Here are a few common-sense thoughts for staying healthier even during stressful times when many of us tend to over-indulge or eat emotionally.
1. Eat food.
Watching a panel discussion on The Politics of Obesity, I was struck by Joan Gussow’s simple advice to eat food—you know, simple, unadulterated, unprocessed food, the stuff that humans have been eating since the beginning of time.
That sounds like really good advice, so I’m repeating it here: eat food—not food products or the stuff that passes for food just because you can eat it, but the nutritious stuff that actually lived on earth before you placed it in your mouth. Regardless of whether or not your diet contains the right amounts of this or that, a diet of real food seems like a good place to start.
2. Move—more than you eat.
Human beings are not meant to be sedentary creatures. We are born writhing bodies of energy in motion who must continue to move throughout our lives to be healthy. You have to move more than you eat to maintain a healthy body weight, so make the time to exercise everyday.
Don’t tell me that you don’t have time or can’t afford it. Seriously. You don’t have to have a gym membership and a personal trainer. Take the stairs. Walk. Inconvenience yourself. Do some push-ups, sit-ups. Remember jump rope and jumping jacks? Or just play some good music and dance yourself silly.
3. Cook or learn to cook.
If you know how to cook, cook. If you don’t know how to cook, learn—preferably from someone who is healthy or at least from a healthy cookbook. Eat at home and pack your own meals whenever you can. Chances are that home-cooked meals are a lot healthier than anything you will eat at a restaurant or any of the prepackaged, reheat-able supermarket options. Plus, you are likely to save money and avoid the ridiculous, over-sized portions common in the food industry, thus not overeating or wasting left-over food.
4. Don’t buy junk food.
Duh. If you are like most people, there are unhealthy products that make it into your grocery bag that you can not trust yourself to eat in any responsible way—products that somehow override any capacity for sensible, self-disciplined moderation. Potato chips, pizza, ice-cream, cookies, soda, and candy are among the usual sweet and salty suspects that disguise themselves in “family-size” packages that you somehow manage to eat as a single serving in a single sitting and still crave more.
Don’t pretend that you can eat just one. You know that you are going to eat the whole package—and maybe even all at once. And I don’t care what it says about health benefits on the labels—you know better.
Do yourself a favor. If you know that there are certain unhealthy things that you will eat like a retired supermodel who has spent years starving on purpose(!), just don’t buy these—or if you must indulge, treat yourself occasionally to an actual single serving.
5. Shop on a full stomach.
Make a list and eat something healthy before you go food shopping. You will tend to buy more of what you really need and lessen the likelihood of impulse purchases, and post-shopping binge-eating. Plus, you might just save some money.
6. Use smaller plates; eat smaller portions.
Living in a culture that encourages us to believe that more is better, many of us fill our plates with portions that look good to us rather than those that are good for us. Now I know that this sounds silly, but sensible portions on smaller plates look a whole lot more satisfying than sensible portions on the platters that pass for plates nowadays.
When did we decide that it was appropriate for meals to be served on individual plates the size of turkey platters anyway? My grandmother’s dinner plates look like desert plates by today’s standards, and yet, I was always fully satisfied with my servings.
Smaller plates, smaller portions, smaller waistlines…hmmmmmm. Use smaller plates. You will be more likely to eat sensible portions rather than the giant-sized portions that you will be tempted to serve to fill those giant-sized plates.
7. Say "no" to seconds.
Oh, it's always so tempting to indulge in second helpings of the foods we like—and sometimes, even expected of us from well-intending cooks. However, resist the temptation to overindulge, particularly if you already ate an appropriate portion. If you are still feeling hungry after your first helping, wait at least fifteen minutes, and it is likely that the feeling of hunger will subside.
And as much as I love cooking enough to have leftovers, if you are cooking for yourself and can't be trusted with leftovers, get into the habit of cooking just enough for one—the appropriate single-size serving for yourself.
8. Stay away from FoodPushers.
You know who I'm talking about—those people in your life with whom you make poor food choices. They are the colleagues who pressure you to indulge in food or alcohol you don't really want, the friends who can't celebrate or commiserate without chocolate, or the family members who encourage you to eat all sorts of things that you know aren't good for you or make fun of you for eating "healthy."
Do whatever you can to avoid these foodpushers. If you can't avoid them, refuse to succumb to their pressure. You will feel better about yourself in the long run.
9. Enlist support.
Tell people in your life that you are choosing to prioritize your health, and ask for their support. Let them know how they can help you, whether it is reminding you nicely to exercise, or no longer offering you particular foods, or joining you on walks, or whatever it is that may be helpful to you. If you need it and can afford it, consult with a nutritionist or doctor, hire a physical fitness trainer, purchase a gym membership or enroll in a yoga class. However and whenever possible, surround yourself with people who support your fitness goals.
10. Drink more water.
Plain, pure water. There are no liquid substitutes. You can live without soda, coffee, juice, or alcohol, but you cannot live without water. Drink more water than anything else you drink and see how much better you feel. And if you can cut the soda, caffeine, and alcohol, once you have moved through the more-than-likely uncomfortable withdrawal period, you will discover that you are experiencing greater overall well-being—and saving money too!
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!