Am I Healthy???

Every single person in this world wants to be healthy.  Sure, there are those select people who swear they *want* to be famous for being 300+ lbs…but I call BS on them.  We all want to be healthy!  Once again, I point to the monetary figure of the diet industry: 40 BILLION dollars. Clearly we are trying to attain something.

But if you ask me, the “diet industry” part of the equation is exactly what’s wrong.  We are all reaching out to these companies to tell us what to eat, when to eat it, and how to move…all so we can attain a mythical state of being we mistakenly call healthy.  Close your eyes (after you read the following sentence…) and picture what you would need to look like for people to say “Wow! I bet you’re really healthy!”  Do you picture something like the latest model to grace Sports Illustrated?  Probably.  Because that’s what the media wants you to picture.  That’s what the diet industry wants you to picture.  But let me tell you something about that picture:

That model in your mind’s eye?  She probably didn’t eat breakfast before that photo shoot.  She might not have eaten dinner the night before, either.  If she did, it may have been tissues or cotton balls (seriously, look it up).  She’s also sucking her stomach in as hard as she can every time that camera snaps.  She’s sticking her butt out to create an even flatter looking tummy for the camera angle.

If you’re male, I bet your “healthy” image is a beefed up macho man.  Guess what.  To build those delicious muscles…he has to get fat first and then starve himself to “cut” the muscles in.  And steroids? Probably pretty likely.

Now, let me first say that this doesn’t apply to all models.  I know there are some that are quite healthy (I have a friend who has done bikini shoots after a full breakfast and she is gorgeous).  And, generally, fitness models tend to be healthier and more robust than fashion models.  But regardless, all of these models give us the picture of “health” that we strive for.

And it’s all fake.  It’s sucked in and airbrushed.  It’s starved and miserable.  It’s unhealthy.

So my first two-cents on what it means for you to be healthy is throw away your ideal image of healthy.  There shouldn’t be one “picture” of health.  Some girls were born to be a lean, tall size 2.  Some girls were born to be a healthy size 10.  Some guys have the ability to build muscle very quickly.  Some guys don’t.  These are the facts of life.  Take a look in the mirror. That person looking back at you is who you were born to be.  How about making YOU healthy instead of making you into something you’re not.

Now we’ve gotten rid of our warped picture of “health”, where do we turn?  To science.  Right?  Wrong.  Sort of.  The number one scientific method people use to determine their “health” is the Body Mass Index (BMI).  The original BMI chart dates back to the 19th century when people were shorter and hardly every lifted weights.  The one still in use today is from 1972, when people were higher and hardly ever lifted weights.  While the BMI may be useful for a ballpark estimate of health (a BIG ballpark), there is a HUGE flaw in the system.  BMI only accounts for height and weight.  Muscle mass and weight distribution are not even considerations.  For an excellent example, let’s use me!

I am 5’3″ and weigh roughly 135lbs.  According to my BMI, I’m healthy…but just barely.  Anything below 25 on the BMI scale is healthy.  I’m at 24.7.  At a petite size 2…I’m just .3 points away from being overweight.  That makes sense.

So what is a muscular girl (or guy) to do? Well, there are a couple of other options.  There is the Hip-to-Waist Ratio, which calculates the ratio of your hip to waist measurement (duh..).  I come in at a 0.42 (anything under 0.50 is considered healthy).  This method is a little better since it accounts for distribution of weight.  But even better is the super fancy method developed by the Navy.  This method estimates your body fat percentage based on a few measurements: waist, waist around your naval, hips, neck, and height.  I come in at around 25% body fat (not too shabby for a girl who loves to eat).  This is by far one of the most accurate “health” indicators that we common folk have access to.  If you want to check out your readings, Google “Navy Health Calculator” and you’ll get a few that pop right up.

Now, I want you to notice something about the last two methods I talked about.  Neither of them cares what you weigh.  Which brings me to my next point about being healthy.  Stop weighing yourself!!!  The human body fluctuates WILDLY throughout the day – especially if you’re female.  Muscles absorb and release water throughout the day, the muscles you gain in a healthy workout program outweigh the fat you lose, and your hydration level can even adjust the scale measurement.

So really, the numbers on the scale are pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.  Unless you are on this season of The Biggest Loser, that scale in your bathroom is doing more harm (psychologically) than good.

Alright, Candace.  You’ve spouted off all the ways we’re doing it wrong.  But how can I tell if I’m healthy/getting healthy?

The real answers to these questions lie completely inside of you.  First, I ask you: how do you feel?  Do you feel sluggish, tired, or just bleh?  Then something probably isn’t right.  But if you feel sprightly and ready to tackle a mountain, you are probably doing okay – even if you’re a size 12.  Are you comfortable with your size?  If not, then maybe it’s time to love yourself more and start the road to a healthier you.

Next, I ask you: Have you been to the doctor lately?  Some science may be a little off (like BMI), but if you’re not feeling your best, your doctor may be able to help.  I’m not talking about medication, here.  I’m saying that if you know you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or maybe a metabolic disorder…then YOU can take the steps to start making your life healthier.  Change your diet, add some walks, stop going through the drive-thru, etc.  You can’t fight a battle if you don’t know what it is.

My third question: Are you treating yourself right?  Are you fueling your body with healthful, real food…or do you bring dinner home a few too many nights a week.  Are you getting as active as your schedule allows…or are you letting your precious body waste away.  Are you loving yourself?

My most important question is this: Are you aiming to be healthier for yourself or so others will give you praise?  Attempting to make yourself “healthy” in someone else’s eyes is a recipe for misery.  You should aim to be healthy because you love yourself.  And healthy shouldn’t be some mythical goal.  Healthy should be what you feel inside.  Healthy is what it feels like when you feed your body something good and have energy after 7pm.  Healthy is finding that one scoop of ice cream is all you need.  Healthy is taking a deep breath that isn’t a yawn.  And healthy is absolutely possible for everyone – no matter your size.

So, to close this post…here are some of my easy tips to start or continue your journey to healthy:

  1. Get rid of the scale.  The number it gives you means nothing.  Focus instead on how your clothes feel on your body and how you feel in your body.  As you journey, your relationship with your body will get better and better.
  2. Eat real food.  Avoid all that fast food junk in the world today.  Kick processed foods out.  Read my previous post about eating real food. 🙂
  3. Find underlying battles.  Go to the doctor to find out if you have any medical issues that may be slowing you down.  You have the power to help yourself, you just have to know which direction to go.
  4. See yourself, not a model.  Look in the mirror.  That’s who you are.  Starting right now you will start loving yourself for who you are.  I’m not going to give you an option.  Even if you are overweight and your goal is to lose a 100 pounds or more.  You need to start loving the person looking back at you right now or your journey will be for naught.
  5. Get moving.  Even if it’s just walking 15 minutes a day or bench pressing 5lb dumbbells.  Start moving a little bit more than you normally do.  I bet you that 15 minutes will turn into 30 or 40 and the 5lbs will become 20lbs in no time.
  6. Believe in yourself. Often, people start on a health journey thinking they will fail.  I don’t need to tell you how crazy that is!  Whether your goal is to lose that 100 lbs or simply to get more active…believe you will be successful.  And if you mess up a day, remind yourself that is it okay.  One day of not exercising or of a less-than-perfect diet is nothing in the grand scheme of your life.  It’s all the good days that matter.
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Lessons from a Carb-o-vore

Confession: I adore carbohydrates.  Pasta, bread, rice, cereal, potatoes, corn, etc.  If it has a carb, it is going in my mouth.

This post is inspired by a friend of mine, Scott, who was joking about how much bread he is currently eating.  See, he’s currently a baker (Renaissance style) and is creating an unbelievable amount of bread in his little oven (see what I’m talking about at his blog: http://renaissanceartisan.blogspot.com/)

Sad news for carb-lovers: one of the trendiest diets now, as it has been for years, is the low-carb/no-carb diet.  Also annoyingly trendy? Gluten-free. Now, first let me say this: if you do have Celiac disease or an actual gluten-sensitivity…then PLEASE stay away from gluten.  I cannot imagine the pain you go through trying to digest something your body thinks is poison.  But this post is still for you – because there are a lot of carbs out there that are gluten-free!

First, let me debunk some myths.

Myth: No human can sufficiently digest gluten.

Truth: 1% of Americans actually have Celiac disease.  That is 1 out of 133 people.  Only 5% to 10% of Americans have a form of gluten-sensitivity.  The other 90% are just following a fad.  The other 90% can digest gluten just fine and have simply fallen into this belief that “gluten” is going to kill us all.  But here’s the thing about gluten.  It’s a protein.  You know. That macro-nutrient that we are all trying to get more of in our diets.  It is one of the reasons ancient people ate bread-like foods.  Because grains are a decent source of non-animal protein. In fact, the first supposed instance of wheat (the major source of gluten) being used is 9,000 BC in modern day Turkey.  We’ve been digesting gluten for over 11,000 years.  I think we’ll be okay if we keep eating it.

Myth: All grains contain gluten, so we can’t eat them

Truth: Any smart Celiac suffer will tell you you’re wrong. The major gluten offenders of the grain world are wheat, rye, and barely.  But there are many grains that are perfectly safe forms of carbs and protein: corn, rice, millet, amaranth, teff, sorghum, quinoa, and sometimes oats (but make sure the oats are certified gluten-free…they like to sneak gluten in while processing). Not to mention potatoes! The best news is that most of these grains are as easy to cook as rice AND many of them make very successful loaves of bread.

Myth: Carbs make people fat.

Truth: Carbs don’t make people fat.  Food makes people fat.  Specifically, too much food makes people fat.  Yes, I know.  There is all this research saying that low-carb diets work.  Of course they do.  A carbohydrate has 9 calories per gram.  When you switch to a low-carb diet, you generally replace those carbs with protein (4 calories per gram) and vegetables (mostly water, nutrients, and fiber). Long story short: when you eat low-carb, you automatically eat fewer calories.  Fewer calories = less you.  But here’s the problem.  You need carbs.  Your brain needs carbs.  Here are just a few things carbs do for you that other foods just don’t:

  1. Convert quickly to energy AND store up for future energy.  The glucose in carbs converts very well into ATP (the stuff cells need for energy).
  2. Without carbs, your body will use all that protein you’re eating for energy.  Sounds good in theory, right? Wrong.  If your body is using protein for energy…it ISN’T using it to build lean, healthy muscle.  And that’s something we could all use more of.
  3. Help keep you regular.  Carbs (good carbs) have tons of fiber.  And fiber keeps you happy.  Enough said.
  4. According to the Mayo clinic, carbs can also protect you against cardiovascular diseases and other bad things.  Cool.

Now, am I telling you to fill your plate three times a day with pasta and call it dandy? No! I’m very well aware that there are “good carbs” and “bad carbs” and that moderation is key. And I do believe that very much.  Nothing in this next sentence will be anything new: eat whole grains!  If it is made of flour and it is white, just say no!  We’ve heard this recommendation for quite a while now. We’ve also heard all the recommendations about when you should or shouldn’t eat carbs (never for dinner!) and how much a serving should or shouldn’t be (it should fit in your hand!) and blah blah blah. Blah.

Let’s get real and infuse a little “Real World Healthy” into this conversation.  First, I have a few confessions about my own relationships with carbs.

  1. I. Love. Carbs. And no matter what all the health professionals say, I am not satisfied with a meal any time of the day if it doesn’t include a carbohydrate. I am okay with that.
  2. If I don’t eat carbs, I don’t have friends.
  3. I am happy to eat whole wheat bread and experiment with various grains. But I strongly dislike brown rice and I refuse to eat whole wheat pasta.
  4. If given the opportunity, I could eat bowls or cereal and/or pasta for every meal for the rest of my life.

Now.  Since I’m doing a pretty good job of being a carb-o-vore and not packing on a hundred pounds a year…how about some of my tips and tricks to living a carb-full and carb-happy life.

  1. Mix it up!  I try to have a variety of different carbs every day.  Example: if I have toast with breakfast, I try not to have a sandwich for lunch.  It’s a pretty simple way to make sure I get a variety of grains and nutrients (and not go through a loaf of bread in four days).
  2. One carb per meal.  When I was younger, my favorite school lunch was anytime I got bread to dip in my mashed potatoes. Yum!  These days, I do my best to make sure I only have one carb in every meal.  Yes, this typically means no garlic bread with my pasta, no french fries with my hamburger, and no mashed potato sandwich.  It is really a very tiny and easy sacrifice that helps ensure I keep my carb-munching in check.
  3. Measure your pasta!  Pasta is the easiest food to eat too much of (much like peanut butter…).  I always, always, always weigh my pasta.  If the pasta is the main food item in the meal (like spaghetti or mac and cheese), I will measure 4 oz per person.  If I’m making a pasta side-dish, it is 2 oz per person.  My scale is a life-saver when it comes to pasta.  Left to my own devices…I could easily eat a whole pound bag.
  4. Eat what you like!  If, like me, you hate brown rice and continually force yourself to eat it…you will forever be craving huge bowls of white rice.  And you know what will happen if you ever get that bowl of rice in front of you.  So, go ahead.  Eat the white rice.  Just be mindful of the amount you’re eating and, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for eating it!
  5. Get moving!  Like I said earlier, carbs are the building block of cellular and physical energy.  So…if you eat a giant bowl of pasta one night (we all do it sometimes!)…maybe don’t go to sleep right afterwards.  Get up and go for a walk, go biking if your neighborhood/city is good for it, or even just clean the dishes and give the house a quick pick up.  Even a little bit of that energy used up will be good for you!

The moral of my story is this: I love carbs and that’s okay.  If you enjoy eating carbs (and they don’t make you sick), please don’t let society tell you that they are bad.  Carbs will not kill you or make you fat.  Carbs have the ability to sustain you and keep your energy flying!  We just have to respect their mighty power…

Reality Check

Why in the world am I starting a blog?  With over 11 BILLION blogs in the world (I looked it up), why would I presume to think people will read yet another food blog?  Short answer: I don’t.  I highly doubt anybody besides my friends and family will read this blog.  It will be shocking to me if I even maintain this blog for longer than a couple weeks.  But I’m starting it for one simple reason:  I have something to say.

Well, theoretically, I have a lot of somethings to say…otherwise this blog would only be one post for eternity.

As we move forward in society, leaving the days of hard manual labor far behind, we all begin a never-ending journey: The journey to be healthy in this fast-paced, fast-food, ADD, everything-is-bad-for-you kind of world.  The health and diet industry is a 40 billion dollar industry. Yet, how often do we hear this: “Diets just don’t work for me!” Or this: “I’ve tried everything!” It seems to me that if we’re spending 40 billion dollars a year on healthy stuff and it isn’t working, something is wrong.

Before I start getting flack about being a skinny girl ragging on the diet industry, let me point out that I once was the “fat girl.” I have an unfortunately common metabolic disorder called hypothyroidism.  Long story short, my metabolism is painfully slow and I packed on 50 pounds of extra weight in my last 3 months of high school.  It took me almost 4 years to lose the weight, and I definitely “tried everything.” Luckily, my share of the 40 billion dollars worked out and Weight Watchers helped me lose that 50 pounds.  That was nearly 6 years ago. Ever since then I’ve been on a food journey that has taken me through binge eating, emotional eating, and other unhealthy relationships with food. I’ve drunk health shakes galore, eaten my fair share of health bars, attempted various extreme athlete workouts (P90X = ouch), tried to sweat off extra jiggles, and thrown a lot of extra money into that 40 billion dollar pot. And I have learned a lot.

The fact of the matter is this: most of the mumbo-jumbo thrown at us by the fitness and diet industry just isn’t practical for everyday life.  I don’t know about you, but I work no fewer than 3 jobs at a time. I very rarely have time for an intense weight-lifting session or good, sweaty jog. If I do have the time, chances are I’m way too exhausted anyway. And living on a tight, very low middle-class income…I most definitely don’t have the money to throw at the newest fad diet or soylent green shake.

I intend for this blog to be about all that I’ve learned and all that I continue to learn.  This is a crazy world, and most of us just aren’t cut out to be fitness gurus, extreme athletes, or models.  But we can ALL be healthy.  Healthy can be any size or shape.  Healthy is about how you feel on the inside.  Healthy is about loving yourself and giving yourself the best you possibly can.

I hope you join me in this blog and let all your friends know about it, too.  I’m not saying I have all the answers.  I’m CERTAINLY not saying my advice is on par with a dietician, doctor, or personal trainer’s.  I’m just saying I’ve got real world experience and I want to help real people be real world happy and healthy.