Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's NOT Hard to be Healthy

Being in good physical health is so very important to our well being.  In this modern age filled with decadence and convenient shortcuts, it has become too easy to live a dangerously unhealthy lifestyle.  The cause of most of the medical problems US adults are facing today can be directly traced back to poor choices made in food, lifestyle, and activity.  In other words, we are often the cause of our own accelerated mortality.

We hear everyone talking about the problem: high and rising rate of obesity, heart disease, diabetes.
We know about the solution:  sensible balanced diet and exercise.

But all this talk seems to mean little to the masses who would rather try out a quick gimmick to reverse weight loss so they will feel like they look better.  Since when is this only about how we look?  What about what goes on inside our bodies that fuels our minds and guides our lives?

I though I'd share my point of view on being healthy.  I've never found it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.  People may say that I'm lucky, that it's genetic, that I'm blessed with a good metabolism.  Or even that I suffer and don't eat as much or as pleasurably as I want to.  I can tell you that none of that is true.  Why?  Because I have family members who are obese, and those who are healthy, and the difference between them is clearly the choices they make, the foods they eat, the activities in their day.  Nothing to do with luck.  And about my enjoyment of food?  It is 100% wonderful and satisfying, without ever going hungry or missing any type delicious experience.

As you will see, it is mostly about the food since it's much harder to exercise off extra calories than it is to avoid them in the first place.

Here's how I do it.

Keep an eye out for fiber
For some reason much of our food has been processed to the point of removing this very valuable and important component.  The lack of fiber in our diets has a number of negative consequences:  the need to eat a larger quantity of food before feeling satisfied, more dental cavities, higher risk of cancer and heart disease.

So when you have a choice at the grocery store, flip the box/bag/jar over and look at the fiber content of the food you're about to buy.  Look at the dietary fiber content, and buy products that say "whole grain" or "multi grain" or "high fiber" especially in the staples that you eat frequently.  For example choose brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat tortillas.  They taste just as good and give you tons better nutrition.

Even in places you may not expect, you can find high fiber alternatives: pancake mix, pasta sauce, snack chips, breakfast bars, and canned soups.  Even in your dessert!  Choose ones made with oatmeal, fruit, graham cracker, and nuts.  Make your own baked goods using whole wheat flour

Mostly eat at home
It's simple.  When you cook your own food you know exactly what's in it.  You know how much oil you added, what cut of meat you used, that you used margarine instead of butter, and low fat cheese instead of heavy cream.

See my post on favorite cookbooks to help with ideas for creating simple or sophisticated meals.  Or try these great websites for recipes:  Remember to use the recipe as a guideline, so that you feel free to use lower fat higher fiber ingredients wherever you can.

Eat the veggies first
Plan your meals to have each of the important food groups:
* protein such as seafood, poultry, beef, soy, dairy, or beans
* veggie or fruit
* starch
Make it a habit of going for your veggie/fruit item first, while you're most hungry.  The first food you eat tastes best because of heightened sense of smell and taste (natures way of helping find our next meal), and you're much more likely to eat a good portion of it when your appetite is at its peak.

Love the taste of water
There is no reason sugar needs to be added to water in order to quench your thirst, yet that's just what people reach for when they drink juice, soda, flavored coffees, etc.  The drink industry is an explosion of varieties and flavors, all serve just one purpose: taking in extra calories that your body doesn't even realize are there.  Research has shown that we cannot account for all the extra (empty of nutrition) calories when we drink rather than eat them.
In a study at Purdue University, participants were split into two groups – one that consumed 450 calories a day in jelly beans, the other in soda. After a month, researchers found that candy eaters ate less food, naturally compensating for the calories from the candy. The soda drinkers did not reduce the amount of food eaten, so their caloric intake increased as a result of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.

Please for your child's sake, do the same for them.  Kids do NOT need juice, they will happily enjoy water and milk.  This will set them up for a healthy future, free from this overly sweetened habit that so many have.

There are three main reasons women gaining weight during pregnancy.
1. The actual weight of the fetus (smallest contribution).
2. Supplemental nutrition and circulation for the growing fetus.
3. Energy stores needed to produce milk for soon to be new hungry baby.

Pregnancy can take a high toll on a woman's body, and much of this is easily reversed by doing what nature intended to nurture their newborn throughout their infancy.  Women who bypass this process not only lose out for the health and development of their child, but for their own health as well.  The high metabolism required for breastfeeding is a crucial step in readjusting the body to life after baby.  It helps with everything from weight gain to mood to bonding to lower risk of cancer.  Not to mention resources, time and dollars saved, but I digress...

If your mouth is bored, chew gum
Gum is tasty and harmless if sugar-free, and sure beats the consequences of smoking cigarettes, sipping on sugary drinks, or munching on chips and cookies.  Also, try a tall glass of water, you may be surprised how well it hits that spot that thought was craving sweet or salty snack.  Your body's signal for thirst can sometimes be mistaken for the munchies.  Seriously, try it and see for yourself.

Take the stairs
Park farther from the door, take a stroll after dinner, plan weekend activities that get you moving.  Even if you don't join a gym or push yourself to do aerobics or weights at home, you can build in some activity into your daily routine.  If your job is to sit in front of a computer screen most of the day, then change into a standing desk to get you back on your feet.  Rather than tire you out, you will feel rejuvenated by the added movement, no longer slumping and sinking into your chair.
Buddy Products Euroflex Standup Fixed Height Workstation, 19.625 x 44.25 x 29.5 Inches, Charcoal and Silver (6438-36)
standing workstation

Get lots of sleep
How much is enough?  You'll know it when you hardly need your morning alarm clock to get you out of bed in the morning.  However many hours that is, and for me it's 8-9, is how much you should aim for on a regular basis.  When you're up longer you eat more without expending much more energy, you become cranky, you make poor choices, you don't feel up for being active, and you seek out the easiest path possible.  Not a good set-up for healthy living.

Which leads me to caffeine.  Let's face it, people use this as a drug to take the place of sleep.  The problem is that its effectiveness wears over time, so that one cup becomes then four then six to keep you going without crashing.  Pretty soon you're needing it just to get through the day, and no longer getting that bump in energy that you used too.

By living on coffee/soda/energy drinks you are depriving your body of its natural instinct, which is to sleep in, nap or go to bed early.  It's easier to skimp on good sleeping habits if you have this crutch, and in the long run you will not be at your best.  Nothing can replace a good night's sleep.  Nothing.  Not to mention the side effects of too much caffeine, such as high blood pressure, heartburn, and stomach ulcers.

If you find you're having trouble going to bed at a decent time, you may want to look at your evening routine.  The light from a TV screen or computer acts to stimulate your brain into thinking it is still daytime, preventing you from becoming drowsy as you should.  You may want to choose reading a book instead.

That's about it!  Honest.  No funny diet trick, no extreme workouts, no suffering.  I don't have to worry about my portions because the food I select is healthy to begin with.  I simply stop when I feel full.  And that is a good feeling indeed.

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