People tell me all that time that I eat super healthy and I’m really strict about it. But that’s not my perception about the way I eat – I think I’m eating whatever I want and splurging on treats all the time. The key here is perception – which foods you view as desirable and why.
In order to change the way you perceive desirable foods, you must relate to food as a delicious way to nourish, sustain and heal the body, and understand that it can have powerful positive or negative effects on how you look, feel and perform. Gravitate toward fresh, organic fruits and vegetables because you know that that’s what makes your body happiest and that’s the quality of food you deserve. You love and respect yourself, so why would you want to eat too much sugar, refined foods and conventional meats that will just drag you down and take a toll on your vitality? Rather than extreme control or discipline, building this healthy relationship to food (and exercise) is key for creating a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
Here are some of the ways I approach food and exercise:
Weight is not my first concern. If I do see a pound or two creep up, I’ll take measures to mitigate that, but my weight is not my first thought when choosing how to eat. What I’m really thinking about is what I enjoy eating and how food will make me feel and look. I use vanity as a motivating factor – healthy foods make your skin glow, prevent wrinkles and promote strong, shiny hair. I’d much rather be a tad plumper but with beautiful skin and hair! Restricting too much fat and not eating well has serious repercussions for the way you look and age.
I’ve abandoned the Standard American Diet (SAD) as my “norm.” To start, since I’m gluten free, I’m already outside the mainstream American food culture. I know that I’m not always going to be able to eat the cupcake at a birthday party or the pizza at work lunches. And I’m ok with that, because I know that 1, I’ll be so conflicted about eating it I’ll barely enjoy it anyway and 2, it’s not worth the digestive issues and headaches I could get.
Taking a broader look at SAD, I don’t view the diet as a good foundation, since I think it causes a myriad of complex issues in the body, including a propensity for inflammation and weight gain. It’s filled with refined carbs (think bread, bagels, cereal etc.), grains, and conventional meat and diary. Grains and dairy are difficult to digest for many people and can be harmful for the digestive tract. Conventional meat and dairy contain antibiotics and hormones that upset the balance in your body, and since the animals are fed genetically modified corn rather than the grass they’ve evolved to eat, the meat has higher levels of e.coli and a depleted nutritional profile among other problems. And when you eat sugar from sources like soda or cereal and you have an insulin response, your body receives a signal to store fat. (See Time’s article “Ending the War on Fat.”) So sorry Weight Watcher fans, but in my opinion, if you make SAD your foundation and then try to portion control your life away in order to lose weight, you’re asking for an uphill battle that will bring on a lot of heartache and unnecessary effort.
I aim for a plant based diet. A plant based diet promotes harmony in the body and prevents radical shifts in blood sugar, reducing cravings for sweets and processed foods. I’ve found that when I eat this way, I’m truly satisfied after meals and I can tell when I’m actually hungry and need to eat again. The diet I look to as ideal is an abundance of organic, varied vegetables and fruits, a small amount of organic, grassfed meat and wild salmon and other seafood, spices and healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, and avocado. Get to know your fruits and vegetables – and if you don’t like vegetables make sure you’re trying local, organic ones. The comparison to conventional veggies can be drastic. Take a sad tomato wedge in a typical mixed salad you might pick up as opposed to a wonderful heirloom tomato that’s locally grown and topped with basil, extra virgin olive oil and a little sea salt – it’s a whole different animal!
I don’t feel guilty indulging in treats when I want to. Extreme diets don’t work because if they’re too restrictive, people can’t sustain them in the long run. I avoid grains and dairy maybe 90% of the time, but have no guilt about indulging in these foods (albeit a gluten free version) when I feel like it. I let myself eat what I want, so I don’t feel restricted. And since I have a good foundation by doing a mostly plant based or paleo diet, I can introduce in some treats here and there without much of a problem for my digestive system, weight or overall health. My favorite splurges are Mexican food like chips and guac and enchiladas, gluten free pasta, gluten free pizza, and ice cream made from coconut milk!
I do some prep work for social events. I bring my own food to the party so I never feel left out or denied! My friends are always laughing because they never know what I’m going to pull out of my purse – random smoothies or homemade sweet potato brownies are a common occurrence. If I’m going to the movies, I might bring a little treat made out of coconut and cacao. If I know I’m going for tea and dessert with friends, I’ll bring a piece of carrot loaf made out of quinoa. (BTW, Liquiteria has AMAZING gluten free desserts.) Or if a friend invites me over for wine, cheese and crackers, I bring over some gluten free crackers so I can indulge a little bit too. Not only do I not feel denied, but having a healthier version makes me doubly happy, because I can feel included in the event without having conflicted negative emotions around what I’m eating.
I don’t count calories. I find counting calories to actually be distracting and destructive for people, because it places greater importance on the caloric value of the food than the quality.When I look at a nutrition label, I focus on what the ingredients are and how the food was grown or raised. The whole “calories in, calories out” model is simplistic and flawed; foods of the same caloric value are not created equal, because they affect your body in different ways and have different nutritional profiles. 100 calories of avocado, for example, is loaded with potassium, fiber and healthy fat that fills you up and helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels, while 100 calories of white bread has no nutritional benefits to speak of and will leave you feeling hungry a short while later. (And, as described above, high glycemic foods (foods that raise your blood sugar level) send your body a message to store fat, whereas fats, plants and protein in reasonable amounts will not do that.) So don’t kid yourself by justifying cookies, crackers and other refined foods because they come in a 100 calorie pack – especially if you’re trying to lose weight! (See Time’s article “‘Eat Less, Exercise More’ Isn’t the Answer for Weight Loss.”)
I view refined carbs as a greater evil than fat. When it comes to the fat versus refined carb debate, I view refined carbs as the bigger enemy when it comes to maintaining my weight, avoiding premature aging and promoting overall health and beauty. While you don’t want to go overboard on fat, a moderate amount will help you feel more satiated and absorb nutrients more efficiently. I don’t shy away from a small amount of saturated fats from sources like coconut oil and grassfed meats; trans fats from hydrogenated oils (think processed foods and vegetable oil) are the only fats I avoid at all costs.
I exercise for my wellbeing, not to burn calories. I never “tit for tat” with food and exercise or workout just to burn calories. I work out to feel better physically, to get toned, and because it’s good for my mental health. I also think it’s great for my skin – my skin looks its best after a workout and a sauna session! I also don’t push myself to work out when tired or sick, and I’ll go to the gym for about 30 minutes or whatever I have time for – I don’t have an “all or nothing” mentality. I probably average about 2-3 times a week for about 45 minutes to an hour at the gym.
I want to be strong, not skinny! I value strength training over cardio. I think getting your heart rate up and sweating is great for you and get that in as well, but when I’m the gym my main focus is on lifting weights and doing strengthening exercises. I think it’s the most efficient way to sculpt your body, plus having more muscle mass helps you burn more calories after you’ve finished working out.
How do you sustain a healthy lifestyle, or what do you want to work on? Questions or comments? Leave them below!