I have spent over 40 years studying the body and health, both illness and wellness and how the physical systems work and break down. I have also spent the last 30 years studying how we can prevent those systems from breaking down by adhering to a healthy lifestyle. I have dedicated the last 25 years of my life to studying how our thoughts and attitudes influence our health and wellness. I can summarize my findings by using four questions to evaluate your health and wellness or lifestyle.
What are you eating?
What are you drinking?
What are you doing?
What are you thinking?
Chances are if you are not feeling “well” or suffer from “dis-ease” one or all of these questions include some unhealthy practice. The most important question is What are you thinking? But first let’s look at the others.
What are you eating?
Let’s look at what you are eating. There is so much written about diet today that many have been suffering from mass confusion. The truth is the laws of nutrition have not changed much and we still need to eat a variety of foods to stay healthy. There is no magic bullet and no magic diet. We are hear to enjoy food and eat what feels good and healthy and give us pleasure. We need to eat to live and live it up while we eat.
So what feels good and what does feel good mean.
In a nutshell after studying all the diets and after going on many of them myself, I conclude the healthiest way to eat is:
- With variety
- Not too much meat
- Fish at least once a week
- More plant based
- Limit dairy products
- Lots of vegetables and a some fruit
- High fiber grains in breads, cereals and pasta
- Protein at every meal
- Limit simple sugars and avoid high fructose corn syrup
- Eat what your body is calling you to eat.
- Eat the foods that bring you joy and energy.
- Eat in moderation
What about drinking?
It is no secret that water is important. Our body consists of 75% water. Our cells and organs need water to function. Water keeps every thing flowing. Water is cleansing. The most important thing you can drink is water. There is controversy about the amount of water one needs, but there is no argument that we don’t live very long with out water. Can you over do water? Of course! We can overdo everything.
What about other beverages? There are other ways to get fluids into our body. Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are wonderful supplements for health.
Coffee and tea have some benefits, but only in moderation. They are caffinated beverages and actually encourage our system to eliminate water. They actually can dehydrate us. The plusses of coffee is that it is a stimulant and can give us energy when we are tired and also, let’s face it-those of us that love a cup of coffee with the morning paper are drinking it because of the ambiance of it-for how it feels as it goes down and more than likely because we are in the habit of drinking it.
Tea is a little different. Caffinated tea can be a stimulant and Green tea has been reported to prevent and even attack some cancers. All the data is not in.
Tea has been found to have some strong antioxidants that help prevent disease and in some cases aid in curing cancers.
Decaffeinated herbal teas are not only refreshing but can have some medicinal value. Herbal teas have a connection to relaxation and quiet.
Wine and alcohol seem to have a place in a healthy diet, when consumed very moderately. For men this is about 2 drinks a day and for women no more than 1 drink a day. A drink is 6oz of wine, 8 oz of beer, 1 oz of liquor. Beyond this amount alcohol does more harm than good. Alcohol adds calories to the diet and also can be dehydrating.
Whenever you are consuming any beverage other than water it is best to have a glass of water with the other beverage. This allows you to enjoy the beverage of your choice but also to dilute it and allow the water to rehydrate your system.
What are you doing?
Whatever you do it must be in line with your values and goals. Your body needs to move so hopefully you are doing something other than sitting or driving. Your body needs walking and bending and stretching and playing. Without movement on a regular basis your body will become stiff and your entire system will suffer.
The doing should include daily exercise of some sort. It needn’t be so strenuous you dread doing it, but it should be enough that your body has to make some effort and in the act of doing the body is lubricated. Walking is by far the best and most natural exercise. Buy a pedometer and make your goal 10,000 steps (5 miles) a day.
Are you working at a job you love? Gardening is great doing. What about traveling. Are you doing some traveling – even if it is exploring a local park or place you have never been to? Pretend you took an airplane to come to this beautiful place and enjoy all the sites.
Do what you love.
What are you thinking?
This is the most important question, because if your thinking is in order all the other questions will fall into place. We do not over eat or drink or become sedentary because we are happy people and it feels good to our system. Generally happy people are full of life and enjoy what they eat, what they drink and what they do. Unhappy people abuse food and drink and either do nothing productive or resent everything they are doing.
This is the most important question to ask yourself.
Recently I was talking to someone who said, “You know, I am doing everything right. I am eating practically a vegetarian diet, I don’t drink, I don’ smoke, I work out with weights every other day and then walk and do aerobics 4 times a week, but I still feel like crap.”
So I asked – “What are you thinking?” she said – well –that is a problem. My thoughts are very conflicted. “ She proceeded to share some of her most recent issues. The main source of conflict is her interpersonal relationships and some issues at work.
That was it. She could do all of the exercise she wanted and eat very healthy indeed, but if her thinking stays conflicted she will continue to feel bad.
Each person needs to examine his or her own thoughts. What do you think from one moment to the other? What motivates you? What are your values? Who are you? What do you believe?
These are the questions that need to be examined in order to fully be healthy and alive.
And while you are questioning you may feel like crap, because it may be the first time you are really honest with yourself. It may be that for years you covered up all of your conflicting thoughts with distractions. Some people become workaholics. Being deep in thought about a project that needs to be completed prevents you from looking deeply within at your true thoughts.
Everyone is struggling in his or her own way with the existential questions. Some have found answers enough to move forward and live life fully. Others retreat to a mountain where they feel most comfortable with themselves and no interpersonal relationships to contend with. Look deeply within. You can only hide from yourself for so long
“Guilt feelings, regimentation, and deprivation have no place in our method. We will show you how permanent weight loss can take place in an atmosphere of freedom.” Dr. Leonard Pearson and Lilian Pearson The Psychologist’s Eat-Anything Diet
The Diet Book That Changed My Life
By the time I entered nursing school I had been on every popular diet and counted every calorie, blossoming to a heaping 138 pounds by the end of freshman year. For a 5 foot 2 inch frame this was not a healthy weight. Exercise and sports were not appealing as a teenager, so once I stopped the childhood play—-climbing trees, playing tag or kick the can, or just walking to friend’s houses and school, my body typified the chubby teen. I also smoked cigarettes when I was 16 and generally was clueless about taking care of myself. Often I felt like I was on survival mode, living from one day to the next, getting through school with a plan to become a nurse and support myself.
I remember feeling depressed when I felt fat and feeling elated when I saw the pounds come off, but generally, this was a yo-yo routine without lasting results.
It was when I met my future husband that things began to change. First of all, he was into exercise, so I started jogging. Adding exercise in my life did allow me to lose some weight and enjoy food more. Then, one day I found the book that changed my life. The Psychologist’s Eat-Anything Diet–Wow! This was intriguing. Up to this point I had counted every calorie ,and felt like my mind went from craving or rejecting food and cigarettes. I had no idea what it would be like to really enjoy eating without feeling guilt or deprivation.
This book promised that when you finished reading it, you would be able to:
- Eat your favorite foods.
- Realize there are no taboo or forbidden foods.
- Free yourself from the tyranny of food.
- Get rid of your scales and daily weighing routine.
- Quit counting calories and stop dieting.
- Forget about proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and other old diet standbys.
Dr. Leonard Pearson, a clinical psychologist and his wife, Lillian Pearson, a social worker, applied their knowledge and practice of humanistic psychology and their work with Dr. Carl Rogers, to develop a weight loss program that would not only change how one looks but also what one thinks when it comes to diet and weight management.
They felt that “overeating is complex with many causes.” One of the basic principles of the book is that people do not eat what their body is calling them to eat. Often a weight loss program cuts out foods that you love. Calorie counting becomes regimented, and there is little pleasure or satisfaction at mealtimes.
For me, my mind was always thinking about what I was going to eat and how many calories I was going to consume. These thoughts would often control my mind, and I felt like I almost needed a brain overhaul to get rid of this awful way of thinking and living.
This book offered a set of exercises to increase food awareness and develop more intuitive approaches to choosing what you were going to eat from one meal to the next.
I learned to get in touch with what my favorite foods were and why I enjoyed them. I also learned that when we crave something we have to eat it. The Pearsons also defined beckoning as those foods that call you after seeing them in a window or smelling the aroma of the food from a store, home or restaurant.
Part II of the book offered “Exercises for Food and Drink Awareness and Sensuous Eating.” This would be fun!
I remember the “chip eating exercise” and sitting on our bathroom vanity with a bag of cheese covered Doritos and watching myself eat them. The idea was to chew the chip and watch your mouth chew, while also experiencing the taste of the chip and getting a feel for what it is about the chip that you like—is it the crunch? The salt? The cheese flavor? And in that case, the recommendation was to lick the cheese off the chip and throw the chip away and see if the craving was satisfied. I found that was the case for me. What I liked about the cheese flavored Doritos was the topping. So I would sit on the vanity watching myself eat the chip and lick off the cheese and throw the chip in the wastebasket. Of course, my roommates thought this was nuts, but hey—it was nursing school, and we all had our idiosyncrasies.
The purpose of the exercises was to become aware of why we eat, what we crave, what our body really wants, what is truly satisfying in the eating experience and essentially renew our joy of food.
Chocolate chip cookies were another experience. What is it about the cookie I liked? It was partially the crunch, definitely the chocolate, and a bit about the sugar. What I found with chocolate chip cookies is that I was satisfied if I simply picked the chocolate chip out of the cookie. With chocolate walnut brownies, what I loved was the walnut covered with brownie so I would pick the walnut out of the brownie and throw the rest away or give the crumbs to someone who liked the taste of plain brownie without the chocolate chips.
You see, when you crave food, you definitely are wanting a taste, a texture or an experience. You must satisfy that craving, or you will eat everything in sight until you get what it is you really want.
I used the principles of these books in my later years in my wellness presentations about diet and exercise. Let’s say you crave a Graeter’s turtle sundae — think about it— scoops of pure vanilla ice-cream topped with caramel sauce, chocolate, and pecans. Graeter’s chocolate sundae has about 1200 calories-that’s almost a whole day’s allotment of calories, but, if you must have it you must have it- make that your breakfast and lunch for the day or lunch and dinner and eat well the rest of the day. Truly your body will not suffer if the one day you crave a turtle sundae you indulge.
On the other hand, let’s say you wouldn’t dare. So you have the craving, and you deny yourself the experience. Instead, you have a chocolate cookie. If you want that taste or texture or flavor or experience, you will probably eat several chocolate cookies just trying to do the same thing. Or let’s say you eat the carrot sticks you have in the refrigerator for when you have to eat something but don’t want to ruin your diet, and you want to “be good.” You’ll eat every carrot you have just to satisfy some sort of sweet tooth, or in frustration, keep noshing or grazing only to realize that you are trying to meet your body’s need for a turtle sundae in an impossible way.
The better and lower calorie way would be to buy a turtle chocolate candy or two. If you need the taste of the ice cream, get some frozen low-fat yogurt. Now at least you get the chocolate, the caramel, the pecans, and the feeling of cold vanilla flavored creamy dessert cooling your mouth and flowing down the esophagus to a more satisfied stomach. Here you probably ate about 300 calories tops, but you satisfied the craving.
Do you get it? You can’t ignore your cravings, or you will not feel satisfied physically or emotionally.
So I learned what foods were calling me. What was I really in the mood for? What taste was I dreaming of? What would I really enjoy? I learned to close my eyes and get in touch with my true needs nutritionally and mindfully. Before opening a menu, I would get in touch with what I had a taste for and look for that item or a combination of items that would satisfy my craving. Most of the time I ate less because I knew that I could have whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it as long as I was clear and honest about what I needed.
During my learning and experimental days with this new way of not dieting, I did have a negative experience it is only fair to share with you. Before classes in nursing school, we would sometimes meet in the cafeteria for breakfast. On this new not diet, I would go through the line and look at the food and only take what was really calling me to eat. One morning I had such a craving for the big gooey pecan roll. Instead of just getting one with maybe some yogurt or milk to balance it off, I decided to take two pecan rolls, with the idea that at lunch I would choose something lighter because I would be satisfied and full from this breakfast. Well as I got up from our table, fully satisfied and content with my consumption of this gooey treat, I fainted right there and fell on the floor of the cafeteria. I was quickly rushed next door to the emergency department where I was diagnosed with severe hypoglycemia. My blood sugar had dropped to 40 (normal being 80-100). I was quickly given an IV solution of glucagon, the glucose substance used for diabetics who have an insulin reaction.
Well — this too was a good experience, because what I learned is that we cannot live by bread or carbohydrates alone. We do need to balance our food and have some protein at every meal. I would have been okay had I eaten one pecan roll and some yogurt or even a small glass of milk.
But this was all part of the experiment. I learned how to eat in a way that was fun, guilt-free, and allowed me to experience life and food in a whole new way. For the first time in my life, I was free of the diet mindset. I thought about food, but without having to imagine depriving myself of my favorite foods. Nothing was off-limits anymore. Also, I only ate when I was actually hungry, and stopped eating when I felt satisfied. I knew that I could eat anything I wanted whenever I craved it, and I did not have to raid the refrigerator and eat everything in sight to get there.
I truly learned to enjoy my food, and I do believe that since food is so essential and eating is such an integral part of daily life-not just to nourish the body, but also to nourish the soul and meet social needs, we must not just eat to live but live to eat.
If more people enjoyed the eating experience and the vast array of wonderful food without the guilt associated with indulgence, we would have less obesity in this world.
To this day, I truly eat what I am in the mood for and what calls me. Gradually I did give up my taste for red meat and most high-fat foods. I have grown to savor fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, fish and nuts. I allow myself to eat dessert or candy to satisfy my sweet tooth, but my body has learned to enjoy fresh and healthy food.
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Ok so I watched the 60 minutes episode on sugar (click here and watch it!). The research is in. Sugar is as toxic as cigarettes and alcohol. In studies using human volunteers fed a regimented diet followed by blood tests, they found that increasing sugar in the diet, elevated the bad LDL cholesterol, the culprit in heart disease and heart attack deaths.
It turns out sugar also feeds cancer cells. They love glucose (sugar) as much as our muscle cells love sugar for exercise.
What was interesting is that in an evolutionary sense, we have learned to eat and enjoy sugar since plants were on the earth. There is not one plant that contains sugar that is poisonous. Therefore eating a plant with sugar was considered safe. Now we have taken it too far. We are eating way too much sugar in blatant treats like candy, cakes and ice cream, but also drinking sugar in soda pop, sports drinks, and even fruit juice.
Sugar is often a hidden ingredient in foods that don’t even taste sweet. Many processed foods are made with high fructose corn syrup, which has little to do with corn. So the bottom-line. If you want to eat the perfect diet, seriously cut down on sugar. The recommendation for men is no more than 150 grams of sugar and for woman no more than 100 grams per day.
Eat your sugar naturally in fruit and real food that does not come out of a box or package. Fruit has natural sugar, satisfying our need for something sweet, but it also adds vitamins and fiber.
Avoid white breads, sweetened yogurts, sweetened cereals and the obvious gooey desserts.
When you are buying breakfast cereals make sure they have less than 5 grams of sugar and lots of fiber and protein.
Avoid Soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices with added sugars.
Drink more water and eat more fresh foods.
In the end, you know I am the Middle Way so although I pretty much follow my own recommendations, I will occasionally have my cake and eat it too!
4 Reasons to Eat Watermelon – Dr. Weil’s Weekend Tip.
I love watermelon, if it’s ripe and good. Watermelon is full of vitamins, gives us added fluid in our diet, is low in calories, and rich in antioxidants.
The way I pick a watermelon is to pick it up and pat it firmly with a cupped hand. The sound tells you it is ripe and ready to eat. If you hit it and there is not much of a sound, it is probably not ready to eat. I am not sure how much watermelon actually ripens once it is picked from the plant.
Once you pick a good one, enjoy! Watermelon has some great health benefits, not to mention it is so refreshing and good in the summer.