Self-care revisited: Healthy Nutrition
Aug 21, 2021
We are on part 3 of a 4-part series on getting back to the basics of self-care. The first week, we covered its importance and the objections. Last week we looked at restorative sleep. This week we tackle nutrition.
The amount of contradictory nutrition information out there is dizzying. I’m going to give you my best tips I’ve collected from resources I consider reliable. Also, I recommend any of Harvard’s Lifestyle Medicine courses as they are amazing. (And, no, I have no affiliation and do not benefit from plugging them.)
What are your obstacles to good nutrition? Usually, they involve 1. Lack of time. 2. Lack of ideas. 3. Expense. 4. Diverse family preference. All of them are real, but none of them are insurmountable. Your brain and body need high-quality fuel to fire on all cylinders. So, it's genuinely worth the effort of brainstorming these issues to optimize your health and function. I promise you if you really open to looking for solutions, you will find the ones that work for you.
I’m not going to cover all those solutions or all the food science today. I’m just going to give practical tips to get you started. Consider a maximum of one or two you'd like to try out for yourself. Remember, small sustainable steps over time lead to amazing healthy habits with a big impact.
- Portions. Start with a salad plate instead of the American dinner plate, and you'll be on your way to acing the portion goal. Also, don't automatically go for seconds. Give your brain and stomach time to get on the same page before you decide.
- Intuitive Eating. There is a lot written about this but learning to really tune into your hunger cues (instead of neglecting them when you're busy or misinterpreting stress as hunger) is another key step. This goes hand-in-hand with #3.
- Hunger Scale. This has been used in various forms and is vital to intuitive eating. Dr. Ali Novitsky is the one that initially taught me this, so I've adopted the one she taught. If we put hunger on a scale from -10 to +10 where -10 is being so hungry you’d dig up worms and eat them and a +10 is being so full that you have to unzip your pants, feel like you may throw up, and not be able to move, then we define 0 as content - not hungry or full. Most people do well learning to tune in and eat at a -3 or -4 and eat to a +3 or +4. It keeps you from getting so hungry that you eat the first thing in sight and overeat. If you struggle with missing your cues, then set a timer and have an easy healthy snack ready to go. This takes time. You have to relearn what works for you, so it’s like an ongoing experiment until you dial it in. Be patient.
- Proportions.I like simply seeing the proportions that are balanced rather than weighing my food or spending too much time on food labels. My favorite visual is Harvard’s Healthy Plate (a modification of the CDC’s healthy plate). Aim for
- ½ of the plate to be veggies (or fruit) p.s. potatoes go under starch/grain portion
- ¼ of the plate to be whole grains
- ¼ of the plate to be lean proteins
- Get in some healthy fats (for me, that's when I'm cooking the veggies or proteins or drizzled on top)
I still aim for this proportion when making casseroles, stir-fries, or scrambles as well.
- Choose whole foods over processed ones. The more food we eat that's closer to how it's found in nature, the better.
- Mindful eating. Take 5 minutes to eat without multitasking. Appreciate the food/taste/fuel – all the labor that went into it. Chew more. Eat slower. Take a minute for gratefulness and savoring it. It's a great break for your brain and body, and you'll eat a more appropriate amount while enjoying it more.
- Planning and Prepping are your friends. It can be a detailed meal plan for the week you make and prep on Sunday night, or it can be stocking up on the basics from which you can create various meals. At least plan the night before the next day's meals. Decision fatigue is real, and it'll be easier to fuel your body the way you want with a plan in place.
- Back-ups on hand. Stashing your favorite snacks/breakfasts/lunches in your backpack, locker, car, and clinic so that when unexpected events occur, you don't end up eating something you don't want to be part of your plan.
- Avoid food restrictions. Restrictions increase cravings – it's human nature. Decide your day-to-day foods that you like and that meet your long-term health goals. Decide your occasional foods that you enjoy but wouldn't line up with your long-term goals if eaten all the time, and decide how often you'll have those. (For me, it's weekly pizza.) Decide your fun, celebratory foods and what counts as a celebration. (If I ate cake, doughnuts, and pie every time someone in my office was celebrating something, well, that just wouldn’t line up with my goals.)
- Little effort, a lot of gain. It takes little time and effort to make extra protein or grains to be repurposed or used as left-overs as a time-saver when you're cooking.
- Home cooking is almost always healthier than eating out – even for the same food.
- Stay hydrated.
- Pair your carbs with lean protein and/or healthy fats to avoid glucose and insulin spikes.
- Aim for 80% of your meals to live up to your standard – this helps you avoid black or white thinking and giving up on yourself. You need to give yourself grace when you don’t eat according to plan and just make the next best decision. Even a 20% increase in whole foods during the week is better than no increase.
- When you realize you are eating from a place of stress, find something healthier and review my blog on feeling your feelings to keep from eating them.
This is a partial list. Pick one or two things you don't already make that sound interesting; try them on for a bit. If you like them, keep them, then you can add more. If it doesn't work for you, move on to some of the others.
Network with your friends to get their day-to-day hacks. I’ve listed a couple of mine.
Daily Harvest, Freshly, and other delivery services offer a range of healthy premade meals.
Salad bars at grocery stores have already done a lot of veggie prep for you when time is limited.
Boiled eggs can be done ahead of time and are easy to grab and go.
Cans of low-sodium Progresso soups have a range of nutrients and can be quite filling.
Throw in a handful of spinach and any cut-up veggies you have to your egg scramble or soup.
A couple of handfuls of spinach and arugula, 1/3 a can of chickpeas, some kalamata olives, and feta make a quick, nutritious, delicious meal – add some avocado oil and balsamic to top it off.
Use frozen veggies for stir-fries with various sauces and proteins. They're quite easy and inexpensive.
Use leftover protein heated up on top of your salad base and add in nuts, seeds, fruit, and/or grains and olive oil/balsamic vinegar. There is just something about heated-up toppings that enhances the appeal of a salad.
Air-fryer your frozen shrimp and broccoli with some seasonings thrown in and pair with some leftover grains.
Use the packets of quinoa and brown rice to heat quickly and some rotisserie chicken. I like to add some diced tomatoes, various other veggies on hand like cut-up bell-peppers, Cajun seasoning, and a little grated cheese as a rice bowl.
I keep dried fruit and nuts to eat for a preround snack.
Apples and Nut Butter; Cheese and Apples; carrots/cauliflower/broccoli/bell pepper and hummus packs.
Make a list you can reference when you can’t think of anything. Find what works for you and commit to your future health and current functioning to fuel your body well.
In 2 weeks, we will look at movement!
Have a joy-filled and nutritious week!
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