My post-transplant follow-up appointments are slowly winding down, giving me a little more free time to actually enjoy the summer. But today, as I was taking my pills in the waiting room (they have to be taken at certain times), the woman half of an elderly couple sitting nearby leaned over and started talking to me. She complemented me on my rather robust appearance and then insisted that I tell her what I eat to look so good.
I nearly fell out of my seat laughing. Let me make this absolutely clear – I am not a nutrition role model. I’ve always been a bit of a butterball and somehow that often translate to people as “healthy” (I personally refer to myself as “Ro-benesque“). However, I have made an effort to change my diet so that I’m eating sensibly, moderately and, most important to me, enjoyably. So if you’re someone who wants to eat better and (hopefully) be healthier, maybe some of the tips below will help you get started and stay the course.
Get your head on straight. There’s so much information these days about how to lose weight, how to magically heal every single ill by drinking exotic green juices and how to stay young and beautiful forever drinking water gathered by virgins under the light of a blue moon, that it’s enough to drive anyone crazy. The bloating, rashes, fatigue and other effects of lupus and its treatment can make you desperate enough to want try anything, but jumping on every fad health trend can easily make your situation worse. Probably the most important idea to hammer into your head is that you’re aiming for the long-term change. Let me repeat; if you’re going to do this, then commit to the long haul. It’s hard, believe me, to stick something out with no guaranteed reward immediately within your grasp, but studies overwhelmingly show that it just doesn’t work. A good resource to check out on studies that have been done about losing weight is the American Journal of Preventive Medicine – click this link to see all their weight-loss study articles.
Be real about your goals. This ties in with getting your head straight. Be honest with yourself – do you want to feel better or just look better? A lot of people will say they want to be healthier, but what they actually mean is that they want to look healthier. There’s no right or wrong answer; it will just make slight differences to your diet-change game plan. In the end, the two tie together, but losing weight does not automatically equal good health just as good health does not automatically equal being thin.
Using the S.M.A.R.T. system can be really helpful in clarifying and reality-checking your goals. Here’s a quick run-down of what SMART means and how you can apply it, but Wikipedia has a bit more of an in-depth write-up.
S – Specific. As stated, be honest with yourself as to what your goal is. A specific goal such as lose 10 pounds gives you something concrete to shoot, but a more general one like not feel so out of breath/tired all the time is a great jumping off point as well.
M – Measurable. How do you plan to keep track of your progress? I don’t usually recommend weighing in unless you’re really hell-bent on losing those pounds. Instead shoot for a weekly goal – maybe one veggie dish per week or skipping desert once a week.
A – Attainable. If you have your wedding gown or your prom dress from high school hanging in your closet, just waiting for you to try to squeeze back into it, then I suggest opening a new web browser page and searching for local shrinks. Don’t change thinking you’ll regain some magical lost past – be in the present, deal with the present and use the present to lay the groundwork for a better future.
R – Relevant. Are you feeling self-conscious because your husband/boyfriend/mother is pestering you about your moon face? Tell them to stuff it and come back when they’ve made the cover of GQ or Sports Illustrated. Do this because you want something better for yourself and you’re willing to work until that happens.
T – Timely. Make a timeline if it helps, but be generous. People on the whole are just awful at estimating when they can achieve a goal. In fact, don’t set yourself a time limit at all – let the process take as long as it needs to really sink in and become a habit. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul.
Start off small. Really small. Pick a starter goal so small and simple that you can’t possibly miss it. For me, it was adding veggies to dishes I already ate. And I did this in the laziest way possible; throwing frozen peas or corn into whatever was cooking at the time. Frying fish? Tossed ’em right into the pan. Microwaving leftovers? Dumped them on top before I pressed ‘start’. I sprinkled them on pizza, scrambled them with eggs, and put them in my soup. And because it was easy, I kept doing it. And from there I tried a few fresh ingredients such as chopped fresh garlic, sautéed onions, mushrooms and avocado slice fried in a bit of olive oil. So pick a small goal, something you know you can do – and then do it. Good ones to try: drinking just one glass of water (put lemon or frozen berries in it or make a cup of tea if flavor is a problem), sneaking veggies into one meal a day (or one a week), or trying a new healthy food once a week/month.
Make it easy. Two facts about people in general: we’re lazy and we have limited willpower (unless, of course, you believe we don’t). If you’re already tired and the choice is something that’ll take 10 minutes to chop and prep and another 10 minutes to cook or a tv dinner that’s done in 3 minutes, we’ll go for the microwave every time. So make it easy to make the right choices. Pick a day to make a bunch of ready-to-eat meals and then freeze them. Nuke ’em or stick them in the oven when you’re ready to eat later. Buy frozen veggies and fish from the supermarket and keep them handy for days you don’t want to cook (I do this all the time) – a quick steam and/or saute, a little sauce and voila! Dinner is served. Another great energy-saver is a slow cooker. Dump all your ingredients into it in the morning and come home to dinner. Keep nuts around the house, bake a huge mass of kale and spinach chips or just snack on cherry tomatoes dipped in hummus. All are tasty, all are good for you. And go ahead, have a little piece of chocolate. Do what you can to set yourself up to succeed.
Be forgiving. You’ll mess up. A lot. Let it go. But if you keep making the same mistakes, then it might be time to reevaluate your plan.
Eating is one of the most ancient pleasures of civilization, so don’t see food as your enemy. There are ways to enjoy your meals, guilt-free.