Category Archives: Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #9: Control Portions and/or Frequency

Besides further developing my deep and abiding love of vegetables, another thing that has really helped me on my journey to being healthier is to allow myself to eat anything I want. Nothing is off limits! For the things that aren’t as healthy, I just either don’t eat a lot of it at one time, or I don’t eat it very often. I also think about whether something is really worth splurging on–like the store bought birthday cake at a kid’s birthday party probably wouldn’t be, but dessert at a 5 star restaurant might just be worth those extra calories. Knowing that I can eat anything I want helps me make better choices about what I will eat.

I practice portion control every time I eat, for everything except vegetables. For most things, I know what a serving looks like now, but if I am ever in doubt I still bring out my measuring cups or scale. I keep in mind the USDA MyPlate guidelines, although I tend to eat a lot more vegetables than the graphic represents.

USDA ChooseMyPlate Guidelines

Using a salad plate instead of a dinner plate has also helped me control portion sizes. Often what I choose for a grain at dinnertime has some veggies involved as well (e.g. polenta with veggie tomato sauce, quinoa salad) or I’ll have some sweet potato or corn instead of the grain. My protein is usually fish or other lean meats, and occasionally a vegetarian protein source like tempeh or tofu.

There are some foods where it is the frequency I control instead of (or along with) the portion size. Things like dessert, steak, and artisan bread fall into this category, as do meals out at restaurants.

I have been eating this way for so long, it is a habit that is no longer at all difficult to maintain. I think I actually appreciate the food I’m eating more now, knowing that the amount I will eat is limited. I make sure to make the most of every bite.

Advertisements

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #8: Eat a Ridiculous Amount of Vegetables

As I’ve gone through the process of making all of these lifestyle changes, I have had to face a reality about myself. I like to eat a lot. I tend to eat too much, I have a hard time stopping when I am full. This has always been my problem, and it is why I ended up 100 pounds overweight. Did I somehow make this behavior go away, is that how I lost the weight? Nope, I didn’t…I am still working on it, still working on listening to my body’s cues, eating slower, putting my fork down between bites, all those things I’m sure everyone knows you are supposed to be doing. So, how did I lose the weight if I haven’t yet got a handle on overeating?

I eat a ridiculous amount of vegetables. I eat huge platefuls of vegetables as part of my lunch, and I cook so much vegetables for dinner that it probably looks like it could serve 6 full grown adults. I control portions of all the other types of food I eat (more on this in the next tip), and I fill up on vegetables. I fill half my plate with vegetables for my first serving, and if I need to eat more after that I only take more vegetables. I save the leftovers (if there are any) from dinner to use in other meals. I eat vegetables or fruit (though only 2-3 servings per day of fruit) with every meal and snack.

20130722-150417.jpg

Last night’s dinner (and today’s lunch)–veggie taco salad with leftover corn and green beans from other dinners. Only non-vegetables in the dish are black beans and nonfat Greek yogurt.

If this doesn’t sound that appetizing to you, consider finding different ways of cooking your vegetables. I love almost any vegetable grilled with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. You can saute or roast–a lot of people’s favorite–your vegetables. Try lots of different kinds of vegetables to find the ones you like the most. Search for interesting sounding recipes. When I first started, I usually had my raw veggies with some kind of dip–hummus or something made with nonfat Greek yogurt–but as my palate has changed from eating less processed foods, I’ve come to appreciate the taste of fresh vegetables more, especially in the summer. Don’t be afraid to use olive oil, it is good for you and the amount you will use to cook up a batch of veggies is not that much when it is spread out over the whole batch. Unless you have high blood pressure, don’t be afraid to be liberal with the salt. Especially if you are eating less processed food, the amount that you will use to make your veggies taste great is so much less than was in the processed foods you used to eat.

Add veggies to other dishes: chilis, pasta sauce, taco filling, pile it on pizzas (just use a very thin crust), stop using a top bun or piece of bread and have your sandwich open faced with a pile of veggies on top. Eat a giant salad before dinner, just make your own dressing with olive oil and vinegar, maybe a bit of mustard. If you like soup, make a big batch of veggie soup and freeze it, and eat that before your meals to fill up a bit. You can still eat the non-veggie foods you love, just eat them in smaller quantities.

I will continue to try to listen to my body better, and stop eating when I am satisfied. I still find it hard to eat healthy in restaurants, because not only do they not serve the veggies in ridiculous quantities, they are often cooked in loads of butter or sauce. I am also challenged when I go to a friend’s house for dinner, or to a party. It may always be a struggle for me all my life.

Maybe overeating is not your issue and you don’t need ridiculous amounts of veggies like I do. No matter what, it is good advice to eat a variety of vegetables each and every day. Have fun with it, experiment, and eat more veggies!

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #7: Cut Back on Processed Foods

In Healthy Lifestyle Tip #4, I talked about becoming more aware of the food you are eating. As part of thinking about what I was eating, I read a couple books, Fat Chance by Robert H. Lustig, and Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss. Lustig believes that sugar is the main reason for the obesity epidemic in this country, while Moss believes salt and fat are also to blame. They both talk about processed food manufacturers, and how the manufacturers tweak their formulas to make them taste as wonderful as possible, adding more and more sugar, salt and fat until they find the “bliss point,” so you will buy more of their foods. They have also highly refined the food, removing parts that might spoil, and adding chemicals to it, to extend the shelf life as long as possible.

When you really think about it, in doing these things, manufacturers have made it so most processed food hardly qualifies as food anymore. For example, when they make white flour, they take all of the nutrients and fiber out of the grain. It might taste great in baked products, and never spoil, but it also doesn’t provide your body with anything it needs. When you eat products with white flour and sugar, you are eating mostly empty calories that aren’t fueling your body, only adding to the number of calories you eat that day. They don’t have protein or fiber to fill you up, and they taste great, so you eat more and more useless calories. It is no longer any mystery to me how I ended up as overweight as I was.

We now eat much less pasta and bread, and when we do eat them, they are whole grain. We now use brown rice instead of white–white rice, as in white flour, has had all the good stuff removed to make it more highly palatable and give it a longer shelf life. We buy a small amount of snack foods for the kids, and I try to find ones that are minimally processed. We hardly ever buy cookies. I have made it a fun adventure to replace processed foods with something homemade as often as possible. One great resource for whole food ideas and recipes is 100 Days of Real Food.

When I do buy something in a can or box, I look for products that are as minimally processed as possible. I read the label, and look for real, healthy ingredients. I found a fantastic smart phone app, Fooducate–you can scan a product’s barcode and it gives each product a letter grade, as well as discussing the positive or negative qualities of that food. It also has product reviews from other users. If the product you scan doesn’t have a good rating, it can provide you with healthier alternatives.

As I have removed processed foods from my diet, I have found that my tastes have changed. If I eat ice cream or cake now, they taste disgustingly sweet to me, and I would rather have a piece of fruit or homemade banana bread.

Try starting small, replacing processed foods with real foods as much as possible. For example, try eating less pasta, and having sweet potatoes, corn, quinoa, farro, or other whole foods as your starch. Try using whole wheat pasta  (best brand we have found so far is bionaturae, which I found at Whole Foods), and whole wheat bread. Instead of having ice cream or cookies for dessert, try having a piece of fruit and some dark chocolate.

Try to keep in mind, as I do, some words of wisdom from Michael Pollan: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #6: Try a Change of Focus

My whole life I had been trying to lose weight. I had tried so my diets, joined countless gyms, read many websites and advice columns. I’d had some success on occasion, lost a bit of weight, but I had never kept it off. Finally, I realized that I was likely going to be heavy my whole life, and just decided to accept that fact.

Then, about a year ago, I developed some heart palpitations. I had this occasional flutter in my chest as my heart skipped a beat. I went to the doctor, and she said this was just something that sometimes happened. She did a bunch of blood tests, and while my cholesterol and other numbers weren’t great, they were all within normal. She of course told me to lose weight, but she never connected my weight to the heart palpitations. Even though the doctor found nothing wrong, and the palpitations stopped on their own, the incident still scared the crap out of me. I have 2 young kids, and I want to live to see them grow up and have kids of their own. I decided that perhaps if I exercised and made my heart stronger, maybe the palpitations wouldn’t happen again. That was when I decided to buy Zumba Fitness Rush for the Xbox. When I started, my whole focus was just improving my cardiovascular health, and getting more fit. I wasn’t thinking about losing weight at all.

I have often wondered why I’ve been successful this time, when I haven’t been so many times in the past. And I honestly believe that it was the change in focus, from losing weight to improving my health and fitness, that has made all the difference. Losing weight is a very slow process. Getting to your goal weight can take years (a bit over a year for me). However, as soon as you start regular exercise, you are already becoming a healthier person. The evidence is almost immediate. Perhaps you are no longer out of breath when you climb the stairs. Then, you are able to walk a bit faster than you did the week before. For me, it was being able to do more intense and longer Zumba workouts. The progress was obvious and quick when I wasn’t concentrating on numbers on a scale.

Then one day, I noticed I was having an easier time controlling my eating, and my pants were getting looser. I have heard that regular exercise reduces your cravings, and that definitely seemed to be the case with me. I realized that if I payed attention to what I was eating, I might actually be able to lose weight this time, and I started logging my food using MyFitnessPal. However my focus remained becoming healthier, and in further pursuit of that goal I started paying more attention not only to the calories in the food I was eating, but what that food was doing for, or to, my body. I read some books, and realized just how unhealthy most processed foods really are, and just what they do to our bodies. I decided to eat mostly whole foods, especially vegetables. I realized that I could eat an unlimited amount of vegetables, and as long as I controlled my portion sizes of everything else, I still lost weight. It was revelatory. I never had to be hungry! And the vegetables were good for me!

I believe that it was this continuous focus on becoming a healthier person that has carried me through to reaching my goal weight. I also believe that this is the reason I will never gain the weight back, because it is still my focus to be the healthiest person I can be. That goal has no end, however it has constant rewards. I continue to go to the gym, and I keep getting stronger, and my cardiovascular health just gets better and better. I continue to eat healthy, and I hardly ever get sick, my skin looks awesome, and I feel fantastic. For me maintenance changes nothing except perhaps eating (a very small amount) more, and that is okay because I really like all of the lifestyle changes I have made to become a healthier person.

So, if you have tried losing weight your whole life, perhaps it is time to stop trying. Just try to become a healthier person tomorrow than you are today. And then do it again the next day, and the next, and the next…

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #5: Keep a Food Journal

This tip goes hand in hand with the previous one, Think About the Food You Eat. I think we all tend to lie to ourselves a bit about the things we eat in a day. We also may not realize how many calories are in a particular food, or just how many (or few!) calories we should be eating in a day. A food journal is a great way to hold yourself accountable. I use MyFitnessPal, both the website and the iPhone app, to keep my food journal. There are many other food journal apps and websites, and of course you could just use a pen and paper.

You can just keep a journal for a short time until you figure out where your problem points are, and to get a better understanding of the calories in different kinds of food. Or you could log consistently over a long period if you need it to keep yourself on track. Do whatever works best for you, and that may change over time.

I have been keeping a food journal on and off for over a year. I stopped logging for a few months in March when I felt like I had a really good grasp of how to continue losing without it, then started logging again after a busy May when I hadn’t lost any weight and only had a few pounds left to reach 100 pounds lost. I managed to drop the last few pounds pretty quickly once I started logging again. Now that I am considering going into maintenance, I am taking a break from logging again. If I find the weight is going back on at any point, I know I can start logging again to figure out what I am doing wrong. Instead of seeming like a burden to me, I find keeping a food journal (even if it is only occasionally now) gives me confidence in my continued success.

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #4: Think About the Food You Eat

I believe the first step to eating healthier is to become more aware of what you are eating now. So even before changing what you are eating, just think about the food you are putting into your body. Realize that the primary function of food is to fuel your body. It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition–either it tastes great or is good for you. It can still taste great while giving you something your body needs. However, there is a lot of food out there that may taste great, but provides your body with absolutely nothing useful. The key, eventually, is to greatly reduce how many useless foods you eat, and replace them with foods that help your body, namely lots of fruit and vegetables, some complex carbs and lean proteins. Before you can get to that point though, you need to raise your own awareness of what you are eating.

There is this practice called “Mindful Eating” which includes meditating over your food, and slowly taking every bite. I don’t think I have the patience to eat like that. However, I do pause a moment before eating something, and think about first whether I am actually hungry or if I’m only eating because I’m bored or some other reason, and then whether the food I am choosing will help my body function in some way.

Does that mean I never eat anything that isn’t useful? Of course not. I go out to eat, and while I now make healthier choices there is always food that is eaten simply because it tastes good. I occasionally have a small frozen yogurt when taking the kids for a treat. I have just greatly reduced the frequency and portion sizes of those events. It makes me savor and enjoy those treats even more than I did before.

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #3A: Consider Buying a Pedometer

My husband read yesterday’s Healthy Lifestyle Tip, and pointed out that I didn’t mention wearing a pedometer as part of your effort to move more. I thought that wearing a pedometer should have its own post, but he was right in that it does fall under the same heading of moving more, hence the “3A”.

I wear a Fitbit, and I try to get at least 10,000 steps every day. I find wearing the Fitbit highly motivating in my efforts to move more, as simple things like parking farther away from the store, doing the laundry, or going for a few short walks throughout the day can build on your total steps. I find it really helps to have the feedback wearing a pedometer provides. Besides just the step count, it shows how many stairs you have climbed, and the website can show you how much of your day has been active vs sedentary. If you are a social person, you can “friend” other Fitbit users, and compare your step counts, or compete if that helps your motivation.

Sorry for sounding a bit like an advertisement there. I swear I am not in any way compensated by the makers of Fitbit. There are many choices of pedometers out there, from simple to sophisticated, choose the one that looks best to you. You might be surprised how much wearing one can motivate you to start moving more.