by Alyson Zimmerman, Certified Health Coach
Health is oftentimes something people fluctuate in and out of: “I was healthy last month but this month I’ve been off my game.” After meeting with thousands of clients I am here to tell you that health is not a game, it is a lifestyle. When you expect that you will make “healthy” choices every day you will learn to live a wellness-based life filled with happiness.
That is the key – happiness. How can we be healthy if we are not happy? There is no equation to being healthy, it looks different to all of us and that is why it is often difficult to find what works best for you. The key is to find your happy space that supports your health. Health and joy are intertwined, take this new year as a time to build your own unique version of a healthy lifestyle.
It is important to begin by eliminating any expectations you have for what being “healthy” looks like. This is a definition I recommend you create for yourself based on the habits and choices that make you feel your best. Focus on all things wellness-oriented including movement, meditation, mental health, nutrition, etc. This takes time, don’t expect you will know them immediately.
Once you have a blank slate free from expectations, now you can start using food to enhance wellness. The best thing anyone who is trying to gain back their health can do is start by focusing on whole real foods. When it comes to composing meals, keep it simple. You can do this by making sure you have the following food groups on your plate: proteins, fats, vegetables and fiber.
Proteins are building blocks for body tissues and a major energy source for us. When it comes to protein I like to focus on quality. Try your best to opt for grass-fed/finished beef, pasture raised chicken and eggs, and wild-caught fish. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you can get your protein (if properly combined) from beans, legumes, quinoa, nutritional yeast, chia seeds and more. Cook your protein for the day to your liking and try to have around five ounces per meal.
Fats have gotten a bad reputation over the years. When you pick the right type of fat you are doing yourself a favor! Healthy fats are anti-inflammatory and also provide an important feeling of satiety. Some of my favorite healthy fats are olive and/or avocado oil, avocados, olives, salmon, nuts and seeds, and nut butters. Make sure to incorporate a singular serving size of healthy fats into all meals – in this case, more is not always better.
When it comes to produce I don’t buy everything organic, but I do recommend buying organic specifically for the Dirty Dozen. Buy plenty of produce to use as fresh snacks such as fruit and chopped up veggies. An easy way to get healthy fats into your meals is to cook your vegetables in olive or avocado oil. I recommend making at least half of your plate filled with veggies whether or not they are cooked, raw, blended or juiced. Try your best to eat the rainbow. In this case, more is usually always better.
Focus on eating fiber-rich, gluten-free, complex carbohydrates such as gluten-free oats, buckwheat, brown rice, quinoa, beans and legumes. You can have grains or skip them based on your dietary preferences and blood sugar stability. Nutrient-dense grains in moderation can be important for energy levels and day to day function. Watch your serving sizes and make sure they don’t take up more than one quarter of your plate. Focusing on fiber-rich options will help keep you full, enhance regular bowel movements and nourish your digestive tract.
If you can make an effort to incorporate the following food categories into every meal, you are doing your mental and physical health a huge favor. Taking control of your dietary habits can be time-consuming, but the goal is to turn this into a lifestyle you can maintain. My biggest piece of advice to all my patients is to have an open mind to eating new foods, developing wellness habits and finding joy in your health journey. The goal is not perfection, but small improvements. Keep realistic expectations by your side and remember that wellness is a lifestyle, not a game.