Happy, Healthy Living

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Living a healthy life is always a choice. There can be barriers (financial, emotional, etc), but in the end, how much we move and what we eat are decisions we make. Health professionals are constantly trying to make healthy habits more accessible and understandable to the general population. For instance it’s now fairly common knowledge that one goal for good health is to hit about 10,000 steps a day. In the health field, we still talk about minutes of exercise and intensity, but for the masses, steps per day are easier to understand. What we’ve found, however, is that the problem isn’t not understanding what is necessary and good for our bodies, the problem is with the follow through, because let’s face it, if something’s not easy, we are a lot less likely to do it.

This is one of the reasons I love Australia. Here it is easy to hit 10,000 steps. I hit it every day in fact (usually surpassing my goal) just in my every day activities. Public transport is so efficient around the city that people end up walking to trams, trains and busses rather than just hopping in their cars. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of drivers as well, but overall this Aussie city seems to be very active.

Aside from walking by means of transport, it seems the whole city is buzzing with opportunities to get outside and move. At the Saint Kilda festival my first weekend down under, there were several different setups for exercising (a zumba class by the beach, a yoga session in the park, etc). Additionally, in each of the suburbs of Victoria there are weekly timed 5ks available for free to anyone who shows up. Back home in the states there were also loads of running groups (some free and some not), but any timed 5k I ever went to had a fee associated with it, and though usually it was a small sum of money, it was still a barrier. And barriers turn people away.

Being in the exercise field, I recognize that I am probably more aware of things like steps and avoiding inactivity, but with all the technology that’s available, there’s really no excuse. There are plenty of people here who still need to drive into work, as public transport is not easily accessible on some of the suburbs farther out, but even so I feel like the environment here supports those people who prioritize health. But again it comes back to individual motivation.

Beyond the movement aspect of health, even nutritional options seem to be superior here. At the fresh markets I’ve found, the cheapest things to buy are fresh fruits and vegetables. There are very few fast food restaurants around so the temptation to run out for a quick, cheap dinner just isn’t quite the same as in the states. The cost of dining out practically encourages you to cook a meal in, as it’s likely to be faster and cheaper. Even just a lunch out can run you anywhere from AUD$8-16 at an average café and much more at a nicer restaurant. While the high cost of dining out here isn’t really a selling point in everyday life, it is quite a good motivator for cooking a meal at home (with some inexpensive fresh veggies and fruits).

In the end, it doesn’t much matter where you live or what you do. If you want to make healthy choices you will. You will make the easy choices and the hard ones and barriers won’t slow you down. It is nice to see here at least, there seem to be fewer barriers to making those healthy choices…whether that translates to more people turning around their bad habits, only time will tell.

All I know for sure right now is that I am loving how well this city is supporting the lifestyle I am striving to live.

Cheers!

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Size Matters

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Today as part of my ‘treat yo self’ day, I dined at the Cracker Barrel near my apartment. I had a gift card and haven’t been out to eat in weeks so I figured, why not? I ate by myself as I just wanted some quiet time and when the waitress came to take my order I asked for a biscuit while I waited. She asked if I wanted one or two and I responded “just one” knowing I had a whole plate of French toast, eggs and bacon coming soon. About a minute later she reappeared with a plate and two biscuits. “I couldn’t bring you a plate with just one…it’s just odd.” I gave a polite laugh, thanked her and enjoyed my one biscuit. I had already decided I would take the second one home and felt very good about that decision until five minutes later when my meal came out and VOILA—two MORE biscuits. Needless to say, I reevaluated the biscuit count and ate another, now having TWO to take home.

All of my southern friends are likely smiling at this point, appreciating this moment for what it appears to be—southern hospitality at it’s finest. And it WAS nice. I wasn’t charged for them and I didn’t ask for them (I actually asked to not have them, technically), but I was still provided with an over-abundance of food. I doggy-bagged half of my French toast and the two biscuits and feel like I have a whole other meal waiting for me tomorrow.

The problem is, 5 years ago I would’ve eaten everything. Splitting my one meal into two would have seemed silly, and even though I would’ve been stuffed full, I would have found a way to eat all of it. I think the vast majority of people follow the same pattern as I did a few years back, and therein lies the problem. We are taught from an early age to get the most “bang for your buck.” The more food you can buy with that dollar, the better. Ignoring all nutritional components of that food purchase, anytime you eat out (with the exception of fine dining locations) you are almost always getting “too much.”

You see, I personally hold the opinion that much of America’s obesity epidemic could be solder with one simple adjustment—portion control. I truly believe you can eat most anything (don’t go overboard with an all donut diet here…) so long as you manage the portion size. Mind the basic nutrition rules of having a good balance of protein, fats and carbs, but don’t worry AS much about what you eat as you do about how MUCH you eat. I can hear some nutritionists buzzing in my ear right now about endorsing a world without consist calorie counting, but hear me out.

I don’t count calories. I eat smaller portions of the things that I know do not provide the nutritional value my body really needs, while setting no portion limits for the “healthy” stuff. If I’m really craving some garlic bread (recent occurrence), I won’t just NOT eat a slice, but I will only eat one. Meanwhile, when I steam some green peas, I polish off a whole three serving bag without thinking twice. Does that contradict my portion size? Maybe a little, but let’s be honest here, most people in America aren’t getting anywhere NEAR their suggested vegetable or fruit intake…so when I am preaching portion control, I’m really speaking to what we presently overindulge in. I have never witnessed a health problem following overconsumption of fruits and veggies.

While portion control may seem an easy enough adjustment to make, sadly, the odds are stacked against us. Food companies list nutritional facts for a personal packaged pizza, but bury in the label the fact that this personal pizza is actually two servings. Restaurants provide “value” to the customer through quantity rather than quality and oftentimes most dishes are packed with enough calories to happily feed two people.

So what do you do? Society tells you beauty is in a small pant size and yet the food corporations are throwing a day’s worth of calories onto your dinner plate.

I’ll tell you what I do…I take back control. I listen to my body and what it needs. I eat when I’m hungry, but stop when I feel full (let’s face it, stuffing yourself full of food is only enjoyable for that one second that you taste the food…after that it’s all a terrible mind game of “why did I do that”). I don’t deny myself desserts or indulgences, but I maintain control over the portion size, and trust me, I’m not starving myself over here.

Dieting is everywhere. You can’t turn on the tv, read a magazine or even talk to a friend without the concept of losing weight or dieting coming up. As a professional in the health and wellness field, my exposure to this is probably about tenfold and I’ve recently hit my boiling point with the chaos that surrounds this topic. If I see one more top secret, magic wrap, pill or fruit I literally might implode…okay, not literally, but it is very possible I’ll hop up on my soapbox and simply never come back down. Take back the power. There’s nothing magical necessary to live a healthy life. You just need to have control. Control over your mind, control over your body, and most definitely control over your portion size. In the case of weight loss and healthy living, size really does matter.

(The video below explains portion control and why it’s necessary for some foods, and why having more veggies and fruits can actually help portion control for other types of food)