Spring clean your diet

April 14, 2013

For 62% of Americans, spring cleaning is an annual tradition, according to the American Cleaning Institute. While you’re washing your windows and sprucing up the house, take some time to spring clean your diet. Eliminate the obstacles standing between you and a healthy, well-balanced, nutrition-packed, easy-to-manage lifestyle.

The first place to start is the kitchen itself. Is this space well organized with room to work or are the counters cluttered with a week’s worth of mail and crammed with appliances you never use? Is the décor bright, fresh and inviting? You don’t need to remodel the kitchen, but go through and see what changes can be made to create a room that is pleasant and appealing. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Clear the countertops so you have ample work surface
  • Eliminate any unused, unwanted appliances, gadgets, knick-knacks from counters, cupboards, drawers and closets
  • Store frequently used items where you can get to them easily
  • Set up a small CD/MP3 player so you can listen to music
  • Make sure lighting is sufficiently bright
  • Wipe down walls and cupboards
  • Invest in tools and supplies needed for healthy meal preparation: non-stick cookware, a solid cutting board, decent knives, microplane zester, measuring utensils, salad spinner, blender, steamer.Tip 2

Next, purge your fridge and cupboards. Throw away processed food, outdated items and anything with freezer burn. Wipe down the inside of both the freezer and refrigerator, and wash out the bins.

Now that you’ve spring cleaned your cooking environment, you’re ready to stock up on healthy cooking staples. Here are a few basics to keep on hand:

Extra virgin olive oil
Vinegar (white, apple cider, balsamic)
Peanut butter
Spices (crushed red pepper, cumin, Italian seasoning, cinnamon, ginger)
Vanilla extract
Canned tomatoes
Reduced-sodium broth
Canned beans
Brown rice
Oatmeal
Honey/Natural sweetener
Dried fruits
Nuts
Skim milk
Eggs
Cheese (feta, cheddar, Parmesan)
Yogurt
Frozen vegetables/fruit
Lemons

The last phase of spring cleaning your diet is to evaluate what you’re actually putting in your mouth. What food/beverage items should be ousted and replaced with better alternatives? Don’t overwhelm yourself. Here are three easy swaps:

  • Replace soda, kids’ packaged drinks, and maybe even fruit juice if it’s being guzzled by the glassful, with water. For tips on how to consume more water, click here.
  • Exchange all bleached-flour products with whole-grain alternatives.
  • Trade sugary desserts for fresh fruit, frozen yogurt or home-baked goodies.

To put a real shine on your spring cleaning efforts, set aside some time to revamp your eating and cooking mindset and habits. Make nutrition a priority by practicing making healthier decisions. Develop a list of go-to “healthy” meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Set yourself up for success by keeping fresh, filling, flavorful foods available and ready to enjoy.

Are there other changes that could be made during spring cleaning for a better diet and healthier life? I welcome your tips and suggestions.

Image courtesy of Digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

I heard a radio interview with Roy Baumeister, author of  Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, on NPR over the holiday weekend. Baumeister made some interesting comments about how to “use” willpower in order to stick to all those New Year’s resolutions or to achieve other goals.  So let’s kick off 2012 with a few of his suggestions on how to harness your self-control for success.

* You only have a limited amount of willpower. This means you have to be careful how you ration it. Trying to change five new behaviors simultaneously equates to doling out bits and pieces of willpower, as well as more rapidly depleting your “pool of power.”

SECRET FOR SUCCESS: Avoid multiple failures by conserving your willpower and focusing on one change/goal at a time.

* Willpower can be developed  like a muscle. Baumeister’s research with co-author John Tierney revealed that people can strengthen willpower through simple self-control activities such as sitting up straight, tracking daily food intake, saying “yes” instead of “yeah” or an other task that requires a mental effort.

SECRET FOR SUCCESS: Find small ways to exercise self-control to improve your willpower over all.

* Willpower can be overused and fatigued. Researchers refer to the process of exhausting one’s mental energy as “ego depletion.” When a person is experiencing ego depletion, it is more difficult to make decisions, focus attention, cope with frustration, resist cravings and apply effective self-control. Ego depletion can be avoided by limiting willpower drains and, surprisingly, Baumeister found that a (modest!) sugary pick-me-up can re-energize a depleted ego.

SECRET FOR SUCCESS: Not everything has to be a test. To avoid unnecessary willpower drains, put snack foods out of sight, plan your daily meals and exercise ahead of time, stay away from vending machines, avoid extreme dieting, etc. Also, confront your biggest challenges when you are fresh and energized, such as hitting the gym first thing in the morning.

For many people, willpower seems to be an elusive character trait, possessed by a few lucky souls. Baumeister’s research and suggestions demonstrate that by understanding the dynamics of self-control, we can all become more successful in whatever goals we undertake.

 

 

 

 

 

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The “F” Word

August 28, 2010

Fat.

It’s the “F” word that’s almost as bad as the other “F” word.  What other three-letter combo is equally  insulting, humiliating, embarrassing and derogatory?

It is more painful to admit you are fat than it is to squeeze a size 9 foot into a size 4 stiletto. Believe me, I’d rather work a 12-hour shift at Denny’s in those shoes than apply the “F” word as a self-descriptor.

Yet, whether you avoid referencing the issue all together or apply more gentle euphemisms like pleasantly plump, stocky, chunky, overweight, large, heavy, portly or big boned, the fact remains that extra poundage = fat.

While I would have been mortified to hear someone call me fat or even use that phrase myself 70 pounds ago, I’ve discovered a degree of satisfaction in being able to say out loud, “I was fat.” It’s a relief to no longer have to tiptoe around the elephant in the room, and it’s liberating to finally be able to share the gut-wrenching impact being fat has on one’s whole existence.

While it may seem a small feat, being able to vocalize the “F” word, what it really means is that I’m no longer inhibited by the label or the weight. But even more powerful than being able to say the “F” word is being able to say the “W” word: I was fat.

di·et [dahy-it]

–noun
1. a highly restrictive, regimented eating program, often viewed as punitive, consisting of bland, tasteless food items that create feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration.

–verb
1. the act of limiting one’s nutritional intake to food items 1) comprised of at least 90 percent water, 2) resembling sticks and twigs, or 3) belonging to the Sylvilagus Transitionalis (aka Cottontail Rabbit) food group.

Origin: Root word “die.” English for “cease to live; become indifferent;  to suffer as if fatally.”
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Okay, so maybe Webster and I have a difference of opinion on the definition of diet. But I doubt the lexicographer ever struggled with the temptation of Krispy Kreme donuts or worried about how he looked in a two-piece.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the word DIET is simply DIE with an extra letter. And I believe whoever thought up this word added “T” because dieting fits the misery of death to a tee.

That’s why dieting is counterproductive to anyone looking to shed a few LBs. When a person is overweight, I contend that they already carry an element of misery deep down in their psyche. Dieting just reinforces all of the negative feelings associated with being fat – embarrassment, lack of control, frustration, anger and low self-esteem. When you diet, you put yourself on restriction – the same thing we do to awful, wicked children who throw rocks through patio door walls or kick the cat or ruin the family portrait by picking their nose.

The power of perspective is an amazing thing. Rather than looking at your new eating habits as a diet, think of it as a never-ending splurge. Create a new approach to food and eating that makes mealtimes feel like an indulgence, a delightful gastric interlude, cuisine crafted to satisfy your emotional and physical needs.

Before you start snickering, let me give you an example of how this works.

You toss together some iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, a few narrow slices of deli ham and spritz it with lemon juice, feeling very virtuous about the healthy salad you’re having for dinner. Yet an hour later you’re elbow deep in the freezer looking for a wayward fudge pop or pillaging the kids’ stash of lunch treats.

That’s because you were feeding your scale, not your soul.

My version of salad goes something like this: organic baby spinach, juicy sliced strawberries, shredded deli chicken, toasted almonds and a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette.  Toss gently. Serve on fine china with half a glass of cabernet sauvignon.

Sure, my salad takes a little more creativity and some of the ingredients might be a bit pricy, but look what I’m serving up: a meal that says I’m worth the time, effort and money. A well-nuanced, flavorful, satiating, healthy meal that fulfills my hunger and my spirit.

So, my friend, ditch the diet. Instead, let your meals and food choices be an expression of your worth, in investment in your health and measure of your commitment to changing your life permanently. In the words of Cajun chef, Justin Wilson, “I garontee, nothing tastes as sweet as success!”