I love the holidays, it seems there are more opportunities to spend quality time with friends and family. And, always, along with that quality time there is a meal, or finger foods or some sort of refreshment. Who doesn’t enjoy such occasions? Even an introvert can find opportunities to enjoy themselves in a small intimate gathering.
The gift giving and big sit-down meals of Christmas are a wonderful thing. And so is a simple bowl of soup shared during a warm conversation with a friend. I think sometimes we push ourselves more than is necessary when hosting these events. I don’t believe that we necessarily do these things from a sense of prideful boasting, but more from a desire to please. None-the-less, in an increasingly complex and complicated world, let’s move toward the basics. A simple meal, shared with friends, regularly. There is some science to prove this act alone could extend your life!
The foods we are offered at these events are special treats – a whole table full of them. Special treats tend to be high in fat, refined carbs and sugar. Think bacon wrapped potatoes, or cheese and crackers, and of course cookies and cakes. While enjoying the company of our fellow party goers we may also consume a glass of wine or a beer.
Consider for a moment the fact that most of us gain a pound or two over the holidays. Have you ever wondered why? I stumbled across some research recently that claimed that when foods and alcohol are consumed together the alcohol is burned as energy and the food – all of it – is stored for use later. Let me be clear, our human body is a fat storing machine, it excels at it, and it is always preparing for a future food shortage. The only way to ensure you maintain your desired body shape is by maintaining balance in your consumption. And, in case you ever wondered, all calories are not equal. Consider broccoli versus a cookie. The life-enhancing properties of the broccoli will far outweigh those of the dead, processed, low nutrition and high calorie cookie.
If I talked with a dozen people and asked them about what they eat, I think most of them would sheepishly avoid mentioning some of what passes through their lips. There are days when I would too! I think we generally know what is good for us, and what is not. But we choose to consume what is not life giving; why? Do we really intend to sabotage our longevity and energy levels? Do we set out to cripple ourselves with sickness and chronic disease? I am compelled to answer that we don’t. I can not conceive of people who would prefer to be sick and lacking in vitality and spunk. So what is happening here? How are we ending up where we don’t want to be?
I believe there are many reasons. Many. Many. I want to go through a few of them here, I hope you will come along on this little journey, and please leave your comments at the end. Let’s start with the idea that food is something we have to consume. Sure, you can fast for a day or two, but in order to remain alive we must eat. So, how do we choose what to eat? One expert says eat lots of meat and greens, another says raw and vegan is the only way to go. Another only consumes white meat, and yet another eats mostly vegetables, beans, and grains. In Italy they eat pasta, in France sauces, in the UK it is bangers and mash, and in Japan it is rice. As a result, it seems there certainly can’t be one ‘right’ diet, doesn’t it?
Returning to my factory analogy from a previous post; our body, at its most basic is made up of a bunch of collections of molecules. Molecules are assembled into cells, hormones, blood, bones, muscle and every other part of us. If the molecules don’t have available to them the right atoms of whatever, how can they build cells, blood, bones or eyes?
What am I talking about? Consider this:
- Water makes up a vast proportion of our body. It is critical for use in many metabolic functions. Insufficient water in the body makes the work of the kidneys and liver more difficult. Lack of water also increases the size of wrinkles, causes headaches, and can make you think you are hungry, when you are really just thirsty. I would be remiss in my role as your new favorite blogger if I didn’t mention that soda, coffee, tea, and other caffeinated or highly sugared beverages do not count as water! The goal is half your body weight in pounds in ounces of water, so a 140 pound person would need to drink about 70 ounces of water daily. Contrary to common beliefs, lean body tissues have more water than fat. Are you drinking enough?
- Protein. Protein serves as a primary building block for much of our body, and many processes. We tend to think of protein as synonyms with meat, but in fact many other foods contain protein. As a general guideline sedentary men need on average 56 grams, and women 46. These figures however are averages and don’t take into consideration activity levels, age, and other factors that may influence an individual’s need for protein. Are you eating enough protein?
- Fiber is present in all fruits, veggies, and un-processed grains. Unfortunately, modern food manufacturing practices tend to remove the fiber from grains, resulting in the ‘white flour’ used to coat chicken tenders, bake bread, make crackers, cereals, pies, cookies, and cakes. You get the idea. Fiber serves a variety of roles in our body – from enhancing satiety to slowing the movement of sugars into the bloodstream. Fiber supplies our microbiome with food, and also keeps the plumbing humming as my husband says. We have an epidemic of people with gut related issues, from constipation to IBS to diverticulitis, and it is likely that inadequate fiber intake (ie, passing beyond your lips into your body) is related, if not a causing factor. Men under 50 need about 38 grams a day, women 25. The recommended amounts drop over the age of 50 for women to 21 grams daily. Are you getting enough fiber?
- Processed food. This is a huge area of concern, and one I could spend the rest of this week writing about. Watch some of the videos I so frequently mention. Consider it wasn’t that long ago that the tobacco industry fought tooth and nail for their argument that tobacco did no harm. Finally science, and public opinion were swayed, and now we freely know and admit that smoking is a risky habit. So is eating processed foods. The food industry employs people who tweak and twist recipes for popular foods to ensure the maximum ‘bliss factor.’ Why would they want to increase our bliss? Because it makes the food addicting. Surely you recall some older commercials boasting, “Bet you can’t eat just one.” They knew they had nailed the bliss factor. This is very dangerous because we become ‘addicted’ to these typically low nutrition, high calorie foods. Have you ever sat next to a box, bag, or bowl of something, munching as you read a book or watch a movie? Before you know it the whole thing is empty, and you never noticed. This is, in some ways, not your fault. Food manufacturers take advantage of the fact that our body is hard-wired to prefer fats and sugars. Modern science even claims that sugar is more addicting than cocaine. None of us would seek to become a cocaine addict, would we? Once upon a time, in a land long long ago, when food was scarce and difficult to obtain, this hard-wired preference for all things fat and sweet worked for us. But now, when just a stroll to the kitchen puts thousands of calories at our fingertips, we are sitting ducks. Getting fatter ducks. What are your options? Remove as much processed and ultra-processed food from your diet as possible. For some this means walking into the kitchen and tossing into the trash everything you know does not serve you. For others this means carefully staying to the outside isles of your grocery store so your purchases can focus on those items which bring health and wellness. If today you eat all processed or restaurant meals, begin by having 1 more meal a week at home, cooked from scratch. If today most of your meals are home cooked, but with processed components, move in the direction of less processed items in your pantry. Are you eating enough whole, natural foods?
- Sugar, I mentioned it above, but really, it deserves entire books and videos dedicated to it. Check out this interview with Gary Taubes. Added sugar is not a necessary nutrient. Are you eating the typical 40+ grams of sugar daily?
- Getting enough sleep is critical to how our body functions. American society is so fast paced, our careers are so important, and rest is billed as selfish, or unnecessary. A lack of sleep results hormone changes, which lead to weight gain. Nearly all adults require between 7-9 hours of sleep every night to maintain healthy body function. This link shows the 6 reasons not to scrimp on sleep. Are you sleeping enough?
- As suggested above, our stressful lifestyle results in many take-out meals, or other less than optimum food choices. When we don’t take time to slow down and smell the roses the cortisol levels in our body increase, resulting in inflammation and other harmful conditions. Some people eat (processed foods) as a means of dealing with stress. Exercise has been shown over and over to be a successful method of addressing stress. How is your stress level? What can you do about it?
I listed a lot of things here, there are, believe it or not, many more. So, why did I title this post ‘excess’? It just seems like here we are, in the land of the free, home of the brave; in a society where lack is not common (compared to global societies), where our government subsidizes grains, resulting in cheap processed – life stealing – food-like substances. It seems sometimes almost as if the cards are all stacked against health, vitality, and life in your years. But do not despair, science is catching up, and if you are willing to take control of your life and your choices, you can move from a life of lack, where you lack the vitality to go for a walk, or you lack the strength to cook dinner after a tough day at the office; to a life of vitality, where your motto is ‘carpe diem’ – seize the day, and you really can do it, with strength and vitality.
If you need more ideas, check out my other blogs, comment below, or reach out to me directly. I would love to meet you – and help you live a vital, energized, life-worth-living existence.