I was a picky eater as a kid and into my early adult years. In fact, this is one of the things that friends and family remember about me. Looking back, I wonder how my parents were able to put up with it, but they did because they knew me. If something was going around, I most likely would get it, things as simple as a cold or as complex as malaria, which I had twice or three times a year. I never thought I would reach a point where I could spend a full year feeling mostly healthy, and only exceptionally suffer from a cold, acid reflux or constipation. But that is who I am today. It did not happen overnight, but taking consistent measures have allowed me to reach a healthier equilibrium. There are a few principles that I have adopted that can make a positive impact for you as well.
The first principle: Drink a big glass of water first thing in the morning and lots more throughout the day. We are all dehydrated by the time we wake up in the morning unless we wake up in the middle of the night to drink water, which is ok if you feel thirsty and unable to sleep. But the best time to drink most of your water is early in the day and to limit the amount you drink after dinner. This is because we need to sleep soundly to allow the body to recover from the work we did throughout the day and the more water we drink in the evening, the more trips we may make to the bathroom throughout the night.
There is no other drink that can replace water, whether you like it or not. Water helps to dilute and expel toxins from your body, as Anne Louise Gittleman explains in her book The Living Beauty Detox Program. Something I practice regularly is to drink water between meals rather than with meals. However, I can drink some warm water immediately after I eat and that also works. Some experts, such as Donna Gates with Linda Schatz, authors of the Body Ecology Diet, recommend not drinking cold water while you eat as this may dilute the digestive juices and slow down digestion. Your body willconvey what is best for you. Other experts recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water.
The second principle: Eat high fiber foods. All unprocessed plant foods are good sources of fiber: beans, lentils, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds all contain fiber. Many minimally processed foods contain a good amount of fiber as well. How much fiber should you look for in processed foods? Twelve percent of fiber is a good start. More is even better. Why do you need fiber? First, it prevents constipation. A daily bowel movement removes toxic waste from your body. Fiber also keeps you feeling fuller for longer. If you tend to feel hungry sooner than you think you should, check the fiber content of your foods and increase the amount if necessary. Fiber also slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This is particularly important for anyone with blood sugar imbalances. The fourth benefit of fiber is that it feeds the good bacteria in your gut. These are the ones that fight for you and keep your immune system strong. In their book, The Fiber35Diet, Brenda Watson with Leonard Watson recommend 35 grams of fiber every day to support a healthy weight. However, you should keep in mind that fiber expands and needs water to do one of its most important jobs: preventing constipation and promoting detoxification! Legumes are one of the highest sources of fiber. They include some of my favorites, beans and lentils. These are foods that I did not enjoy growing up because they caused acid reflux. I am now able to fully digest and enjoy them regularly! Beans and lentils are also good sources of protein, an important macronutrient for the body.
The third principle: Diversify protein intake. You need protein to help your body produce enzymes and hormones but proteins are needed for many other reasons: They are building block for your bones, skin and blood. And you need proteins to repair tissues. This is the reason why athletes need protein following a workout or other athletic activity. You may be aware of family members or friends who take long to recover from a wound. They may be eating foods that do not provide sufficient protein. Fortunately, you do not need too much protein. Thomas Rau, in his book, The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health, recommends 40 to 50 grams of protein per day. Too much protein makes the body acidic, as Rau states, and the higher the acidity, the less healthy the body becomes. Some people love meat and eat way too much of it and less of the other sources of macro and micronutrients. There are many sources of protein to choose from, some more expensive than others, depending on where you live and the quality you are looking for. Beef, chicken and fish, eggs, dairy, various types of beans and lentils are all good protein sources.
When trying to manage a limited budget, I would buy more beans than white rice because beans provide carbohydrates and protein along with other nutrients such as iron and folate. High carbohydrate foods negatively impact blood sugar levels. White rice, which is what millions of people around the globe eat on a daily basis – is a high carbohydrate food with a very limited protein or other nutritional content. Brown rice is more nutritious, but it can be hard to digest for those with a weak digestive system, unless it is pre-soaked for several hours and rinsed well prior to cooking. Proper food preparation is key to improving nutrient absorption. Beans on the other hand have less carbohydrate, and instead contain more protein and fiber, a good combination for keeping us feeling fuller for longer.
There are other wellness principles I have adopted such as not watching TV late at night, giving myself time off the computer for at least an hour before I go to bed and I keep a regular bedtime. I also limit my overall sugar intake. But my fourth principle that I hope you too will adopt is: Reclaim your power to take care of yourself! I consider this to be perhaps one with the greatest impact in your ability to achieve better wellness results. Many of us have given this power away to somebody else, a parent, when we are younger, a teacher, a counselor, an expert or a specialist, a spouse, a child, a friend, or an institution such as an insurance company. We may not think that taking care of ourselves should be our priority. Yet, changing bad habits and adopting healthy ones is the work of the self. Psychotherapists James Prochaska, John Norcross and Carlo Diclemente, in their book Changing for Good, remind us that no one can change us. Only we can change ourselves and when we are ready, we can do so with or without the support of others including experts. In the context of healthy eating, only we can control what we put inside our body if and when we are ready to make that choice. Knowing which foods serve our needs is critical to choosing the ones that enable us to stay healthy and in balance. Knowledge is power but its power can be limited by the decision we make to not use it to our advantage. Even with a limited budget, we can make food choices that cause the least harm and discomfort. The longer we live with this discomfort, the more we move away from a healthy balance and the longer it may take to restore this balance.
Ultimately, if we want to be good stewards of our assets – including our family, our foods, our job, our finances, and our home and property, then we should take care of the most important asset we have: our health! Practicing this will enable us to learn what we need to know to serve as better stewards of these other resources and of our environments, the main source of our food. For those of us who work in international development, what we adopt as principles for taking care of ourselves can be replicated through our efforts, bringing head and heart together to do better development. We are the key decision-makers in the process of taking care of ourselves, even if others may influence us. We can reclaim our power to get in the driver’s seat and to turn on the ignition key. Once we do this, we may be surprised at how much and how well our body will respond. This is the principle that can have an impact in how we reach out to others in our homes, our communities, and beyond. We each have one body and it is the only temple whose key we can truly control! You may have many regrets when you move on through your life. This is the one thing you will never regret. You may think that this is a bridge too far, but it gets closer with each step you take in the direction of your goals. So why not start on this journey today!
To your health and wellness,
Rose Kadende-Kaiser, Ph.D.
Integrative Nutrition Coach
Season of Health
Gates, Donna with Linda Schatz. Body Ecology Diet. 2011.
Gittleman, Anne Louise. The Living Beauty Detox Program. 2000. P. 40.
Prochaska, James, John Norcross and Carlo Diclemente. Changing for Good. 2002. P. 15
Rau, Thomas with Susan Wyler. The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health. 2007. P. 59.
Watson, Brenda with Leonard Smith. TheFiber35Diet. 2007.