Simplify to Maximize: Healthy Living 101

January 31, 2011 at 10:31 pm 1 comment

It came to me on my walk the other day that there are two supremely important elements of life that affect everybody on earth, whether they realize it or not: spiritual faith and physical wellness. From these two essentials flow all the rudiments for an enhanced existence. 

If your relationship to God is denied entirely or withering from neglect, the needle on your moral compass will soon be pulled in the direction of worldly values: “me first” attitudes and behaviors; a lust for wealth and property and position to fill the nagging void; seeing morality as situational rather than as a rational set of immutable guidelines, complete with inbuilt natural consequences. 

The life-weary rambler, disappointed by mankind’s hollow promises, knows no true peace of mind. Yet that missing serenity is key to psychological and emotional well-being. 

If your physical health is not optimized by informed choices and consciously designed actions, you are subtracting from your quality of life every year that passes – whether that realization hits you at 20, 40, 60, or 80. It’s hard to feel confident and competent, contented and self-accepting, secure about our future, when we know at our core that we are turning a blind eye to protecting that marvel of physiological design, the human body. We keep silver polished and automobiles tuned-up; don’t we have a moral obligation to preserve the efficient operation of our most precious corporeal gift? 

As the song lyrics go, “You don’t know what you’ve got, until you lose it.” But it’s also true that you won’t know what you’re missing by settling for physical mediocrity until you have experienced the sublime state of optimal wellness. 

As far as the spiritual element goes, how’s this for an uncomplicated summary: Love the Lord and keep His commandments. And for the “how-to,” I can refer you to an excellent, compact, two-part instruction manual called The Bible – amazingly still available all these millennia later (what earthly publisher could have managed that feat?) at your local bookstore. The Master will lead you from there. 

What I can offer here is a bit of help in sorting through the reams of available advice on flourishing, physically. Ergo, a composite, shaped by my own experience, of some keys to good health. Usually packaged in a pink bow for a female audience, my hints are tailored for general consumption, so to speak. This batch comes from the first of a set of weekly emails I’m putting together for the son of a friend, who is looking to optimize his own physical condition – a collection, as I wrote to this young man recently, of timely tidbits to chew on over the week ahead. Bon appetit. 

Chapter One: The Foundations of Good Eating Habits 

-Develop the mindset that eating is primarily about fueling a vigorous, healthy body, not just about tantalizing your taste buds. Seek out sources of foods that do both – high protein, complex carbohydrate, calcium-fortified, whole foods containing good-fats (avocados, nuts, olive oil); basically, things you don’t buy precooked or preprocessed. If it can’t spoil or “go bad,” the gurus say, it’s bad for you. And the big bonus is that once your body has its nutritional needs met, it will stop craving the empty-calorie junk. 

-Keeping your blood sugar on an even keel will also help keep irrational cravings at bay. Basic principles of healthful food choices apply here:

#Fill half your plate with unadorned vegetables and fruit, then squeeze in 6-8 ounces of pure protein (a nice baked chicken breast, anyone?) and a serving of complex carbs, like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or a baked potato with the skin.

#Learn to love beans, as in a nice homemade pot of chili made with lean ground beef, or a big, steaming kettle of navy bean soup.

#Always choose nutrient-rich, high-fiber, low-sugar whole grains over white varieties. They digest more slowly, keeping you satisfied longer, and they won’t spike your blood sugar and set you up for that after-spike crash and a yen for a bag of M&Ms. 

-Drink water and tea* throughout the day: when you first get up; sitting at your desk during the workday; before your lunch hour walk or workout; before every meal. Ice water is supposed to rev up the metabolism and water before meals gives you a head start on feeling full before you have a chance to overeat. Also, being fully hydrated before exercising improves the performance – and therefore the benefits – of a workout. (*If you like them flavored, try a few drops of stevia and/or a squirt of citrus juice.)

-Train yourself in the fine art of informed carbohydrate selection. Complex carbohydrates – think oatmeal vs Cocoa-Puffs – can fill you up, provide energy for physical exertion, preserve muscle mass, and even release fatty acids that encourage fat-burning. Any decent bookstore will stock several handy guides to choosing the good grains and fruits and vegetables that are our allies in the war against the Triple-Bacon-Cheeseburger Specials of the world. Or buy a copy of Bob Greene’s The Best Life Diet, which eases you through stages of incremental changes to painlessly carve out a new, healthier way of taking care of yourself. A darned good twenty-dollar investment, n’est pas? 

-Sink your teeth into an apple before you sit down to a meal. Apples are a great source of fiber and high quality complex carbohydrates. The natural sugars can take the edge off your appetite immediately, and your stomach starts out semi-full of good stuff so there’s less room for the not-so-good stuff. This guideline can be generalized, of course: an orange or banana will work; a large mixed-greens salad with a spritz of lemon and olive oil dressing might be a good choice if you’re eating out – in which case you’ll want to ask the waiter to box up half your meal to take home, and you can chow down on what’s left. The half-portion should be plenty, ’cause you ate that big, juicy apple before dinner. Still hungry? Have another piece of fruit! 

-Remember that calories consumed on Saturday and Sunday count just as much as those taken in on weekdays. It’s tempting to loosen the reins over the weekend, but you can undo five days of “being good” with a single all-you-can-eat pizza buffet or one nachos-and-beer Super Bowl party. It’s really not worth it for the guilt hangover you’ll have come Monday morning. Consider keeping things on-track by hosting weekend events at your house, where you can take charge of the munchies. 

-Add good-quality snacks to your pantry and remove their over-processed counterparts from your shopping list – and from your vocabulary. Say, grab a handful of almonds and a sparkling water with lime and put the bag of Lays and the six-pack of Cherry Coke in the food shelf bin; carve up a few fresh pears, pour a little apple juice over them, sprinkle with cinnamon, and bake at 350° for 30 minutes or so, then donate the Ho-Hos to your nephew for his next science experiment; pop up some popcorn in the air-popper or microwave, then drop that Cheetos bag…well, maybe right into the trash can, just to be sure it doesn’t hurt anybody else. 

Next up: Working Out – It’s Not Just for Gym Rats and Cardio Bunnies

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Keith Wissman  |  January 31, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    all well said and very true. this info has been my guideline for almost a year now after falling off the wagon for about five years.

    the cravings still come and usually go but my rule of thumb is that if the craving lasts more than three days, give into it. so last friday evening i had a double whopper from burger king. half way through it i remembered again why i don’t eat one much more often they every two years or so…. but those cocoa puffs – mmmmmm

    Reply

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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