Category Archives: Healthy Habits

Do You Have Hunger? The Answer to This Question Will Save Your Life.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to catch author Michael Pollan on his New Jersey stop of his current speaking tour.  Most people haven’t heard of Pollan, but he’s an incredibly popular and successful author, professor, and food activist.  In addition to writing for popular newspapers and magazines, giving inspiring TED talks, and lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley, Pollan has penned seven books to date.  If I had to summarize his philosophy into one long, run-on sentence, it would be this:  He describes the modern industrial food system that has become a cornerstone of human life, he explains how this system evolved and why it is unsustainable, and he aims to educate us all on a different way of living and a better way of eating.

The Rutgers Gymnasium was packed with about 1,500 guests, two-thirds of which were students.  There was much anticipation about what Pollan’s topic would be.  After all, it’s impossible to cover in detail approximately thirty years of writing and research in an hour and a half.  Well, he ended up doing a brief overview of his philosophy and beliefs with specific studies, anecdotes, and facts sprinkled throughout.  I thought it was a great route to take.  He’s trying to educate as many people as possible, and giving a broad overview helped the majority of the audience to connect.

One of the most memorable parts of his talk was Pollan offering his insight as to why Americans, members of one of the most developed groups of people in history, are so much more overweight and have such poorer health than populations of people from all over the world, including, notably, populations of much less “developed” nations.  Think about the French Paradox, for example:  The French have a reputation for eating bread, pastry, cheese, foie gras, drinking wine, and smoking cigarettes.  Yet they are statistically healthier than Americans, which is to say that they have fewer incidences of heart disease and lower obesity rates.  Among other things, the French are able to stay so thin and healthy because they don’t stuff themselves at every meal like most Americans do.  The French (and many other cultures throughout the world) actually stop eating when they’ve had enough.  They have a phrase for this:

“Je n’ai plus faim”

This translates to, “I no longer have hunger.”  Fascinating!  Contrast this phrase with what most Americans say: “I’m full.”  Pause and think about that for a second.  How different are those two simple statements?  There’s a huge difference.  The French stop eating when they no longer have hunger.  Americans eat right through the hunger / no hunger threshold until they can sit back in their chairs and proudly boast, “Whew, I’m stuffed!”  Sure, eating until you’re full once in a while isn’t going to kill you. But when this becomes your default way of eating, you’re in trouble.

For the record, the Spanish phrase is very similar:  “No tengo hambre” which translates into “I don’t have hunger.”

Think about this next time you’re eating and try to be cognizant of it at every meal.  Eat slowly, enjoy your food, and stop when you no longer have hunger ;-).

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Filed under Diets, Food, General Health, Healthy Habits

Stay Fit and Healthy When You Travel

Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

One of my clients travels the country nearly every week for business and she has a tough time staying disciplined with healthy eating and consistent exercise while on the road.  Many of us are in the same situation.  It’s difficult when we’re out of our element, our home turf.  But with a little foresight and preparation, we need not worry about it.  Here are some tips for maintaining your health and fitness goals on the road…

EXERCISE

  • Plan – don’t leave your workouts to chance.  Plan them like you plan any other meeting or work function.  And then stick to that schedule just like you stick to your work schedule.
  • Pack light workout clothes and take advantage of the laundry service at the hotel so you can re-use your outfits.
  • Research your hotel’s gym prior to your trip so you can visualize yourself working out there and maybe even getting excited about working out in a new environment, mixing it up a little.
  • Find a workout partner that will be on the trip or even a friend in your destination city.  This is HUGE from an accountability standpoint.
  • Check out a cool running route website like GMap Pedometer or Walk Jog Run and map yourself a cool new running route in your destination city.
  • Be a little cultural and run to a cool site, attraction, mall, or store in your downtime.


NUTRITION

  • Bring food for the plane.  PB&J on WW bread or salad in a container than you can throw away work well
  • Plane food is unbelievably horrible for you and it obviously tastes like garbage.
  • Don’t eat junk at the airport.  How do you do this?  Don’t arrive at the airport hungry.  Make sure you eat a good meal or snack before you get to the airport so you’re not tempted to eat fast food when there.
  • Try to get a hotel room with a fridge.  If not, ask for one.  Most hotels will deliver one to you for a nominal fee per night, so…
  • You can go mini-grocery shopping. Natural peanut butter, nuts, pretzels (not great, but beats the alternative of chips, etc.), string cheese, fruit, mini carrots, hummus, etc.


OUT ON THE TOWN

  • Don’t go to cocktail parties or dinners hungry.  Eat an apple and PB or something else before.  Something with fat like peanut butter will keep you satisfied longer.
  • Try everything if you want, but in moderation.  Have 1 or 2 brie puffs, not 6.
  • Alternate each cocktail, especially a sugary one, with a glass of water
  • Limit sugary drinks; stick to light beer, wine, and clear booze.  Bellinis and Cosmos contain a lot of sugar.
  • If you know where you’re going to dinner in advance, look up the restaurant’s menu and decide what you’re going to order before you even get to the restaurant.  This will prevent (or help) you from making bad impulse decisions.

MISC

  • Go to bed at a decent hour so you can wake up and workout
  • Skip stupid conference sessions if you can and grab a workout then
  • Enjoy and don’t be too hard on yourself.  Welcome the opportunity to run or workout in a new city, workout in new gyms, break the routine.

These are just a few tips that have worked, and continue to work, for me.  Do you have any favorite tips for staying fit on the road?  Please share in the comments…

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Filed under Exercise, Healthy Habits, travel

Begin Your Healthy Habits Today – Your Life Depends On It

“If you don’t know where you’re going,
you might not get there.”  – Yogi Berra

This is my first follow-up to my previous post about ditching your diets for healthy habits.  In everything I do, I’m a big believer in doing your homework, educating yourself, and making informed decisions.  When it comes to our bodies, it’s no different.  You can’t just jump into the diet of the month that’s featured in the latest supermarket checkout line magazines and expect to change your life.

Change is gradual and in order for it to be lasting, the processes behind the change must be sustainable.  In order to see results, each person has to look at his life and develop a plan of action that he will follow.  Let’s get started today with three things you can do to set yourself up on the road to a healthier you.

LOOK AT YOUR BASELINE
In order to affect change in your life, you need to know where you’re beginning.  Take a pen and paper or a spreadsheet and outline your current life right now.  This is your journal.  What should you include?

  1. For starters, write down everything you eat throughout the day.  Record what you eat, how much of it you eat, and how you feel afterwards.  This goes for meals, snacks, and drinks – exclude nothing.
  2. Record your nightly sleep – how much you get and the quality of your sleep.  Pay attention to this, as sleep is an important, oft overlooked function of our lives.
  3. Record your exercise.  Did you exercise today?  This doesn’t have to be going to the gym or going for a run.  It can be anything from walking to work, taking the stairs up to your apartment, walking around the block at lunch – anything that gets you up and moving.
  4. Lastly, at the end of each day, jot down a sentence or two about how you feel.  Do you feel healthy after your day?  Energized?  Drained?  What could you have done better?  What threw you off track today?  What positive factors contributed to your great day?

All four of these aspects are important.  Do yourself a favor and be diligent about your journal.  Make it your goal to keep the journal for one week.  Most people find it so eye-opening that they keep doing it for several weeks, months, or forever.  I have kept a simple journal for nearly a year now and I have no intention of stopping.

Why am I suggesting you do this?  It forces you to put your life on paper and be honest with yourself.  You never have to show it to anyone if you don’t want.  It’s there for you to look at – to quantify what you eat and qualify how you feel.  People often tell me that the journal alone provides enough motivation for them to make changes.

SET GOALS
After you have your baseline established, it’s time to set some goals.  Your know yourself best, so set goals that make sense for you.  As a general rule, every goal that you set should have three characteristics.  Every goal should be:

  1. Specific – define your goal as specifically as possible, including a time frame.  Not specific: I want to lose weight.  Specific: I want to lose 30 pounds in the next 6 months.
  2. Measurable – be sure there is a metric by which to measure your progress.  With weight it’s easy – jump on the scale.  If speed or strength is your goal, make sure you can measure your progress.
  3. Attainable – be realistic.  Again, you know yourself.  You want to set goals that aren’t too easy but also are not too far out of reach.  When in doubt, set easier goals rather than more difficult ones, especially at the beginning.  The momentum you gain from achieving smaller goals will propel you forward onto the larger, more difficult goals.

Setting goals is great, but it means nothing if you don’t implement a plan to achieve them.  Write these goals down and keep them in a place where you can look at them daily.  This will help you stay focused.

FOCUS ON 2-3 SMALL THINGS DAILY
This whole process can be overwhelming.  We often fail to establish new habits because we want to make too many changes at once.  We overwhelm ourselves and give up.  The solution?  Focus on a couple basic things that you can do every day to bring you closer to achieving your goals.  Losing weight is a goal?  Your first 2-3 action items may be giving up soda, taking the stairs at work, and not snacking at the office.

Once you feel you have control over these few things, move on to 2-3 more things, but don’t forget about the first group!  Chipping away at your goals little by little makes them less intimidating and more achievable.

So there you have it – 3 things you can do today to start your new life.  This is a very general post and the recommendations in here can be applied to any sort of life change.  In the follow up posts, we’ll get into the details of eating more healthfully, exercising more consistently, and the importance of attitude.

If there’s anything specific you’d like us to discuss in these follow up posts, let me know in the comments.

Have a great week!

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Filed under Healthy Habits, Motivation

Trade in Your Diets for Healthy Habits

Photo Credit: New York Times

We’re in the middle of a hot summer.  We’ve all got a lot going on – barbecues, summer vacations, camps, concerts, and so on.  When we’re busy, it becomes difficult to stick to healthy eating habits and it becomes all too easy to make excuses or rationalizations.  Dieting sucks during the summer.  There’s so much good food (and drink) around you calling your name.  You give in.  It’s only natural.  What if there was a way to enjoy all of the culinary treats of summer and still stay on the healthy track?  Well, there is and it’s easy.  Let me explain…

Ditch Your Diets
Diets don’t work.  Sure, they can help you lose a few pounds quickly, but they’re not sustainable for the long-term.  If you go on a diet, you will probably lose a few (or many) pounds.  The problem is, the day you stop that diet and resume your normal habits, you’ll put that weight right back on – a heck of a lot more quickly than you lost it.  Why don’t diets work?  Because every single one of them is, in some way, based on deprivation.  Whether it’s low-carb, high-protein, all-juice, or severely cutting calories, you’re depriving your body, and yourself, of something.  Naturally, you can only deprive yourself of something for so long before you cave in and indulge.  It’s just human nature, and it’s the body’s way of telling you it needs something, whether it is carbs, fat, or anything else.

A related observation is that depriving yourself of a particular macronutrient (carbs, proteins, fats) or a particular group of foods is not healthy.  A major component of our functioning bodies is balance.  When you completely eliminate something from your diet, your body’s balance grows askew and it’s ultimately unhealthy for you.

Develop Healthy Habits
Instead of dieting, I believe in developing healthy habits.  Human beings are creatures of habit.  Everything we do today is the result, whether directly or indirectly, of a life habit.  I’ve learned a ton about habits from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits.  When we sleep, how much we sleep, when and how much we eat, what we do in our waking hours, what we do to relax – all of it is shaped by the habits we develop over time.  Specifically, what we eat today is the result of habits that we’ve formed over time.  So it follows that if we want to eat more healthily, we have to change our life habits.  We have to develop new, sustainable, healthy, and fulfilling habits if we want to see lasting results.

This takes time.  Various resources indicate that that it takes 30 days of consistency to develop a new habit.

This is not easy.  Habits die hard.  New ones are difficult to implement and to get used to.

But it’s worth it.  Investing in yourself for just 30 days right now will lead to healthy habits for life.  Once you get past the first 30 days, you’re on cruise control.  You won’t look back.  In fact, you’ll only look forward because you’ll be so excited to further develop your new habits.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will expand on the process of forming healthy habits and what exactly you should do to start being healthy.  If there are any specific topics you’d like me to touch upon, let me know in the comments.

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Filed under Diets, Food, Healthy Habits