5 Steps to Healthy Living

5 Steps to Healthy Living

As a pediatrician, I frequently counsel patients of all ages about nutrition and exercise. While I am passionate about the topic of healthy living, I realize the need to be simple and concise in my initial advice. Over the years I have come up with my 5 easy rules for eating healthy. These guidelines are appropriate for all people starting with school-aged children to adults. Most importantly, I stress these are healthy eating guidelines for people of all shapes and sizes. Overweight people tend to lose weight following the rules while underweight, ‘dieting’ teens and young adults tend to be less restrictive and learn how to eat more intuitively. In other words, the combination of eating healthy and exercising inevitably leads over time to a weight that is healthy for that individual person.

Here we go:

1) Eat breakfast – it’s amazing to me how many people leave the house for school or work without anything in their stomach. Who lets their kids go to school hungry? Unfortunately, this is a huge problem. “I’m not hungry” and “I don’t have enough time” are two of the most common excuses. No more excuses! Studies have proven that eating anything before going to school leads to better test scores in morning classes. If you not eating breakfast, then start with something tomorrow. It can be cereal and milk or other traditional breakfast foods or even a slice of leftover pizza. If you can’t stomach solid food, drink a slim-fast/ensure or other liquid meal supplement. This one change will increase your metabolism and raise your glucose level giving you more energy and better concentration.

2) Eat 5 fruits/vegetables a day – You would not believe the shocked looks I get from patients with this one. ‘Impossible’ they say. But really, it’s not too difficult. I personally love fruits and veggies and aim for myself to eat at least 3 fruit and 5 veggies a day. Some studies suggest that optimal cancer-fighting properties are not met until 11 or more servings a day are consumed. But I’m a realist, so let’s start with five. Here’s an example of a typical menu: breakfast – (remember you are eating this now) 4-6 oz of orange juice and a handful of blueberries (1). Lunch – carrot and celery sticks with hummus, peanut butter, ranch dressing etc (2) with a piece of fruit (3) in addition to other foods. Snack – grapes, watermelon chunks or yogurt smoothie made with frozen berries, pineapple or other fruit (4). Dinner – side of vegetable such as green beans, broccoli, salad made with leafy lettuce, fresh spinach (not iceberg) (5-6). Be creative and flexible. Raw vegetables for dinner are fine. And remember, potatoes and ketchup don’t count!

3) No calorie drinks! – this is a big one. Humans are mostly made up of water and that is what we should drink. I recommend a maximum of only 4-6 ounces of 100% fruit juice a day. Preferably not apple or grape juice which is really only glorified sugar water with artificially added vitamin C. Also 2-3 cups (8ounces per cup) of low fat milk (skim or 1%) is recommended. Green tea or one cup of coffee a day for adults is ok. Then water. No soda, no fruit punch, no sports drinks and no energy drinks! You don’t need them and they are full of sugar and chemicals.

4) One treat a day – this is probably the most important rule. Since these rules outline how to eat for life, it is important to treat yourself everyday to one thing that may not be the most nutritious, but that you genuinely enjoy. That’s right – eat a brownie, cake, French fries, or anything else you crave. BUT – you only get to choose one treat a day. So if you have potato chips for lunch, then no cookies for snack. French fries for dinner, than no milkshake. We all eat way too much junk food and that has to stop. Even if you are thin, saturated fat and sugar are not healthy and damage your body. ALSO – your treat has to be one serving size. This is the hard part. Look at the back of a package of chips and see that a serving size is about 12 chips. Count out 12 chips, close the bag and then eat your treat. Ice cream has a serving size of 1/2cup. Measure it out and you will be shocked at the amount. We eat too much junk.

5) Exercise everyday – start with 30minutes. It can be anything that gets you moving – walking the dog, playing outside with your kids, turning on some music and dancing in your living room. Whatever it takes. I can’t stress enough the importance of moving for a healthy mind and body.

These 5 guidelines are just a start. In the following weeks, I will look at each topic in depth and give more specific advice. Until then, work on following the above rules and you will soon feel healthier.

– J.Paxson, MD

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