“Our bodies are our gardens – our wills are our gardeners.” ~ William Shakespeare
Have you had enough of winter yet? This is the time of year when we yearn for the “green” here in Indiana! I am pleased to say that gardening seems to be gaining popularity and indulging in local, fresh produce is both encouraged and enjoyed. However, today’s column is not directly referring to gardening. (Believe me, you don’t want gardening or seamstress tips from me!) Instead I will discuss the analogy above from Mr. Shakespeare. A garden will only flourish when it is tended, fertilized properly, watered, weeded and cared for – if our bodies are our gardens, how is your will doing as a gardener?
If there is one thing I would ask that you take away from today’s column it is this – the word “diet” is a noun, not a verb! We tend to think of “dieting” (verb) as opposed to a healthy, nutritious diet (noun) or food plan. Another problem with the word “diet” is that the word is closely associated in our minds with “deprivation.” We humans do not like to be deprived! When you omit something from your food plan, introduce a food item to take its place. A great place to start is the grocery store. Unless you are providing potato chips for the annual family reunion, skip that aisle but be sure to pick up a lovely red pepper in the produce aisle and a small container of hummus to enjoy as a snack. One suggestion is to also purchase small portion cups and divide your hummus into those so that you monitor your snack portions. Now, let me also be clear – we all need to indulge in our “comfort food” occasionally! Thanksgiving, you bet! Some cheese ball, cookies and fudge at Christmas, oh my yes! Super Bowl goodies, of course! Keep in mind that these are specific occasions, not our everyday cuisine.
Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, in his book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Decisions, recommends changing your eating environment. According to Dr. Wansink, a primary predictor of healthy or unhealthy weight is what food is out on the counter in the kitchen. People who keep chips or cookies on the counter, even a single cookie, weigh an average of 10 pounds more than their neighbors who don’t. When the cookies are in sight, you must repeatedly make a decision about eating them. You might resist 25 times, consider it on the 26th, and give in on the 27th. Cereal is even more enticing, according to Wansink, because we perceive it as healthier. If cereal is on the counter, you’re likely to weigh 20 pounds more than average, he indicates. Keep those chips and snacks, if they are in your house, behind closed doors and preferably on a high shelf! Is ice cream your thing? If so, try a fruit/veggie smoothie in your blender or food processor – here is one I especially like: Fresh kale, chopped + fresh chilled pineapple chunks + a good quality protein powder + crushed ice + unsweetened almond milk. Blend all in your blender until smooth and enjoy! Experiment to taste; start with small amounts of kale if you need to do so and increase proportionately. You can also substitute frozen bananas or berries for the pineapple. If you are one who likes to keep some yummy items on your kitchen counter, try a container of varieties of green tea, there are many delicious flavors from which to choose. You will enjoy a filling and tasty beverage and at the same time benefit your immune system, a win-win situation.
I will caution you to be wary of shelf-stable and processed foods. Many canned food items are fine to add occasionally to your meals, but be aware of the sodium content. Boxed “meals” in particular are usually very high in carbohydrates. While today’s busy schedules sometimes call for quick family meals this is one which should not be included on a frequent basis. One of my favorite “quick” meals consists of the following veggies which can simply be stirred into olive oil (using a wok is fine, but not necessary) over a low heat: Brussels sprouts (microwave briefly as they are very dense) along with sliced bell peppers, mushrooms, several cloves of garlic (great for your immunity) some sliced potatoes, and one or more of green beans/snow peas/asparagus – whatever you like best. Combine all in a large frying pan (or wok) when the oil is ready. Stir for several minutes. For added flavor, some low-sodium soy sauce and curry could be added. You may have noticed that I have not included a meat item here but you certainly could, perhaps chicken breast (cook thoroughly before adding to your veggies) or salmon would be a delicious addition. You might wish to add some rice as a side dish, although I would suggest brown rice instead of white rice.
You may wonder why I am not mentioning “fast food” and, frankly, I do not have enough space in my column this week to do so! Those menu items should be rarely included in one’s eating plan, although there are a few suggestions which can be incorporated on a limited basis – more about that in a future column.
While endless commercials, ads and apps would endeavor to convince you that their “proven methods” work for your healthy weight-loss goals, (there is a reason that the “diet industry” is a multi-billion dollar industry!) remember that each one of us is different and we need to find the approach that works best for our personality, schedules, family life and lifestyle. The changes you make in your eating habits should be changes that you plan to incorporate for a lifetime. A nutrition coach can help you find your best plan to begin and sustain a more healthy eating environment and life-long positive changes. There is no one “diet” or identical plan for everyone. You will be surprised how reduction in your consumption of dairy, sugar, salt, flour, rice, “diet” sodas (that’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one!) and other simple carbohydrates can make a difference. The addition of good protein sources and complex carbohydrates will leave you more satisfied with the way you feel and your appearance – not to mention better health, better sleep and more energy!
Indiana is known to many as the “Basketball State” and we Hoosiers are definitely proud of that fact! However, Indiana has also been designated 8th in the “top 10 least healthy states” and “41st out of all 50 states in overall health” according to Indianapublichealth.org. Those are statistics that can, and should, change – and we are all part of that change. Let’s work together to reduce Hoosiers’ obesity rate, which is largely responsible for diabetes, heart problems and many other health issues. We can do this!
Sharon McMahon, CNWC
The opinions expressed in this article are not intended to replace advice of your personal physician or licensed health professional. Please consult your physician for any issues you may have related to nutrition or fitness activity.