Monday, September 10, 2012

Living Healthfully: First Steps, Baby Steps

Every few years, something common-fare gets demonized.

Be it a certain food, supplement or exercise program, what's considered healthy one day can likely be considered the devil's tool the next.

When I was growing up during the late '80s and early '90s, fat was the ultimate evil causing obesity and heart disease, hence the low-fat cheeses and chips and baked goods my generation grew up eating.

These days it seems that gluten is the new bad boy on the block.

And while there certainly are people, my youngest included, whose bodies think that gluten is something akin to rat poison, there are others who wouldn't necessarily benefit from removing it. Now low fat? I don't think anyone really benefits from a low-fat, good-fat diet. And though the fat debate is another story in itself, it perfectly paints clear my point:

this healthy living thing? It's confusing.

Several times per week, I field questions from others asking what they can do to lose weight or stop IBS or rid themselves of eczema or avoid colds and flus  -- what specific diets, supplements, pills, herbs and exercise programs will cure or prevent XYZ? What do I recommend?

And in all honesty, I don't; I don't have a standard, across-the-board answer pointing to the perfect diet or pill or herbs or exercise regime.

Mostly because I don't think that there's one diet, one way of eating, one miracle supplement or one miraculous method of exercise that can benefit everyone. Our bodies, our genes, our unique selves, we're all so different that it's simply impossible to recommend one specific nutrition or exercise plan as the key to success for every single person.

My nutritionist jokes that there's only one food that all of the proponents of myriad diets can agree upon as being healthy: kale. {But then again the Inuits probably never ate kale, and they enjoyed long-lasting health, so that probably goes to pot, too.}

But {You knew there was a but, right?} I do believe there are some healthy living steps that can benefit almost anyone who wants to lay a foundation for healthier living; while it's tempting to dive in, making big changes when excitement and motivation are high, sometimes that's not where the journey should begin.

Most often we need to start climbing that mountain by taking baby steps, as those are the steps that pace us and, thus, lead us to success instead of burnout just up the trail.

Eat Local Food
When we focus our feasts around locally grown foods, we not only support our local economy, but we also increase the likelihood of consuming whole, unprocessed foods. Take a trip to your local farmer's market every week this fall and buy a variety of colorful foods that are freshly picked at the peak of the season. Most veggies can be sauteed over a low flame in olive oil or butter atop the stove, tossed into a homemade stew or soup or grilled to perfection.

Week two
Our weekly farmer's market bounty
Eating locally also connects your body to the land by introducing naturally occurring microbes that remain on the food to your body, including beneficial bacteria, viruses and yeasts. This is one reason why natural physicians recommend patients suffering from seasonal allergies consume locally gathered honey -- the consumption helps your body understand the lay of the land, thus giving your immune system a head's up. Read more about eating local and training your immune system in this New York Times article. Want reasons beyond that to eat local? Check out my CBS article.

Consume Pastured Meats, Dairy and Eggs
Sure it's more humane to allow animals to live their lives on pastures, but from the vantage point of growing healthy livestock, it's simply essential. Aside from bathing in golden sunlight, breathing clean air and living amid fresh soil, pasture-raised animals also have access to their natural foods. And that's hugely important for the health of the animal and the health of the person consuming the animal.

Love this pretty pastures lady from Moonique Farm in Mi
This lovely lady provided us with the most delicious raw milk cheese. 
Think about the concept of food chain -- you are what you eat. If an animal consumes grains when it isn't mean to consume them in bulk {like cows}, its digestive system won't function as well, and it's body won't receive essential nutrients. Chickens for example, feast on grains, yes; but they also feed on the little bugs and worms they find in the pasture. And those little buggers are teeming with important nutrients and minerals. Chickens fed a vegetarian diet and confined to indoors don't have access to those rich dietary staples, which means their eggs will also be less dense in nutrients. {Remember: to lose weight, we CANNOT simply restrict calories! We have to provide our bodies with dense nutrients so as to allow fat cells to be converted into more useful cells!} Pasture raised meats, dairy and eggs are much more dense in nutrition, higher in good fats and richer in antioxidants. Read more about the difference between conventional versus pasture-raised meats, eggs and dairy here.

Simply Move
There's no one exercise program that works for a single body all its lifetime let alone a blanket routine that I give as an overarching recommendation. Even as a Curves owner, I still enjoy other fitness routines and classes because at different seasons in my life my body has needed more of one type of movement and less of another. Most recently, I needed to back off of my intense strength-training workouts at Curves as my body has healed and been rebalancing from both gut flora and hormonal imbalances and focus more on core-conditioning centered around stretching and holding poses. As my body has been rebuilding, I've added more days of Curves circuit back in, but I very closely listen to my body and what it needs. If it feels tired or worn down, I almost always opt for a brisk walk or yoga.

Another key to moving our bodies consistently is to enjoy the activities in which we're engaged. We must be mentally aware of what feels good as much as we are physically aware. An exercise routine that is draining and dreaded doesn't give enough physical benefits to outweigh the mental and emotional negativity felt during the training.

In addition to Curves, I often advise women to experiment with yoga, cycling, Pilates, brisk walking with weights, Zumba and The Dailey Method. I'm sure there are other activities that might be as beneficial. Just make sure you enjoy what you are doing and that you are building muscle while working your biggest muscle -- the heart -- well. Anaerobic plus aerobic activity in alternation is like the the pinnacle of the exercise love song, releasing happy endorphins to all who enjoy.

Reduce Sugar Consumption
I know. No, really, I know. It's not easy to reduce our sugar consumption. Not only is sugar delicious, but it's also addictive like alcohol.

And it can be just as damaging to your liver, your immune system, your nervous system and your brain as alcohol or other drugs.

For those who don't know, I went completely cold turkey off of all sugar -- including fruits -- this past January. It was extremely difficult, and such a drastic move sent my body into weeks and weeks worth of detoxing and imbalance. I wouldn't likely do it that way again.

Simply cutting refined sugars, fake sugars and natural sugars alike -- high fructose corn syrup, splenda, agave, honey, cane sugar, sucanat -- and monitoring to see if those sugars show up in your processed foods like ketchup and bread, would be the best start to curbing sugar cravings and mellowing an addiction. Enjoy fruits and higher sugar veggies like sweet potatoes and winter squashes in nice moderation -- a few times per day.

Also, partake in conservative moderation those foods that turn to sugar quickly during digestion -- rice, grain flours, pastas and the like.

Next Monday, I'll share a few more baby steps that can be added in achieving and maintaining a healthy body.

But {You knew there would be another but, right?} in the meantime, pick just one or two steps from this list to take. And then see how your feel.

Every day that you feel better {instead of overwhelmed and stressed and irritable and deprived} acts as fuel for the next leg of the journey up the mountain top.

{My beautiful friend Kelli is starting a new Get Healthy Series for the next 12 weeks, in which she and other friends will be sharing every Monday their journey up the mountain top. Kelli lovingly added me to their group to be an encouragement and resource for those on the journey.}


  1. I love this post, because you hit on some of the most important points when it comes to the debate on dieting and health. I've struggled with the word "diet", because I've watched my dad and other family members try diet after diet that have only provided temporary success. And I've found that the only REAL diet is a healthy combination of good food choices that are right for ME. You nailed this post, Hy. For real!

  2. Hy, this is a great list, and presented so well thought out. Love it!

  3. Hyacynth, this post is so valuable to me! I'm printing it and posting it on my fridge. You give so much good and necessary information. You're motivating me to make some dietary changes in my house. This post is written so well. Thank you!

  4. Well, hi again! Long time, no chit chat. (I know, I know. I'm the one who's been rogue over the summer). Anyway, healthier eating has been a very difficult battle we've been waging at our house. Frankly, I get overwhelmed and discouraged (hello, perfectionist right here), so I really appreciate this simple, graceful post. It is a nice, serving size of information and youcandoitness. Thanks for the pep talk. :)

  5. This is a wonderful post, Hyacynth. I love all of your suggestions and the "buts."

  6. thank you so much for sharing these vitally important tips with us! it's an encouragement to me & to others as well- hugs!

  7. Great post! I like it :-) Totally right about the food trends.


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