Hitting Your Health Reset Button…Once and For All - January, 2015

Come January, 45 million of Americans will make a renewed commitment to their health.  They hit the proverbial “reset button” and throw out their old unhealthy habits and usher in some new healthy habits.  Health club memberships are a palpable sign of this phenomenon as are the numerous books, articles and videos promoting this year’s health craze.  Unfortunately, the reality is that almost all of these people, for a variety of reasons, fail to accomplish their goals.  So let’s raise a glass (of water…ok some club soda with lime if you must) and toast to 2015 being the last time you will need to hit your health reset button.


I truly believe that there are a few concepts that you must grasp to get healthy once and for all.  Sure you can lose a few pounds by ramping up your exercise regimen or following a fad diet, but unless you understand the concepts below you are doomed to fail long term.  Those concepts are:


  • You must have a paradigm shift in the way you perceive health
  • You must understand what a truly healthy diet looks like – free of bias or influence – and respect its enormous role in overall health
  • You must understand the role of physical activity and exercise
  • You must  understand what I call the “forgotten factors”:  emotions, food addictions, stress and sleep
  • You must allocate some time for planning and implementation



There are an overwhelming number of dietary theories being peddled to the public.  We have all heard about low carb diets, Paleo diets, blood type diets, diets that restrict calories and even diets that have people “chasing” their pH.  Most of them have significant scientific flaws and are not helpful at all.  Most of them create unrealistic rules with deprivation and/or complicated “formulas” at the core of the program.  Some of them actually have some merit.  But the one thing that just about all diets have in common is that they fail in the long run.  That is because they are all diets – in the commercial sense – and studies show that diets just don’t work over the long haul.  Everyone knows that – including the companies that peddle their particular program.  So don’t think for one minute that the diet industry or our culture in general, will help you get and stay healthy – it will not.  In fact, the diet industry and our culture are huge obstacles in achieving a healthy life.


So the paradigm shift is to forget about what you read and hear on TV and to create a new narrative around food.  The traditional mindset is that we must watch the amount of food we consume while staying away from foods we “can’t have” (deprivation).  While there are foods that are good for you and foods that are not, try having the mindset that nothing is off limits.  However, with each bite you simply choose to ignore the bad foods and consume the best foods for you.  This mindset puts the power in your hands, creates positive moods and emotions and gives you freedom from the “dieting rules” that are hampering your progress.  Remember that the single most powerful factor in your health is the decision you make with the next bite. 



If you look at some other basic human needs and bodily functions, none seem to create the confusion that eating does.  Most people can breathe without thinking about it, when they are tired they go to sleep and if they have to go to the bathroom their only question is, “where’s the restroom?” However, most people are completely confused about how to eat!  There are a variety of reasons for this but one huge reason is the overwhelming number of “food-like products” that are being marketed and sold and have made their way into the Standard American Diet (SAD).


So what is a healthy diet?  What foods should you eat?  To me this is a really simple question to answer.  A plant-based diet (PBD) has proven time and again to have the best results on different body metrics including BMI, weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure readings and a variety of others.  It is also the best way to eat to avoid and/or treat the most prevalent diet related chronic disease like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Focusing on nutrient dense, plant-based, whole foods is the way to go.  That includes fruits, veggies (green leafy and starchy), nuts and seeds, beans and lentils and whole grains.  You should choose to avoid meats, dairy and processed foods and oils as much as possible.  Does that mean you can never have a piece of chicken or a slice of cheese pizza – no!  But in order to have long-term success it is important for you to not include those foods as a regular part of your diet.  It’s not about being vegan or vegetarian because these “labels” shift the paradigm back to the negative concepts of restriction and things that you can’t have.  Remember, you are free to eat what you’d like, you just choose to eat nutrient dense, plant-based, whole foods at your next bite.


And don’t worry about getting adequate calories, nutrients (specifically protein) or vitamins and minerals (specifically calcium) from a plant-based diet.  As long as you eat generous portions (no deprivation here) of a variety of plant-based foods, you will get an adequate amount of calories, nutrients and vitamins/minerals.  In fact, you’ll get plenty of those healthy compounds and also will add a wide array of phytochemicals and phytonutrients to your diet – a huge boost for your health and well-being.*


So keep it simple and focus on nutrient dense, plant-based, whole foods!  Remember, healthy food is at the foundation of good health – FOOD TRUMPS ALL!



More and more of us have access to gyms, fitness equipment and trainers than ever before yet our country is the heaviest and most unhealthy it has ever been.  How is that?  Some might say that while people may have access to gyms, equipment and trainers, they are just not using them often enough.  I completely disagree!  While lack of physical activity is a problem, poor dietary habits are by far the reason for the unprecedented poor health of Americans.  So the food you eat must be fixed first!  However, exercise does play a role in overall health.  It can reduce your risk for certain chronic diseases like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.  It can also help you sleep better, put you in a better mood and increase your energy levels.


So make it your goal to get some physical activity as often as you can – at least 3 times a week.  Keep it simple and appropriate for your level of conditioning and ramp it up as you get more-and-more conditioned.  Gyms, fancy fitness equipment and personal trainers are and option, but certainly not a necessity.  Walking and jogging are great starts.  Do some basic body resistance exercises like wall sits, push-up and planks and other core work – again keeping in mind your level of conditioning.  Integrate simple things during your day to help.  Don’t worry about “rock star” parking, the walk is good for you.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk places you might ordinarily drive to.  If you get a break during the day go for a walk – inside or outside.  Do some stretching while at your desk and of course, maintain good posture while sitting and/or using a computer.  As an old friend of mine used to say, “exercise is free so take advantage of it.”


For those eager to sculpt abs, biceps and back muscles by spending hours exercising each day – have at it.  That may not be for everybody and the good news is – it doesn’t have to be.



The forgotten factors I like to think about are sleep, stress, emotions and food addictions. 


The word “stress” is thrown around a lot and is typically associated with outbursts of anger or a sense of being overwhelmed.  But the “internal” problems associated with stress include very serious health problems including heart disease – America’s #1 killer.  Everyone deals with stress – it is an unfortunate part of life for most people.  Most of the time stress is projected on you by someone or something that you have no control over.  In these cases you must absorb it and deal with it the best you can.  Regular physical activity, adequate sleep, certain breathing techniques and even prayer and/or reflection can all help with stress.  However, it is important you are not the source of your own stress so do everything you can to avoid this.  It will take some work but once you figure it out it will be a great health benefit to you. 


Getting enough sleep is often the last thing people think about and people frequently “borrow” hours from sleep time to accomplish other tasks.  This may even be true of me as I write this blog ; - ).  But your body does not make an exception because you’re busy so to try and get 7 hours per night if possible.  Adequate sleep has been shown to help improve memory, maintain a healthy weight and even lower cholesterol and stress levels.  In fact, when it comes to your health, lack of sleep and stress have virtually the same negative effects on the body so make sure you are getting your rest.


Emotions are powerful!  Combine emotions with food and you have a powerful combination that can create some seriously bad habits.  Sometimes emotional eating is caused by a very serious emotional issue that needs attention from a professional.  Other times the issue only needs a little perspective to make you feel better about things.  Pent up anger and bitterness are also serious health strains.  If this is you, try letting go of that anger, turn the page and practice forgiveness.  It is not easy but in the long run it will be extremely helpful to your health.  When it comes to emotional eating, a little willpower will go a long way.  Notice that until this point, there was no real mention of willpower because in most cases, it is only a temporary strategy.  However, when it comes to emotional eating, it is important to try and have a little willpower at the point of decision.  So if you are down and looking to “medicate” yourself with unhealthy food – just don’t do it.  Drink water, get some exercise, leave the house, go for a walk, call a friend or family member…try and do something besides eat unhealthy food.  Try not to develop a habit of turning to food when you are down.


Food addictions are real – every bit as real as addictions to other substances.  Foods with lots of salt, sugar and fat are the most addictive and they do have a chemical effect on the brain which is what drives the addiction.  You must break those addictions!  Over the long term, the addictive power of food is stronger than your willpower but for a brief period of time while breaking food addictions, a little willpower can go a long way.  You may not feel well while you are breaking addictions but once you get through that uncomfortable phase, you are on your way to being free of food addiction.  And that willpower that served you well at important moments in time will become less and less important as you gain freedom from addictive foods.  Earlier I stressed the importance of choice but in the case of food addictions it is important to be aware of and abstain from your “trigger” foods.  So if Coke-Cola is the substance that starts your downward spiral, it is important to not have it – don’t even bring it in the house.  The good news is once you break your addictions, eating a PBD will help to right the dopamine system and help stabilize serotonin levels in your brain which in turn helps stabilize your mood.



Where the rubber hits the road is implementation!  You can be well educated on food, break your addictions and get regular exercise but if you don’t set yourself up for success, you will struggle in the long run.  So you need to get and stay organized and as regimented as possible.


Start by setting some simple goals.  One goal could be to clean your house of all the garbage foods you should not be eating.  Another goal could be to have a green smoothie at breakfast and a salad as part of your lunch each day for a month.  Set a goal to shop differently – say limit the number of unhealthy snacks you buy from 4 to 1 and replace the ones you remove with healthier options.  An exercise goal could be 30 minutes of walking 3 times per week for the next month.  These are achievable goals capable of building momentum.


Next, if you are busy, you must make a plan and stick to it as best as possible.  Maybe use the weekend for cooking and freezing different dishes for the rest of the week.  Keep it simple and make dishes that take advantage of minimal pots and pans – like soups, chilies and stews.  Make a weekly menu for meals – especially for dinners.  For instance, Monday may be Taco Night, Tuesday black beans and rice and so on.  If nothing else it eliminates the question, “what’s for dinner tonight?”  You should also plan on having a salad as part of each lunch and dinner.  Knowing that a salad is part of each lunch and dinner takes some of the guess work out of what to serve, is quick and easy to prepare and a really healthy addition.


Another practical strategy is to pack leftover’s for the next day’s lunch while you are cleaning up dinner.  Breakfast can also be prepared/or partially prepared the night before.  Steel cut oats can be soaked in the refrigerator overnight and then when you wake in the morning you can eat them cold with some fresh berries or heat them if you’d prefer.  If smoothies are your thing, simply put all the ingredients in the blender container at night and store it in the refrigerator.  When you get up in the AM simply blend, pour and go.  You can even blend it the night before and poor it in a bottle with a lid and just shake it up in the AM and you’re on your way – that’s my routine.


Next, remember that a vast majority of your success begins at the point of purchase.  Simply don’t waste your hard-earned money on food that is going to contribute negatively towards your health.  You wouldn’t pay for bad gas for your car, why would you waste money on garbage food for your body.  Also, the available food in your house is another key determinate of health.  If unhealthy foods do make their way into your house, make no mistake about it, you will eat them.  So don’t bring them home and if they are already there, get rid of them.


Because of time constraints, many people are forced to eat out more than they’d like.  I must admit that eating out regularly does make it more of a challenge to stay healthy.  Even if you are not eating at fast food restaurants, the food is likely to be unhealthy.  Sometimes the ingredients are OK but the way the dish is prepared is the problem.  So if you eat out often, start with salads and look to the side dishes for healthier options.  If you do order off of the menu, see if you can add/remove some ingredients to keep the dish as healthy as possible.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask for the dish to be prepared differently (no oil, steamed instead of fried).  If you are “forced” into an unhealthy choice, if there is anything left, don’t bring it home.


Finally, a quick word about friends and social gatherings.  It is not my intentions for you to read this next paragraph and then ditch all of your friends and never see your family again.  However, there are often friends and family members that are impediments to your success – that is just a fact.  So if you have a group of friends that likes to go out and drink alcohol and eat lots of bad foods, see if you can’t turn the tide and suggest an alternative healthy restaurant for your get-togethers.  If need be, try and choose an entirely different setting to get together with these people.  Again, I don’t want you to have to find all new friends but it is important to recognize what people and/or activities are blocking your progress and try and do something about that.  And for those that are deliberately blocking your progress (they are out there – remember that misery loves company) they need to be dealt with a little more decisively.


So press that reset button one last time and focus on the five areas that I discussed as a way to implement positive change.  Remember that success begins in your mind.  And if you slip up for a day, weekend or some other period of time, the great thing about tomorrow is that you get a fresh start.  Remember, for the most part, your health will not be determined by genetics or anything your doctor does or says to you.  It will be determined by the consistent choices that you make over the coming weeks, month and years – not in short spurts or specific periods of time.  The choices you make on a daily basis – the next bite – is the power that you hold over your future.


Stay Well!


* Those people eating little to no animal products may need to supplement Vitamin B12.  Check with your healthcare practitioner.