Throughout the years, I’ve heard it all when it comes to ways people try to manage their weight and stay healthy…from high protein and starvation diets to cleanses and hormone therapy. The more obsessed we become about health, often the unhealthier we become.
The easy, quick fixes (usually fad diets) to which people turn to achieve weight loss, often eventually fail and most backfire in a way that creates havoc with the body’s metabolism. The word “diet” usually evokes emotions related to deprivation, failure and guilt. But, my healthy eating approach is much more a way of life than it is a meal plan.
Consider the French approach towards eating, for example. French people make food the topic of just about every conversation. The focus of their day is centered around exceptionally crafted meals cooked with simple, quality ingredients. Interestingly, they have much lower rates of obesity and diet-related disease than we do here in America. Perhaps, instead of thinking of healthy eating as restrictive, we could learn to appreciate good food and have a greater respect for it’s value in our lives.
I’ve highlighted what I believe to be some of the most critical components to weight management and achieving a healthier lifestyle:
Less Meat, More Whole Foods & Plants
There is no question that my philosophy on healthy eating has evolved over the years. Moving to the suburbs of New Jersey certainly had an impact on my relationship with food. Being surrounded by farms and farmer's markets serves as a constant reminder of how real food is grown and produced, and of the quality and flavor that comes from fresh, local and organic foods. For me, this had a major impact in developing a healthy relationship with nature, the environment and ultimately with food.
Much of the food available in supermarkets today is highly processed and often contains ingredients that are unrecognizable and potentially harmful to our health. Reading labels for 'ingredients' is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your health.
“Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry ” -Michael Pollan- Food Rules
Definition: whole food
noun 1. food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances.
My healthy eating approach highlights foods that are prepared from their natural, whole state such as fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes (i.e. real food). When you eat foods of high nutritional quality such as these, you need less of them to feel satisfied, and that plays a significant role in weight management. Studies have shown that consuming high quality foods helps regulate the metabolism in a favorable way, such as by boosting fat burn and promoting muscle mass.
Research is continuously providing evidence that the more meat (animal protein) we consume the higher our risk for disease. Meat production uses an exhaustive amount of natural resources and therefore, has a significantly negative impact on our planet. In addition, the deplorable, factory-like conditions to which many animals are subjected, are not only cruel and inhumane, but often make their consumption dangerous to our health. It is for these reasons, I recommend eating less meat and when doing so, only from animals that have been grass-fed and pasture raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, to ensure the best quality and health benefits.
Plant foods however, have the opposite effect on the enviornment and health. They not only provide sustainable energy, but they contain hundreds and thousands of phytonutrients and compounds essential for disease and cancer prevention. Consuming a plant-based diet full of color and variety, will help to ensure that you are getting all the necessary vitamins, minerals and even protein to remain healthy and fight disease.
Choose Organic When You Can
I firmly believe that choosing organic foods whenever possible decreases our exposure to the carcinogenic effects of pesticides. It has also been argued that produce grown from organic soil is healthier than those grown in conventional soil, improving the nutritional quality of the food itself. Choosing organic foods when they are in season, can help make organic food more affordable. In addition, choosing organic guarantees that a particular food has not been genetically modified. Genetically modified foods have yet to be proven safe for human consumption and may be responsible for the stunning increase in food allergies and intolerances over the past few decades. Genetically modified foods are banned in many developed countries throughout the world.
Keeping active is also a key component to a healthy lifestyle. But, that doesn't mean you need a gym membership. Being active can involve running, biking, swimming, playing with your kids or walking with your dogs. Staying active helps preserve muscle mass which inevitably helps you burn more calories and keeps you strong, fit and mentally alert. Physical activity has also been shown to improve mood and relieve stress.
The mind plays an important role in staying healthy. Being mindful involves learning how to become aware of the physical hunger and satiety cues that guide your decision to begin or stop eating. Yoga has played an important role in my own self-awareness; what matters most in my life and what makes me happy and satisfied. When we truly connect with the mind and with what drives us to eat, we have better control over our feelings, and therefore, how much we eat and and how best to nourish ourselves. Being mindful also keeps us connected to nature and the environment, providing us with a greater respect for the food we often take for granted.
Grow. Cook. Share.
If I had to summarize from clinical and personal experience what I believe are the most important aspects of nutrition and healthy living, I'd narrow it down to 3 simple things:
Grow...both in your knowledge of food, where it comes from and how it is produced and literally grow your own food whenever possible. Whether its a small herb garden on your terrace or a fruit and vegetable garden in your backyard, it's a great way to connect with real food.
Cook...with fresh ingredients and more often.
Share...the happiness and love that comes from great food and time spent together at the table.