Studies indicate that 70% of American adults and 30% of American kids are overweight or obese. When considering that staggering figure, how widespread today are common eating disorders, and the huge cost of medical care for those who suffer weight-related illnesses, it seems that most of us need to pay greater attention to our health.
When I was young I ate everything I wanted and could lose weight at the drop of a hat. But as I got older, the pounds accumulated and it became increasingly difficult to lose. Experts say that at age 30 if we change nothing in our eating habits or exercise routines, each year we will gain a minimum of one pound. By the age of 60, we will be 30 pounds heavier at least.
I raise this now because after I was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago, my wife and I decided that it was time for us to take control of our health, and make some changes in what we ate and how much we exercised (for those with eating disorders and food addiction, professional help is warranted).
I have developed a list of 10 things we continually strive to do to be healthy, most of which are recommended by experts. I am not always consistent, and maintaining my ideal weight is a daily struggle, but I work at this every day. Here is what we do. If any of this helps you, dayeinu:
1. Move more – We can build our strength and stamina to run, walk, swim or ride a bike one hour every day, four or five times a week. Some recommend walking a minimum of 10,000 steps daily. We can add steps by changing other habits. For example, I now never take an elevator unless I am climbing more than five floors, and even then I might take the stairs. I park my car far away from my destination to force me to walk the rest of the way. I rarely use valet unless it is raining or bloody hot.
2. Eat less – I do not fill my plate as I used to do, and I stop myself (most of the time) going back for second helpings. If I snack between meals I choose something healthy - almonds, vegetables, fruit, 100% whole wheat bread. I avoid eating anything white (milk products, sugar, or salt). Eating late at night anything other than fruit is a bad idea!
3. Avoid most saturated fats – They raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease. This includes fatty meats and poultry, steak, hamburger, and beef sausage. Dieticians give the green light on lean cuts of meat (I eat almost no red meat anymore, and I don’t miss it), and skinless everything, as well as fish that is rich in omega-3 fats. If I consume milk products, it has to be non-fat milk (the only time I cheat is when I use whole milk in coffee), and I avoid most cheese unless it is very low fat. Dark chocolate, for me is a necessity, but I limit myself to a square inch or two daily. Scientists say that dark chocolate is actually a good thing, as is 3 or 4 cups of caffeinated coffee a day. Thank God!
4. Avoid trans fats – This is found in spreads of all kinds, packaged foods and mixes, frozen foods, fast food, breaded anything, baked goods, chips, crackers, breakfast cereals (except oatmeal and some cereals without sugar and additives), candy, toppings, and most dips (except low fat yogurt-based or guacamole).
5. Eat only 100% whole grain – In bread, cereal, cookies, and cakes.
6. Add no extra sugar or salt - Avoid all sugar syrups, all sugared drinks, and experts say diet sodas as well.
7. Eat lots of fruit, vegetables and fish.
8. Drink alcohol in moderation – I drink red wine because it is great for the heart and soul, an ounce of scotch (on occasion) and only light beer.
9. Drink water often – I do not use plastic containers as they are cancer causing.
10. Weigh yourself every day – I adjust my daily intake of food and increase my exercise routine if I find, to my horror, that I’ve gained weight (even a pound) from the day before. If I have lost weight I resist hard rewarding myself with more chocolate.
Losing weight requires not a small measure of self-discipline, will-power, patience, persistence, optimism, and self-forgiveness.
If weight gain is your problem (and clearly, say the surveys, it is for most of us) it is best to think long-term (months!!!) and delight in small successes. When you reach your goal, however long it takes, reward yourself by going out and buying new clothes.