If there is one thing that is a part of everyone’s resolutions, new year or otherwise, it is to be healthier and fitter. Regrettably, there is no miracle cure for this. The silver lining here is that a lifelong commitment to simple things will keep you in fairly good stead. On the occasion of World Health Day, I want to share with you my 6 simple rules to eat healthy for a lifetime.
1. EAT WHEN HUNGRY
This sounds like a no-brainer right? Well, it is a no brainer. Unfortunately, in our fast paced, always-facing-a-screen kind of lifestyle, eating has become something we do on the side, like a background activity. Munching snacks while watching the telly and lunches spilling over the laptop keyboard ( I am guilty of this too), sounds familiar, right? So much so, that we have forgotten what it is to really experience hunger. This was the main reason I fell in love with the fasting way of life, because it makes us conscious of our hunger. I don’t exaggerate when I say this, but when I am really hungry, I can smell the food cooking two houses away from mine. That is the true power of hunger. It enables your senses to naturally gravitate towards food. The message here is to be MINDFUL of your hunger and to feed the hunger consciously. No more mindless munching.
2. CHOOSE WATER OVER ANY OTHER BEVERAGE
Unless we’re talking about babies, for whom the best beverage is their mum’s breast milk, water IS the best beverage there is. It has no calories, more importantly, no sugar, and does its job. The ever-expanding market for commercial beverages presents a tremendous attraction to children and youngsters, who want to pick these coloured/ aerated/ sweetened-to-death drinks over oh-so-boring water. It is a mindset we need to help change. Just cutting down on sweetened beverages can help people lose lots of excess weight and cut down the dangers of too much sugar consumption, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, to name a few.
3. LET VEGETABLES PLAY THE LEAD ROLE
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” wrote Michael Pollan, in his book In Defence of Food. Pollan, whom I consider a guru in matters of food, cooking and nutrition, put something profound in an utterly simple way. In most meat-centric diets, vegetables are often given the step-motherly treatment. Who on earth would want to eat boiled Brussel sprouts, broccoli or cabbage? Even a veggie lover like me would want to run away at the very mention of these. Explore the various exciting cuisines in the world, create beautiful salads and vegetable dishes, mix and match various colours and textures and embrace the world of vegetables. There’s fibre, antioxidants, minerals and so much nutrient density in veggies, that it’s criminal to lose out on their goodness by not consuming enough of them. This is not my attempt to convert people to vegetarianism. Eat your meat if that is your preference, but don’t neglect the vegetables.
4. CHOOSE FOODS CLOSEST TO THEIR NATURAL FORM
Each morning, tons of urban people reach out for the box of cereal and milk for a quick breakfast. Ever wondered how far that cereal in the box has come from the real cereal grown in the fields? Look at the list of ingredients in most cornflakes brands and you’ll see at least 5 ingredients, including a preservative called BHT (you can read up on this later). To quote Pollan again, “Don’t eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” The next time you pick up a packet of bread from a supermarket shelf, you’ll realise that even your grandmother wont recognise half of the ingredients as food, let alone your great-great-great grandmother. To put it simply, choose a whole grain over processed cereal. Choose real fruit plus plain yogurt over processed fruit yogurt. Choose real chicken over commercially sold chicken sausage and so on.
5. PORTION CONTROL
By overly labeling foods as fat-free, sugar-free, low-cal etc. the food industry has lured us into believing that if it is labelled healthy, it can be eaten with gay abandon. Extra virgin olive oil is great for health, but if you have a ladle full of dressing on your salad, it will add up eventually. There’s a simple guide to estimating portion control with your hands. Protein or meat should not be larger than the size of your palm. Eat only as much carbs as will fit in your fist. The size of your thumb (knuckle to tip) is a good way to measure oil or fat. Open your palms and join them together, and you have a measure for vegetables. And dessert should be roughly a finger length. If your body has gradually gotten accustomed to the supersize culture, train it to accept normal quantities of food using these tricks. Using a small plate to eat food also helps.
6. EAT HEALTHY-ISH
Believe me when I say, healthy-ish is a word these days. There was an interesting article in a CBC Canada news website, where it talked about this latest trend. Bon Appetit magazine did a whole issue around this. It means if you are taking good food decisions most of the times, it is ok to indulge on the other occasions, like an 80-20 rule. This helps you stay true to yourself, without the unnecessary stress of dietary perfection. Eating healthy-ish allows us to stick to healthy eating commitments for life, rather than a fad that lasts a few months. It keeps us from beating ourselves up for eating that slice of cake on a birthday or enjoying ice creams with our kids in the summers. So remember this word, healthy-ish. It is a good one!
So these are my simple rules to eat healthy for a lifetime. Each of them quite small on their own, but they all add up to make a considerable difference to our health and well being.