Have you tried to stick to a new diet only to cave into your cravings a couple of days later? Are you so busy focusing on your family, children, parents or partners that you often disregard your own personal needs? Do you dream of having a healthy lifestyle but aren’t sure what steps you need to take in order to get there?
We all experience different stressors throughout life: leaving for college, entering into the job market, bouncing from career to career, getting married, starting a family, caring for children, navigating through a divorce, or transitioning to empty nesting. These transition periods can be extremely stressful and can take a major toll on our health. My goal is to help you take the time to focus on yourself and learn to cope with stress in a healthy manner. In a short, 12-week customized program, I will provide you with ongoing support and guidance as you set desired goals and make changes to improve your overall health and happiness.
It is estimated that 34% of Americans over the age of 20 are obese, and 69% could be classified as overweight. Healthcare costs in our country soar as overall health decreases. Today, an overwhelming percentage of the population experiences chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, fertility issues, and depression. As a society, we rely heavily on medications and medical interventions to reverse the damage caused by years of unhealthy eating. However, “health” is defined by more than what we eat. Health and wellness are shaped by our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
As a society, we dwell on calories, carbohydrates, sugars, and restriction diets that often result in quick weight loss but leave us feeling groggy and unsatisfied. “Fad diets” detail how to lose weight without paying any attention to age, gender, lifestyle or ancestral background. The fact is that we are all extremely unique, and that one diet does not work for everyone. Part of losing weight is taking the step to figure out what is preventing you from making healthy choices. A stressful work environment, strained family relationships, a difficult child, and marital problems are all common external factors that put pressure on our daily lives and make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. To begin a healthier lifestyle, it’s important to take a good look at how, what, and why you are eating.
The first step is figuring out exactly what you are eating. Label-reading is an important skill that allows us to decipher exactly what is in our food. Food label claims are not always regulated, so it’s important to ask questions and understand exactly what everything means. When it comes to meat and poultry, there are differences between “organic,” “cage-free,” “grass-fed,” and “free-range.” It is always important to buy meat with no added hormones or antibiotics. But the meat and poultry industry isn’t the only thing that has changed. Breads that were traditionally made with whole-grains are now made from processed, white, bleached flour that has far less nutritional value. Processing food strips out the majority of its natural nutrients and adds flavors, colors, and other harmful preservatives. Our fruits and vegetables that were once naturally organic are now sprayed with pesticides and chemicals. Most pesticides do not come off by simply washing the produce, and they are left for our digestive and immune systems to process. The best way to avoid chemicals, antibiotics, and preservatives in your food is to shop organic and read the label, avoiding foods with ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
The second step is examining how you are eating. We eat in our cars, at our desk, in front of the television, and with all these distractions it’s easy to consume more than your body needs. American’s are cooking fewer and fewer meals at home, opting more frequently for fast food, take-out, or delivery dinners. Cooking your food at home allows you to regulate the ingredients and portion sizes. Restaurants often add unnecessary oils, salt, sugar, and wheat to make food taste better. If you have children, try to arrange family dinners as frequently as possible. Not only will this promote healthy eating but it will also support the family as a cohesive unit. Dining together provides a set time to discuss any accomplishments or concerns any family member might have. Aim for everyone to stay seated for at least 30 minutes, and get in the habit of devoting a specific time for dinner each week. Replacing just three fast-food meals per week with a well-balanced home-cooked dish will greatly reduce you and your family’s caloric intake.
The third step to a healthy diet is to figure out why you are eating. Ideally, we should be eating three to six small meals per day, but we often consume much more than the recommended daily amount. Most people keep unhealthy snacks at their desks, munching on chips, candy, cookies, and other packaged foods throughout the day. People tend to eat more when they’re bored or when they don’t have a fixed daily routine. Setting a consistent routine will help regulate your meal times. Even if you don’t have the same schedule each day, make a point to wake up at the same time every morning. Have a set time for breakfast and make sure to eat a well-balanced meal so you are not tempted to snack later when you’re hungry. If you’re bored at home or at work and you feel hungry, try having a glass of water or going on a quick walk to make sure you’re not just eating because you have food in front of you. Another common reason for overeating is stress. When people get stressed, they tend to eat more and crave “comfort foods” that are often high in sugars and carbohydrates. Eating these foods causes the body to release serotonin, which can make you feel more relaxed. However, an overload of carbohydrates and serotonin will lead to that drowsy feeling we often experience after eating a large meal. Protein causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes us feel more alert, but in the wrong proportions it may cause irritability. Pay attention to your emotions and moods and do not alter your meal schedule during times of stress or boredom.
I often hear clients express reservations such as “I’m not a good cook,” “I don’t have time to be healthy,” or “I’m too busy focusing on my family and my children to worry about myself.” Today, I challenge you to confront your hesitation. What is really holding you back from living a happy and healthy life? If you would like additional information or would like to schedule an appointment, please call the Tarnow Center for Self Management at 713-621-9515.
Caitlin Bailey, M.Ed. LPC, Certified Health Coach