Last year, I discovered that my weight was at an all time high. I weighed as much as I did right before I delivered my second child – and I wasn’t even pregnant! I had worked so hard to lose the weight from my two pregnancies, but somehow it snuck back on. I realized that I had to do something about my lifestyle if I wanted to be able to keep up with my active kids.
A dear friend talked me into joining our local health club, and for that I am eternally grateful. As work out buddies three times a week, we act as each other’s personal trainers and encourage one other to keep exercising. We use the elliptical machines for cardio, then do strength training with the weight machines. In the first few months, the weight just fell off of both of us. I lost 30 pounds while she lost 60! We continue to work out, despite the fact that we are no longer losing weight. While we are likely building muscle, which weighs more than fat, it is very frustrating. My clothes do fit better, but after over a year of continuous exercise I have yet to be able to fit into smaller sizes.
I am grudgingly accepting the fact that it takes more than just exercise to be healthy. Like the typical American family, my kitchen is filled with snacks and junk food. I often rely on fast food and convenience foods to feed my family. At the urging of my husband, I am now trying to buy and serve healthier choices. While I am not ready to switch to a non-fat vegan organic diet or make every single thing we eat from scratch, I am willing to take baby steps.
So, here are the baby steps toward healthy living that I am taking with my family:
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
2. Drink more water and less pop / soda
3. Eat more whole grains
4. Reduce fat intake and avoid trans fats
5. Avoid MSG and reduce sodium intake
6. Avoid sodium nitrate and other artifical preservatives
7. Avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and artificial sweeteners
#1 and #2 are no-brainers. Eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more water help fill up the belly so there is no more room for the unhealthy choices. The rule of “burning more calories than you take in” is a simple concept that is very hard to enforce in my house. Eating healthy snacks such as carrots and celery with hummus, apple slices, or grapes make it easier to skip the chips and cookies, or at least eat less of them. We have purchased Contigo water bottles for every member of the family to make drinking water more convenient. We prefer these bottles to disposable water bottles because they are refillable, better for the environment, BPA free, and leak proof. We are trying to get into the habit of drinking a large amount of water before each meal and snack. I have also stopped buying “juice drinks” and other high calorie soft drinks in favor of 100% fruit and vegetable juices.
#3 Eating more whole grains is a bit trickier for us. I tried to buy whole wheat bread and whole grain pasta, but no one in my house would eat it. I have compromised by using whole grain white bread and mixing 1/2 whole grain pasta with 1/2 regular pasta. I am trying to choose crackers, chips and cereals that are made with whole grain as well. My family eats a lot of white rice. After a failed attempt to introduce plain brown rice, I may have to try mixing a batch of white rice and a batch of brown rice together. Too bad they can’t be cooked together in the same rice cooker.
Consuming more fruits, vegetables, water, and whole grains is also great for digestive health. Considering the latest craze for products such as Activia yogurt, Metamucil, Benefiber, it seems that the typical American consumer just wants to take short cuts to their health instead of simply adding natural dietary fiber. The Mayo Clinic website has a great post about why dietary fiber is important and how to get it.
#4 Reducing fat intake and avoiding trans fats sounds very simple as well. I am trying to stay away from fried foods, fatty meats (bacon & sausage – my favorites!), mayo, margarine, and other obviously greasy items. Reading food labels is key, since fats can be added into foods as innocent as a pureed fruit bar. Of course, eating a pureed fruit bar with oil added for texture is much healthier than eating potato chips, but eating fresh fruit is so much better. In the same vein, eating an avocado or a peanut with natural “good” fats is still much better for you than munching on fried pork rinds.
#5 Avoiding MSG can be tricky, since it can go by many names – MSG, monosodium glutamate, glutamic acid, free glutamate, and possibly even autolyzed yeast or hydrolyzed protein. I suspect I am one of those people who have MSG sensitivity or “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” because I often get headaches after eating something containing MSG. I try to avoid many products such as Cheetos, Doritos, and canned soups because of they contain MSG, not to mention high salt and fat content. If I remember, I request no MSG when dining out. This applies to any restaurant, not just Chinese ones. Often times, I am informed that “the soup / sauce / etc. is already made and has MSG in it.” If I order a pizza puff, I can expect headache later on. I could do a whole other article on healthy choices when dining out. Abiding by all the rules I write would be a different story, though! Baby steps, baby steps!
#6 Sodium Nitrates are discussed on WebMD:
“Used as a preservative in meats, these chemicals may pose a cancer risk, although the evidence remains controversial. One recent study raised fears that nitrites and nitrates could interact with medications to damage DNA and increase the risk of cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends limiting the amount you consume by choosing nitrite-free products when possible.”
That’s enough for me! Since many foods are so clearly labeled as “Nitrate Free,” I convince myself to bypass the sale items and reach for the more natural products.
#7 High Fructose Corn Syrup – Did you know that some brands of whole grain white bread and even pickles contain high fructose corn syrup!?! Do we really need that?!? DiabetesHealth.com has an excellent article on why HFCS can be bad for your health, especially if you have diabetes or are at high risk for it. We also try to avoid all artificial sweeteners, just because they are relatively new and we just don’t trust them. Products labeled “No added sugar” make me believe that they would be a less sweet applesauce or yogurt until I read the label that shows saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, or some other chemical. Products advertising “No Artificial Sweeteners” may have stevia or Truvia in it – which is just another suspicious non-nutritive sweetener to me! Since no one in my household is diabetic, we just stick to white sugar and occasionally honey and brown sugar – in moderation, of course! We skip all diet soft drinks and drink water instead.
My family likes to eat Wheat Thins crackers, but the Reduced Fat variety has HFCS, while the Fiber Select Garden Vegetable variety does not. I am trying to train myself to read the labels of all products I buy, even with trusted brands.
Once I started reading food labels carefully, I was surprised to find how difficult it was to follow all of these steps at the same time. The foods on sale at the grocery or wholesale stores were rarely the ones that fit into my new guidelines. Instead of having the whole deli case to choose from, I am now limited to one or two brands of no trans fat, no nitrate, no MSG lunch meats. That’s without even taking fat and sodium content into account! Even my beloved farmers’ market featured nitrate-free organic bacon, but it was definitely not low salt or low fat!
Last week I spent almost an hour in the grocery store carefully reading labels only to find my cart fairly empty and hardly anything crossed off of my list. Nearly everything I reached for had to be put back for one reason or another. Instead of getting frustrated and picking up a drive-through dinner for the family, I reminded myself that I was just starting out on my healthy living journey. I went home and prepared a meal made with products containing small amounts of the offending ingredients, some fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of water. And for dessert? A nice bowl of Count Chocula! Hey, it’s now made with whole grains! It is still healthier than other desserts we have had recently (apple cider donuts)! I am not perfect, but I am trying. I will continue to take as many baby steps as I can toward my goal of healthy living. Some of those steps might be steps backwards, especially with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas coming up, but I will keep walking nonetheless.
Count Chocula and the other General Mills´ Monster Cereals are now available for a limited time in honor of Halloween. General Mills through MyBlogSpark has provided me with all 3 Monster cereals to review and an additional products to give away. If you would like to receive one box each of Count Chocula®, Boo Berry® and Franken Berry® cereal, a special trick-or-treat tote bag and a $10 Target® gift card to purchase Halloween goodies or more cereal, please leave a comment below telling me the baby steps you are taking to get or stay healthy. Comments must be posted by midnight CST October 28 to be entered in a random drawing for the prize pack. Good luck – with the drawing and the healthy living!