Lifestyle Change Tips from a Layperson

When considering a lifestyle change, guidance from a professional is key. Your doctors at Atlanta Functional Medicine have the well-studied research to support the change, and are qualified to tailor it to your unique system. While I’ve touched upon some of these tips before, as a fellow patient who has made a lifestyle change, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way.

We are creatures of habit. Be patient with yourself if you subconsciously self-sabotage, especially during what I consider “stage two” of the change implementation. Let me explain “stage two”: when we endeavor to start something new, we are buoyed at first by enthusiasm (stage one). We often jump in with both feet, only to burn out early. In “stage two”, the part of the process after the novelty has worn off and before obvious benefits are noticed, we may feel irritable and resentful of the process. This is the stage where many of us talk ourselves out of sticking with the program. The draw of the familiar can be very powerful, and we can easily forget our original reasons for the early enthusiasm. Some realistic planning ahead of time can be helpful with this “stage two sag”, but if you find yourself here without a plan, its best not to judge yourself and just see it for what it is — human nature. Forgive any lapses. Every moment provides an opportunity for a fresh start.

Choosing the holiday season or your daughter’s wedding as a jumping off point for your new life may be setting yourself up for a less than successful start, so be reasonable. With that caveat, if you are doing this for your health, do it regardless of circumstantial deterrents. In other words, don’t wait for the whole family to get on board. There is never a “perfect” time to make certain changes. When you determine a change is what you need, do it as a gift to your beautiful self! But what does this mean, practically?

Using my family as an example, I am vegan (+ fish, occasionally), my daughter is a vegetarian (+ chicken nuggets), my husband cares about his diet, but not enough to stop eating red meat, and my son mainly subsists on macaroni and cheese. Everyone’s mostly grown now so my influence in the kitchen only extends so far. What do I do? I pour my creative energy in the kitchen into where my heart is — whole, organic, vegan food. I always serve a green salad, and I give the family a half-hour heads-up so they can begin to prepare whatever additional food they want if what I’m making doesn’t happen to appeal. Almost everyone usually tries my food, and often eats it as a side dish. Gluten-free pasta dishes and taco nights are always popular, since we can each tailor the meal to our own preference. Since my youngest was only 12 when I made my change, she seems to be the most open and is more adventurous with healthy foods than the others — the young ones are more like sponges, as they are with learning languages. I’ve noticed her friends have also taken notice and ask a lot of questions about my food, even trying it themselves sometimes. I do have hope that the others will come around eventually.

A beautiful, whole-foods diet is often most delicious in its simplest form. When planning your menus, complicated dishes will lure you in, which is fine — it’s fun to cook, but only when you have the time. You need to consider what you can do realistically. Set yourself up for success. Fortunately, organic foods are so much more flavorful than conventionally grown, so they lend themselves well to a simple preparation. If you build your meals around whole grains, lots of dark leafy greens and lean proteins, you will have ample delicious options. Since preparing these items may take time, it’s a good idea to do what you can ahead of time. These tips may be helpful:

  • I do much of my menu planning and shopping over the weekend when I have time, but I don’t buy the veggies for the whole week since fresh is best. I fill in during the week with one or two more veggies-only trips, which takes much less time than the shopping-for-everything trips. If, when I get to the store, the veg on the menu doesn’t look as fresh and healthy as something else, I don’t hesitate to swap it out.
  • I normally have a pot of cooked brown rice or quinoa in the fridge which can be quickly reinvented with freshly sauteed veggies or salads into wraps, tacos, stir fries or Buddha bowls. As  the pot-o-grains is running low, I’ll start more water boiling for the next batch, and I choose a different grain each time for variety. Whenever my husband orders Chinese takeout, to save time I include an extra large steamed brown rice with the order which lasts me several days for the family meals. Quinoa is more flavorful if you prepare it with broth instead of water. I also squirt a little tomato paste into the cooking liquid. The taste is so subtle you can still reinvent the quinoa however you want later.  Whole grains are packed with protein and fiber, and are very important for feeling full.
  • I use three large bowls when prepping vegetables — one for a fresh water soak, one for the parts I’ll later compost, and one for the clean, chopped veggies. I delay washing fresh veggies as long as possible since they stay fresher with a little dirt on them in the fridge, but cleaning and chopping veggies a day in advance is fine. By all means do this if you will be short on time. If I need to do this, I store the cleaned veggies in a zip lock with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. In the soaking bowl I pour a little white vinegar which removes any wax or other stuff you don’t want in your system. Then the scrub, with a little brush under running water, goes very quickly.
  • Freshly made dressings or sauces made 2-3 days ahead can often make all the difference in flavor when you are overwhelmed and without a plan. I have a few tried and true recipes, but I actually rarely pull out the Vitamix for them because of time constraints. Sometimes very good oil and lemon is the best!
  • Organic is worth it. No, we don’t have a very reliable regulatory system in place as of yet for organics, but buying something deemed organic has got to be better than feeding yourself with genetically modified veggies coated in pesticides and who knows what else. You are doing something good for yourself. Why undo it with this filth? Better yet, if you can, grow your own. Besides — organics taste exponentially better!
  • Store your oils and nuts in the refrigerator. They can go rancid at room temperature.
  • When using canned beans, rinse them very, very well until the foam and slippery liquid is gone. This cuts down on gassiness, as does cooking dried beans with a strip of kombu seaweed. Be sure to remove whatever foam comes to the top when cooking dried beans too.
  • I have found these expensive items are worth every penny — they are so flavorful a little bit goes a long way, and they last for ages if stored correctly:  umeboshi plums, umeboshi plum vinegar, balsamic vinegar, Bragg’s apple cider vinegar, truffle oil, extra virgin olive oil, capers, olives, shoyu or tamari if you are gluten-free, canned artichoke hearts in water, canned hearts of palm in water.
  • Make use of the many blogs out there for inspiration and planning. Depending on what you’re seeking, you can find so much by googling “gluten-free”, “dairy-free”, “sugar-free” “Mediterranean diet”, etc.

When making a lifestyle change, set yourself up for success, be patient with yourself and be proud! The longer you’re at it, the more like second-nature it will become, which will make it much less overwhelming.

by Cheryl Salinas

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