In our family, the rule is to focus on being "healthy" and not "skinny/fat." No one is allowed to complain about being "fat." And if you are worried about being "unhealthy," there's an obligation to look at how you can fix that.
A common problem in society today is the oversimplification of the idea, "Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss." That does not equal health. It may not even equal weight loss. There are different kinds of calories. (I know this goes completely against what we learned in 7th grade science, that a calorie is the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water one degree Celcius. Thanks Mr. Schaeffer! I will never forget that.) The difference here is that the calories in some foods need to work harder to attain that amount of energy.
Remember, again, I am not preaching these tips as an easy way to lose weight. I am NOT a professional nutritionist. I'm just a person who, though not a toothpick, considers myself to be relatively healthy. But I struggle too (mainly with #7).
So, here I present you with part 2 of my stay healthy tips:
Food and Drink.
You might think you are perfectly hydrated, but the truth is, whenever you feel thirst, you have reached a severe level of dehydration. You can actually be dehydrated without feeling thirsty at all.
The solution? Drink water whenever you can. If possible, replace your regular daily drinks with water (with the exceptions below.) Always start with a cup of water before you brush your teeth in the morning. I also try to drink one glass before each meal and one after. Warm water helps to break down the food you just ate, rather than cold water, which causes food to clump and be a little harder to break down.
This is all in addition to anything your body absolutely needs during exercise. Without enough water during a workout, I can tell you that you will get a killer headache. (Your body will also need special nutrients with the water after an hour or more of exercise.)
Beyond preventing dehydration, water will help you have more energy, keep your systems working regularly, and give your skin a healthier look.
Green tea has plenty of benefits to your body (among them: benefits to blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health, and skin tone), and it's fine to have one or two cups in a day. If I'm looking for something to drink, and I just don't want water, I go for green tea. Hot is better, but iced is good too.
Recent research is showing that a cup of coffee every day actually has benefits to your heart. However, keep in mind that while adding sugar is okay, adding milk or cream will negate the benefits. Also, there is a max to this benefit, so don't think the more coffee you drink, the healthier you are.
Drinking your cup of coffee 30-60 minutes before exercise can give you the caffeine boost needed to pump up your workout a little bit. (I can vouch for that.)
I have become a protein-aholic. And not necessarily in just meat. Due to my high cholesterol, I only eat red meat once a week, sometimes none. (My body, however, tends to run low on iron. And while I eat a lot of spinach, red meat works the best.) Nuts are my favorite way of getting protein (see #10). Why do I love protein so much? Two main reasons. #1- It makes you feel like you have really eaten and keeps you from snacking. (So protein is especially important at breakfast.) And #2- It's what the body uses to rebuild the torn muscles you have used while working out, therefore essential for eating after a workout. When you eat protein, you can build your muscles. When you build your muscles, you raise your metabolism (because muscle uses more energy- heat- calories than fat). When you raise your metabolism, you can relax about how much you are eating. So, go ahead and eat that chicken.
Fat, basically, makes everything stick around longer. That is why it is not necessarily a bad thing. Fat, combined with protein, will help your body get the best use out of the protein in the muscle-building process (see above.) This is why drinking chocolate milk or eating peanut butter are great ways to recover after a workout. However, fat also makes sugar stick around longer. And sugar that stays around too long and is not converted into energy (in a non-diabetic person) will just latch onto the fat and stick around on your body. So, consuming sugar and not working it off leads to more fat on your body, thanks to the sugar. (Because fat is substantial and contributes to the weight of your body. Sugar does not.) This is where the Calories In > Calories Out = Gained Weight theory is actually true.
You might hear that carbohydrates are bad. But the realm of carbohydrates is so vast, it's hard to make such a generalization. There are simple and complex carbohydrates - simple ones break down easily in your body and are converted quickly into the sugar you use for energy. Your body NEEDS carbohydrates, because you NEED energy. There's a diet out there (that starts with the letter A…) that does not allow consumption of any carbs. Do you lose weight from it? Yes. The principle is that your body eats away at your fat and muscle instead of sugar (which is a carbohydrate) for energy. If you stick with this diet for too long, however, it is very dangerous, as I have seen firsthand. When your body has to use muscle for energy instead of sugar, it gives off an acidic by-product. Too much acid in your blood will eventually rot your body and cause it to shut down. (This is also a complication Type 1 diabetics can suffer when they don't get the insulin they need to allow sugar into their cells to make energy, or basically not getting proper use of the sugar. My daughter went into a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis, where there was too much acid in her blood, and she came within a centimeter of her life.)
Bottom line? Eat carbs for energy (especially beneficial an hour or two before a workout), but not more than your body will use, or the carbs will metabolize into sugar that sticks around… see below.
Evil, evil sugar. Sugar is used for energy, so you do need some. But if you have more sugar than expended energy, the sugar will stick around and settle. The biggest problem with sugar is that the more you eat, the more you want. It's a craving that does not resolve. So the chances of not eating more sugar than your body needs are not good. This is why it's better to get your sugar from simple carbohydrates (like fruits and whole grains) or complex ones like whole grains rather than the complex ones we think of as desserts.
Fad diets don't work, and here's why. Any diet that says you are going to lose weight quickly is most likely causing you to lose water weight. Water weight comes right back. So, if you want to lose 5 pounds over a weekend to look good for one event, and to do so by drinking beet juice for 3 days, fine. You will meet your goal. But you won't fit in that dress forever. As soon as you go back to normal eating and drinking, it will come back.
Also, diets that eliminate entire food groups are not balanced or healthy. Your body needs protein, and it needs carbs, and limited fats are important too. (You can do away with refined sugar forever.) You may lose weight by using some of those diets, but your body will not be healthy.
I will admit that after I had my children, I modified my eating and lost some weight. I did not use a fad diet, but rather an eating modification plan (from which I learned a few of these tips!) I kept it off because it was a plan that included protein, simple carbs, and a lot of water all arranged in a special order with a certain exercise routine specifically made to fire up my metabolism.
Any plan to lose weight needs to be a way of including good stuff, excluding bad stuff, drinking lots of water, and exercising. It might take a while, but it should work.
I find smoothies to be a fantastic way of getting so many of the nutrients I need all in one sitting, in a way that tastes really good. Here's a favorite recipe of mine:
1 cup protein milk
1 handful of fresh spinach leaves
2T almond butter
1 cup Greek yogurt (I use coconut flavor)
1 cup frozen berries (I use blueberries & cherries)
ice to fill the blender
The above recipe gives me iron, plenty of protein, vitamins, at least one serving of fruit for the meal. I have a glass of this after my workout, and it doubles for my lunch too. There's enough protein in it to make me full and keep me from snacking too much before dinner.
I love nuts. They are one of my favorite sources of protein. Almonds are my favorite, and they are considered a super food because they contain antioxidants (which fight cancer-causing cells). Nuts not only contain protein, but also good fat to work with the protein. The question becomes, should you eat salted or unsalted nuts? That depends on your blood pressure. Salt is widely considered to be bad in excess because it raises your blood pressure. Since I have exceptionally low blood pressure (don't hate me), I need to eat salted nuts to keep from getting dizzy.
Chances are, you are already doing a lot of things right with your eating. (Or if you aren't DOING them yet, you are at least aware of them.) Chances are also good that I hit a sore spot for you. The good news is that your health is a journey, not a one day fix. Pick one thing on the list that you know you struggle with, on work on that until you need to move on. (If you pick #7, I'm right there with you!) Each step you take is one closer to better health.
Also, obviously, there are more than 10 ways to work on eating healthy. Feel free to comment below to other readers what YOU do to make your diet healthier.
Because I love even numbers and lists!