you need to remember. And ultimately, the reason is for you (and your children). Your spouse may or may not ever get on board – at least not to his knowledge. 🙂
10. Have a friend who has the same goal in mind.
Everyone needs a friend to keep them “in line” – to remind you why you are on a journey to better health. Why you are making the decisions you are making. Someone you can call when you’re standing in the ice cream aisle at the grocery store about to stock up on the “buy one, get one” sale. Someone who can talk you into meeting her for one scoop of good ice cream at the ice cream place instead. Someone to exercise with. Someone to encourage you. Someone to pick you up and dust you off when you feel like you have fallen off the wagon, so to speak.
Making the change to a healthy lifestyle isn’t easy. Some parts of it are easier than others, but it’s not easy to change your mindset. It’s not easy to say “no” to things you’ve always said “yes” to. It’s not always easier to eat at home. It’s not always convenient. But – and this is a big BUT – it’s worth it. You’ll feel better – physically and emotionally. You’ll sleep better. Your body will thank you. (Sometimes your body says “thank you” through muscle aches, but that’s okay. It’s still thankful you moved it.)
I would say that the very first things you need to do are #9 and #10. Figure out why you want to change your lifestyle. Find someone who shares that desire. And get started. Little by little; step by step; change by change. You’ll get there. We all can. Just remember that it’s a journey. We didn’t get unhealthy overnight; we can’t get healthy overnight. Don’t get discouraged. Keep your goal in mind and keep moving toward it.
Have a blessed and beautiful day!