Are you tired of being bombarded with all the newest information about what you should and shouldn’t eat? Are you confused about what healthy eating even means? Or are you simply saying, “I have three kids who all have different activities, drive-thru it is.” If you answered “yes” to any or all of these, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there, done that. But if you’re reading this, you must be at least a little interested in finding out what eating healthier could look like for you. That’s why I want to help cut through some of the noise and share some tips on how to make healthy eating part of your lifestyle as quickly and painlessly as possible.
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Healthy Eating Isn’t a Diet, It’s a Lifestyle
When I completely changed how I was eating, my mom kept asking me, “What do you call your diet?” My answer to her was always “It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle.” I just woke up one day, decided I didn’t like the way I had been feeling and that I wanted to do something about it. Up until then, I was fully addicted to caffeine, loved sugar and carbs and could easily down an entire bag of pita chips in one sitting if I was stressed.
Having a child with multiple food allergies, I considered what I ate to be moderately healthy. I had learned to keep it fairly basic, cook most of our meals at home and do most of our shopping at the farmers market. It wasn’t until I realized how dependent I was on the sugar and simple carbs in my diet and how little of anything green I was actually eating that I decided I was going to try to do better for myself. I went cold turkey off caffeine, started drinking green smoothies in the morning, learned what kale actually looked like and came to love quinoa. By focusing primarily on what I ate, I started feeling better and, as a bonus, dropped 35 pounds without counting a calorie.
Not Perfect, Just Real
While I’m the first to admit that my diet isn’t perfect, and I’m always eager to learn about new foods and the science behind what we eat, one thing has become clear to me. Food is key to our overall wellness. What we eat can make us feel good, it can make us feel “icky” or it can even contribute to many of the diseases and health issues that many of us assume just happen.
In his book, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, Dr. Mark Hyman says, “Food exists specifically to energize, heal, repair and uplift us. Every bite you take is a powerful opportunity to create health or promote disease.” The quality of what we eat is everything, and yet, we’ve relegated eating to one of the most automatic and thoughtless things we do. We “throw something together” or “squeeze it in” on the way from one activity to another. While thinking about and preparing our food doesn’t need to be all-consuming, it should be one of the most intentional things we do so that we can be proactive and take charge of our health and wellness. As Dr. Hyman says, “Food is not just calories; it’s medicine.”
Eating Healthy Focuses on Whole Foods
According to nutritionist Megan Spencer from SL/M Nutrition Coaching, “Healthy depends on each person. But it’s important to focus on balance, flexibility, being kind to yourself if it doesn’t work out perfectly and also focusing on whole foods.” Whole foods are real food. Except for meat, poultry and seafood, they’re pretty much recognizable from what they would look like in nature. In fact, at its core, healthy eating is actually fairly simple. Focus on what you would find in nature, not on the inside aisles of the grocery store. While some whole foods are better for us than others, if you start there, you’re going to be on the right path.
Which Whole Foods Should We Focus On for Healthy Eating?
Even when it comes to whole foods, there are a number of different theories out there about what exactly we should be eating. To keep it simple, here are some of the top takeaways from Dr. Hyman.
1. Grass-fed Meat, Organic Poultry and Wild Caught Seafood are “Nutritionally Superior”
This is compared to their factory-farmed counterparts. Grass-fed meat, organic poultry and wild caught seafood are eating what their bodies were designed to eat and therefore contain higher levels of nutrients and healthy fats than animals eating a diet that is foreign to them. According to Dr. Hyman, “Studies show that today’s chickens have fewer anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, more inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, and substantially fewer vitamins and minerals.” Your local farmers market is always going to be your best bet for knowing how your meat and poultry are raised and where your seafood comes from. But, if you don’t have one nearby and don’t have a grocery store that you can rely on for this, Dr. Hyman provides a list of possible resources in his book. You can also check out Root and Revel’s list of online resources for organic, sustainable and grass-fed meat delivery options.
2. Vegetables Should Be Eaten at Every Meal
Dr. Hyman advises that “Non-starchy vegetables like spinach, asparagus, broccoli and kale should make up 50 to 75 percent of your plate with a small portion of animal protein as ‘condi-meat.” To make sure that you’re avoiding pesticides and other chemicals when eating your vegetables, try to buy organic as much as possible. If that’s not possible financially, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List that tells you which vegetables and fruit are the worst offenders when it comes to pesticide residue.
3. We Don’t Need Added Sugar in Our Food
When it comes to sugar, Dr. Hyman reminds us that, “Sweet things in nature are always safe to eat and they are a quick source of energy that helps us store fat for times of scarcity.” But, “Sugar has become such a pervasive part of our food landscape that we’re chronically overdosing on it.” The bottom line is that we do not need added sugar in our food, and it’s causing a lot of damage in the form of diseases and ailments that we could all live without. If you are going to eat added sugar, Dr. Hyman advises no more than 5 teaspoons a day (or 21 grams). Compare that to the 22 teaspoons a day he says most adults consume and the 35 teaspoons a day that most kids consume, and you can see why we have so many sugar-related problems.
Getting Back in the Kitchen
If we’re going to be eating healthy, there’s no way around it, we’ve got to get back in the kitchen. To paraphrase one of my favorite lines from a recorded talk given by wellness guru Kris Carr, it doesn’t matter whether it’s men or women, but somebody’s got to get back into the (expletive) kitchen! Exactly! Our kitchens are where the magic happens and where good health is cultivated. As nutritionist Megan Spencer reminds us, “The best thing about cooking at home is that you have full control of the ingredients you’re using. Knowledge is power, and you have control over the decisions you make.”
Tips for Healthy Eating
Megan offers these tips for making healthy eating part of your lifestyle.
- Start with the basics. There’s no need to think you have to cook the fanciest and most difficult recipes you can find. Be realistic and master the basics first.
- Take advantage of short cuts at the grocery store. There are a lot of pre-chopped vegetables and salad mixes with all of the ingredients already included. These definitely cost more than the do-it-yourself versions, but even if you can’t sustain this for the long-term, it’s a good way to help ease yourself back into the kitchen.
- Focus on progress, not perfection. That might mean starting with dinner as a family, cooked from scratch once or twice a week and then build on that.
- Increase the good stuff before you take anything away. This means increasing things like vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. The idea is that you’re not depriving yourself of anything (far from it!) because when you eat more healthy food, then there’s simply less room for junky foods.
- If alcohol and sweets are a must have for you, cut back from what you were having before and put something healthy in their place. For example, if you’re used to having a glass of wine every night to help you relax, cut back to two or three times a week and maybe drink herbal tea the other nights.
- Planning is very important. Even if you can’t plan for a whole week, just having the right supplies in the fridge and in the pantry will set you up for success.
What We Eat Fuels Our Body
If we put junk and artificial food in, then we’re not giving it much to run on. If we put goodness in, then we’re more apt to get strength, vitality, and good health out. Healthy eating doesn’t demand perfection, but it does require being in touch with ourselves enough to understand what our body is saying it needs. Start listening, and the results may truly surprise you.
If you need additional healthy lifestyle support and resources geared specifically for women over 40, I offer my Reclaim Your Energy and Revitalize Your Life workshop, membership in the Empowered Health and Wellness for Women Over 40 Facebook group, and personalized one-on-one health and nutrition coaching. If you need more information on any of these, feel free to reach out to [email protected].