Do you know how to ‘diet’? If you are reading this, hopefully you’re interested in kick-starting a healthier lifestyle- and I’m here to help you do it!
Let’s start with the definition of ‘diet’ according to Merriam-Webster dictionary:
"...the kinds of food that we normally consume or our habitual nourishment, either individually or as a community."
For example, a Mediterranean diet or a vegetarian diet would fit into this definition. My goal here is to help us understand the essentials to make healthier lifestyle choices- however, we all have our personal journey! So, you might just want to lose a little weight, feel lean, get fit, reduce volume, have more muscle, tighten your problem areas…, or perhaps you need to fix a bigger issue (think high cholesterol, vitamin deficiency, out of whack hormones, or recuperating from another health issue).
No matter the reason, we all need basic tools and nutritional knowledge and information to be able to make these changes. With a bit of education, some trial and error and a whole lot of listening to one’s own body, absolutely anyone can adapt to a long term diet that will resolve issues such as the ones listed above.
My key words here: Long-term.
It’s important to highlight that this is not a crash course on how to make your cellulite disappear or how to diet using restrictions, like intermittent fasting, to lose weight. Trust me, at my age my cellulite won’t disappear and I would love to take a special pill to fix it. We have all heard about the magic diets that help you burn fat and lose half your person in a matter of weeks. And sadly, our society forces unrealistic expectations of skinny, beautiful, fit and muscular onto us 24/7. But, we all need realistic individual goals that are 100% personalized. Every sexy body out there (with all it’s functions) is very different and unique. While we have evidence of fad diets being mostly successful short-term, it’s also factual that most crash diets fail long-term.
I have put together a list of essentials to get started on living a healthier life. At the end you’ll also find a list of books, podcasts and apps to help you reach your goals!
Be forewarned that my motto first and foremost (even if it’s number 11 on the list) is to aspire to love yourself and your body albeit with a bit of no-budge pudge around the mid section. This is much more personal, but is possible by being active, by creating space for fun activities and sports you love, by eating mostly healthy & fresh food,and by listening to your body and what makes it feel good & happy.
*Please note that every point will not pertain to every individual as there are always a variety of factors to consider. If you’d like a consult with a nutritionist, you can click on my contact page. Please consult with your doctor before making critical diet changes.
My TOP TEN DOs of Dieting:
1) Get informed. Seems silly, but the first step is educating yourself to personalize your diet over time. Follow some dietitians & nutritionists via Instagram (you can follow me too and check out who I follow), read a few recommended books (below), download a few apps (also below) and take your time understanding the basics of nutrition.
2) Learn to read labels. Yes, check the ingredients of every product you buy at the store- sounds tedious at first, but overtime it becomes easier as you’ll get to know go-to products. A simple rule, if the ingredients list is extra long with weird additives or words that you are not familiar with, don’t buy it. Get natural stuff! The great thing about whole foods- fruit, vegetables, whole-grain cereal, legumes, and things like seeds and nuts don’t need a label scan- it’s the ONLY ingredient and it’s a whole and natural food.
3)Avoid sugar and processed food. So, following up labels, anything overly processed, like certain baked goods, wraps, chips, pre-made dips & sauces, sweets & cakes, canned & processed meats, etc. are probably full of sugar, sodium, and/or additives, and other gross and scary things. Please, for the love of (input your god), do not buy these things and have them around the house. Unfortunately, sugar is the devil. And it is extremely addictive. AND, it hides under the name of many things: i.e. fructose, glucose, lactose, etc. Check labels- if the first ingredient is sugar- don’t buy it.
4) Choose Quality Over Quantity. We are so obsessed with calorie-counting we forget that empty calorie foods can spike insulin and make us bulk up. Think low-fat or low cal cheese and dairy products, or products that brag about being “sugar-free” or “low-cal” or “natural” and healthy. Most the times these items are stripped of nutritional value. I always eat full fat greek yogurt (no sugar) and natural whole fat cheese and butter when I eat it. If i have an extra scoop of natural, organic peanut butter, I’m less guilty about it then, say, eating sugar free dark chocolate or processed peanut butter with hydrogenated corn syrup and palm oil. Also, take step 2 as the rule of thumb on quality food. Canned, processed, stuffed-with-additives, or long shelf-life products are not ideal.
5) Use Portion Control. Use measuring cups to get familiar with normal portions. Eat at home and serve your meals on smaller plates. We live in an excess world with extra big servings for everything. You probably only need half, and the extra food causes blood sugar to spike and fat storage to turn on. If you feel really tired after a meal, it could be that you’re eating too much. For example, a portion of protein at meal time is appx the size of the palm of your hand. Not that big , right?
6) Move. Exercise, of course, has incredible impacts on long-term health, both mentally and physically. We know the science behind exercise- so find activities you like, try new things, be creative and experiment until you find what fits. I always change up the sports I do every so often to not get bored Also, it helps spike your metabolism and turn on fat burn to alternate between different high heart rate activities because your body, like a well-oiled machine, becomes accustomed to the same sports and “hits a wall”. Keep finding different ways to PUSH.
7) Hydrate. There is a lot of back and forth controversy on how much water is enough- but I drink 3-4L a day or more in the summer with heavy exercise. It flushes out toxins and keeps your brain and digestive tract hydrated. If you feel tired, drink a glass of water. If you feel constipated, drink a glass of water with lemon juice. If you feel thirsty, it’s too late- you’re already dehydrated. Literally, drink tons of water.
8) Sleep. A good night’s sleep is an absolute must. Go to bed before 11 p.m., eat a light dinner, stay away from blue light devices at least an hour before hitting the hay, and stick to this routine as much as possible. Too often tiredness pushes us to overeat, be lazy at mealtime, makes small stress big, and creates brain fog.
Check in with you circadian rhythm- sleep when the sun goes down & wake up when the sun comes out. Difficult work hours? Then at least get 7-8 hours in a very dark room. The American Journal of Epidemiology has found a strong link between exposure to even low levels of light while sleeping, and symptoms of depression. Not to mention good quality sleep in the dark facilitates hormone production.
Eating 2-4 hours before bed is also key to a regular sleep pattern. Keep in mind your body enters repair mode at 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.
9) Stop Obsessing. Guys, moderation is key. I mean, too much restriction or obsession in the beginning will definitely lead to breaking big time rules early on. Most people, biologically, are not machines with extreme will power (especially women with a menstrual cycle). If you’re trying to make healthier choices to lose weight, have a cheat meal once a week, or even one day a week in the beginning. But eventually you’ll feel that this meal doesn’t feel as good over time, especially if it’s really unhealthy.
10) Personalize your diet. Ok, I know I kinda mentioned this but this is the part that will take the most time- and it should be the enjoyable part which is figuring out what works for you! I’d recommend starting a food journal in the beginning and writing down everything you eat. See below on books & apps to help “get-to-know you” and your needs. Also, a quick consult for blood work with your doctor will rule out any more critical health issues and a consult with nutritionist would be ideal in figuring out what you need according to your age, gender, height, weight, BMI, race, etc
So my absolute must on my list for ways to get Fit and Healthy is my point number 11. I know it’s not in the top ten, but it should be part of a bigger picture- taking care of your brain & emotions. After all, I’m still a yogi
11) Self-love. Yup, I said it. If you can’t love yourself and find contentment, how would any of this be possible? For me I cherish self-discovery through yoga. It’s also a double whammy, because not only did I go through a lot of healing that helped me take better care of myself, I also was toning, stretching, and moving my body throughout the process. I recommend finding your self-esteem and lift it to the stars- therapy, self-help and self-care books, group therapy, meet-ups, online forums, sports clubs, etc. Your weight-loss or urgent health-issues, surprisingly, are not usually the driving force behind diet changes. Many times the root of it all comes from trauma, emotional distress, stress, anxiety, depression, and other psychological factors.
So in self-love, we are learning to reduce anxiety, stress, trauma and this “go-go-go” mentality that beats us up on a day-to-day basis. Being able to slow down and really relax and pamper oneself is part of healing your mental and physical health.
There are so many other little things that are valuable to say: avoid too much alcohol & caffeine; eat a variety of seasonal fruit and veg; regulate food and exercise with menstrual cycle if you are a woman; make small substitutions for your food weaknesses with healthy alternatives… the list goes on! But for now, our main focus really needs to be in the top 10 (em, 11) points listed above!
As promised here is some educational material and tools to get us started:
Books & Podcasts
- “Womancode” and “In the Flow” by Alisa Vitti. If you’re a woman, figure out what your menstrual cycle really is. Learn to synch your cycle with food, exercise, work, and even communication (meetings at work or talking to your partner)
- “Superfood” by Darien Olien: Great info on top ways to stay healthly, like eating organic, choosing the good kinds of water. Also, check out his podcast called “The Darien Olien Show” and the mini-series on Netflix with Zac Efron called “Down to Earth.”
- “Dhru Purohit Podcast” by Dhru Purohit. This podcast formerly known as The Broken Brain brings guests to talk about all things wellness, medicine, and mindset.
- “Ram Dass Here and Now Podcast”. Follow this guru’s journey to enlightenment with over 180 excerpts from lectures over the course of his life.
- “The Betty Body” by Stephanie Estima. Another women’s book on intuitive eating, all things hormones, and improving one’s sex life.
- Books by Mark Hyman: “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?” or “The Pegan Diet”. An American physician whose backs food as funtional medicine.
- Goop Podcast and mini-series on Netflix: Like Mark Hyman & Drhu Purohit, Gwen Paltrow’s Goop dynasty has brought in loads of interesting medical professionals, doctors, natural healers, and yoguis to discuss all matters of health, healing, and well-being.
- Insight Timer: this free meditation app is great for timing your own meditation or following free guided meditations in your local language.
- Wellness Coach: Like Insight Timer, but a little bit fancier with a price. You can also watch and follow mini yoga, breathing, strength, or cardio classes, take courses, do challenges, and read up on nutrition. It has an entire section dedicated to nutrition!
- The Wim Hoff Method: Haven’t heard of Wim Hoff yet? Expert in unique breathing methods to ease stress, pain, and anxiety, he was also featured in the Goop Series for his ice showers, ice baths and ice swims- check out the benefits.
- Downdog: A yoga & HIIT app combined!
- AllTrails: Find a good hiking trail nearby no matter where you are in the world.
- Google Fit: If you are an android user like me, then iFit isn’t an option. Find any app that marks and measures your daily steps- it will probably mark any and all exercise you do in a day- it’s a good way to check in and make sure you aren’t too sendentary.
- MyFlo: (or any period tracker for women): If you are a woman and you haven’t started tracking your flow- DO IT NOW! Your menstrual cycle is a HUGE indicator of your health- meaning, long, painful, heavy periods or spotting, or inconsistent periods are huge red flags that’s something off with your hormones (which could be a reference to diet & exercise).
To be continued….
Remember guys, life is about BALANCE- I’ll say it over and over too- we can find balance in Yoga, balance in the the work/free-time quantum, balance in sorrow and happiness, and also balance in the choices we make with food and exercise. The secret really isn’t a secret- no matter what your dietary goals are, you’re going to have to think big picture, life-long, lifestyle changes rather than crash diets or week-long detoxes.
I hope this helps get you jump-started on a brand new healthy way of thinking!