Is Your Eating Sustainable For Your Health?
5 Tips to Flourish with Better Nutrition…
Six weeks into 2018 is a good time to reflect on any New Year’s resolutions you may have made—lose weight? exercise more? drink less alcohol?
The problem with resolutions, or swearing off French fries and pizza, is that we often commit to behaviors that are not sustainable. That is, can you comfortably and healthily sustain your new food choices, eating patterns, and physical activity for a lifetime? If so, you won’t have to make buzz-kill resolutions each January 1, but more importantly, eating sustainably will enhance your health and happiness.
1. Adjust Your Attitude
There are many factors that affect our health, from age and genetics to occupation and lifestyle. Eating well often takes more time, effort, and sometimes money in our fast-paced, highly processed food society. And, it seems that social pressures to look a certain way are greater than ever. Thus, one of the best things you can do to flourish is to embrace the body you were born with—don’t be the square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Real health and happiness come from within. Smile more and own your unique self.
2. Be Realistic
Diets lead to deprivation, which in turn lead to increased hunger and demand for food—an uncomfortable and vicious cycle! Instead of “needing” to lose “X” number of pounds each week, take a long, hard look at your usual eating patterns and lifestyle. Think about where you can make one or two gradual changes, instead of trying to become a perfect eater overnight.
When I worked in cardiac rehab at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, we’d challenge patients with the mantra, “You only have to exercise on the days that you eat.” No, I don’t exercise 365 days a year. Yet because exercise has a plethora of both physical and psychological benefits, consider your capabilities and comfort level for what you can do. One patient committed to walking 10 minutes outside each day, but once she got out the door, found herself going for 30-60 minutes more often.
Instead of cutting out all alcohol, can you scale back from three drinks per night to two? Or, from two down to one more often? Henry Ford, American founder of the Ford Motor Company, may have said it best, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”
3. Get Creative
If you haven’t already, patronize a farmers market in your area, talk to the people who grow our food—this may help you garner a greater appreciation with your own eating. Join a Community Supported Agriculture program where you’ll be assured a supply of fresh produce while helping to keep our small farmers in business, and land open that Mark Twain deftly pointed, “…they’re not making it anymore.”
Try a new food each week or a new recipe each month. Take a cooking class with a group of friends and then have monthly cook-ins to share good meals. You don’t have to be Top Chef, rather experiment with what you may already have on hand to make dinner in the slow cooker. Begin or expand your garden or join a community garden plot. The more you can get to the root of your food, the more likely you’ll be more mindful at the table.
4. Whole Foods, Plant Foods
Focus on the quality of your food instead of allowing calorie counts to be your guide. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, about 60% of our calories come from processed foods, about 25% from animal foods, but less than 15% from plant foods. Research shows that regular consumers of a diet high in processed foods have not only greater body weights, but are also at an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers than are people who eat a plant based diet.
You don’t need to become a vegetarian, but eating foods close to their original form—whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, plant oils, moderate amounts of poultry, and red meat less frequently, is better for your health, and the sustainability of our planet.
5. Listen To Your Body
You know yourself the best. I wouldn’t advise you to detox, unless those Super Bowl chicken wings were tainted with lead. The human body has an amazing auto-detox system where the liver and kidneys works to continually remove harmful substances.
If you’re in the mood for that brownie, go for it—eat it and enjoy! If you deem a favorite food taboo, you’ll more likely to eat anything and everything in an unsuccessful attempt to pacify that desire. If your body is sore the day after you mowed the lawn and took a long bike ride, allow yourself a day of rest.
Bottom Line: Eating well is not about “good” foods or “bad” foods, and it’s way beyond practicing willpower. Sustaining a nutritious diet is about improving your relationship with food and knowing where your food comes from. One day of eating does not define your year in health. Rather, sustaining a nutritious diet takes balancing food choices over time.
We have many more days in the year ahead to keep moving and keep smiling…