I spend a lot of time discussing the science of healthy living here (see Yogic Eating, Food and Mood Pts. I & II, and The Science and Body Image of Fat), but I want to delve into the practical application of what I preach. It’s easy to read the facts and understand the science, but sometimes it’s difficult to bring these concepts into our lives. Sometimes you don’t know where to start, sometimes you’re “too busy”, sometimes it just seems, well, hard! Fortunately, I’m here to break down the basics and explore some more digestible action items (and important part in goal tackling I discussed here).
Action Item 1: Understand the Basics
Above is the link to a presentation about the startling amount of sugar consumed by children in America. This is an extremely important and pressing issue in this country, and I wanted to share this resource. I made it to share with one of my classes, but feel that it would be a great tool for you to use with your families. It’s a great way to start an important conversation relevant to your family’s health, and to begin implementing changes into your household. This is also a great way to understand the basics of living a healthful life.
I also recommend reading the books It Starts With Food, In Defense of Food, Eat the Yolks, Brain Maker, and Well Fed. If you prefer to watch, I highly recommend Fed Up, which inspired my presentation above.
Action Item 2: Know Your Plate
Now that you’ve got the basics, it’s time to apply your knowledge to your plate. There’s some simple tools to portioning your plate:
- Protein: About the size of your open palm or fist
- Quality fat: About the size of your thumb
- Non-Starchy Veggies: The majority of your plate
- Starchy Veggies: About 1/2-1 fist depending on activity level
The most important thing to note is that these are starting points. These are the bare minimum. The more active you are, the more you will need to eat (particularly of starches such as potatoes, squashes, and roots). The best part about these guidelines is that along with being non-restrictive and flexible, they are tailored to you specifically. No longer are the days of “one size fits all 1200 calories a day bikini diets”. No. A big man will have a big fist. A petite female will have a petite fist. A small child will have a small fist. These are great jumping off points: start with these, and consider how you feel after. If you’re feeling low energy, try adding a bit more protein, or a bit more fat, or a bit more starch to your next meal.
It’s also important to note that corn is a grain, and not a veggie!
Action Item 3: Prioritizing Your Budget
I’ve made it clear that I believe animals and plants should be raised in the way most natural to them. That means cows who spent hundreds of years eating grass should eat grass, not grain-feed to fatten them up as quickly as possible, and pigs should be allowed to forage for grubs and eat wild plants, and fish shouldn’t be farmed. I won’t go too deep into the science in this post, but know that animals who eat an unnatural and gut-disruptive diet will pass on their poor health to the consumer.
Because of this, I think it is most important to allocate your funds toward quality meat and egg sources. These will give you the most nutritional bang for your buck, and can actually be very affordable if you take advantage of your local resources. Seek out local farmers, or use a source like Good Eggs to have local goods sent directly to you.
After you’ve bought your proteins, decide how much you are willing to spend on produce. We all know organic is the “best” option, but if you’re coming down between quality meats and pesticide-free veg, go for the protein every time, as poor-quality meat does far more damage than poor-quality veggies. Shop your local farmer’s market, and seek out deals in your grocery store. Refer to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen for plants most affected by pesticide usage.
Action Item 4: Be Prepared
- Have good tools on hand.
- Having quality tools will make a big cooking task so much easier and so much less stressful. It’s also very handy to have multiple mediums at your disposal: if you can have soup on the stove, a roast in the oven, and some shredded chicken in the slow cooker, you’re going to get a lot done in a relatively short amount of time.
- It’s also very important to have storage! Invest in quality glass containers that will go straight from oven to fridge.
- Buy a good lunch box or freezer bag to encourage you to “brown bag it” at work or school. My family loves our Bison Coolers.
- Go shopping with a plan.
- I find it easiest to prep meals around proteins. Start with meats: know what you can get multiple meals out of and what will be gone in a day. Try to mix it up: fish, eggs, beef, pork, and chicken options will keep you from getting bored.
- Move to veggies. Buy a variety of textures and types. Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and brussels sprouts will add filling bulk to you meals. Softer veggies like eggplant and squash add a textural variety. Some veggies like cauliflower are amazingly versatile!
- Use condiments and spices to keep things interesting. Guac and homemade balsamic vinaigrette will freshen up leftovers in a flash! Grilling some bulk chicken? Coat some with Italian seasoning, some with curry powder, some with taco seasoning, etc, and mix and match throughout the week.
- Decide what’s worth it. Some foods like squash are difficult to prep, while others like tomatoes are easy. Decide what’s worth your time to buy pre-cut and what would be a waste.
- Dedicate some time to do a big bulk-cook.
- Cook some staples. Bake some sweet potatoes, grill some meats, hardboil some eggs, give yourself a good foundation. Know that you can spice things up with things like guac and salsa that will be quickly prepped later in the week.
- Prepare snacks to avoid moments of weakness in the candy aisle. Mix some nuts, make some homemade date bars, learn how to prepare jerky, chop some snacky veggies.
- Throw something in the oven while you prep other meals. Use your time efficiently! Get one meal cooking before you move on to the next.
- Prep a little extra as you go. If you need chopped onions for two recipes, chop a ton with the first meal to save time later.
- Portion out. Decide what you’ll be able to eat relatively quickly, and what will need to be frozen. Freeze in meal-sized containers so you’re not stuck defrosting a giant hunk of meat for three days.
- Learn how to cook throughout your day/week.
- If you can’t find a day to marathon-cook, learn how to use your time well.
- Throw something in the crockpot at night after work. Wake up to a yummy-smelling house, throw it in the fridge, and reheat that evening. Or, throw something in the pot in the morning and pull it fresh for dinner.
- Use your downtime. If you’re going to be home for a few hours, roast some veggies. It’s a lot of downtime, and you can get other things done while they cook.
- Always make extra. If you’re cooking one tray of veggies, you can roast two.
By staying committed to being prepared, you’ll be much less likely to succumb to the temptations of take-out or office snacks.
Action Item 5: Schedule Healthy Movement
With a busy work schedule, often the first thing to go is exercise. Find a way to work it into your day, even in short intervals: take a 10 minute walk at lunch, take the farthest parking spot from the store, get up and talk to your coworker across the office instead of sending an email. Long periods spent sedentary are the biggest danger to your health. Try to find ways to stay active, and stay committed. Make a walking group at work or school, or buy a pedometer or Fitbit.
Action Item 6: Stay Hydrated
Ditch the soda. Ditch the sweet tea. Ditch the frappe. Drink water. Buy a cute water bottle or mason jar and commit yourself to refilling it throughout the day. Bonus: you’ll get extra walking in when you run to the bathroom periodically. If you really need fizz, try La Croix: they’re sparkling waters whose natural flavors are actually natural.
Action Item 7: Prioritize, Above All Else, Sleep
If hitting the gym before work means not getting at least 7 hours of sleep, it’s not worth your time. Create a calm environment in your room, and allow it to naturally wind down (i.e., as the sun sets, so do your electronics and lights). Cut out caffeine after noon. Aim for 8 hours of sleep, and notice how much better you feel. If you’re tired, you won’t have the energy to work out, recover from working out, prepare healthy foods, be active with your loved ones, or have any willpower whatsoever to stay committed to shifting your lifestyle. If your goal is body composition changes, you might be interested in this article by Robb Wolf.
There you have it, my most comprehensive guide to changing your life so far. These are specific, manageable goals that are easy to tackle. If it takes just doing one at a time: do it! Do not let perfection be the enemy of good. Just because you can’t do it all doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it at all. Start with sleep, then water, then food, then exercise….and improve from there.
Only you can change your life, but you can do it at any time.