This was such a cute song on Sesame Street when my sisters were little and watched it regularly. Whenever I hear the words “healthy food” I hear this song in my head!
Healthy eating is not about strict dieting and never eating special treats. It’s about understanding that the special treats are just that, special. The word special is defined as something designed for a particular purpose or occasion. I think what has happened to not only our health in this country but also other aspects of our American lives is that we have taken this word and made it an every day occurrence. That aspect alone negates the definition. In addition, we’ve taken things like cake and ice cream and made them as if they’re the only thing considered special when I get just as much enjoyment (most often) from a good piece of kiwi fruit. Remember, even Cookie Monster himself understands that cookies are “sometimes food“.
We need to shift our way of thinking. We need to look at the total package and our overall lifestyle in order to be healthy. We need to think outside the box and introduce foods into our daily diet that are diverse and colorful. The HelpGuide article on healthy eating says to think of “water and exercise as food groups in your diet.” How often do you drink water? Not soda or even tea… water. How often to you take a walk for more than just from your car into your house or work or the store? Our lifestyle can help us live a long and happy life or can contribute to a shortened unhealthy one. Taking charge of your health begins with simple day to day choices.
Whole Foods has a portion of their website dedicated to healthy eating. They maintain that choosing whole foods, plants, healthy fats, and foods that are nutrient dense are the four pillars of healthy eating. They even have a whole page dedicated to the simple changes you can make to improve your health for the long term. Even Good Housekeeping has gotten in on the bandwagon with their site dedicated to healthy living and eating called The Daily Green. These resources can help you to find ways to incorporate healthy foods into your diet. One of the easiest things I’ve done is kept sometimes foods out of my house. I rarely have soda or cookies or ice cream around and this means when I have a craving for something that is unhealthy I’m forced to make the healthy choice. It helps to keep those sometimes foods to just that, sometimes.
Another thing that I’ve done is to adopt the habits I developed a while back when I did a short-term modification of the South Beach Diet. I have always felt like a diet should be a lifestyle change and not a temporary fix so I’m not big on fads, however, I do understand that for people who have a large amount of weight to lose they are best to utilize a program that will help jump start their health goals. Programs like Weight Watchers, South Beach, Atkins, NutriSystem, and the Zone are ways to help you build healthy habits but they are not meant to be long-term solutions. You cannot permanently eliminate an entire food group and you cannot permanently abstain from sugar. If you try to live life that way you are setting yourself up for failure. This is why so many people gain all the weight back when they give up on the “dieting.”
Instead, you should use these tools to help you identify your weaknesses and strengths and build habits that will last throughout your life. By keeping the sugar snacks and sodas out of my house it allows me to know that when I indulge I don’t need to feel bad about it because it’s not an everyday occurrence. Sometimes it starts with just knowing what are foods that should be included in our daily diet and what should not. Many people assume that because “diet” soda is “calorie free” it isn’t bad for them when, in fact, it’s horrible. Drinking diet soda has been linked to depression, it is hard on the kidneys, and can actually lead to weight gain.
So, where do we go from here? How can one possibly lead a life where they never have special treats? I don’t think it is possible nor do I think it should be practiced. What I do believe is that we should live more simply, like our great-grandparents did, and really “live off the land” so to speak (read anything by Michael Pollan to help you understand what this means). Craig and I try very hard to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. In fact, we eat two veggies and a protein each night for dinner. Rarely do we have a starch on our plate. In addition, we bring our lunch to work and we drink nothing but water throughout the week (and sometimes a glass of wine with dinner). This means that for most days of the week we’re getting the proper nutrients in our diet and when we decide to go out to lunch or dinner once in a while we can feel free to splurge. Craig and I spend roughly $100 a week for groceries but when we buckle down, continuing to eat healthily, we can maintain our current diet on about $300 a month.
My daily schedule really helps keep me on track:
- I start out with breakfast every morning. My momma always said it was the most important meal of the day and she was right. Eating a breakfast high in fiber will not only help give you the fuel you need to tackle your morning but will set your metabolism for the day. I usually have some high fiber cereal, some coffee, and if I have time I’ll eat some fruit. I fall victim to the time factor every morning so I completely understand how hard it is to work breakfast into the routine. Another quick way to jump start your metabolism is with a smoothie. They’re easy to make and taste great. You can even sneak in some kale or spinach and you won’t even taste it. Although my morning meal is not large, it helps, and if I can do it, so can you!
- To keep my metabolism riding high and to keep me from overeating at lunch I have a small serving of greek yogurt around 10 am. Greek yogurt is an excellent source of probiotics that keeps my digestive track working properly and is lower in sugar and higher in protein than regular yogurt. I can’t eat a giant serving and I like my yogurt fully blended with no “chunks” so I tend to purchase plain Fage and then I scoop out a bout a half a cup into a container and add a tiny bit of honey. It is just enough sweetness for me. If that doesn’t work for you there are plenty of single serve varieties out there. Just be sure that you’re reading labels. You don’t want to choose something so high in sugar that it completely negates the healthy qualities, this goes for just about anything you eat.
- For lunch I utilize a trick I learned a long time ago… I try to make it my “main meal of the day” meaning I eat the things at lunch that normal people eat for dinner. Sometimes I crave a bowl full of creamy pasta so to satisfy my craving I’ll eat the pasta for lunch along with my fruits and veggies and a glass of water. This way I’ve eaten most of my simple carbs by mid-day and I have more time to work them off before my metabolism shuts down for the night. I know a lot of people try and claim that salads are the best for lunch but really I feel like they should be your dinner and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Food should be thought of as fuel and used as such. When we realize the importance of fueling our bodies we understand the effects of empty calories.
- In the afternoon, around 3-4 pm, I have my second snack for the day. Usually some carrots and hummus, cheese and grapes, or if I feel I need an extra boost to last me through the evening I’ll eat a protein bar. I really love the Nature Valley Protein bars. They don’t taste like cardboard. It’s at this point of the day when I take inventory of what I’ve accomplished. Have I had enough water? Have I eaten too much and feel I need a quick walk around the building to burn off some calories? Have I not eaten enough and know that my work out that evening will suffer? Once I have assessed where I stand I will adjust accordingly. Sometimes, I’ll add a little extra to my snack to give me the boost I need to make smart choices that evening.
- Last but not least, we come to dinner (or supper for those in the south). Craig is the one that cooks in our family and boy am I grateful. He can make chicken and veggies taste like a four-star restaurant. However, you do not need to be a fancy chef to eat healthy delicious food. One trick I absolutely love is roasting vegetables. Take some asparagus or Brussels sprouts, place them on a cookie sheet (with sides) drizzle over a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or so. Best veggies you’ll ever eat. We like to take canned salmon and make it into cakes like you would crab and then place it on top of a chopped salad. We like to grill up some pork tenderloin and roast some veggies for an easy simple meal. Every once in a while we’ll make some Quinoa or CousCous to go with our meal but mostly it’s just the meat and veggies and boy is it delicious. The point is to sit down and eat a healthy meal at the dinner table and learn to build good habits (especially in children).
Usually at this point I’m satisfied and don’t feel the need for dessert however when the need arises I will have a quick piece of fruit (like watermelon) or a small piece of candy (bite-size Snickers) or a small scoop of ice-cream (always something with the least amount of ingredients possible). It is completely fine to indulge once in a while. The key is moderation. In fact, I find that when I have a single scoop of Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Dazs chocolate ice cream I am satisfied whereas when I have a single scoop of a “low-fat” or “light” ice cream it leaves me wanting more, as if I hadn’t had any at all. This leads me to another subject I want to address: most everything is okay in moderation. Go ahead and have that regular Coke instead of diet. You’ll find that one is enough and you have no need for a second glass. I really feel like it’s better to have the full fat deliciousness and feel satisfied than to find yourself having the “lower calorie” substitute on a regular basis.
So, tell me your thoughts? What tips or tricks do you have for maintaining a healthy lifestyle? What do you feel are your weaknesses? Where do you find strength? I feel the healthiest I’ve ever been. In fact, since I’ve started eating this way I’m naturally slim and trim with little illness. In fact, when I skip my yogurt I can tell. It is so very important to digest the proper nutrients on a regular basis. You’d be amazed at how better you will feel when you take steps to improve your health. If you want to know more start with Food Rules by Michael Pollan. His 6 Rules for Eating Wisely are a philosophy that Craig and I try to live by. Hope y’all had a wonderful weekend and that this post serves as a source of inspiration. 🙂