My personal approach to eating, to feeding my kids and advising my patients is a gestalt of the DASH diet, the AAP 5-2-1-0 plan, myplate.gov and pushing whole foods. Sometimes I feel like a broken record in my office setting, so I would like to share some of the pearls here.
- We all need to eat more vegetables…me included. As a pediatrician, I often use the American Association of Pediatrics 5-2-1-0 strategy for weight management. The foundation is FIVE fruits and vegetables a day. Wegmans totally nailed it with their “Strive for five” marketing campaign. Ideally your 5 servings a day should include more vegetables than fruits. I personally love most fruits and don’t really like veggies. But I make myself eat them because I know my body needs them for fuel. As I always tell my patients, this is your only vessel you are given. You will not get another body. You need to treat it well. Probably one of the most well researched and validated diets is the DASH diet-this is a vegetable heavy, whole grain, balanced diet of whole foods. Vegetables and fruits for the win.
- Don’t skip breakfast. In general, breakfast eaters are thinner. Fuel your body for the day with a balanced breakfast. And I am not talking about bowl of cereal, although at least that is something. Eggs scrambled with veggies, peanut butter on whole grain toast, protein packed banana/oatmeal/egg pancakes, overnight oats with quinoa and yogurt, spinach smoothie. Stop with the carb fest. It is ok to occasionally have muffins or even (90s throwback) a toaster strudel. Just do it with an awareness that you are splurging and will get back to eating healthy at your next meal. Add a small piece of fruit to get one of your five servings in.
- The only things we need to drink are WATER…….and milk….and COFFEE for adults. Again, to reference the 5-2-1-0 plan, 0 stands for zero servings of sugary drinks. Juice is great for constipation but has no place as a staple in your diet. Gatorade is an electrolyte replenishing sports drink, excellent for a hot soccer game in the sun or to replace GI losses from diarrhea. Pop has no place in our diet except for special occasions. Drink water.
- Stop eating things out of a box. It is ok to do this in a pinch. I just had some Wheat Thins, cheese and fruit. But, in general you should shop the perimeter of the grocery store and steer clear of boxed and processed foods. Our bread should be whole wheat, our rice and pasta brown…how about quinoa or farro, even better. I am amazed at the strategic marketing of foods like “high protein” granola, “double protein” English muffins, and “weight control” oatmeal. In general, things out of a box are not healthy…stick to whole foods, not things out of a box and you will be making more healthful choices.
- Carbs are not evil but they cannot be the star of your meal. I really like the schematic from myplate.gov. One serving at a meal. Lunch sized plate. Half of our plate should be covered with non-starchy vegetables (NOT corn and potatoes although I know my Irish Catholic grandparents are rolling over in their graves). One quarter of your plate is a protein. One quarter is a whole grain starch. This means things like spaghetti and meatballs alone cannot be your meal. With two working parents, we try to keep things simple. Most days it is meat (grilled in summer months or baked in winter) plus fresh fruit and a chopped up bell pepper. If we prepare veggies, it is roasted in olive oil, a healthy fat.
- The most healthy people I see do formal exercise, not just the movement in their daily life. Exercise cannot just be at work or counting steps in your daily life. Formal exercise can be walking, at a moderate pace, while increasing pace periodically, enough to break a sweat. The surgeon general recommends 30 minutes 5 days a week plus 15 minutes of weights/resistance training 2 days a week. We would all be a lot healthier if we did this. Totally independent of weight loss, the benefits of exercise go on and on and on-decreased risk for dementia, lower risk of cancer, better outcomes in you are diagnosed with cancer, etc, etc. Make it a priority. Every day, in my house, we have a conversation (even over text message) about when we are each going to work out. As I type this I am waiting for my husband to come home so I can go to yoga. A few mornings a week, I meet some friends for an early morning run. I am scoping out my yoga studio and running routes for an upcoming trip. You get the point.
This is how I think we all should approach eating. Spoiler-it does not work to eat whatever you want, never exercise and enter your later years without issue. If you take care of your body by focusing on balanced nutrition and incorporating exercise into your daily routine, while I cannot guarantee you will thwart off all illness, I assure you that as we naturally age, you will be a whole lot happier with quality of life. Trust me. I take care of an awful lot of people in their 80s. I am not lecturing from my high horse. I have not always had these eating and exercise habits as evidenced by the photos from college that accompany this blog post. But, it is never too late to invest in yourself. Getting healthy is a marathon and not a sprint. If you fall of the wagon, get back on. This is an investment in your long term health and wellbeing. There is not a worthier cause.