A happy couple eating in Stockholm, Sweden.Maridav/Shutterstock
Every January, people making resolutions to lose weight are peppered with loads of free dieting advice. Most of it is absolutely terrible, or plain lies. Even worse, many weight loss hucksters over complicate the very simple truths we know about eating for health.
That’s why I love this chart from the Swedish National Food Agency. Its succinct (and still impressively science-based) advice is summed up in this nice graphic:
While American guideline makers are reluctantto urge the public to eat less of anything (lest they offend powerful industry lobby groups), the Swedes are clear about what people really need to cut back on: red and processed meat, salt, and sugar.
Likewise, while fad diet peddlers often suggest people eat a certain “superfood,” avoid some overly specific substance like gluten, or follow a fat-busting workout routine to stay fit, the Swedes keep it real: Just eat more plants and exercise. Instead of suggesting people do the impossible and banish fat from their diets, these Scandinavians are advised to seek out “fabulous fats” in vegetable oils and nuts. (Again, these findings jibe with what researchers have found.)
“In truth,” the experts at the Swedish food agency write, “most people know perfectly well what they should eat. It’s no secret that vegetables are good for you and sugar isn’t.”
So here’s an idea: Save your money, and tune out the fads you’ll be inundated with this year. Ignore the unreasonable diet plans that time has shown will fail, and forget the punishing workouts. Instead, eat like a Swede.
For some reason, people treat changing calendars as an event that marks the beginning of a new lifestyle, usually one that includes a focus on health. Sure enough, the two most popular resolutions are “losing weight” and “staying fit and healthy.” It’s pretty much a given that come January 1, gyms will be slammed and salad bars will be crammed.
But what about the folks who aren’t ready to dive into something extremely demanding, like CrossFit five days a week or a seriously restrictive diet plan? Are there less-challenging, yet still effective ways to lose weight? Absolutely!
Nix the sodas and fruit juices
Here’s something to think about: if you currently drink two servings of soda or juice a day, and you simply stopped drinking it right now, opting instead for healthier alternatives like sparkling water or just plain water, you’d easily be able to eliminate 300+ calories from your day and shed almost 1lb a week without any additional exercise.
Credit: Anthony Humphreys/Thrillist
Simplify your coffee
Since coffee contains caffeine, it can stimulate fat burn and weight loss. Unfortunately, coffee loses all of its weight-loss potential when you cram it with unhealthy additives like super-sweet syrups and sugars. End result: a once-healthy black coffee becomes a fattening sugarbomb. So here’s a simple solution for coffee-lovers who also want to lose weight: start taking your coffee black, and if you really can’t stand the bitterness, go for a naturally low-calorie sweetener, like stevia. Bottom line, by going au natural with your coffee, you’ll tighten up your waistline.
Reduce your carbs three days per week
Not all carbs are the devil, but eating a diet high in refined carbs (think white rice, pasta, cereal, bread) can cause elevated blood sugar and insulin. End result: eating a diet high in refined carbs can make you fat and sick— and it can make it harder to lose weight.
NOTE: I’ve found that there’s a lot of misconceptions out there of what eating healthy looks like. Eating healthy in a way that can be maintained for the rest of your life is not about deprivation or writing off entire food groups at a time. Rather it’s trying to find the healthiest alternatives to what you like. At least that is my approach 4 years in weight loss maintenance.
(Photo: Getty Images/ Lauren Ahn)
Want to make your diet the picture of health ? Just follow some simple guidelines, conceived by registered dietitian Isabel Smith, to keep your meals, snacks, and treats (yes, ~*TrEaTs~*!) as healthy as can be:
(Photo: Lauren Ahn)
To make it even easier to clean up your diet, here are some stupid-simple recipes to get you through the day — just pin or screenshot them to reference the next time you’re hungry for…
Even if we have the best of intentions, the goals we set to get healthy (after this last slice of pizza, of course) sometimes fall by the wayside. It can be hard to stay motivated, or even properly informed, since the recommendations for what to eat and how long to exercise can be confusing and conflicting. (Fat, for example, was off the menu for years under official guidance that eating fat makes you fat, and now that advice is getting kicked to the curb.) As a result, truly healthy behaviors can have a hard time cutting through the noise. Despite everything we know about the health benefits of exercise, a recent study found that 43% of employed adults do not exercise often.
Yet getting healthier is still a worthy goal, and many experts in the fields of exercise, health and nutrition have clear ideas about how to get there. Here are some low-stress, bare-minimum ways to become a healthier person, even for those of us who love to eat and hit snooze.
How to eat
Eating healthy shouldn’t be a nutrient numbers game. And no: you don’t have to go vegan or adopt a Paleo diet. Just make sure your plate contains more than two different colors, says Simin Nikbin Meydani, director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “If it’s not, it’s boring, and you won’t meet your nutrient requirements,” she says. “If it’s green and red and brown, you can.”
After coloring your plate, make sure to consume it—and enjoy it—with someone else. “Sharing a meal with friends and family impacts our health and how we age and fare as we get older,” Meydani says.
Some countries, like Brazil, follow just that advice. Their government recommends eating whole foods, avoiding processed ones and dining with other people.
How to exercise
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that American adults do two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, plus some muscle-strengthening on the side.
Many people don’t do any of that. A 2015 study published in the The BMJ argued that older adults, especially, find it hard to meet that government advice. “Getting inactive people to do a little bit of physical activity, even if they don’t meet the recommendations, might provide greater population health gains,” wrote study author Philipe de Souto Barreto, a researcher at University Hospital of Toulouse, in the paper.
Yet new evidence suggests they don’t need to. Barreto points out that a study of more than 250,000 older adults found that getting less than an hour of moderate physical activity each week was linked to a 15% drop in death, which means that people do benefit from even a small amount of exercise. Studies have also shown significant health benefits fromsimple exercises like walking.
Some researchers are seeing how low people can go when it comes to time spent working out. Enter the one-minute workout, where you work out as hard as possible for 60 seconds, with some warm-up and cool-down exercises thrown in, too. Even though the time spent exercising is minimal, it’s meant to be hard, and is shown to improve health and fitness. “There might be time-efficient ways to get fit,” says Martin Gibala, chair of kinesiology at McMaster University in Canada. “The notion of meeting people in the middle is positive—but there’s no free lunch.”
Stressing out over meeting government numbers—whether for nutrient values of the number of exercise minutes—may not be worth the headache. Getting some exercise every week and eating colorful meals with friends can be an enjoyable way to live a healthier life. Doing something, it seems, is what’s important.
Keeping healthy and active through regular exercise and eating sensibly is important at any age. But let’s be real — health in your 40s is even more important than your 30s. If you didn’t lay a good foundation in your 30s, you will most likely be paying for it later on in life — or maybe feeling it now… hello, bloat and acid reflux. As we hit our 40s and beyond, it becomes vital to our well-being to eat nutrient-dense foods and move daily. A combination of a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition increases the risk of premature aging, illness and disease — ultimately shortening life expectancy. The good news is, we can reverse the signs of aging through small dietary changes!
There are numerous physiological changes associated with aging. These include a decrease in heart efficiency and bone density, and cholesterol and blood pressure may start to increase, as does your risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. No matter how you slice it, none of the above symptoms are good for longevity at any age. So, here are five tips to be fabulous over 40 (or at any age).
1. Ditch the Diet
Diets wreck your metabolism and result in yo-yo weight gain and loss. The key to successful weight management is adopting a healthy eating plan and sticking with it — for life. A well-balanced diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, proteins, calcium and water. Eat fresh and unprocessed foods as much as possible, since most processed foods will contain calorie-laden, unhealthy ingredients, like saturated fats and sugar. Reduce saturated fat in your diet and include more calcium-rich foods — such as low-fat dairy, spinach and white beans to stay healthy. Stick to low-glycemic foods — nonstarch vegetables and minimal sugar — to ensure long-lasting satiety and minimize the likelihood of hunger pangs or sudden drops in energy levels.
2. Eat for Energy
Eating for energy, rather than pleasure, is key to any successful dietary plan. Being fabulous over 40 doesn’t just happen — we have to make it happen! Pleasure eating happens when foods are available to you, rather than out of real need. Would you really take the time to make and eat those bacon wrapped tater tots if they weren’t staring you in the face on the buffet table? You crave those chips in your pantry because they are there and readily available. You may have kids and may not be able to get rid of all temptations, but why not buy yourself some veggie chips (low salt) so you can snack smartly? Once you begin to think of all food as energy, rather than as cravings, you will be on the cornerstone of health success.
3. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Satisfying your sweet tooth is another great obstacle for many of us. We all have cravings, but it is how we manage and respond to those cravings that keep us healthy. Have an occasional sweet treat, but be mindful and keep your health goals intact. So, choose the pear over the piece of cake. For those times when a piece of fruit simply won’t do (talking to you, PMS), studies show that after three bites our cravings are satisfied. If you must have the refined sugar treat, make it the treat you actually want and have three bites. Test this theory and let me know your results. You will be amazed at how well it works to satisfy your sweet tooth.
4. Hormone Havoc
Hormones can wreak havoc on our bodies — and never is that truer than in our 40s. Most women hit perimenopause (the time four to five years prior to menopause) and start experiencing hormonal fluctuations and symptoms, such as mood swings, low libido, hot flashes, irregular periods, vaginal dryness and cognitive problems. Listen to your body. Take note of and avoid your triggers, such as heat, spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Track your emotions and your periods to help determine if the two are connected — there are great phone apps that can help you keep track. Studies show excess weight, stress and smoking can increase the frequency and intensity of symptoms. Listen to your body and your hormones will wreak less havoc on you.
5. Plan and Prepare
The best laid plans are forgotten if you’re not prepared. Has this ever happened to you: It is 4 o’clock and you ate a decent lunch at about noon, but you find yourself starving and know you won’t make it until dinner. You go to the pantry, only to find your kids’ Rice Krispies Treats or other processed treats, and you’re so hungry, you gobble it down in record time. You’re hungry again 20 minutes later. So frustrating, right? The truth is, those empty calories have no nutritional value, so they can’t possibly fill you up. If you have fruit with fiber on hand with a smear of natural nut butter (protein), that will get you through those hunger periods much better. Plan ahead and be prepared for those times when hunger strikes.
The body’s ability to heal and recover can take longer as we age and stress, and lack of sleep can result in faster aging and an inability to fight infection or disease — your body’s way of saying it is at “dis-ease.” Don’t ignore a pain or problem that persists beyond a few days. As always, if in doubt, seek medical advice.
Starting today, you can make small changes so you can live your best life possible and be fabulous over 40. After all, age is just a number, right? We can turn back our body clocks by taking control of our health and making small changes each and every day that make a big impact on our health for our 40s and beyond.
Today started out like any other Saturday; the house was quiet, still full of sleepy heads, and two hungry pups. I laid in bed for a brief moment before I propelled myself out of the comforts of the warm covers and into the chill of the air conditioned room.
I glanced briefly down at my Fitbit and it stated “0930, SA 13.” The pups wagged their tails excitedly waiting for their breakfast and as they chowed down I retrieved my standard weekend breakfast of protein bar and cup of hot tea. Something about the date drew me to tap on the Fitbit again and I read “0947, SA 13.” Then it suddenly dawned on me, Aug 13 is the day. The day that I reach my goal weight three years ago from years of being overweight.
This is what unhealthy looks like
This was me in 2000. I was 30 years old, 163 lbs at 4’10”, had a BMI of 34.1 (obese), hated photographs of myself, hated shopping for clothes, was the heaviest I have ever been in my entire life, and had accepted that this is how a mother is suppose to look. It wasn’t until 12 years later at an annual physical when my blood work came back declaring that I was pre-diabetic that I finally was scared enough to actually skip all the quick fix diets or miracle diet supplements and just settle down to put in the work.
Weight loss compared to was a breeze. The first two years of maintenance blew by with very little hiccup largely due to my fear of falling prey to the statistics regaining. I remained hyper vigilant on nutrition and gymming regularly. The only time I skipped gym was for a child’s sporting event. My weight remained constant within +/- 1-2 lbs and life was good.
This third year however, has been a series of challenges and it was the first time my weight fluxed back over 100 lbs. I was horrified, frustrated, and was in borderline panic mode. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong or what has changed or why is that stupid fucking number on the scale going in the wrong direction?!
Of course I knew all the answers but just became quite comfortable with what I am calling the ‘maintenance blinders’ squarely over my eyes. And that is exactly why I religiously log everything and anything other than water pass my little devil lips into MyFitnessPal. It is an incredible source of data to find the self-sabotaging pattern of eating. I can summarize my top pitfalls which has made my 3rd year of maintenance a bit of a roller coaster.
I looked at my daily caloric allotment and felt it was time to increase it from what has made me successful in the previous two years. Instead of 1230 I increased it to 1450 – regardless if I gymmed or not, often eating over it, and abandoned my TDEE #s.
I increased my strength training and reduced my cardio drastically.
Due to increased strength training I was more hungry so I ate more. I became a huge fan of Peanut Butter … on everything!
I associated the consistent weight gain to gaining muscle and rationalized that my pants were getting tight around my waist due to muscle – yes I really did quite an excellent job convincing myself of this one.
A few days before my cycle I have always been famished but since I was doing more ‘strength training’ to ‘build more muscle’ which naturally ‘burns more fat’ I quenched my insatiable appetite with everything and anything with little regard to the quality of what I was consuming. The power of self rationalization is incredibly powerful.
Thanks to my MFP pals and a mishap on the elliptical severely injuring my wrist, I refocused on getting back on track.
I have NO idea why I veered away from TDEE. I think subconsciously I reflected how easy the previous 2 years of maintaining was and just got a little cocky. I thought ‘hey maybe I can’t get fat again!’ I was sadly mistaken. LOL I dialed my daily baseline caloric allotment to a reasonable 1350, did not eat over it except for once a week on family pizza night, and I have strictly adhered to eating on plan during the workweek and loosening the reigns on the weekend (80/20 Rule).
I did a bit of research and apparently there are studies which alludes that some people are physically built to respond better to cardio and some to strength training when it comes to weight loss. So I have tweaked my physical routine to strength training to be half of my cardio 5 days a week. While on the weekends I bump up the cardio and the strength training to a 60:40 ratio in favor of cardio.
I have made peace with that peanut butter can be addictive for me, so I have tapper off on it and magically I no longer crave it on everything. lol
I have also had to face the hard truth that if my weight is creeping up and my clothes are getting tight around the waist, it is NOT muscle weight but F-A-T. That was a very difficult truth to acknowledge because I no longer could use strength training/more muscle as an excuse to eat like a crazy person. Cuz let’s face it, eating like a crazy person with zero regard to outcome sometimes is just flat out enjoyable. But too much ‘enjoying’ resulted in a reality that I did not like. SO instead having ice cream 4 days a night I limit it to 1 on a non-pizza night. Instead of drowning my protein bar in PB I put it in the fridge so that it doesn’t need ‘something extra’ to make it more palatable.
I still feed my insatiable appetite days before my cycle, but now I do so with the least amount of carbs & sugar with the most nutritional value. This little standard allowed me to make much better choices to satisfy without falling into the carbs & sugar addictive cycle.
Purrty colors no?
Oddly enough the horrific wrist injury refocused me on nutrition because I knew my physical activities had to be highly curtail to accommodate my lack of mobility. I literally could not even walk on the treadmill because the vibration sent sharp shooting pain up my arm. Therefore without the reliance to ‘out-gym’ poor eating choices I was inadvertently forced back on track. As my wrist healed and I was able to slowly incorporate strength training again back into my cardio while being more proactive about my nutrition – not only did I not gain weight but lost. It was the first time this 3rd year of maintenance that I have regularly included strength training without gaining and I am elated.
I am back under 100 and 1.8 lbs from goal. I have been focusing on my shoulders and triceps and with the continued reduction in fat, I am finally seeing results.
Happy 3rd Maintenance Anniversary to Me!
So thanks universe for my mishap on the elliptical to get back on track. hahaha
As a model, I’ve been subjected to 12 years of body scrutiny from the fashion industry. It has taken me the last few years to recover from feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, and now I’m in a place where I am confident in my body. It’s led me to become the managing editor of RunwayRiot, a new fashion-focused website dedicated to serving and amplifying the (often underrepresented and overlooked) voices of curvier women. It’s also why I’m so happy to be included in the upcoming documentary Straight/Curve, produced by Jessica Lewis, who has herself worked as a model.
The documentary is unique in that it highlights a diversity of voices that, until now, have been absent from the fashion industry. These include models who are challenging society’s perception of beauty, along with designers, stylists, agents, and political figures.
I was able to speak with Jessica, who has worked as a model for 15 years in both plus- and straight-size markets, aboutStraight/Curve (out this fall) and her hope for the documentary. Read our conversation below.
ISKRA LAWRENCE: What motivated you to create this film?
JESSICA LEWIS: Continually seeing women set the bar for the “best version of themselves” at one body type. There is so much beauty in our differences! If only we could embrace that and nurture it through the media, instead of continuing to manifest insecurities by showcasing only one type of beauty. It’s my hope that we can showcase the need and want for a more diverse ideal of beauty all around.
How has your personal journey influenced the film?
I had been a straight-size model for so many years and was influenced by the global stigmas surrounding women and size. So I was admittedly apprehensive when my agent suggested I try plus-size modeling after I’d gained some weight while taking time away from the industry. I was concerned not so much about the glamour aspect — because to me, these women are undoubtedly beautiful — but [I was concerned about] the health aspect and what promoting this curvier body type was saying to society. I honestly wasn’t even sure at the time that my own body was in peak health. Upon getting to know the plus-size models of the industry and seeing how full of life and energy they were — how they had clear skin and full hair and, above all that, just oozed confidence — I really began to second-guess the current size-beauty equation.
I also happened to be in the midst of going to school to earn a degree in nutrition. From everything I was learning, I found it hard to support the argument that it’s irresponsible from a health perspective to use these women to market beauty to society. These women are healthy, confident, and beautiful — all things I believe every woman strives to be. So why aren’t we using them as the defining image of beauty for the next generation?
From your 15 years in the modeling/fashion industry, what changes have you seen in the discussion of body image?
This is going to sound awful, seeing as I’ve worked in so many areas of fashion throughout so many markets globally … but not much! I really feel like over the last five years or so, the media has picked up on the diversity-in-fashion debate exponentially and given it the steam it needs to progress to the next level. In turn, stakeholders in the industry are feeling encouraged to be proactive about making change. I think many people in the industry are ready to see diversity normalized, where designers aren’t using a token plus-size woman or ethnicity in their campaigns or shows just to say they did. Once there isn’t discussion surrounding diversity anymore — and it’s just there in all its beauty — we’ll know we’ve made it.
You are interviewing a variety of people for the documentary. What new viewpoints should we expect to glean?
We’re going to be speaking to many members of the straight-size fashion community about their view on diversity — which may not be what everyone thinks it is. We are also working with a number of organizations to do social-science studies on how media/fashion-industry images impact society on a grander scale. We’re speaking with a number of health care professionals about diversity in health and how this speaks so wonderfully to the health/size debate. Ultimately, the imagery we feature in the documentary poses grander questions around mental and physical health.
Do you believe social media has affected the conversations around body image?
Absolutely. Social media has enabled the imagery I was talking about [showing diversity in size in the fashion industry] to spread unbridled. It’s allowed people to look at these images and empowered them to come to their own conclusions of what beauty is.
Have you learned anything about yourself from filming the documentary?
Oh, yes. The most profound thing I’ve learned is that to truly feel content and confident in your beauty, you need to come to that place as you are right now. You have cellulite or stretch marks? Great, embrace them. Only then will you have the respect for yourself, and your body, to become the happiest, fittest, most beautiful, and essentially the best version of yourself. We need to stop putting the cart before the horse.
Ironically, I feel like I’m back at ground zero, constantly relearning beauty beyond the physical through the women and men we are speaking to. I thought after having been straight-size and then plus-size, I could say, “OK, I’ve had my body go through a journey, I feel like I understand all this size/beauty talk.” But really, continuing to explore the topic from so many aspects has opened the doors to many other questions for me. Is it OK for a company to market exclusively to one size category? Should we be regulating the health of talent the way athletes have their health regulated? How are children interpreting this imagery, and how can we use it to influence a generation of physically, emotionally, and mentally confident individuals?
How do you hope people will feel after watching Straight/Curve?
In a couple of words, enlightened and inspired. Truthfully, though, I just want to introduce people to a new beauty ideal supported by informed opinion. I’m happy to have them take from it what they will … any opinion is fine, as it only progresses the conversation that will hopefully lead to diversity being the norm.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.