Project Healthy Me

Take this as a nudge, maybe a not so gentle nudge, to think about your diet and physical activity habits. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, where do you score yourself? If you are not happy with your score, you may need to start a serious project to win back your health.

Wake up call. The COVID-19 is revealing an ugly truth. It is cruel to people with underlying health conditions and age and less cruel to healthy or younger people. We can’t roll back the years, but we do have control over our health starting today. In many cases poor health is not necessarily our destiny. Think of health as an investment in aging with vigor and strength.  We can do a lot to mitigate disease risk to ourselves. The younger we start, the better we age. Starting today is good.

Here is the problem. As a country, our health care is staggering under our collective weight. Forty percent of us are overweight and another 30 percent are obese. Obesity is now considered a disease. Excess weight triggers a cascade of serious health issues like diabetes and with it come high blood pressure and heart disease- those underlying health conditions.

Good news. Poor health, including diabetes is not inevitable. You can be healthy regardless of family health history by following a healthy diet and routine exercise, getting sleep and managing stress. While we have choices about the foods we eat and the activity we do, we are wired to make choices that give us pleasure, choices that may not be good for us.

Our Standard American Diet (SAD) over time has presented us with more and more opportunities to eat abundantly. Restaurant portions are large. Many processed foods provide little nutrient density, but are calorie dense featuring ingredients, like sugar, fat and salt. We are hard wired to desire foods with these ingredients. They taste good. Adults and children see thousands of food ads every year nudging our appetites in the wrong direction.

Decision: Would you want calorie density or nutrient density? For example: potato chips vs. blueberries. One ounce of potato chips equals 140 calories (fat and salt). Five ounces (1-3/4 cups) fresh blueberries also equal 140 calories (rich in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, no fat or salt). Which would you pick?

Project Healthy Me
Your health is a big serious project. Get started by checking off the strategies you think would be easy to do and where you would be successful trying. Remember it takes practice to implement a new habit.

  • Goal: Lose 7 to 10 percent of your body weight. This effort improves insulin sensitivity, reduces blood pressure, and may improve cholesterol levels. If you weigh 200 pounds, lose 14 to 20 lbs. Just doing that may prevent diabetes and may reduce other health risks.
  • Strategies
    • Keep a food record. If you are honest and mindful, just keeping a record knocks off lots of calories and causes weight loss.
    • Choose smaller No seconds.
    • Eat when hungry; stop when satisfied.
    • Plan your meals ahead of time.
    • Try time restricted eating. Pledge not to eat for 10 to 12 hours. For example, avoid eating between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am. Research shows this strategy leads to weight loss because evening snacking stops.
    • Snacking and “grazing” open the door to extra calories. If you must snack, make part of your previous meal your snack.
    • Cut out processed, packaged These usually have extra fat, sugar, and salt. Not good for you.
    • Cook from scratch– make friends with your kitchen and start cooking. This does not include baking a frozen pizza.
    • Chose foods that are nutrient dense rather than calorie dense.
    • Read labels. You may be surprised at what and how much you are eating.
    • Fast food: stop it. No need to explain.
    • Meat and potatoes… not unless it is lean meat, a reasonable portion size, like three to four ounces (cooked), and that non-starchy vegetables are half of the plate.
    • Eat 3 meals a day.
    • Make plants the focus of your diet.
    • Do 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity weekly.
    • Walk 15 minutes after a meal. The Italians call this walk a “passeggiata.” It’s a lovely way to aid digestion, relax, socialize and embrace the evening.
    • Measure your waist. Men should have a waist less 40 inches and women, less than 35 inches.
    • Plan on buying new clothes.

It’s time to focus on your well-being. Make a salad. Drink water. Move more. Picture yourself being a healthier you.

Recipe: Italian Roasted Red Peppers

Taking a “passeggiata” reminded me of this simple recipe my Italian mother-in-law taught me.

Place 2 to 3 red peppers on a hot grill or under the broiler set on “broil.” As the peppers blacken (this is okay!), turn peppers until all sides are mostly blackened. Place in a paper bag to cool. The steam created will loosen the blackened layer which peels off easily. Peel peppers, open and remove seeds and stem. Peppers can be cut in strips or large pieces. Arrange pieces in a shallow dish, 3 to 4 cloves of garlic cut in half, and drizzle 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil across peppers. Lightly salt. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours. Keep covered in refrigerator.

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.