Welcome to 2020 and the first month of our 2020 Be The Boss Of Your Health Challenge! January’s focus is one of the key pillars of foundational health: nutrition. And if I’m being honest, I’ve dreaded sitting down to write this post. It seems a little cliché, starting the new year focused on changing our nutrition. There’s so much information out there already, do I really need to add to the conversation? But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how much you clean up the environment around you and the products you put on your body, if what you’re putting IN your body isn’t equally as good for you! The other truth is, I NEED THIS CHALLENGE for my own family.
not a food expert
I spent the better part of my 20s extreme-everything. I binge ate and over exercised to compensate. After a year of counseling, I learned that both over eating and over exercising were an effort to fill a missing need in my life. I finally found balance in my early thirties, eating a variety of foods and not being overly restrictive, finding peace with my body shape and size.
Then I had a baby. And two years later, another baby. Demands on my time grew and with that so did pressure and stress. Though we primarily eat at home, our diet is pretty vanilla (with a regular dose of red meat and wine). We eat the same basic rotation of food that’s relatively easy to prepare. And though most people wouldn’t consider it unhealthy, I also don’t think it offers a tremendous amount of nutritional value. Why can’t I be one of those people who crave a green smoothie in the middle of Seattle’s winter?
Turns out there is a reason I’m not reaching for a kale salad at 9 pm at night when I’m packing lunches and catching up on work. Evolution is a beautiful thing but what worked for fending off attacking tigers doesn’t work so great when we have regular, chronic stress in our lives. When we’re exposed to stress (perceived danger), the body responds by going into fight or flight mode releasing adrenaline hormones preparing us for battle. When we’re exposed to chronic stress like an aggressive email from a colleague, social media pressure, a sick family member, and other triggers and deep rooted trauma, we enter our “body is at war” mode. And when our bodies think we’re at war, we reach for sugar and carbs because green juice isn’t going to fuel you for battle Maximus.
I’m on this journey too
So maybe not being an expert and starting from a similar place may mean that I have something valuable to share with you. In recent months I’ve started to implement changes in our home, and I have a roadmap of changes I want to implement over time. Because one thing I am sure of, when I try to do everything I can’t do anything. We’re implementing 1-2 changes at a time, and when they become habits, we add on the next.
why is nutrition so important and where should i start?
It’s been really helpful for me to think about food as information for our bodies. What response do I want my body to have when I eat this food. Do I want to feel tired because my body is working so hard to digest this food? Do I want to trigger inflammation which has a painful, cascading effect on my body, either immediately or over time? Or create a dominance of certain hormones creating an imbalance that impacts everything from my weight, to sleep, to mood and libido?
No! I want to feel great. I want to feel energized, pain free and emotionally stable. And I don’t just want this for me, I want this for my family. Because this is the time I can engrain healthy lifelong habits for my now 3 and 6 year old girls.
What’s the Plan?
Whole30, keto, paleo, Atkins, Weight Watchers, South Beach – the number of choices out there is quite overwhelming. I don’t want to promote or bash any diet plan that may work for your family, but here are a couple of nutritional priorities if you really want to shift your family’s health not just in terms of short term gains but long term health benefits:
Increase your real, nutrient dense food intake. So many of us are running around, eating on the go that we reach for convenience food. Takeout, pre-packaged meals, and heavily processed shelf stable foods that are easy to reach for on the go offer little to no nutritional value and worse, increase the toxic load in our bodies. That leads me to:
Decrease the chemicals and toxic load in your foods. We underestimate the impact of pesticides, preservatives, chemicals and sugar substitutes in our food supply today. We’ve been trained to study the nutritional facts labels and not the ingredients. If something is low in calories, fat and sugar we think it’s “good” for us. We prioritize convenience and weight loss over the less obvious impacts on our health. Chemicals in these foods disrupt our hormone balance making it difficult to maintain the short term weight loss we may experience and creates a cascade of other detrimental effects in our bodies.
I recently listed to my favorite podcast, Memories in Moments by good friend Allison Carter. She interviewed Sarah Adler who is the founder of Simply Real Health, and master of creating delicious real food recipes with 5 or fewer ingredients. She did a wonderful job describing the importance of the two priorities I mentioned above, so I encourage you to listen here!
Here’s a visual comparison of two snacks demonstrating what ideas Sarah talks about in the podcast (regarding ingredient and nutritional labels):
Before jumping into the challenge here are some ideas and tips for helping us achieve our nutritional priorities:
Shop the perimeter of the store. Have you ever noticed that the healthiest foods tend to be on the outside sections of the store where there is easy access to power and refrigeration? Think vegetables, fruits, fish and lean cuts of poultry, pork, beef, eggs and dairy (or non dairy items like almond milk). If you can afford to or if you can shift your budget, shop organic, wild, grass fed, free range, etc.
The food is a single ingredient. It’s a carrot. It’s an egg. It’s salmon. It’s kale.
In packaged foods look for 5 ingredients or less, all pronounceable. Bonus points if you would recognize it in another part of the store. Using our peanut butter example, we all know what peanuts and salt are.
Aim for a variety of colors in your food to increase the variety of nutrients in your diet. In our house we are guilty of making blasted broccoli all the time because it’s something we all eat. Adding color is my #1 priority this year.
Wash your produce in a DIY or store bought fruit and veggie soak. Even organic produce can have waxy coatings on it. I do this once a week on my grocery shopping day. Everything gets loaded into the sink for a 10 minute soak, then I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week. The kids can access fruit when they want it and I don’t have to wash on the go. I’ve included my favorite DIY fruit and veggie wash in the download for this challenge.
Foods to avoid or limit. These foods offer little value, cause inflammation or spikes in insulin or other hormones: sugar (including alcohol), gluten, processed foods, caffeine, dairy, artificial dyes and sweeteners, and red meat. I rarely completely eliminate anything, opting instead to limit foods for more sustained success over time. However for many people, certain foods really trigger illness like respiratory issues, headaches, stomach upset, skin issues, and behavioral challenges. If you experience any of these regularly, experimenting with your diet or you could even request food sensitivity testing from your doctor.
I have to go there and I hope you don’t hate me for it… soda and diet soda. The one and only food I’ve ever eliminated from my diet is soda, but for me, that really means Diet Coke. Guys. I grew up in the 80s and drank Diet Coke like water. Exactly 2 years ago I gave up drinking for the month of January and knew I had to eliminate Diet Coke or else it would just be a substitute for red wine. Between the sugar, sugar substitutes, dyes and chemicals, there really is no goodness in a soda. If you’re really craving a sweet twist after lunch (that was my afternoon treat), you’re much better off eating a piece of dark chocolate. Really craving the bubbles, try soda water with some Slim & Sassy essential oil. A new favorite of mine is a few tablespoons of Elderberry syrup with soda water and a lime!
Download this Month’s Challenges
I hope you’re inspired and ready to dive into January’s challenge! If you’re already signed up for the challenge, the download is in your inbox! If not, you can sign up below and immediately receive January’s download!
Can’t wait to see and hear about your progress! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Check out the download for this month’s giveaways and don’t forget to post your progress on Instagram tagging @theparentessentials and #2020BeTheBossOfYourHealth!