Wednesday, August 29, 2012

5 Tips on Eating Clean To Be Happier

During my walkabout in France, I've had the time to really reflect on whether I truly take care of myself, emotionally, spiritually and physically.  Today's post is largely on the physical.  All the great books on happiness and finding your Tao and dharma and destiny emphasize that the greatest changes must start within yourself.  There is no other way.  And integral to that is truly being grateful for the body you were given in this lifetime.  In turn, gratitude involves loving and cherishing your body.

At a cerebral level, we all know this.  It makes common sense.  I've known this for years.  But I always found excuses to not really practice it due to the hectic pace of my life.  I've been there, you do the best that you can with the time and energy you have...then the weekend comes and you think I deserve a break, or you have a night out with the girls and you just crave something greasy at 3 in the morning...and your good intentions go out the window.  It's one thing for this to happen once in a while (as in, once every 3 months or so), but you are what your habits are, and I found that I had a habit of eating crappy (including drinking way too much alcohol) almost every weekend...and this half-assed attempt to treat my body as a temple had its consequences.

One thing I love about the French is that they are generally really savvy about eating organic, whole foods and eschewing highly processed foods with dangerous chemicals.  That's a huge thumbs up to a culture that is, in this respect, more advanced than the United States.  Their concern for choosing natural products also spills over into their vaunted natural skincare lines (separate post on my giddy run at Paris' best pharmacy).

Paris has over 65 open-air markets that bring in fresh produce from the countryside to the city center

Being by myself in Paris, however lonely sometimes, has given me the opportunity to carefully choose what I eat without any, well, external influence (because drinking is largely social).  Sure, I've had my indulgences TRUST ME.  I've walked out plenty of times from Laduree's and Angelina's Tea Room patting my belly with a Cheshire grin on my face.  But in general, I've tried to eat as squeaky clean as possible.  Why?  I'd be lying through my teeth if my vanity were not are what you eat, especially at my age, and within just a few weeks,  you just look better - my skin, hair and body reflected the care I was treating the insides.

feeding the soul, dangerous chemicals in alcohol supermarket foods, eating whole unprocessed foods
Hi there.  A slightly blurry picture of me smiling.  After a month or so of eating clean (with some bad moments here and there...damn you Laduree!!) my skin looks so much better,  eyes not so puffy and my hair is strong & healthy despite all the punishment I put it through on a daily basis (I lug my curling iron everywhere)...and my stomach is flat *victory!*
Then, I felt emotionally stronger.  We cognitively recognize when we aren't taking the best care of ourselves - each time we open that bottle of wine and chug it down, each time we grab a handful of M&Ms (with their poisonous dyes that have been proven to cause cancer), every cigarette we inhale - deep inside, we know we aren't doing well by ourselves.  That results in feelings - conscious or repressed/denied (which is what I did with proclamations of well, I work hard so I deserve a night out of whatever drinks and food I want...or...I'll make this up with an extra hour on the treadmill) - of disappointment in ourselves, frustration, shame.  Feelings, however, are never entirely suppressed so in turn these feelings manifest in our lives elsewhere...they show up as us blaming others for our lives, being quick to anger (are you known to have a temper?  I've never known anyone truly content and at peace with him/herself who habitually is a hothead), and lowering our standards of how others treat us.  After all, if we don't treat ourself like a precious vessel, why should anyone else, right?

Here are some suggestions on eating as clean as possible (physical exercises and other things are for a different post).  Try this for 4 days.  Then one week.  Then a fortnight.  Then 21 days.  Then 1 month.  At the end of that 1 month, you will look GORGEOUS.  And.  You will feel alive and happier.  I can't guarantee you'll be happy.  I don't know what else is going on in your life.  I don't know how you are wired.  But you are guaranteed to feel happier than you do right now and isn't that worth something?

And it's okay if you have a bad moment.  We are only human.  Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. In other words, don't let not being perfect stop you from sticking to the program, trying your best and generally doing well...okay?  I was the victim of that mentality for a while and it's a quick spiral downwards.  Just go with me here, pick yourself up as soon as the moment is done and look onward and forward.

1.  For one of your daily meals, have a huge salad composed of only fresh ingredients with just olive oil & vinegar as dressing.  Add any freshly cooked meats or sashimi (chirashi...mmmm, so good) but avoid any deli meats/sausages or canned meats. Deli meats and prepackaged sausages are so incredibly bad for you - that slab of pork just sits there for months not rotting away because it is chock full of sodium nitrates, citric acid, corn syrup, MSG - also known by the euphemism, "hydrolyzed protein" - phosphates and a panoply of other chemicals.  Really think about it.  Think about what sort of chemical wizardry must be utilized to keep ANIMAL FLESH from decomposing.  A dead animal starts rotting in a few hours.  That Honeywell ham is sold for months and months.

Okay, I kind of digressed there, but it is amazing to me that there are some people who still do not understand how bad deli meats/sausages are for you.  It causes gout, ulcers, stomach cancer...and people still shovel it down.  I wouldn't even give deli meat to my dog (assuming I had one...*wistful sigh*).

Have a huge salad filled with your heart's desire of fresh vegetables.  And throw on some delicious sashimi or a filet.  It will do wonders for your energy level.  And your digestive system.  :-)

France Paris eating healthy, salad nicoise, onion soup
My nicoise salad and onion soup today.  Ideally the sardines would be fresh and onion soup made from scratch.  But don't let perfect be the enemy of good and it tasted *so good* going down...I was *that girl* preparing my spoon with the next mouthful of the perfect ratio of cheese to onion soup while I was still munching on my prior bite.  

2.  Stop Drinking Even Diet Soda.  Oh this is tough.  But it's not only the aspartame that's bad, and I am notorious for abusing Stevia and Splenda, but did you know that the chemical dye that makes Diet Coke/Pepsi that gorgeous caramel color is a known carcinogen?  As this article noted:
Two contaminants in the coloring, 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, have been found to cause cancer in animals, a threat the group says is unnecessary, considering that the coloring is purely cosmetic. According to California's strict Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, just 16 micrograms per person per day of 4-methylimidazole is enough to pose a cancer threat, and most popular brown colas, both diet and regular, contain 200 micrograms per 20-ounce bottle.  
Diet soda also contains phosphates to enhance the tangy flavor (that I love so much) and the shelf life of soda.  Ask anyone in the supermarket business.  Sodas last for literally a decade or more.  Phosphates = bad.  It's a huge age accelerator.  Soda, diet or not, is really just chemical water.  I loved that stuff for years and felt virtuous because it was diet.  It's completely gone from my life.

3.   Cut Out Alcohol.  Completely.  I know this one will cause a furor.  But just try it for one month, ease up on your liver 100%...what do you have to lose?  Those nice bottles of wine you have in the wine fridge will only get better after sitting for a month anyhow.

I used to rationalize my wine intake with that "study" from "somewhere" that a glass of wine per actually good for me!  It has resveratrol and antioxidants!  I'm drinking for my health!

But to reap any benefits from resveratrol, we'd have to drink 60 liters of wine per night, every night.  See the Mayo Clinic's article here.  And the benefits of the polyphenols in wine are minimal and speculative.  Worse is the fact that let's face it, who sticks to one glass?  Once you open the bottle, it's a crying shame to not finish it on one go.  And somehow, binging on a bottle of wine just seems classier than forgetting your woes over tequila shots...although, as the Mayo clinic article brings out, the alleged benefits of wine can be theoretically found in any other liquor including beer.

What is undisputed is that alcohol is a depressant. It categorically will not help you on your path to true happiness.  What feelings are you avoiding anyway?  I used to drink wine at social events to feel less shy, or if I was sad about something, to numb myself.  If you drink alcohol at night, which most of us do, studies have consistently shown that it disrupts our sleep pattern, we are unable to fall into deep REM sleep for the requisite duration and we wake up the next day not fully rested and crashing in the afternoon.  It's not really the way to living your life fully and with gratitude to our bodies.

Alcohol, moreover, puts an immense strain on our liver.  A lot of people around the world view it, in any amount, as a poison to our internal system (for example, it is entirely banned in a lot of parts of India).  There's a reason why you can use straight liquor as an antiseptic or why liquor creates a burning sensation as it goes down our throat.  The liver is a vital part of our body system, it performs over 500 known functions including breaking down all chemicals and passing them onto all the other body systems, filtering out toxins and sanitizing essential secretions. When it is compromised, our central nervous system, skin, hair...everything suffers.

And let's not even open the Pandora's box of the havoc that alcohol wreaks on our lives in other ways.

One more thing about alcohol and the way it poisons the liver...if you believe in yoga and the Chakra system, the liver is linked to our expression of anger.  Mess with your liver, have anger management problems.  Sound familiar?  And anger is such a toxic emotion to the person who carries the anger.  It's proven to cause countless physical problems and shorten the life-span in addition to emotionally and spiritually stunting the person.  That's why when you encounter an angry person, really, you should feel sorry for him/her. That person is unhappy.

I do not plan on being a teetotaler for the rest of my life...but not drinking alcohol will be my habit.  Truly rarely, I will have some.  I just don't need it in my life and I don't need it to have fun - yes, I am that girl dancing on the dance floor all night sipping seltzer water and having a blast (shoutout to my dear girlfriend Carly for teaching me this is possible).  It's empty calories and quite honestly, I don't even like the taste of alcohol...maybe champagne...but in general, no.  I'm not self-righteous about it, I don't care what my friends are doing, but I love being able to party all night, then hit yoga/Pilates/Barry's Bootcamp/go hiking the next morning and feel awesome.

4.  As much as possible, eat organic and eat simply.  I'm a big fan of quality foods that are well-prepared but simply prepared.  I prefer not to eat heavily sauced or elaborately designed dishes.  For example, I think almost any vegetable tastes the best prepared with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  Human beings were not designed to eat at one go a plethora of spices, sauces, oils, and diverse categories of food.  Have a huge serving of fish and vegetables and some soup and call it a day - you'll be satisfied and energized, and your body will digest everything so much faster and smoothly.

5.  Eliminate white starches as much as possible, which means no refined sugar (candy).  We all know this one and it's not just a great weight loss strategy...white starches are devoid of nutrition and calorically dense.  They also have such a high glycemic index that they pass us out and then an hour later we are hungry for more.  Plus refined starches have been shown to accelerate the aging process.

That means no candy.  In addition to how horrible refined sugar is for your body, do you know the damage caused by the dyes in candy?? The three most widely used dyes are Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 = all known to cause cancer even in small amounts.  Red 3 has even been identified by the FDA - a notoriously conservative group - as a carcinogen.  But they're in everything from conventional cereal, pastries, fruit drinks.  How much cereal, fruit juice, candy, flavored yogurt does one child consume a day??!   It is shocking.  The only reason why they are still used in basically all regular supermarket food is because of the lobbying efforts of the food industry.  It's bad for kids and bad for us. I used to be obsessed with gummy bears (anything Haribo) and Swedish Fish.  None of that crap any more.

When I pulled all-nighters at BigLaw, many times all I would have for dinner were M&Ms from my assistant's candy dish and coffee.  It's a miracle I didn't end up with an ulcer.  

I think for most of us, the alcohol might be the hardest.  But you've been drinking alcohol for years now - what's one month in the grand scheme of things?  You have nothing to lose, everything to gain!  You are guaranteed to feel happier, lighter, more in alignment with your destiny...a lot of things will improve.  After the one month, you can always go back to your old routine.  Can't hurt you for one month, right? It can only help.

If you can't, try other modifications to your diet.  Most of already know what we need to change.  What you feed your body is so incredibly important to your quality of life and all part of attaining maximum health and happiness.  Let me know if you have found other eating tips that you have benefited from or if you try these suggestions, how they work out for you!

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