Greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, etc.)
I don't mean to beat a dead horse, because we have always heard good things about those dark leafy greens. It seems so obvious. But they truly are incredible for us. For example, spinach is an excellent source of: Magnesium, Folate, Manganese, Iron, copper, calcium, Vitamins A, K, E, B1, B2, B6, C and of course fibre. By simply throwing a handful of spinach, kale or swiss chard into your smoothie, you are nourishing your body in such an intense way. And this is often more impactful than taking multivitamins, due to the synergistic effects of these vitamins. Not to mention supplements don't have the more subtle nutrients like antioxidants, polyphenols and flavanoids - these nutrients we are just starting to understand. Expensive green powders in the health aisle don't count either. Find a way to get them in regularly, even if you have to hide them.
This amazing family of veggies includes: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, radish, bok choy and watercress. It's no secret that broccoli is good for you, but some newer research suggests that part of their awesomeness comes from the sulphur compounds in this family of vegetables. One in particular - Sulforaphane - has recently been shown to activate a funky group of genes in our body called the NRF2 pathway. This genetic pathway in our bodies seems to regulate over 200 genes that are responsible for dealing with inflammation, cell and DNA damage (which can lead to cancer), as well as inactivating and eliminating harmful compounds (think: cigarette smoke and air pollution).
In other words, these vegetables seem to actually turn on our bodies ability deal with the harmful daily stresses our body encounters, like a light switch. SO cool.
If you want to know more, and feel up for some extreme science, that I barely even understand, click here.
Healthy fats from whole foods
Avocados, nuts, seeds and fish. The benefit to the "whole food" piece, rather than something like an oil, which has been processed and isolated, is that you ALSO get secondary benefits like fibre, vitamins, and protein - mother nature knows best people! These powerful foods are amazing for our heart health and brain health. These are also one of the key players in the Mediterranean diet which has been shown to lower all-cause mortality, reduce risk of heart attack and stroke, and some convincing evidence that it can even prevent/delay Alzheimer's disease. Sign me up.
Another winner from the Mediterranean diet. An awesome little package of fibre, protein, iron and other complex carbs - aka the best way to stay full and get some other unique nutrients. If you are concerned with the gas you might get from beans/legumes, try adding small amounts more regularly. Rather than what we typically do, which is ignore them 90% of the time and then have a huge bowl of them once every 3-6 months. This doesn't allow our body the time to adjust to the unique fibre that causes the gas. If you don't love the texture, google black bean brownies and eat some of those tasty morsels, or try blending them into soups.
Find a way to be more active
I will be doing an entire post about this, but I'll give you the short and sweet version. The research shows us again and again: exercise doesn't actually help you lose much weight, BUT physical activity in any form is easily the most potent thing any one can do to improve their health in almost every way. If you have any concerns with: heart disease, diabetes, stroke, blood pressure, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, joint pain, OR have a strong family history of any of these things: so essentially every human being, ever. Exercise will help you. Our bodies were made to move, not to sit.
Having said that, the most powerful way to exercise for longer than the first 3 weeks in January, or sporadically throughout the year when your motivation is high, is to find some thing you actually enjoy or get some benefit out of. If you are only shamed into exercise because you feel you should, it won't last. Instead, find something you want to do or something you strongly value. Which is exactly why none of us need "willpower" to eat chocolate. It doesn't need to be intense, start with what you can do and take baby steps each week to improve.
Do you have a busy mind? Do you struggle with anxiety, depression, or feel you have trouble controlling your thoughts/emotions/anger? First of all, you probably shouldn't listen to me, because this is not my field of expertise, so maybe ask a professional. BUT what I can tell you is meditation has helped me to sort out my mind. I've done it half-heartedly for nearly a year, and it is awesome. You will definitely suck at it. We all do.
I've been using the Calm.com app/website - the lady's voice is so lovely. I wish she would follow me around and narrate my life. I have also heard great things about the Headspace app.
Stop drinking sugary drinks
I don't want to jump on the "sugar is the devil" bandwagon. And I don't want to pretend that I am some sugar-free saint. I use it sparingly, to make my foods taste better, and I am not opposed to some occasional tasty treats. But, I often like to pick on sugary drinks. Pop, juice, energy drinks, gatorade, fancy sweet lattes, and to some extent adding a ton of sugar to your coffee/tea, are not doing you any favours.
Let's use the extreme example of pop, the ultimate sugar water. We can all agree there are no vitamins or minerals in there, and a ton of sugar - about 10 teaspoons in one can. We use sugar for energy. But "energy" doesn't appear out of nowhere! A series of highly complex chemical reactions take place to turn sugar into energy, each step needing help from our vitamins and minerals. So, what happens if you need vitamins to make that sugar into usable energy, but the pop came with none? It will just keep using up stored ones, and we essentially end up depleting our stores.
This is the coolest part about mother nature: whole grains give us carbs (which turn into sugar) and fibre to slow down that hit of sugar, PLUS all those B-vitamins to help turn that sugar into usable energy. I've said it before and I'll say it again: nature knows best.
Get better sleep
Have you ever noticed that when you are super sleep deprived, your appetite for sugar/fat/salt goes through the roof? It's a real thing. New research suggests that sleep just jumped into the number 2 spot for its impact on weight, well ahead of exercise, and number one being diet. Sleep deprivation increases our stress hormone, cortisol, which has an impact on appetite and our ability to handle normal daily stress. Unless you are a new parent, we can't just "accept" poor sleep as normal. If you guy's want a post on how to get better night's sleep, post in the comments below and I will whip one together for you.
Reduce screen time
I've talked about my own experience with this before. Even though there is some good research on this, I added it here simply based on my own personal beliefs. Put down your phones, step away from netflix and your Xbox - and get outside. Talk to other human beings or your dog or yourself. Technology is truly amazing. But life is lived outside of the screens. Wouldn't you agree?
To be honest, when I was young I used to think goals were silly. But I've been converted. Get a buddy to keep you accountable, once a year write down some long term goals, and then break that down into some really small, tangible weekly goals. Talk about them, stay accountable, put them on your fridge. It is so easy to stay stagnant in our lives, the days are long but the years flash by and we realize we are still stuck on something. Big life changes happen mostly through intention and luck. And I don't want to rely on luck.