Hello best health seekers!
It’s that time of year again. New Year’s is fast approaching and that means assessing how we did in 2018 and planning our goals for 2019. Americans most often resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, get more exercise, and reduce their alcohol consumption – in that order. Don’t let the naysayers fool you into believing that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time – 66% of resolvers are still hanging in at the end of January, and 44% still stick with it after six months. That’s better odds than resolving to do nothing. This year, accomplish all these popular goals by resolving to adopt a whole foods-based diet. It’s the best health goal you can make!
Read on for reasons why you should eat this way and tips for planning and sticking to this life saving diet.
Why You Should Adopt a Whole Foods Diet
Ever heard of Blue Zones? These are populations around the world that regularly live into their 90s in good health. Well-known groups include the Okinawans of Japan, Seventh Day Adventists in America, and Sardinians in Italy, among other groups. What do all these populations have in common? They have diets revolving primarily around whole foods, supplemented with some meat or seafood, though Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarians. Not only do these people live longer and in better health than your average American, they have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, stroke, digestive issues and other diet-related illnesses and diseases.
It’s not just Blue Zones who reap these diet benefits. A lot of Asia and other parts of the world that skip the processed food for whole ingredients and actually cook have better health statistics when it comes to diet-related problems. Research on immigrants from more healthy countries who move to the US show negative changes in their health and weight as they adopt the standard American diet. Maybe we should be adopting their diets rather than the other way around.
Good health is really about food and its quality. In America, we’ve forgotten what food is and what it means to eat well. Not only do Americans cook less than people in the rest of the world but we spend only 27 minutes a day on average preparing food, down from 60 minutes in 1965. The majority of American food is processed and over half of it can be bought at Seven-Eleven. That’s not food. That’s junk that we’re consuming. And we’re buying it pre-packaged which means it comes loaded with preservatives, additives and artificial substances and that it gets stripped of most of its nutrition in the process (if it had any in the first place).
Whole foods are real foods with one ingredient like fruits and vegetables, whole grains like rice or barley, and legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds. Whole foods are not processed or are lightly processed. Because of this, they contain much more nutrition: Think high water content in fruits and vegetables, along with fiber, live enzymes, vitamins and minerals – everything our body needs to repair and maintain itself and stay healthy in the meantime. Strip out these things and your digestive system gets out of whack very quickly and your rates of cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, stroke, etc. start sky-rocketing because not only are you depriving yourself of needed molecules to function, you’re ingesting harmful molecules that actively attack or debilitate your system.
Eating for Life, Not Convenience
When we can buy and afford pre-made meals at stores or restaurants, cooking becomes optional. We don’t need to spend time in the kitchen and preparing food takes time – but that’s the myth the big food industry wants you to believe. I rarely cook a meal that takes 30 min and if it does, it’s in the rice cooker for at most an hour after a few minutes of prep work. And my meals are yummy, hearty and nutritious (read about What Happened When I Gave Up Bread).
“People are starting to realize that unless you cook, you can’t control your diet, and you’re ceding control of the important elements of your life to corporations that really don’t care about your health,” says Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. These are very true words. We should take back our food and our health, even if it means more than 27 minutes a day preparing food.
Think it can’t be done because you’re busy? In places like Japan and Italy, food is an art and a family ritual. Cooking and eating together provides not just a foundation for healthy meals but builds bonds and connections that sitting in front of the TV eating heat and serve “food products” never will. If you look at preparing dinner as a chore, you’ll never enjoy the fun of cooking with your loved ones and counting that time as much-needed socializing time together.
Making the Resolution Work
Many of us know we should eat better and resolve to do so. How can we make a resolution like adopting a whole foods based diet work in the face of busy schedules? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The trick to success is having a concrete plan to play to your strengths and avoid distractions from your goal by your weaknesses. Here are some tips to make the resolution stick.
#1 – Realistic expectations. Anticipate slip-ups. Forgive yourself and carry on. But also plan for situations ahead of time that can cause those slip ups – such as when you’re stressed out, eating at a restaurant or traveling. Have plans in place for these situations so you know what to do when they happen.
#2 – Set mini goals. Setting the bar too high can be demoralizing. Going from the standard American diet to a whole foods diet is quite a lifestyle adjustment. Set baby steps and string them together to achieve your health goal by the end of the year, even if that means starting with one soda a day down from five in the first month, eating grapes at breakfast in another month, and cutting down your frequency of sugary desserts in another. Maybe you can endeavor to learn five new whole foods recipes a month and start putting your favorites into rotation to supplant your worst offenders. Being realistic and realizing the transition is a marathon, not a sprint, will get you over the finish line.
#3 – Manage your cravings. The standard American diet is sugar and processed-carbs based. These are highly addictive substances and as you withdraw from them and switch to fruits, vegetables, legumes and possibly more seafood and less sauced up meat, you will go into withdrawal and bouts of hypoglycemia as your body reacts to having less sugar in its system. Treat the change in diet as kicking an addiction (because you are) and prepare mentally and emotionally for that. Have snacks on hand that will ease or decrease the withdrawal. Nuts, low-fat dairy, lean meats, or beans can help ease the cravings and over a period of a week or weeks, help them cease. Here are some easy swaps to deal with big offenders.
#4 – Control your environment. Stack the deck in your favor by eliminating tempting, fattening treats from your surroundings. Instead, stock the pantry and refrigerator with plenty of healthy foods. Surround yourself with people, places, and things that will help you change your behavior. Avoid those that invite problems, like going to happy hour or eating at a buffet restaurant. Myself, I’m a sugar and carb addict so I avoid the snack and bakery aisles of stores like the plague. Not buying the stuff keeps it off my shelves. Instead, I keep grapes (my favorite fruit) always on hand or have 1-2 pieces of 80% dark chocolate for alleviating the sweet tooth when it hits.
#5 – Reward yourself. Accomplishments deserve rewards. Think of ways to reward yourself for succeeding at mini-goals or bigger successes. This can keep you motivated and proud of your achievements, which will prime your emotions and psyche to keep you moving forward.
Food Is Beautiful
A plethora of amazing, delicious and healthy food exists everywhere. Don’t see switching your diet as punishment. See it as a new and adventurous hobby. Eating a whole foods diet also doesn’t mean never eating chocolate cake again – it just means not eating it every day or every week. This can be said about so many foods we love and crave. The trick is making whole foods the majority of our meals – like two-thirds of it at least. Right now we have our meals upside down in our proportion of processed to non-processed foods, with two-thirds in the processed camp.
For 2019, resolve to eat a whole foods-based diet. Make it doable by planning out the concrete steps you’ll take from month to month to make the transition. Forgive yourself for slip-ups and learn from them. Build in weekly cheat days if need be. No judgment! Do what works for you. Realize that it’s a lifestyle change and will consist of battling sugar and processed-carb addiction and withdrawal but that it’s necessary to safeguard your health. And lastly, celebrate your successes as they occur. They won’t just be the rewards you planned for yourself but changes in your overall health like lowered blood pressure, more even moods, greater energy and vitality, and so many others you won’t anticipate.
Like this article? Share it so that others can learn these health secrets and start living their best lives now.