Girl's Guide to Kickass Health
10 Health Improvement Tips That Don't Involve Weight Loss
One very important concept I try to convey all women I work with, both personally and professionally, is that health is not a linear trajectory. Your health status is fluid and very malleable. This is true for people of perfect health or people with chronic disease. And, this is true for women of any size.
In most cases, you don't become unhealthy over night. It is an accumulation of many days, many choices and many actions that collectively effect your health in a negative way. The same is true for improving your health. It is so easy to put off making lasting changes that will positively effect yourself for that day when you have achieved your "perfect body". I have been guilty of this. Back in the days when I lived off of artificial sweetener, diet soda and copious amounts of caffeine I would promise myself that I would take proper care of my body once it was good enough, thin enough, whatever enough. Trust me, that day never comes especially when you have a mindset geared to find flaws like a heat seeking missile. There is no better time to start being kind to your body than right now, with the body you have today. You deserve it!
Here are some real world health improvement tips that can help you achieve radiant health for the body that your have right now!
1. Drink Lemon Water in the A.M.
I start every morning with a huge glass of warm lemon water. This is the easiest thing to do. When I am working I will fill a large mason jar (32 oz.) with luke warm water and juice an entire small lemon into it. I drink it while I get ready. It takes almost no time out of my day.
The WHY: Not only does it ensure that you get in some extra water in the day, but it helps flush out the digestive system Lemon water first things in the morning will stimulate proper stomach acid secretion and bile acid production, and gives your liver (one of the hardest working and most important detoxifying organ in the body) some serious love. It has also been shown to support healthy metabolism! It is a great way to hydrate, and a very soothing activity to add to your routine to help slow down rushed mornings. Drink your lemon water at least minutes before your morning meal, and with a straw to protect your pretty teeth!
2. Eat Fewer Grains.
Even if you are not ready to drink the paleo Kool-Aid, reducing your grain intake can seriously benefit your health. By swapping out rice for cauliflower rice or turning a sandwich into a salad a couple times a week you can add a happy amount of micronutrients to your weekly intake without feeling like you changed all that much.
The WHY: Grains are one of the least nutrient-dense whole foods you can eat. Not only will you be increase the nutrient content of your meals by remove some grain-based foods, but you will also be removing the inflammatory compounds (phytates, lectins and gluten) found in some grains. These inflammatory compounds can negatively effect your gut health because they are quite difficult to digest. Phytates are anti-nutrients, which are not inheritently harmful but can bind to nutrients and cause them to be excreted from the body without absorption. Lectins and gluten are hard to digest and hard to remove from the body. These compounds have been associated with leaky gut syndrome (for more information on leaky gut click here). So much of your health is rooted in your digestive system so give it a break and reduce your grain consumption.
3. Cook More.
This is suggestion is so simple but also so hard to get people to initiate. If you are new to cooking, you will inevitably burn something. You will have a few cooking fails (I still do!). Keep at it. You will learn, and most likely you will learn to enjoy it.
The WHY: Not only is cooking meals at home economical, but it gives you control of the ingredients you choose to use. You can use higher quality cooking oils, or focus on organic or sustainably sources meats if that is a priority for you. Most importantly you will be able to share these skills with those you love. The most beneficial thing you can teach your child about nutrition is how to cook a meal made from whole foods. You don't need to know how much beta-carotene is in that sweet potato. You just need to show your child what food looks like in it's whole form and how to prepare it in a way that is both tasty and nourishing.
4. Eat Your Veggies. Everyday.
Any meal is an appropriate time to eat vegetables. Disregard your mealtime stereotypes. I will roast veggies for breakfast or lunch. This might be unconventional for some people, but I love it and it works for me.
The WHY: Adding veggies is a great way to add bulk to your meal without over doing it on calories. In my opinion, vegetables are the single most important component of a healthy diet. If you consider any diet that has scientific evidence of improving longevity, the one consistent component is the abundance of vegetables. Start small. Start with veggies you like and are comfortable with. Add tomato to your sandwich. Add peppers to your eggs or onion to your burger. Add veggies to one meal every day, and work from there. When I first became interested in nutrition the only vegetables I would touch were romaine lettuce and corn (which isn't a vegetable). We all have to start somewhere. The biggest key to enjoying vegetables is learning how to cook them. If you don't like steamed cauliflower (who does?) than learn to prepare it in a way that doesn't make you gag.
5. Walk Yourself.
You are an animal. You need to be walked too! I don't care if you already workout 6 days a week, this is not an exercise recommendation. This is for your sanity, and to break up all the time we spend sitting at work, or at school, or all the time we spend behind our computers. Take a ten minute walk several times a day. Your body will thank you.
The WHY: Your circulatory system requires muscle contraction for blood return. Your lymph system is entirely fueled by body movement and plays a huge role in your ability to fight infection. It is important to move your body during the parts of the day when you would otherwise be sitting. Get some sunshine, or walk around the mall. Meet a friend for a walk and kill two birds with one stone by nurturing your spirit as well.
6. Use High Quality Cooking Oils.
This is an easy swap since we usually use neutral flavored cooking oils in our meal preparation. Swap our your vegetables oils for coconut or avocado oil, and only use lower temperature cooking oils, like olive oil, for things that require low to medium heat.
The WHY: Corn oil, soybean oil and other vegetables are not healthy, my friends! Vegetable and seed oils are actually quite inflammatory. You won't see this information on television commercials or the back of package food products that claim to be heart healthy but have soybean oil listed as the second ingredient because not only are seed oils very cheap to produce, these crops are also highly subsidized by our government (no, I am not a conspiracy theorist). The Standard American Diet is already very high in omega-6 fatty acids, so consuming high amounts of seed oils can throw off our omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. This ratio is important to support heart and brain health, along with preventing inflammatory diseases (which includes essentially all chronic disease). A good rule of thumb is to choose oils that are made from large fruits, vegetables or nuts (avocados, coconuts, olives, macadamia nuts are all good examples). It would be easy to consume a large amount of a fat from avocados or coconuts in nature so these are the best types of oil to use in your daily meal preparation. Avocado oil, ghee and coconut oil are going to be the best oils to use for higher temperature cooking methods. Macadamia oil is great for mid range cooking temps, while olive oil is better for salad dressing or lower temperature preparation methods.
7. Skip The Body Checks!
If I had a dollar for every time I lifted up my shirt in the bathroom mirror to be sure that stomach is the same size I would be a millionaire a hundred times over. This sounds silly but I know I am not alone. Even after I ditched the daily weigh-ins, I still did the body checks every time I passed a mirror. For one whole week, try to skip the body checks. Don't look at your body other than to make sure your fly is zipped. I promise you by Sunday nothing will have changed, except you will have more time to focus on your hilarious laugh, storytelling ability or your ability to solve a rubix cube. Trust me, your body is the least interesting thing about you.
The WHY: Body checks put too much of a mental focus on what your body looks like at a specific point in time. We all know the scale can lie (#TeamMuscle), but your body checks are misleading too. Our bodies change throughout the day with regular food and fluid intake. Don't let a little bloat be a trigger for emotional eating, or worse, to fuel self-deprecating internal commentary.
8. Surround Yourself With The Right People.
You should surround yourself with women (and men) who inspire you to pursue your dreams, challenge you when you are being a dumbass, and hold you accountable everyday. Your circle shouldn't include people who make you feel like garbage every time you hangout with them.
The WHY: The least valuable friendships are ones that are built around bringing other people down. Mutual hatred of someone is not a good reason to keep someone around. If you find that the only thing you do with one specific person is trash talk people, maybe you need to reevaluate why you keep this person around. Be with people who fuel your fire, support your goals and make you a better individual. This will have obvious benefits like improving your outlook and mindset, but by surrounding yourself with people who want the same things out of life as you do you will discover how easy it is to achieve your goals with the help of consistent environmental support.
9. Support Your Gut Health.
Healing your gut can be complicated but it can be one of the single most beneficial things you can do for your health. Some examples of gut healing foods are probiotic foods (like fermented vegetables, kefir, kombucha), bone broth, collagen powder, prebiotic fibers (fruits and vegetables) and resistant starch (found in green bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes).
The WHY: The seat of you immune system, and your health in general, is in your gut. Your GI tract is responsible for digestion and absorption of nutrients. Issue with your digestion can manifest in many ways: skin (acne, blotches, dryness), stomach issues (bloating, discomfort, gas), hair (dryness, hair loss), nails , hormones, weight changes, etc.
10. Don't Do It If You Hate It.
This is the most straight forward tip I could give anyone but it is also the one I see most people not living by. I am not saying don't try new things or new foods, but if you really don't like something don't do it just because it is healthy. If you hate running, then don't run! If the green powder you put in your smoothie makes breakfast your least favorite meal, then don't put it in your smoothie. Now, there is a difference between not eating mushrooms because you can't do the texture and not eating healthy food because you think healthy food tastes bad (that is a cop out).
The WHY: There is value in finding things that are both healthy and enjoyable. There are a million ways to be healthy. Just because Jane Doe follows a raw vegan diet, goes to spin classes seven days a week, and looks fantastic doesn't mean that would necessarily even work for your unique body. Running five miles a day even though it makes you miserable just because you think it will improve your health will make you associate misery with exercise and you will never be able to maintain this as part of your lifestyle. Making sustainable changes is largely tied to finding your unique way to practice healthy behaviors.
Today is an awesome time to initiate some health promoting behaviors!
I encourage you to start today to make some changes that can help you achieve kickass long-term health. Health and weight loss are not synonymous. Health improvement is about making changes that you can sustain for a lifetime. Your body is going to change as you approach different phases in life. It is your job to embrace these changes and choose to be healthy and happy regardless of your body size.