Healthy Living: Good for You and Good for the Planet

Many of us in the “over-something” crowd are a little overweight. Maybe more than a little. We were skinny kids who played outdoors and ran and walked and bicycled. Or we were a bit on the chubby side, but worked hard to battle back that baby fat with exercise and healthy eating.

Now that we’re older, we work at desks all day and rush through breakfast, lunch, or dinner — sometimes all three — by driving through a fast-food restaurant. On the weekends, if we’ve been really good workerbees all week, we treat ourselves by driving to our favorite coffee venue for a well-earned latte or an iced mocha (Extra whip, please!). No worries. We’ll make up for the excess and the lack of exercise by drinking diet sodas the rest of the day.

Step on that scale and pay attention.

Step on that scale and pay attention.

Eventually, our less-than active lifestyle and unhealthy food choices catch up with us. Our cholesterol rises along with the numbers on that sleek digital scale (the one that looks so good in the bathroom, as long as we’re not standing on it). But we’re okay, really, and we feel almost as good as we did when we were teens — or so we tell ourselves. We talk ourselves into thinking that two-year old pair of jeans really did shrink in the wash last week, and that the spare tire around our middle is called “love handles” because it’s so sexy.

Then one day, our doctor gives us a warning. We’re bordering on obese. Or our cholesterol is out of control. Or we show signs of pre-diabetes. Or our triglycerides have shot up. Suddenly, we have to face it: We’re not kids anymore, and we’re definitely not healthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the term obese means, “having a very high amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass, or Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher.” What’s a BMI? “A measure of an adult’s weight in relation to his or her height, specifically the adult’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his or her height in meters.” We have to have some body fat. But, for most of us, a BMI of 30 or higher turns us into a ticking coronary time bomb. (BMI doesn’t directly measure the amount of body fat. According to the CDC, some athletes have high BMIs, without being fat at all.)

Picture that slim, healthy person you used to be. Imagine, like a sculpture waiting to be revealed by chipping away a block of marble, that the real you is still inside of the body you’re wearing today. Maybe you’re not  obese, but you feel like you’ve put on a heavy overcoat that won’t come off. You can do something about it. But you can’t afford to wait.

Shed extra pounds and bring your body back to health.

Picture that slim, healthy person you used to be.

It’s time to make changes to bring back your health. If you’re serious about losing weight and regaining your vitality, try the following tips. Some of them will have the added benefit of helping the planet while helping you achieve your goals.

START TODAY

Get the go-ahead and then get going. Of course, the first step in every weight-loss or exercise program is to talk with your doctor. Once you have clearance and know what diet is best for you, you can start using the tips below to work toward better health.

Calculate your BMI. The CDC provides a handy Body Mass Index calculator. All you need to know is your weight in pounds and your height in feet and inches.

Make exercise a habit. Get on the treadmill, ride a bike, or take a vigorous walk. You’ll want to keep moving (actively, now, let’s not be slackers) for at least 30 minutes nearly every day. Work out five or six times per week — more, if you want faster results.

Getting the right amount of exercise doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are some choices the CDC recommends.

walking 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
OR
jogging 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
OR
walking An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity andjogging
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
Get vigorous exercise every day.

Get vigorous exercise every day.

If you’ve been seriously inactive and are just getting back to exercising, begin with 10- or 15-minute blocks two or three times a day, and build up to your goal. Work up a sweat. Burn some calories. When you’re up to the challenge, bike or walk on short trips instead of driving a car or taking a cab. You’ll not only help your heart, you’ll help your planet by cutting down on the use of fossil fuels and the emissions they produce.

Focus on calories. There’s no getting around it. If you want to lose weight, you need to focus on calories. One pound is equal to 3,500 calories. Want to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week? Then you’ll either have to take in 500 – 1,000 fewer calories per day, or you’ll have to burn them off.

Whether you love eating out or stick to your local food producer, this useful food database from Calorie King has invaluable information about calorie counts for your favorite foods.

A word of caution. If you have diabetes, you can’t just pay attention to calories. You also must focus specifically on carbohydrates. Unfortunately a low carb diet doesn’t always translate into a low calorie diet. Cheese, bacon, ribs, and sausage are very low in carbs but have a lot of calories — not to mention a lot of saturated fat. An excellent resource for people with diabetes who use the exchange system is the Diabetic Exchange List, available for free from the Mayo Clinic.

Eat less meat. We all need protein, but we don’t need all of our protein to come from animals. If you don’t feel you can give up meat every day, try one or two meatless days a week. It’s healthier for you, and healthier for our planet, too. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization blamed livestock production for contributing 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — both from the methane the animals produce and from the use of fossil fuels to produce their feed and transport the meat.

Opt for the veggie version. Try an alternative to breakfast meats, such as those from Morningstar Farms. Egg Beaters are a good alternative to fresh eggs, and the “not really butter” spreads taste better than you might think. Veggie burgers can be tasty alternatives to hamburger and they won’t clog your arteries.

Draw a line down the middle. Want an easy way to cut back on carbs and calories? Try dividing your plate into halves. Fill one half with fruits and vegetables. That leaves just half a plate to fill with everything else.

Skip processed foods. Processed foods often contain huge amounts of sugar, fat, and calories. Excessive calories lead to excess weight around your middle. And processed foods result in “increased risk for many diseases and health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke,” according to the CDC. But that’s not all. Processing foods and packaging them requires massive amounts of energy and materials. That’s a bad combination both for your health and for the environment.

You really don’t have to clean your plate. In their day, Mom and Dad may not have agreed, but the compulsion to clean your plate easily leads to overeating. That’s not to say you should waste that extra food. If you’re at home, put it in a leftover dish and pop it in the fridge for a later meal. If you’re eating out, ask for a “people bag.” Just don’t throw good food away. It’s not only a waste of the food on your plate, it’s a waste of the energy used to grow it, transport it, and cook it. Think about all that carbon being pumped into the atmosphere for nothing!

Do your homework before eating out. If you love eating at restaurants, check their websites for nutritional information before you leave the house. Make wise choices, then stick to them. It may be easier to keep your resolve if you make your decision before you are tempted by the heaping plates that pass before you. You’ll also learn things on line that the menu may not tell you. For example, you might find that Cobb salad you love, the one that looked like it would be so good for you, has 1,600 calories and 40 carbs.

Getting healthy is good for you and the planet.

Getting healthy is good for you and the planet.

Make good choices. Men’s Health provides a handy online, “Eat This, Not That!” guide to help you make healthy food choices at 10,000+ restaurants and supermarkets. You can view a few samples for free on the site, but will be prompted to purchase full online access (current price: $9.95). Or sign up for their free email subscription for twice weekly tips about restaurants and food choices.

Keep track. Sensible weight loss requires paying attention to what, when, and where you are eating, as well as how much. Recording what you eat gives you a realistic picture of what you’re actually consuming. It’s easy to forget that soda you had at break or the extra helping of mashed potatoes — unless you write it all down.

Munch the good stuff all day long. Eat fruits and vegetables several times during the day, not just at dinner. Your snacks and lunches should include a fruit and/or a vegetable, or you’ll never get all that you need in a day.

Eat that fiber! Fiber and whole grains are important for your digestive system. Don’t skip them.

Make a fist. Here’s another tip: If you can’t live without potatoes, rice, and pasta, limit yourself to a serving the size of your fist.

It’s a journey, share it. The path to robust health is one we all must walk every day in order to achieve a healthy body and life. If we get off track, the only thing to do is to get back on. Don’t get discouraged. Any change you make is a good one. A loss of even 5 percent body fat may cut your risk of all sorts of diseases. So get yourself motivated. Motivate those around you. It’s much easier to change your lifestyle when you’re not doing it alone.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Have you had success losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, or controlling diabetes with diet and exercise? Then we want to know about it. Share your weight loss and dietary tips with other Blue Planet Green Living readers. Tell us in a comment, or send us an email. We’ll publish the best of them in future posts.

Julia Wasson and Belinda Geiger

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Comments

4 Responses to “Healthy Living: Good for You and Good for the Planet”

  1. Mary Archer on January 24th, 2009 5:30 pm

    Okay, tell me the truth. When did you sneak into my bathroom and take that picture of me on the scale?
    You have given me new incentive. I guess I have to say thank you (grudgingly).

  2. Anne Russell on January 24th, 2009 5:55 pm

    We have been using Morningstar Farms products for many years. I have recently seen the breakfast sausage in Costco, which is great, because it saves quite a bit to buy the larger package. In fact, Costco is stocking a large number of organic and “healthy” items lately. If they could only get over their fascination with plastic packaging and double boxing…

  3. Julia Wasson on January 24th, 2009 10:16 pm

    Honest, Mary, no hidden cameras were used in this report! Working on this post gave me new resolve to get back into my own exercise program.

    The BPGL video crew is working on a new exercise video series that could be just right for both you and me. Watch for it in a few weeks.

  4. Julia Wasson on January 25th, 2009 12:29 am

    Hi Anne.

    You make a great point about the packaging at Costco. As a consumer, you actually do have the power to make a difference — or at least raise awareness. Let the manager of your local store and the good folks at the Costco corporate headquarters know that you don’t like the excess packaging. Talk with your friends, family, and neighbors to see if they’ll do the same.

    Stores don’t often change the way they do business unless they have a financial incentive to do so. When consumers rise up and complain, management takes notice. They don’t want to lose your business.

    And one more thing, send a written letter expressing your opinion, rather than telling the manager in person or by phone. I read somewhere, years ago, that a written letter had the power of 100 (or was it 1000) voices. The rationale was that for every person who took the time to write, 100 (1000?) people felt the same, but didn’t make that effort. Your voice represents 100 (or 1000?) silent consumers. And just think how loud your voice will be if it’s accompanied by letters from other who feel the same way.

    Keep speaking up, Anne. Your opinion matters.