By Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, CSSD, LDN
As we all try to define our new normalcy in a world of uncertainty, there is something to be said for controlling what we can with our self-health plan. Can we resolve to strategize our behaviors to be purposeful, present, and positive? Can we prioritize health and well-being, and personalize our fitness, nutrition, stress management and sleep to optimize the return on our investment? Here are 10 ways to help you do just that:
- PRESENCE and PURPOSE
Everyone is in overdrive with obligations but taking care of one’s health never takes a vacation. However, self-care does not happen without both commitment and time. This does not mean that we should give up other responsibilities, but it certainly does mean that we are worth an investment in time and energy to be present and purposeful in strategies that allow us to de-stress, get our rest, nourish and move our bodies, and address underlying health concerns.
When my clients voice the desire to lose weight, manage blood glucose, improve fitness, control cholesterol, optimize bone health, etc.… I always applaud and support the efforts, BUT I also ask them how they are going to prioritize making their efforts attainable, sustainable, and maintainable. We are all allotted only 24 hours in a day and many hours of the day are already spoken for. So why not schedule self-care? Put it on your you-do list so it gets accomplished rather than forgotten.
When it comes to food choices, taste preferences, fitness, relaxation techniques, pillow preferences, and even medication, the choices are not one size fits all. The approach to nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, and self-care needs to be personalized to fit your budget, your schedule, your culinary ability, your living environment, and others in your home. If your strategies are not a good fit, they are not going to last, and you end up frustrated instead of motivated.
As we start a new year eating becomes an obligation or time of deprivation to make up for holiday indulgences. This type of approach is destructive rather than constructive and is certainly not enjoyable. So, how about some nutrition intuition in the kitchen.
Let your taste buds be part of the food choices and think about flavors that appeal to you. If you like sweet, consider adding prunes for a sweet, chewy taste that actually takes the bitterness away from veggies like this recipe for Sweet and Salty Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and California Prunes. Use prunes to add a nice sweetness to a mole sauce. You can also bring in the flavor with spices, seasoning, and vinegar to bring pizazz to the palate.
The texture is also an important consideration. If you like crunchy-roasted chickpeas or other beans, add them to a delicious and nutritious salad. Roasted vegetables can have a different texture than steamed vegetables.
Finally, appeal to your eye with produce. Fruits and vegetables bring beautiful colors to your bowl or plate. Additionally, lots of produce can fill you up. Add protein and a little fat for satiety between meals and the variety of taste appeal.
Whether it’s dancing, walking, swimming, biking, running, or rowing – choose the movement that you enjoy. Ideally, your moves should include elements that are good for your heart (cardio), good for your muscles and bones (strength training), and good for your joints (flexibility). Movement is good for your body composition, but it is also important for your bones and your gut. The important thing is to find the best way to be consistent. The goal is to be strong and live healthy and long!
6. THE THRILL OF LEARNING HOW TO CHILL
For all of us who are dynamos and powerhouses and measure success by how much we get done, mastering the art of relaxation takes a lot of practice and determination. We cannot be “ON” all the time. The ability to take a break, unwind and be kind to the body and brain is essential. In this case, it may be best to schedule your downtime at a point in the day that works best for you and that has limited interruptions and obligations. Meditation, visualization, aromatherapy, yoga, a cup of herbal tea- choose whatever sounds appealing for your relaxation therapy and plan some time-out time every day in any way.
7. THE POWER OF ZZZs
When your head hits the bed, your body finally has time to restore, refresh, replenish and recover. Getting our ZZs is important for our health, weight, our energy, mental focus, and our stress management. Set yourself up for better sleep with these nightcaps:
- Stop eating about 90 minutes before bed.
- Cut back on the booze – consider a little prune juice as a nightcap instead.
- The half-life of caffeine is 12 hours. Plan accordingly so you are less wired when it is time to be tired.
- Strenuous exercise is not advised too close to bedtime, but a few stretches are a way to be kind to your body and relax and unwind.
- Give your eyes a rest and minimize the screen time after dinner.
- Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night.
8. THE CAN-APPROACH
I am all about empowering, enlightening, and enabling when it comes to health and self-care. This is not a one-off and needs to be practiced enough to become the new routine. The CAN acronym stands for:
- Consistency with habits
- Attitude about the body and mental health
- Nurturing– treating the body with respect — not neglect – and learning how to accept what we cannot change and deflect the obstacles that get in our way
No matter your age or health status, it is always a good idea to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to self-health. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, osteopenia, osteoporosis, or diabetes, the goal is to prevent disease progression. Use food to your advantage to nourish and nurture your body. Prunes are good for bowels, bones, and microbiome. Fruits and vegetables provide the fluid, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that confer head-to-toe health benefits. Protein from animal or plant sources supports all of our body systems. Carbohydrates in the form of whole-grain pasta, brown rice, potatoes, whole-grain cereal, and whole-grain bread provide fiber and energy. Healthy fats from fatty fish (like salmon), nuts, seeds, oils, and avocado are good for our hearts and can help decrease inflammation. There is also room on the plate for indulgences that bring the flavor and mouthfeel. How about chocolate-dipped prunes, or a prune Armagnac sauce over ice cream? Inclusivity, diversity, palatability, and consistency on the plate are a recipe to help make our health great!
The internet is rife with fad diets, detoxes, cleanses, and rigorous exercise programs to fast-track a healthy lifestyle. The problem is that these are not sustainable and may leave you feeling drained and in pain, which ultimately leads to a lack of desire or ability to sustain these programs. Your body and brain do not respond positively to sweeping changes. Instead move in the direction of what you can and will do on your terms, your schedule, your budget, and your preferences. That is how you can achieve success without duress.
Let’s ring in the New Year with a reason to cheer not fear. Optimize your health with the gift of taking care of yourself.