First, I’d like to clarify what a diet and lifestyle mean to me… and dictionary.com…
|Diet||Selection of food, designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition.|
|Lifestyle||Habits and attitudes that constitute the mode of living for an individual or group.|
Although Google will return plenty of suggestions for ‘quick/easy weight loss’ (many of which might actually help us ‘lose weight’ fast, but are unsustainable and dangerous), weight is only one aspect of our health and building a healthy lifestyle is not easy or fast.
As creatures of habit, the most important facet of achieving and maintaining a healthy body is building a lifestyle that is sustainable for us mentally and physically. The following principals are what I’ve found to be the most vital aspects of living a healthy lifestyle.
The Compound Effect on Health
As with most things in life people want immediate results and the appearance and feeling of a healthy lifestyle is no exception (i.e. think tortoise and the hare). However, the process of building a healthy lifestyle is a lifelong process where success is determined by small decisions we make. As a result, being able to substitute a dietary vice (i.e. peanut butter) with a healthier alternative (i.e. PB2) is a fantastic way to diminish our slip ups while keeping us balanced–and a pretty cool blog idea if I may say so myself.
To apply the compound effect I’ll use a personal story:
A friend of mine is a sucker for gas station coffee and every so often he’ll mix ¼ of his favorite cappuccino with a coffee for road trips. Even though the cappuccino is primarily sugar and tacked on another 200 calories this isn’t anything he should be worried about.
Because it’s not a part of his daily habit and it helps keep him balanced.
If this became a weekly routine he’d spend $14 and consume roughly 1,400 extra calories. Compounded over a year, that’s $728 a year on coffee and an additional 72,800 calories and considering a pound of fat is made up of 3,500 excess calories he’d have to find a way to shed an additional 21 pounds a year.
Healthy People Eat for Energy and Drink for Hydration
Water is free, plays a critical role in every bodily function, and is one of the easiest changes to make in our quest for a healthy body. Logically, we’d think drinking more water is a no-brainer, yet the correlation between sugary drinks and obesity continues to strengthen.
In a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, participants who cut 100 daily calories from liquid had a higher rate of weight loss (in a 5:1 ratio) than those cutting 100 daily calories from food.
An explanation for the results may lie in the act of chewing, which WebMD believes to provide a greater feeling of satiety in humans. The study suggests we are more likely to account for added calories in food as opposed to pop, juice, and other sugary drinks because solid foods are more likely to make us feel “full” when compared to calories from ’empty’ energy sources (i.e. pop, juice, etc).
These ’empty’ foods fail to meet our vitamin and nutrient needs; forcing the body to continue sending hunger signals despite the fact the ’empty’ foods provided substantial calories.
Cooking is Essential to a Healthy Lifestyle
Being able to cook is one of the most important skills a person can have in life. The ability to control the quality and quantity of foods we consume is an obvious benefit, but as I continue to learn more about cooking I’ve noticed improvements in:
- Creativity and energy
- Appreciation for food
- Financial savings
- Friends (who doesn’t love a good cook)
For first-time chefs the thought of cooking can be intimidating, but in today’s age of technology there are countless online resources (i.e. YouTube) for learning the basics of cooking. I cannot emphasize how beneficial being a self-sufficient cook can be for health. Beginning to cook is a personal investment in our health and the only way to learn is to get the dishes dirty.
Will-Power Sets Healthy People Apart
Will-power is a mental muscle that helps us control our impulses and actions and unlike other situations in life, the strength of our will-power grants us complete control over the food we consume. This makes personal accountability for decisions the most important factor in building a healthy lifestyle and because will-power is a muscle there are two important things to keep in mind:
1) Muscles gain strength with exercise and each rep counts, especially when it comes to food choices
If I find myself craving the instant gratification of a less than healthy treat I will drink a glass of water and ask myself whether I’d eat some raw vegetables. By asking myself if a plate of raw broccoli and carrots is something I’d eat right now I force myself to decide if I’m truly hungry or simply craving sugar and fat. After a while this will become second nature and we’ll find ourselves snacking on more vegetables and only when we’re actually hungry.
2) Muscles get exhausted and slip ups are inevitable
One of easiest ways to avoid exhaustion is avoid storing the foods and drinks that test my will-power in the house. For example, if I have a jar of peanut butter in my cupboard it’ll be gone in two days. If I don’t buy peanut butter then I find myself consuming my vegetables in healthier ways such as baked or roasted.
Calories – Quantity and Quality
Consuming fewer calories than the body expends will create weight loss and any type of weight loss requires us to know how many calories our body requires to support its current state (which is easily calculated here). However, where most people fall short in body maintenance efforts arises from our terrible ability to estimate portions. Which is why I, and The NY Times, strongly recommend buying a food scale.
Tracking food intake may seem tedious at first, but with great resources like MyFitnessPal–which you can read about here–we can quickly develop a database of foods we can track. In addition, a food scale provides a far more consistent measure than volume units (i.e. TBSP, Cup, etc.):
- Making us a better chef by reducing variation in recipes
- Providing an accurate picture of our daily calorie consumption, which also increases self-awareness of our consumption habits
Arguably as important as tracking and measuring our calories is being conscious of the quality of calories we consume. Many people experience confusion and frustration with their health goals when–despite eating fewer calories–they remain unsatisfied with their body image and overall feeling of health. A grossly simplified explanation to this issue is–despite having the same ‘calorie’ count–the body processes and stores foods differently based on their chemical compositions.
I’ve adopted a hybrid food-selection-model that focuses on the body’s reaction to foods with gluten and high glycemic values. Quality foods incorporated in these diets provide higher nutritional value by delivering more nutrients for fewer calories. For a general overview of these principles with less biological and chemical terminology please read Simple Science Fitness.
A healthy lifestyle is a lifelong journey where our body’s health is reflection of each decision we make.
Better health starts with water. If we eat for energy and drink for hydration we’ll cut a substantial amount of calories out of our diets and fuel our body with its most important resource.
Cooking is one of the most important investments we can make in our long-term health. No matter the skill in life, we’ve all got to start somewhere.
Determination and will-power help us control our impulses. Preventing temptation in our surroundings and indulging with moderation is the key to maintaining this mental muscle.
Evaluating both the quantity and quality of the food we eat is an easy way to promote a healthy body.