Friday, July 26, 2013

What Eating Healthy Means (For Me)

One of my resolutions this month is to eat healthy. I left this vague on purpose because, to be honest, my idea of "eating healthy" gets redefined almost constantly. This year I've been suddenly super-motivated to study nutrition more, and so I've been thinking about it a lot and reading a few books on the subject. I've also been to see doctors more this year than I had probably been in the ten years before that. Each book and person and expert has a slightly different approach to nutrition.

Here's the deal: I now know the consequences of eating Western. I know that the diet I ate for years, which I thought was relatively healthy, really wasn't very healthy at all. And now that I'm an adult, I'm realizing that not too many years from now, I'm going to be facing the consequences of whatever goes into my body right now. I don't want to end up regretting eating too much candy, ice cream, or even too much white bread or red meat.

But I'm also unwilling to completely change my diet. It's unrealistic to think that I could spend the rest of my life eating meals of quinoa, Greek yogurt, and cauliflower. I like healthy food, but I don't like the idea of entirely giving up the things I love, which have become ingrained into my life, culture, and even myself. I don't like the idea of eating a diet so strict that I can't enjoy a hamburger with family members or friends.

I want to eat "healthy," but I also want to eat "normal." I want a balance. So for the past month, I've been trying to do that, and I'm hoping to keep up my efforts after July is over.

So I've been sort of cherry-picking the advice I want to take from the books I've been reading. Opt for a hunter-gatherer-style diet? No, thanks. Eat more fruits and vegetables? That, I can do. Eat fish twice a week? I really don't like most fish. Avoid processed and fast foods? I'm on board.

I've been sort of inching my way into a healthier diet. At first, I could hardly even think of not eating meat every day. Now, meat appeals to me so much less than a perfectly-seasoned, crisp-tender zucchini.

Here have been the basic guidelines I've been doing my best to follow since day one: Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Eat when I'm hungry, and stop when I'm full (or almost full). Eat breakfast. Avoid sweets.

Of course, I haven't done as well even on these as I would hope, but I've been getting steadily better, to my surprise and gratitude. Usually, I'm really gung-ho about a certain diet (note: not a weight-loss diet, just a particular way of eating that I feel is healthier) at first, and then I eventually taper off and get steadily worse until I just abandon it altogether. I'm really happy that I'm finally actually improving with time when it comes to how I'm eating, even though I've only been doing this for about a month (but really, I've been trying to eat healthier for a few months now).

This past Monday, the 22nd, I decided to abstain from sweets for the rest of the month. I know it's not a lot of time, but I have a serious sweet tooth and I have a hard time going even a week without a cookie. So far, it's been going great.

Next week, I'm planning all vegetarian meals. That's right. No meat. But I have to say this: It's not because I'm against meat. Far from it! I doubt I will ever be a vegetarian, because it can be hard to keep up with important nutrients without eating meat. However, from the reading I've done, I've also learned that while meat can be important to keeping up good health, I really don't need a lot of it. I certainly don't need to eat it every day. It would probably be best if I ate it once or twice a week (which I learned from one of the books I read is called a "flexitarian"--it's something I'm considering trying). I've also discovered that I enjoy vegetarian meals just as much as meals with meat in them (which definitely wasn't true two years ago). I'm not speaking for everyone, but I don't believe that my body needs much meat.

I promise I'm almost done with this rant--but one more thing: I'm still really unsure of how I feel when it comes to supplements. Obviously, they can be good, but I also know that they can sometimes give too much of a nutrient, that nutrients are not as easily absorbed from supplements as they can be from food, and that sometimes people taking supplements begin to think that they don't need to eat food with those nutrients. But then again, it does seem like supplements can be a good thing. There's only one supplement that I'm seriously considering taking at this time in my life (which I want to research a little more first), and that's fish oil. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm really not into eating fish. I eat it every once in a while, but I certainly couldn't eat it once a week. But fish are a really important source of omega-3s. I'm also probably going to start eating a lot of walnuts. Anyone with strong opinions on supplements out there? What do you think?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My New Mantra

In the world we live in, I've found that loving my body is not always a piece of cake. It's hard to be aware of every single lump, bump, and imperfection and still be able to say, "I love this body!"

I wanted a defense mechanism, something I could use to combat the negative thoughts I often have about my body. I tried thinking, "I love my body" and "I'm beautiful." They were good things to think, but not quite right. Finally, I hit on the one thing I could say to myself that makes me feel warm and fuzzy every time:

"I have the body of a Greek goddess."

I'm not sure why I like this so much--probably because I've seen my fair share of ancient statues of beautiful women, and none of them were particularly thin. But they're all undeniably lovely. So "I have the body of a Greek goddess" is now my mantra--and it hasn't worn out yet.

Friday, July 19, 2013

On the road to self-sufficiency!

Four little plants have joined the little family on our balcony:

It all started last week at the farmers market. We met a gardener there who was selling baby plants. (I know they're probably called "seedlings" or something, but I don't know exactly, and "baby plants" is both cute and descriptive.) I got a little bit excited because he had a sign up about raising non-GMO plants, and I'm heartily against GMO. (That's if plants are genetically modified.) I was interested in looking at the tomatoes, because I had homegrown tomatoes all growing up and I love them. He showed us the varieties of tomatoes he had, and they sounded so cool! Orange glow, zebra cherry, yellow pear, golden egg. I thought about buying one on the spot, but I didn't want to make an impulse buy.

The gardener gave us a business card and invited us to come tour his garden. He said he gives tours on Thursday, once an hour.

So on Thursday, we showed up, not really knowing what to expect.

And this guy's was amazing! I've seen cool gardens before, but most of the time they feature flowers and shrubs, and edibles are kind of a side project. Not this one. Here, the edibles took center stage. (And stage left and right. I think flowers might have been allotted a corner upstage left...) The guy had plants everywhere. And not just on the ground space he had--but on the roof, and spilling off the sides of the house. He utilized every single inch of space. He had his own ponds for water. He had a watering system that he had built himself (yes, it went up to the roof). He composted and "made" his own gardening soil. He grew all kinds of varieties of vegetables, fruits, and any kind of summer produce you can imagine.

I don't know if we'll ever reach that level of self-sufficiency (it certainly wouldn't be possible for another several years), but it inspired me to try to get started learning more.

The wonderful (healthy) thing about growing your own food is that you know exactly what's gone into it. You know what you've used to make it grow; you know whether you've sprayed it to keep the pests away. Plus, it's about as local as it can get. You picked it when it was ripe; it hasn't been shipped from several states away.

One thing that excited me more than I would have thought was the idea of growing the different varieties. Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle opened my eyes to the hundreds of varieties of vegetables and fruits there are. Sadly, GMO produce is crowding out these colorful and flavorful varieties.

I said earlier that I'm against genetically modified plants. The truth is, it hasn't always been this way. I never saw anything wrong with genetically modifying plants. But now that I've educated myself just a bit more on this topic, I'm against it for several reasons:

1) GMO plants are engineered not to be better for the consumer, but to be better for the producer. They're designed to produce easily, look pretty, and have a long shelf life. These things aren't necessarily bad in and of themselves, but it's not the consumers that the GMO folks have in mind. (Read on.)

2) GMO foods are often less nutritious than non-GMO. There isn't evidence (yet) that GMO foods are bad for you, but they have less nutrients than foods that aren't genetically modified. This is pretty much because the more nutrients the produce has, the more attractive it is to pests and the quicker it rots. So it makes sense for those who produce the food to take out those nutrients as much as they can.

3) GMO foods crowd more unique varieties out of the market. This is the real kicker for me. If some people wanted to sell and buy GMO food and it wouldn't make any difference, I wouldn't care. However, a lot of the coolest and healthiest varieties of plants are becoming irrelevant, and people are less interested in growing and buying them. In a grocery store, you'll probably see, at most, three different kinds of tomatoes, all that look more or less the same. Same with potatoes, onions, and mushrooms. With cucumbers, zucchini, brussels sprouts, and chard, you'd be lucky to see more than one variety. And don't even ask about fresh basil--you'd be hard-pressed to find a single variety of that in your average supermarket.

Maybe I'm just a sentimental person, but I think it's a tragedy that so many of these wonderful varieties are being grown less and less, perhaps even going extinct in our country.

So that's my little rant. Here's what my plants are:

On the left is my little cucumber plant. I wasn't even planning on getting one when we first went to the garden, but after we got out I started really wanting a zucchini plant, since Doug and I both love zucchini. The gardener said we would probably need more space for zucchini, which was a little more of a commitment than we could make with our limited space and funds. He said that cucumbers would be a great choice for us, though, so I decided to get one and just see how it worked out. (I like cucumbers a lot, too.) 

In the pot to the right of the cucumbers are the tomatoes. The left tomato plant is a "golden egg" variety, which is pretty descriptive of their size and color (according to the gardener). The right tomato is a green zebra cherry, which sounds really fascinating to me--it's like a striped tomato, apparently. (I'll be really interested to see what they look like!) 

Next to the tomatoes is the basil. I decided to get another basil plant, even though we already have tons of basil (but I wanted a cool variety). Our original basil is, I think, just regular Italian large-leaf (we got the seeds from Target). The new basil is a purple blend, which has a stronger, more unique flavor. (And yes, the leaves are a little bit purple.) 

To the right of that is the pot the basil used to be in. It shared the pot with chives and parsley, but the chives and parsley weren't able to compete with the basil. The gardener told us that we were probably overwatering for the sake of the basil, and getting the others too wet. So we took the basil out of the container and put it in with the purple, filled the pot back up with soil, and we're hoping the parsley and chives might make a comeback. 

I'm so excited to start getting tomatoes and cucumbers! I'm hoping it won't be too long (for the tomatoes, at least). 

If you're interested, here's the website of the garden I visited, if you missed it at the top of the post: 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Big Breakup.

I'm breaking up with my scale.

No, not because I am at my ideal weight and have complete confidence in myself to stay there. Because I've noticed that the more I check my weight, the less happy I am with myself. Knowing I weigh more than I want to doesn't motivate me to change. Once I see that number on the scale, I start identifying myself with that number and thinking about it. And that only makes me more likely to stay there.

And when it comes right down to it, this month isn't about my weight anyway. It's about being healthy, feeling good, and being in the right shape to do all the things I want to do in life. It's about having a good relationship with my body so I can focus on higher things.

So the number on the scale shouldn't mean anything. Even though it does mean something. It means comparing myself to other people and thinking I'm not good enough.

That's not loving my body; that's hating it. And if I hate my body, I'm just going to end up sabotaging it. And ending up with an even higher number on the scale. It's a vicious cycle.

But there's more to it than just that the truth makes me unhappy. It's also that after reading up a bit on nutrition this year, I've decided to stop blindly trusting the experts when it comes to "ideal body weight." I just don't believe in BMI anymore. It may work for other people, but to me, it's just taking loads of people with varying different body types and putting them into a box. I'm short, but I think I have a larger frame than many women my height or even taller. Also, I've noticed that my body naturally puts on a lot of muscle when I work out; I don't usually find myself skinnier when I exercise more, just more toned. I think I have more natural muscle than a lot of women do. So that could easily be a factor in weight gained for me, at least.

The point of that little rant is just that we're all different. When it comes to weight, I trust my own understanding of my body better than anyone else's. I know better how I'm eating and exercising, and I know how I feel and what kinds of things I can do. A doctor might look at a chart and say I need to lose weight, but in most cases that doctor barely knows me and hardly takes one look at me.

I'm not trying to say that I couldn't benefit from losing a little weight. But focusing on it just isn't good for me, right now at least.

It's not you, Scale, it's me.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Little Goal Update

This past week, I've had a hard time keeping on track with my goals. I'm going to just do a little self-evaluation (in words rather than check marks) here so that I can reacquaint myself with the reasons I decided to do this in the first place.

1. Improve sleep schedule. 
The things I wanted to do here were get up at 8:30 every day, try to go to sleep as soon as reasonably possible, and get eight hours of sleep. I think I've done pretty well on getting 8 hours. The others, not so much. However, I DID get up at 8:30 this morning even though I really didn't want to, and I was so glad I did.

2. Eat healthy. 
As far as desserts, I've pretty much bombed this one. As far as portion control, I've done better; I'm really trying to think about how I feel, asking myself, "Am I hungry? Do I really need more?" This past weekend we went on a trip and ate at a restaurant. We were about to go sightseeing on foot, so there was no possibility of taking leftovers with us. My meal was delicious and I ate a little more than I probably should have, but once I started really getting full, I actually left the rest on my plate. Left it on the plate! Just walked out of the restaurant and didn't even finish! It goes against my upbringing of "always clean your plate," but my body was happier afterward.
I've also been a lot more conscious of eating more fruits and vegetables by trying to get my "five-a-day." I don't always get the full five servings, but I'm definitely eating more fresh produce than I used to.

3. Drink more water. 
I'm not as conscious of this one as I was hoping, but I'm definitely doing better. I'm trying to get a drink every time I pass a water fountain (which on campus is pretty often), and drinking water with every meal. I'm doing pretty well with this one and hopefully I'll continue to get better.

4. Exercise more. 
This week isn't as good, so far, as other weeks, but I'm doing pretty well! I've been doing Zumba twice a week since I found out it was free at a place near me. It's so much fun! I do want to exercise three times a week, not twice, (for an hour each time), so I'm also trying to do Cardio X from P90X one day a week. This week I failed at doing it on the day I usually do (Tuesday). There's still time, though.

5. Love my body! 
I've really, really been trying on this one. To me, it's the most important. It's only been recently that I've started to give in to the prevailing idea that a woman must hate her body if it's not completely perfect in every way. But in the past week, I've realized that loving my body is absolutely key to my physical health. If I hate my body, I'll only abuse it. If I love it, I'll do what's best for it and give it what it needs. I've finally gotten it into my skull that my body is part of me, and I can't truly love myself if I hate my body.

Well, this has been good! As I've been writing this, I've realized that I really have been doing better on my resolutions than I've realized. And I feel motivated to do even better than before!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sleep Schedule Improvement...Or Not.

8:30 a.m., and I did not want to get up.

Before I got married, I thought that maintaining a good sleep schedule once I was married would be a piece of cake. No roommates to distract me, no rollicking single social life to keep up with, and no noise! What could be more conducive to a great sleep schedule?

A husband who gets off work at a decent time of day, that's what.

And because we are newlyweds, and I cannot possibly fathom an existence in which I eat dinner before he gets home, we usually don't end up going to sleep until past midnight. But believe me, I would love to have a 9:00 bedtime.

So that's one issue to tackle this month as I try to get my sleep schedule on track. Thankfully, my classes don't start until at least 10:00 am every day (on Tuesdays and Thursdays, not until 12:15), so I have some opportunity to sleep in a little in the morning.

But my husband and I are nothing if not in love. And after we've spent several whole hours apart from each other, we like to talk and spend some time together at the end of the day. So sleep gets shunted to the side. So sometimes we don't go to sleep until 1 am, and then 8:30 seems early to get up.

So these are the things I want to do to improve my sleep schedule, since I know it's impossible to get it perfect: I want to get up at 8:30 (or earlier) every day, and I want to get at least 8 hours of sleep. Sometimes that may require going to sleep earlier than I feel like, but most of the time getting a solid 8 hours shouldn't be too much out of my way.

I failed on that last night, and I didn't exactly get up at 8:30 this morning (try 9:30). But I'm still proud of myself for getting up to work out. I really, really, really didn't want to, but I finally did, so I'm happy about that. Tomorrow will be even better!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Month 1 Begins!

Today, my Year of Joy begins! I've been really excited about it; last week I even started keeping some of the resolutions I made. 

I chose July for my focus on the body. I know that my physical health can either help me have the energy, confidence, and drive to achieve other goals; or it can get in the way, drag me down, and hinder me from achieving anything. 

I would say I'm a pretty average college-age American woman when it comes to my physical health. In general, I'm in pretty good shape. My body works in all the ways it should, I don't have any major health problems, and I'm pretty footloose and fancy-free. But I also don't really exercise, I don't eat as many fruits and veggies as I should, and I often overdo it with the desserts. 

So many people treat their bodies like garbage at this time in their lives and decide to face the music later. I don't want that to be me. I do make healthier choices than many, if not most, college students--I don't do drugs, I've never had a sip of alcohol, I rarely have caffeine, I eat mostly home-cooked meals, and I try to eat all my food groups. But I want to raise the bar. I want to be a person who exercises regularly, eats my five-a-day, eats sweets moderately, and knows when to stop (with all foods). I don't want to get into habits that are going to be hard to break, and I want to be as nice to my body as I can while it's still nice to me, so we can have a good relationship for the rest of my life. (Aaaand I'll be honest...I don't consider myself overweight, but I could stand to lose a few pounds. But that's not the point of this.) 

Anyway--I'm probably preaching to the choir! We all know physical health is important, so I'll move on to the actual resolutions: 

1. Exercise more. 
2. Eat healthy. 
3. Drink more water. 
4. Improve my sleep schedule. 
5. Love my body! 

I have plans for how to fulfill each one of those, so as things move along, I'll keep posting here about how I'm doing!