3 Simple Action Steps to Better Health
Our health is the most valuable thing we have. Getting healthy is something most of us want to do. Because of this common desire, health and fitness is a huge industry with an overwhelming range of diet and exercise options.
Making the decision to be healthy is easy—turning it into a reality is not. How do you choose between so many options? And where do you start?
In the past 6 months or so I’ve been working with three simple steps that I believe can be helpful to anyone who wants to feel better. Before I get into it let me clarify what a healthy lifestyle means to me.
Having better health in not about living longer. It’s about improving the quality of the days we have on this planet. No one can guarantee that a healthy lifestyle will prevent serious illness, but the odds improve when we’re doing the best we can (or at least we’re comforted by the fact that we gave something our best shot).
A healthy lifestyle means:
- You have enough energy to do what you desire to do.
- Your weight is within an acceptable range to your height and body type.
- You have enough strength, endurance, and flexibility to carry on with your daily activities.
If you desire to have a healthy lifestyle as defined above, consider these steps. I recommend starting with number one and working with it till it’s an established habit, then moving on to the next one.
It’s not easy to take things slowly and gradually. But it’s the most effective way I know to implement and sustain change successfully.
To keep things simple, work with what you have, or the resources listed here. Don’t delay action and spend your time looking for the perfect tool. Just start today.
1- Chew your food properly, till it’s liquefied in your mouth
Chewing your food as much as possible has so many benefits. You’ll pay more attention to what you’re eating and slow down. Over time, you’ll enjoy your food more, start taking smaller bites, and even eat less (if you need to).
How to do it?
Start with one meal (for example breakfast). Take a bite of food and chew it to the count of 10 before you swallow. Increase the count to 20 after a few days. Repeat the same process with other meals, one at a time.
Give yourself a week for each meal before you move on to the next one. Within a month to 6 weeks, you will be chewing more.
In most cases you’ll need to chew more than to the count of 20—depending on the food texture and bite size. Keep increasing the time you chew, if you can, till the food is liquefied in your mouth.
This is a simple thing to do but not very easy, considering years of conditioning and speed eating. Some of the challenges you might face are listed below:
Too hungry and impatient that you chew a few bites then you go back to eating fast. Try to eat before you’re starving or get a small snack and eat it slowly, if you have to wait for the main meal.
Forgot to do it because old habits are really hard to change. You need to remind yourself of the need to chew. Place a Post-it note by your eating area, or wear a rubber band, or add a reminder to your calendar/to-do list. Keep reminding yourself of the need to do it, till it’s automatic. It may take months for this habit to stick.
It’s boring to chew and chew. Instead of focusing on the movement of the jaw, think of (and appreciate) the food you’re eating and what it took for you to have the meal—planting, harvesting, transport, packaging, and cooking. It’s also a wonderful way to indulge your senses and savor the food as it dissolves in your mouth. Focus on the texture and flavors instead of the monotony.
Social pressure because you feel others will finish their meal before you do. If you are on a deadline, order a smaller meal (eat less) or have the rest of your food to go. If your meal is part of a leisurely gathering, continue to eat your main meal while others venture into dessert or drinks.
Chewing your food will slow you down. You cannot overeat when you’re eating slowly and mindfully. The main thing is to keep doing it. If you forget, start again, even in the middle of a meal. It’s okay as long as you keep going.
2- Keep a food (and calories) journal
Food, first and foremost, is fuel. The pleasure derived from eating is an added bonus.
If we look at food as a source of sustenance and survival, eating becomes a process of simple math. We need so many calories to sustain our vital functions and replenish the energy we expend.
Interestingly, when we pay more attention to the quality and quantity of what we’re consuming, we’ll become more aware not only of the healthy aspects but of the flavors, aromas, textures and delights of food.
So my question to you is: Do you know how many calories you need to consume each day? And do you know if you consume that amount or more or less?
Some people are against keeping track because it takes time and it makes eating more complicated. I found the opposite to be true.
When you write down what you eat and the related calories, you pay more attention to not only what you’re eating, but also the calorie load and benefit you gain from each choice.
Over time, you’ll realize that we repeat a lot of our meals and you start negotiating (with yourself) food choices and quantity. I don’t know of a better way to simplify your food than to try and keep track of it.
How to journal your food and calories
The process involves two steps.
A- Figure out how many calories you need
Figure out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and adjust for your level of activity. Use this calculator to determine the estimated calories burned per day.
This number is just a guideline to help you make more informed decisions about your food choices and desired goals. If you want to lose weight, you need to consume less than your target (i.e. create a deficit).
A pound is about 3500 calories. So if you create a daily deficiency of 200 calories, you will lose a pound of weight in about two and a half weeks. You can speed up the process by burning more calories through exercise and physical activity.
The goal here is for slow gradual change. So I don’t recommend anyone create more than a small deficit without checking with a doctor.
B- Write down your food and related calories
Write down everything you eat or drink and the related calories. When you start this process, you will pay more attention to labels and the quality of food you’re consuming.
Fast food and most restaurant meals are loaded with calories. It doesn’t mean you should not eat them. You just need to be mindful of how one meal fits in with your total caloric requirements.
This is where awareness kicks in and we start truly paying attention to what we’re consuming. And we start making better (more conscious) choices.
Keeping a journal
You can do it the old fashioned way using a notebook, or you can do it online. The choice is yours.
If you do it manually, you can check for your calories online or from the product labels.
There are numerous websites that you can join for free to track your food and activity level. My favorite is Calorie Count. You can update your food on the go, or at home and see how everything adds up.
Look at your numbers daily, weekly, and monthly. If you skip a day, it’s okay, just pick up, and keep going. You don’t have to track your food for the rest of your life. Do it if you feel it benefits you and be aware of justification and resistance (all the reasons you shouldn’t do it).
I have been doing it for more than 6 months now and don’t intend on stopping any time soon. I’ve never been more aware of the quality and quantity of the food I consume.
If you like doing something physical by all means, do it. Whatever it is, the movement will add up over time and you’re more likely to stick to it.
If you don’t prefer a specific type of exercise or movement, start with the basics—the things you do anyway. Walk for a few minutes a day, or take the stairs, clean part of your house, play with the kids, or clear some clutter.
Our bodies were designed to move, not to sit in front of screens all day. When you move, you
- Burn more calories
- Gain more strength and energy
- Release stress and feel calmer
- Clear your mind and open up to ideas and inspiration
- Are more likely to make better food choices (you don’t want your physical activity to go to waste)
Move as much as you can, and respect any physical limitations you have. And no matter what you do, start with a few minutes and add up if you like. It’s better to move for 5 minutes a day and stick to it, than do an hour once and be sedentary the rest of the week.
Before I let you go a few things I’d like to emphasize.
A few reminders
- Don’t do everything at once. Start with chewing your food and make it as easy as possible.
- Pick up if you stop as soon as you can.
- Food is more important than exercise. Focus on the quality and quantity of your food first. Then add exercise and movement.
- Always go with how your body feels. Don’t push it.
- If you need to cut calories, don’t do a drastic cut; create a small deficit that adds up on a daily basis. The purpose is to improve your health in the long-term.
- Respect your body and range of motion. Start with cardio (aerobic), add stretches (for flexibility), and then build strength (resistance training).
- Be patient. You won’t feel the changes in a day or two, but over time you will see results. The results may vary from time to time and that’s okay.
- Have faith that you can do it. You have the ability to do anything you desire. Stick to it, do the best you can and don’t give up on yourself. You’re definitely worth the effort.
That’s it. These three steps (chew your food properly, track your food and calories, and move) will not cost you a dime—you don’t need to buy anything.
These are simple steps, but not easy to consistently do. We need to change some of the most ingrained behaviors and that takes time. So start today, slowly, and keep going. I guarantee the results will be worth it.