Making Nutrition Part of a Healthy Lifestyle
March is National Nutrition Month®! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics takes this opportunity every year to promote nutrition education. This includes the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy, sustainable eating and physical activity habits.
Now that we’re in March, New Year’s resolutions sometimes fall by the wayside. People start off in January by making a lot of changes then burn out and their efforts gradually decline. Many people don’t think about nutrition as part of their daily lifestyle so I wanted to write about how embracing a healthy, wellness-focused lifestyle can lead to lasting changes that create improved health and quality of life. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests these three principles to help lead you to a healthier lifestyle balance. We will discuss each of these below.
Balance your diet with foods from all food groups
Diets are mostly fads. Every decade has its own diet fad. In the 80s, everything was low fat. Now, we have moved on to low carb, eating like a caveman and cutting out a variety of different things. I’m sure you all know someone who tried one of these fads for a month or two and lost 20 pounds, only to quit the program and gain some, if not more than all the weight back. “Dieting” leads to feelings of deprivation and failure if everything doesn’t go exactly as you are hoping. This is difficult to sustain long term.
Select healthy options from each of the food groups and eat a variety of foods. If you fill half your plate with vegetables, and split the rest between complex carbohydrates and protein with a small amount of healthy fat, you are there! Your brain needs carbohydrates and fats in order to function. Contrary to what you might hear in some diets, carbs and fats are not the devil. Select high quality, nutritionally dense carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables that have been as minimally processed as possible. Choose healthy fats in small amounts including avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish. Purchase lean cuts of meat and poultry, and try to incorporate vegetarian options for protein into your diet as well such as tofu, eggs, or beans. Try to minimize your intake of fried foods, sugary foods, and beverages containing added sugars.
These simple guidelines allow you to have freedom with your food selections so that you can enjoy food in a variety of daily settings rather than feel burdened by “cheating on your diet” because the wedding you were at this weekend didn’t have a paleo dinner option.
Get active every day with enjoyable movement
While the foods you eat and the calories you consume are a large part of weight management and weight loss, they are not the only important aspect of reaching for a healthier lifestyle. We have got to get out there and move our bodies. Ask any health expert or medical professional their thoughts about exercise and they will say it is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Exercise includes benefits such as lower blood pressure, improved blood sugar, and weight reduction. Exercise can also reduce bad cholesterol levels, while increasing your good cholesterol and warding off diseases like heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. On top of that, being more active can reduce stress levels, help you sleep better, improve muscle strength and flexibility, and can lower your chances of feeling depressed. Believe it or not, exercise can be fun and make you feel great about yourself.
I know, not everyone is a 20 year old athlete. But, you don’t have to be a Crossfit Games Competitor to get stronger, slimmer and on your way to a healthier lifestyle through exercise. Find an activity that you enjoy, something that makes you look forward to experiencing it. Some people love running, I hate it. It hurts my knees and ankles. But, I love walking my dog outside in the greenways when the weather is beautiful. I also do Crossfit and cycling classes because I get bored doing just one thing. Swimming is a great option for young and old alike, a great heart pumper without impact to the joints. Ballroom dancing is physical activity, and it’s fun, graceful and you can wear those really pretty dresses. Not to mention yoga, pilates, bike riding, hiking, martial arts, kickboxing, etc. Charlotte has a wealth of options and you are sure to find something that’s right for you. If it’s too intimidating, start with a short walk around the neighborhood after meals. There is no one right way to exercise. Do what makes you feel good, but don’t be afraid to push beyond your comfort zone sometimes. You’ll be surprised how strong you can be and be proud of yourself for trying.
Make your mental health a priority by fostering a positive attitude
Our minds play a powerful role in our perception of our health. A fatalistic attitude can allow a person to slip into an unhealthy lifestyle. On the other hand, trying to stay positive and allowing yourself grace when it comes reaching your goals, helps you stay on the path and celebrate little achievements.
One of my favorite anecdotes about the power of positive thinking is from psychologist Rick Wirtz, where he describes the impact that a positive or negative attitude can have on health, coping and recovery.
“If you ever watched the cartoon version of Winnie the Pooh with your children, grandchildren, or secretly on your own, you are familiar with the character Eeyore. Eeyore is a donkey who is very pessimistic by nature. He does not expect events in his life to work out well and so when they don’t, he just sees it as proof of what he already knew to be true. If by chance something does work out well he sees it as a fluke, and he certainly doesn’t expect it to work out that way the next time.”
“Now let’s take Eeyore’s personality type and imagine how that translates into how he views his health. Do you think Eeyore is a guy who watches what he eats, takes his vitamins, or gets a checkup once a year? If you said, “probably not,” you were right. Eeyore would probably say “Why bother. I’d go to all that trouble and then get hit by a car.” If we take that a step further and have Eeyore diagnosed with a serious disease, how do you think he might handle that? My guess would be that he wouldn’t be very conscientious about taking medication prescribed by his physician, that he might not always show up for treatment or rehab, and would not expect to survive. If you were a betting man or woman how do you think Eeyore would fare compared to someone who had a much more optimistic personality? I’d bet on the optimist any day!”
Take small steps in each of these three principles every day. Make realistic and achievable goals, then forge ahead. Don’t let bumps in the road derail your daily efforts to improve on your lifestyle or your health. Do what you can to put your best fork forward during National Nutrition Month and reap the benefits now and in the future.
Sara Klingelberg is the Patient Care Coordinator at Queen City Plastic Surgery. Her background is in nutrition and she enjoys working out (ask her about Crossfit when you see her!) and spending time with her husband and two boys.