I try to convince all of my patients to eat mostly "real food." Nutrient-dense unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, meats, and fish will help you feel your best.
This week, a patient told me that her biggest obstacle to eating real food was that her husband kept bringing home unhealthy food and snacks. When she asked him if he'd change his shopping habits he said, “Can't you just have better willpower?”
Having the willpower to not eat processed foods is INCREDIBLY HARD if not impossible. As humans, we are designed for survival. In the past, eating lots of high-calorie food actually helped our ancestors survive.
Let’s explore this design and how it influences our willpower today.
Food used to be scarce. When our hunter/gatherer ancestors were around, it was difficult to find or kill enough calories at times. When they did, they ate! They were not going to let food go to waste. If they had access to fresh honey or ripe berries, I'm sure that they had their fill.
They didn’t need any “willpower” because it was in their best interest to eat as much as they could. After all, it could be a while before they had access to food again. Unfortunately, this survival instinct hasn’t changed, but our environment has.
For many of us, food is no longer scarce. Fatty, sweet, salty, decadent snacks abound. Most of the time these snacks are highly processed and not healthy. Nowadays we even have food scientists specifically working to make these foods addicting.
And yet, we BEAT OURSELVES UP for not having the willpower to avoid these snacks. We ask ourselves, "What's wrong with me that I can't avoid sweets, chips, or soda?"
Absolutely nothing is wrong with you. Generation after generation, you were wired to WANT to eat calorie-dense food when it was available. It was crucial for your survival.
Can you imagine if our ancestors had access to the snacks we have today? They would eat all the snacks too! As humans, we are wired to do just that.
Making a Plan
Once we understand this survival drive, we can stop beating ourselves up and make a plan that will better set us up for success. Here are some things to try as you strive to make healthy decisions.
- Think about what foods you WANT to eat to feel your best. These are the foods to keep in your house and other environments that you spend time in. Your willpower will only last so long, so make the foods you don't want to put in your body harder to access by leaving them at the store. (Note: Make this plan when you are not hungry, sad, mad, tired, etc.)
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Want to know my top trick for EASY meal planning and grocery shopping??
It's an App called Mealime!
Mealime is a free meal-planning app that makes meal planning and grocery shopping a snap. It helps me avoid the 5 o’clock “what’s for dinner” problem, relieving me of this mental load and letting me enjoy my family instead.
I’m sure you’ve been there; it’s time for dinner but you have no idea what to make. With everyone hungry takeout or a quick processed meal may sound like a good option.
While eating out can be a fun experience every once in a while, doing so because it is the easiest option doesn’t always leave you feeling good about it. This habit can also be expensive and may prevent you from feeling free to eat out when you really want to.
Even though meal planning makes my day so much easier, it can be hard to stay on top of it each week. That is why I love the Mealime Meal Plans and Recipes app. Let’s take a look at this app to see how it can free you from dinner-time stress.
What is Mealime
The Mealime app provides easy-to-cook recipes. You simply input the number of servings you’d like to make (2, 4, or 6) and choose the recipes you want in your meal plan from their list of possibilities. Then Mealime…
- complies a grocery list for you to shop from.
- separates the list into categories such as produce, meat, spices, etc.
- allows you to remove the items that you already have in the kitchen.
- gives you the option to buy online through a number of local stores with pick-up or drop-off options.
You really couldn’t make meal planning any easier. You can literally plan your meals and shop for groceries in five minutes.
Food Allergies, Preferences, & Specific Ways of Eating
Many people who have food allergies, strong preferences, or specific ways of eating feel like these services aren’t for them. Mealime has taken all of this into consideration, allowing you to mark ingredients you don’t want to use and choose some popular ways of eating.
- Allergens - Mealime provides the option to mark any of the top 12 allergens. Then they filter out recipes containing these allergens. (For severe allergies please double-check everything before consuming.)
- Preferences - There is a section to mark food preferences from a long list of ingredients you may not like. Mealime will keep that in mind while choosing recipe suggestions.
- Specific ways of eating - You may choose a specific way of eating such as Paleo, vegetarian, low-carb, keto, etc. (I like to eat real food at least 80% of the time. I’ve found choosing the Paleo option helps me get to this goal by focusing on simple real foods.)
Tips & Tricks
- Share one account with your spouse, so either of you can shop or start cooking when the other isn’t there.
- The app is most easily used on a mobile device.
- Let family members help choose the meals. I let each of my kids pick one meal a week and then they help me cook it.
- Pick the number of servings based on the number of people you are feeding and how much leftovers you would like.
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For years we have been told that losing weight was as simple as burning more calories than we ate. Under this belief, I would diligently count my calories and stay in a calorie deficit. When the scale stayed the same, I was really confused.
Now I understand that our food is much more than just a source of calories. Our bodies are not simple scales balancing the calories in and calories out. The source of these calories matters much more than I imagined.
Complex chemical systems break down the food we eat in different ways. Ingredients really matter. What we eat causes hormonal changes that impact whether we are in storage mode or fat-burning mode. Natural foods will be used by the body in a different way than overly processed foods. This makes a huge difference when you are trying to lose weight.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane to see the type of foods I would buy thinking they were healthy. Keep in mind that my concern is with entire categories or types of food. I am not trying to single out the particular brand mentioned.
Food Companies Interests
Food marketers are tricky. They do a fantastic job making foods look and sound healthy to the consumer. Words like gluten-free, low-fat, heart-healthy, and all-natural make us believe the food is good for us. But do these words really indicate healthy options? Not necessarily.
We must remember that the bottom line is the main concern for companies that make these products. In addition to getting us to buy their products (often through tricky marketing), they will try to keep manufacturing costs as low as possible.
Some of the ways they keep their cost low is by making the food's shelf life as long as possible. This may include ingredients like preservatives that are not in our best interest.
It is also well known that companies make their food addictive so we want to keep eating and buying it. To do this they test combinations of sugar, salt, fat, and chemicals that taste good and keep us coming back for more. These corporate motivations are NOT in our best interest!
I don’t want the cheapest ingredients in my body. I want my food to go bad! This sounds weird, but any food that will last on a shelf forever must be full of chemicals to keep the bacteria away.
And I certainly don’t want to be addicted to my food. We know that it’s hard to eat just one chip or cookie, but don’t struggle with the same addictive behavior when it comes to broccoli or an apple!
In no particular order, let's get started with the foods I thought were healthy. (Click on the picture to read the labels. A bigger image will pop up in a new window.)
Boca Burgers & Veggie Burgers
Myth: I use to think red meat was bad for me. Since soy patties have less fat and cholesterol than beef burgers, I thought they were healthier.
Now: I am not afraid of fat. I know cholesterol in my diet does not play a strong role in determining my body’s cholesterol levels. Now I look at each ingredient. If I wouldn’t want to eat the ingredients plain, then why would I eat them all combined in a food-like product?
The fact that this ingredient list is about 32 ingredients also concerns me. A good grass-fed burger from a cow that was healthy and getting to walk around and eat its natural diet only has one ingredient. I’d choose that any day!
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Did you know that every cell in your body contains protein? And that protein contains amino acids that are used to repair all the tissues in your body?
It’s true, your body needs protein to replenish itself. According to livestrong.com, protein helps “build muscles, produce new cells, regulate hormones and enzymes, heal wounds, and promote immune function”.
It is considered the most important macronutrient in building muscle, which can elevate your metabolic rate. And since protein also helps you feel full longer, it is great for those wanting to lose weight.
Since the body does not store protein, it depends on your diet to provide adequate amounts. Let’s look at the healthiest ways to get this protein.
Meat can be a wonderful source of protein, but it is important to make sure you are getting quality meat! How the animal was raised, and what the animal did while it was alive, is extremely important. It is not just in the animals' best interest to be grass-fed or free-range, it has a direct impact on your health as well.
A study done by Mother Earth News compared eggs from free-range chickens with those produced commercially. It found that free-range eggs had:
- 2/3x more Vitamin A
- 2x more Omega-3
- 3x more Vitamin E
- 7x more Beta Carotene
In addition, grass-fed beef also has been found to contain higher levels of vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids when compared to conventional beef.
What about Plant Proteins?
While plants contain many necessary nutrients, they are not considered a complete protein because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. It is possible to get the nutrients you need without eating meat, but it takes care to make sure you are getting everything you need. Plants contain compounds like oxalates and phytates which hamper your body's ability to absorb key minerals like zinc, magnesium, calcium, copper, and iron. Additionally, the vitamins in plants are often found in less active and less bioavailable forms.
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Did you grow up on Captain Crunch and Lucky Charms? If so, you may have changed this if you’ve decided to eat healthy. Now you may opt for Special K, Shredded Wheat, Raisin Bran or oatmeal, but what if I told you that those options are not that much healthier than the sugar cereals you grew up on?
If you read the ingredient list on any cereal box, it will likely include some form of added sugar, along with 20-30 ingredients. Many of these ingredients you may not be able to pronounce and they would not be considered “real food.” This is true of most “healthy” cereals as well.
Cereal and oatmeal primarily contain carbohydrates. It converts to glucose (sugar), giving you a surge of energy that only lasts for a couple of hours. To avoid the crash that follows this quick energy, breakfast should include long-burning fuel sources provided by proteins and fats.
Let’s look at some great options that will keep you full till lunch!
Leftovers from the night before can make a great breakfast. It’s easy and fast on a busy morning and hopefully contains lots of nutrition. While it may be unconventional, having leftovers is a good way to start the day.
Two-ingredient Banana and Egg Pancakes are a great way to start the day. They are a delicious choice made from natural real-food ingredients and contain a protein to balance the fruit. You can make them ahead of time and store them for a couple of days in the refrigerator. Serve them with butter to add a healthy fat, and top with blueberries or strawberries for an extra bit of taste.
Ham and Egg Breakfast Cups are a favorite simple delicious breakfast idea that can be made ahead of time. Once you are familiar with this recipe, you can play with it adding different meats and veggies to your liking.
Breakfast Smoothies can be made quickly and easily eaten on the go. They can provide a healthy mix of real food ingredients. You can add a scoop of protein powder and it will last you even longer.
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You know that eating veggies is important for your overall health! But sometimes it’s a hassle to run to the grocery store, clean the produce, and prepare a salad. It can get even more complicated if you are concerned about the pesticides used on conventional produce.
In the summer it can be fun to keep a garden for fresh lettuce, herbs, kale, etc. You may also be able to find a trusted source at a local farmers’ market. But in the winter, it can be hard to figure out.
The tower garden has been the solution for me. It is a great product that makes it possible to grow your own produce year-round. I want to share information about the tower garden, but I also want to share some of the great produce grown in my office with you!
What is a Tower Garden
A tower garden is a vertical garden that uses less soil and water than a regular garden. Mine has LED lights that surround evenly distributing light at all levels. Multiple types of plants are able to grow at the same time.
There are many brands of tower gardens to choose from. You can even build a tower garden on your own. I purchased mine from Juice Plus.
Benefits of the Tower Garden
In addition to the easy nutritious vegetables it provides, a tower garden has many other benefits.
- The aeroponic approach to gardening has been shown to produce an average of 30% greater yields and 3x faster growth times than other methods.
- A tower garden takes up to 90% less space than your typical garden.
- It gives you the benefits of homegrown produce without all the work of maintaining an outdoor garden.
- Those who are environmentally conscious will like the fact that greens grown by your tower garden means no transport to the grocery store and less trips for you, resulting in a lower carbon footprint.
- It also uses much less water than conventional farming.
- Nutrition and water are 100% recyclable in this closed system.
- No need for insecticides or pesticides.
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