This post is sponsored by Novant Health as part of a campaign to bring awareness to women’s heart health.
Even if I tried, I couldn’t count the number of times I hear clients say they are going to eliminate XYZ food from their diet over the holiday season or for the New Year. Society tells us this too – that we have to eliminate things to be healthy. Society makes it clear that we have to restrict ourselves to look the way we want to look or feel the way we want to feel. While I feel like slowly and surely people are starting to realize that this thought pattern isn’t always true, we still have a long way to go.
One of my favorite exercises to do with clients during the holidays, and/or when talking about New Year’s Resolutions is to focus on things they can ADD. Not only is this a more positive approach overall (I’ve always been a glass-half-full-kinda-girl), but it’s more sustainable. Isn’t it easier to add something than take it away?
While it’s easy to just focus on food overall, we know that health is much more than what we eat. When we engage in behaviors that improve our health, we are showing ourselves self-care and better heart health. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in women. I don’t share that statistic to invoke fear, but more so as a reminder that caring for our bodies is important. And while “Heart Health” Month is February, I think it’s something we should always be working towards!
Focusing on Heart Health Without a Diet Mentality
Heart health is very important to me, mainly because I want a healthy beating heart to support my exercise and lifestyle. And, I want to continue to be healthy for my daughter. My grandfather died of a heart attack when I was in high school, and that opened my eyes to health in general. If you aren’t aware of the signs of a heart attack, I suggest checking out Novant Health’s guides to heart health to learn more about getting your heart health on track.
Society does a great job of scaring people to be healthy, of enticing a new diet and of making people feel bad about themselves. If you went to your doctor for heart health, they would typically tell you to:
- stop eating saturated fat (or eat less of it)
- eat less sugar, sodium and cholesterol
And while these recommendations have much validity to them, they aren’t the only things to do to improve our heart health. In fact, there are many things we can do more of (or add to our life) to improve our heart health.
We can still focus on heart health and overall health without a diet-heavy mindset. Focusing on healthy behaviors is what we should be doing, and that is the fundamental goal of intuitive eating. As a matter of fact, research has found that eating in an intuitive way (vs. a rigid way) was associated with improved blood pressure, blood lipids, and dietary intake; ALL important measures for heart health!
Considering this, you can focus on things to ADD to your life, rather than take away. By adding things, you may naturally find that they displace other choices. You may be happier, which contributes to overall health, too. Things tend to get chaotic over the holidays and it’s easy to lose that interoceptive awareness and attunement with your body.
So, here are some suggestions of what I’m focusing on over the holiday season (when things tend to get chaotic and I still want to honor my heart and health).
Listening to My Hunger
As one of the core principles of Intuitive Eating, tuning into and honoring your hunger is paramount. It can prevent overeating and can establish trust with your body. When you feed your body when it’s hungry, you’re preventing your body from going into a low energy or starvation state. Eating enough is another important attribute. It can also help develop interoceptive awareness, or the ability to perceive physical sensations that arise from within the body. Being attuned and responsive to your body’s physical sensations can be a way of honoring your health and identifying your needs.
You will learn to recognize emotional feelings vs. biological eating sensations. On the same token, because you’re giving yourself permission to eat when you feel hungry, you can also learn to stop when you feel full. You’ll learn at what level of food stops being enjoyable. Because you have unconditional permission to eat when you’re hungry, you know that you can finish that food anytime you want it.
Over Thanksgiving, I challenge you to stick to your normal routine of meals and snacks. Don’t save your calories for your big Thanksgiving meal because like any other day, your body still needs nourishment throughout the day.
Gratitude is really something I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve started a nightly gratitude journal, where I try to just jot a few things down each night that I’m grateful for. The research behind gratitude is pretty astounding and is linked to lower rates of depression, increased willpower and increased happiness (1). Expressing gratitude is linked to better mental and physical health among both well-functioning people, and those struggling with mental health concerns. Mental health plays a huge part in our overall health.
Gratitude is also linked to body appreciation through a lower investment in self-worth based on appearance and others’ approval, as well as lower engagement in eating and body comparison. And obviously, our thoughts about self-worth impact our health and decisions about food and movement.
I’ve found that when I try to be thankful for what I do have, what I’ve accomplished and what I’m capable of doing, I’m less focused on what I don’t have or what I haven’t done. It’s another way of looking at what you can add to your diet/lifestyle. This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for family time, an almost 8-month old baby daughter and good health. I’m thankful for a body that I respect, food on the table, the ability to work part-time and good childcare. To list a few more… a healthy puppy, career goals and being driven in my profession.
I challenge you to write down some things you are grateful for.
Employing Some Gentle Nutrition
While intuitive eating is generally thought of as an “eat whatever you want when you want it,” true intuitive eaters know that’s not the case. Generally, we save the principle of gentle nutrition for last. The reason for this is because if you’re hyper-focused on nutrition, you can’t accurately tune into your body. However, intuitive eating is a form of honoring your health. Gentle nutrition refers to:
Making food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well.
It’s important to remember that one day of eating, one snack and/or one meal will never determine your health. It won’t lead to a nutrient deficiency or weight gain. It’s what you eat consistently over time that really matters. Specifically, some examples of gentle nutrition when we’re thinking about heart health are fiber and unsaturated fats.
I think we can all agree that we feel better when our digestion is good and we are “regular.” Fiber is something that we all need, though most of us aren’t getting enough. The easiest ways to add fiber to our diets are through fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Don’t eat them because you feel like you have to. Instead, choose ones that you like! In utilizing the gentle nutrition principle, maybe you know you’ll feel better adding a fruit into breakfast and a few veggies into lunch, so you plan for it. You know that extra fiber can help satiate you and keep you regular. Also, fiber is great for heart health and it can help lower cholesterol.
Maybe that means an extra serving of veggies the day of Thanksgiving, because you know it will help fill you up and help balance some of the heavier foods on your digestive tract. We’ll be digging into these garlic turmeric parsnips and balsamic maple roasted veggies. Or, on any normal morning, that maybe means switching out your white toast for whole wheat toast, because you know that it will help balance your blood sugar and give you more energy throughout the day. That’s a way of employing self-care.
Unsaturated fats, foods like avocados, nuts/seeds, fish and olive oil are great for our hearts! Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically, are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular events. For Thanksgiving, this cranberry strawberry chia sauce is a great addition because the chia seeds provide some healthy, filling omega 3s (great for heart health)! Plus, it’s a little more creative and adds more of a punch than your typical canned cranberry sauce.
If we’re thinking beyond Thanksgiving, how can you add more fish to your diet? Maybe it’s buying a bag of frozen filets to keep on hand. Or, buying more canned fish for quick meals and as an alternate to your turkey sandwich. Maybe it means cooking with olive oil rather than vegetable oil. Or, trying out extra virgin olive oil as a dressing rather than a store bought one!
While the taste of plain water may seem boring and unattractive, we all know the benefits of hydration. Self-care means keeping myself adequately fed, nourished and hydrated so I can live my best life and function optimally. For me, that means drinking water throughout the day (especially with the increased demands of exercise and nursing).
Our bodies are meant to move. They are meant to move in ways that feel good, and sustainable ways. Being flexible about our movement is important, too. A recent meta-analysis review of 24 studies found that intuitive eating was associated with a greater motivation to exercise when the focus is on enjoyment rather than guilt or appearance.
While running is my favorite outlet, sometimes pleasurable movement means not following an exercise plan. Sometimes it means a low-key walk around the neighborhood, rather than running. Or some deep stretching. Right now, I’m thriving on flexibility and for me that is really pleasurable.
Being More Present & Family Memories
This is actually a subset of gratitude for me. But, family is one of my values, so anything family-related is very important to me. That means I make sacrifices to spend more time with family and do my best to truly appreciate this time. Who you spend your time with is a reflection of yourself. I know that spending time with a loving, supporting family has a positive impact on my health. I’m focusing on being more present when I’m with my family. Getting down and playing with Camryn rather than trying to get things done while she plays alone. Soaking up each smile and cuddle.
While many of these examples can help with heart health, they can also apply to generalized overall health.
If you’re local to Charlotte, you can find more information about your options for a local heart doctor here. The Novant Health system even offers free, personalized classes and programs to learn more about heart health and prevention. And there’s no time like the present.
You tell me, what are you adding in this holiday season?
What are you grateful for?
- How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain?fbclid=IwAR39PyGXIK0uQnB7sYIyTC-Vptmqp3bsmVmNfuyEIawhuhBOxu8LrOYLp-o
- Development and exploration of the gratitude model of body appreciation in women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29428332
- Long chain omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22591894
- A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26474781