Thanks to the years I spent in California where wellness was a part of social currency, I have since been relatively health-conscious. But, also thanks to those years in California and later in Manhattan, I developed a huge appreciation for yummy food and was also a busy working mom, so my willingness to eat super clean and workout regularly would only go so far…especially at work where I seemed to lose all control when pressed for time or stressed. Really, if there was a pile of free bagels or a leftover cheese tray from a client meeting I was like a moth to a flame. FREE CHEESE, PEOPLE! RUN!
But at the same time I had struggled with effectively managing stress, sleeping well, chronic nasal congestion, and often experienced inflammation which I could feel in my finger joints especially. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I knew that those symptoms probably weren’t good indicators of overall health especially after I turned that corner into my 40s and was advised by many friends that these ailments will likely become far more prevalent. Super!
With that foundation of food love and ongoing quest for improved personal wellness, I enrolled in an “Integrative Nutrition Health Coach” school because I’m fascinated by the impact that food has on your overall wellbeing and wanted to get a more formal education other than just reading blogs and books…which is still great too (case in point) – but I wanted to dig deeper and see where it takes me. This combination of growing knowledge and desire to correct some of those nagging ailments have helped me make some meaningful lifestyle changes that have improved my wellness so significantly that I don’t even crave the bad foods I used to, and an unexpected side effect has been a truly transformed physique and desire to workout thanks to my increased energy.
My health coach program teaches that everyone is different; your body will respond positively and negatively to different foods than mine will. But, what they are clear on is that “diets” don’t work – and I believe that to be true based on what I have experienced in my own life. Perhaps you have as well?
I also believe that mindset is a huge influence in any willingness to change eating habits and shift to a well-intended lifestyle. For me, a goal of reducing my clothing size was NEVER going to keep me motivated to workout 6 days a week or to skip the cheese course. No way. But, my desire to sleep, breathe, feel less anxious, and slide my wedding ring over my finger without running my hands under cold water WAS.
Mindset and motivation influences are different for everyone. Maybe fitting in those skinny jeans IS your effective goal. Go get ‘em! But, I would also argue that if you make some committed changes in your life for more internal reasons rather than external (especially after you reach your skinny jean goal), you may see your long-term commitment to a more wellness-based lifestyle click. It certainly has for me.
Again, with the context that everyone’s microbiome (which protects us against germs, breaks down food to release energy, and produces vitamins) is different, and what works for me may be different for you – I’ll go ahead and share some of the key food-related changes I’ve made which have improved my health markers at my annual physical, improved my overall mental health and happiness, and finally…an unintended but lovely result, is being down 2 dress sizes just in time for summer! YEAH! SHOPPING SPREE! I’ll caveat again that my positive outcome wasn’t just about the food lifestyle changes I’ve made, but did also come with working out in some form at least 30 minutes 5-6 days a week (Peloton cycle, Yoga, and walking are my favorites). But, I do these activities for the purposes of being mentally and physically healthy – not a pursuit of specific weight loss, which is important for my motivation. And, in changing the ingredients in my meals, I found my energy and ability to complete my workouts vastly improved.
So, here have been my food-specific lifestyle changes:
- I cut 95% of my dairy consumption. I found that when the experts say that dairy often drives nasal congestion and other ailments they weren’t lying – it was true for me. It was a change I have resisted for a loooooooong time (remember my love of cheese?), but I gave it a 3 week test a few months ago and the results were so great in my case that I have happily made the change and honestly, once I broke the habit, I don’t miss it. Now, I’m not without exception…I still don’t think my coffee is drinkable without a touch of cow’s milk – I really need that perfect creamy brown color, but I no longer have that cheese and cracker snack that was my afternoon go-to (I’ve replaced it with nuts), I skip that afternoon latte which was filled with sugar anyway, and I choose unsweetened plant-based milks for my smoothies, overnight oats, and anywhere else I had been over-indexing on dairy. If you watch the documentary “What the Health?” on Netflix, that will also fast-track your desire to cut the dairy. [Insert the green emoji face here.]
- I prioritize the healthy, fresh foods I know I need to eat each day to crowd-out the bad impulses. Based on what I know now, I wouldn’t say my diet was very balanced for most of my life even though I thought I was eating healthy. Now, I ensure each plate I eat is primarily veggies, I eat small portions of whole grains…and when I do they are gluten-free options, I choose fruits in my smoothie that have lower sugar content than others (wild blueberries vs. a banana), and I eat nuts or an organic nut-butter (in a glass container, not plastic) with an apple when I need a snack instead of processed crackers. I’m still working to get better at prepping those fresh, farmers market finds on Sundays so I grab those on the go during the week rather than grabbing things that come in packages when I’m inevitably starving and lacking restraint. I’ll also say that I really cut booze too for all the same reasons – I’m not a saint about it, but I feel better for it. With these changes, I am not hungry or left for want – I really eat whatever I want, whenever I want as long as it’s fresh, not processed, or full of sugar – and I feel happier, more energetic, and stronger overall having made those better choices!
- I cut way back on animal-based protein sources. There are a lot of fad diets out there that promote protein! protein! protein!…and that’s cool, but too much of the high-fat, animal-variety hasn’t proven good for me (as advised by my doctor). As an animal lover, I also don’t like the idea of how most cows, pigs, chickens and alike are treated anyway (of course, there are some small, local farms out there that are the exception), but I have shifted to more plant-based protein options that taste best to me (but sorry, not a soy fan), do eat organic eggs from happy and healthy roaming chickens, and have worked fresh and wild-caught seafood choices onto my plate with greater frequency. When I have indulged in a grass-fed steak or lamb (I cut pork completely for a variety of reasons), it’s in a very small portion (not the main event), and it really is for a special occasion.
So as I said…we’re all built differently and as such, some foods that don’t work for me may work for you. But, I encourage you to experiment with fresh, whole, low-sugar, organic and unprocessed foods – I think that’s pretty safe advice. Listen to and trust your gut and your knowledge in what is a better choice over something else – your body will usually show you the right way. Commit to the positive lifestyle changes for your mind and body…not necessarily your vanity. Sure, this all may be advice you’ve heard before…but if you haven’t already, now it’s time to REALLY try it. Let this post be your tipping point and join me!