My niece is still a young woman, yet she has been diagnosed with chronic heart failure, a disease usually saved for persons in their senior years. She is on the autism spectrum and sometimes has trouble processing adult information. She wrote to me worried that chronic heart failure meant certain early death for her and her boyfriend, who also has the disease. She’s not so far off from the truth. But I reassured her that their heart disease is reversible, especially at their young ages. She said she wanted to start eating better and had already made a few minor changes. She was relieved that I offered her hope, but I think a tad overwhelmed by the advice I was giving her regarding nutrition and exercise.
This picture was taken on a day I DID NOT want to work out at all. But as you can tell from my smile, I’m glad I did.
Now, I am NOT an expert in nutrition or fitness, but as I coached my sweet niece, pouring on too much information all at once, I suddenly realized I needed to pull back, not just because of her disability, but because I was making it more complicated than it needed to be for anyone. It could all be summed up with a few very simple rules that would not fail to guide her in the right direction.
I realized, too, that reiterating the rules to her has helped me reinforce them in my own life. So, though I am not an expert, I do know some trusted rules that can help. They are simple, and I bet most of them you already know, but perhaps like me, it will inspire you just to be reminded.
- Diets never work. They will always backfire in the end. The only way to lose weight for good is to make a permanent lifestyle change in how you eat food.
- Animal protein should be less than 20% of your overall diet. Milk is not the only (or even best) source of calcium. Meat is not the only source of protein. Please, please watch the movie Forks Over Knives.
- Avoid processed food. Buy only foods that have 5 ingredients or less. Whole foods.
- Your plate should have multiple colors. Tan, brown, white, and yellow don’t count as colors, really. And just ‘cause that cheese sauce is orange it doesn’t count either. (See Rule 3.)
In terms of exercise, I follow a few steadfast tips:
- Losing weight is simple. Health is a separate issue. Losing weight is an elementary equation: Calories in vs calories burned.
- To do something is better than doing nothing.
- Time is not an excuse. Harder, more challenging exercises get quicker results in less time. So, instead of walking for 30 min (on the treadmill, say), try running for 15 min. Twice the benefit, half the time! (Obviously, be honest with yourself about your limitations and do consult a doctor before starting any vigorous activity. But again, Rule 2 – Doing something, anything, is better than nothing.)
- Lifting weights is essential. Depending on your fitness level, they can be mere 2 lb weights, but lifting the added weight is incredibly beneficial for bone density and building muscle, which burns fat in your body, btw, therefore allowing you to ingest a few more calories. Score.
I recommend using an app like My Fitness Pal. It allows you to track your calories, carbohydrates, sugars, proteins, fat, all of it. And there’s an exercise component to it as well. I know this isn’t an option for those of you without smart phones. But do find some kind of food analysis tool that can help guide you.
And read labels! If it’s loaded down with chemicals, don’t eat it. If it isn’t a whole food don’t eat it. If it’s got a list a mile long of ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t eat it. If high fructose corn syrup is anywhere in it, don’t eat it.
I hope this helps. I know it’s not as easy as it seems reading it here. Food is very tricky, and the food industry is fighting to have us addicted to the exact foods we desperately need to avoid. Often you are not only battling your own demons, but struggling against outside forces that are hunting you down, as well.
But always fall back on Rule 2 — Doing something, anything, anytime in the right direction is choosing life, health, and happiness. I wish you love, luck, and success. The same as I wish for my niece.