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The “No-Diet” lifestyle

Dear Friends & Readers,

many people ask me how I keep myself in good shape if I love eating so much.  They ask how my husband can be so slender if I cook every night and how it is possible that I still can wear outfits I bought 10 years ago.  The more I browse the internet and I read magazines, the more I realize that there is a misconception that a healthy lifestyle must be dull, the food flavorless and you must (1) work out every day (2) count your calories (3) deprive yourself. I don’t do any of the above and still I consider myself in fairly decent shape.  Here are my rules for a healthy lifestyle, some I learned from my family, others I tested and learned myself. Fad diets (Atkins, Dukan, etc) may work for a month or a year, but if you want to be healthy, you need to change your behaviour and attitude towards food.

  1. Cook your meals: you may think that this is a shameless plug for my webisodes “Cooking in Manhattan” but that is not the case.  When you cook your meals you know exactly what goes into every step of the preparation. Restaurants use crutches to improve flavor: bacon fat, butter, mono sodium glutammate, cornstarch. have you ever ordered takeout and the delivery man arrives 5 minutes later? (Chinese restaurants I am looking at you).  Cooking complex asian dishes takes more than 5 minutes.  The food was not cook to order, it was sitting waiting for someone to call in a delivery. When food sits for too long it develops histamines, the same that give you allergies. Have you ever thought that you might not be allergic to dairy, wheat, etc. but simply to the process that gets your food on the plate? Think about it next time you reach for the greasy chinese takeout menu. It might be good once in a while but in the long run, are you sure your body can endure the abuse?
  2. Quench your hunger: drink water, green tea, coconut water… anything, just don’t reach for the snack drawer just yet! By midmorning I start thinking about food and wanting to munch on something. So I get up from my desk and I drink a nice glass of water or cup of tea. That usually keeps my hunger at bay until lunchtime.  When your body is dehydrated the first reaction is to send you a signal that your stomac is empty. But eating carb ladden snacks won’t make you feel better… it will cover the symptoms and after a little while you will be starving again. Only liquids will do. Think about it next time you go to the vending machine, how about a nice cup of water instead? But be carefull because you should….
  3. … AVOID soda at all costs.  In law school everyone was drinking Diet Coke.  YUCK! sorry folks but I find it absolutely disgusting.  The taste of soda, any soda even the diet one, is the most revolting thing I have ever tasted. Maybe it was my mom who never gave me any soda as a kid, maybe it is my overactive taste buds.  I can’t stand fake flavorings, i.e. stuff that is made in a lab to cheat your palate into thinking something is good.  Have you ever tried unplugging a drain with soda? it works better than Drano. Do you really want to treat your stomach like the plumbing in your kitchen? Next time you reach for a soda, please remember that the sweetness has only 1 purpose – to make how corrosive soda really is. YAY for Major Bloomberg and his soda ban… You may question his politics but at least you know he is smart.
  4. Eat only 3 times a day. Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, that is.  I hear about these 6 meals a day diets and cringe.  I don’t believe in snacking and I am not going to apologize for it. For me it is just carb overload!  This is the first lesson I learned from my mom who is notoriously skinny (no really, she is smaller than me): Have 3 good meals a day but give your digestive system a break in between.  This will give you plenty of energy but your stomach needs to be full as much as it needs to be empty.  If you snack in between meals you will never allow your stomach to rest – your poor stomach will feel the same way you feel after working for days and days without sleeping.  Have a nice glass of water instead!
  5. Smart portion control.  I read so many articles about how much protein, carbs and fat you should eat.  I find that most of them are misleading because they give you ounces grams etc.  That works up to a certain point…. until you develop an eye for how much you are eating you may want to use this neat trick I learned from Doctor Frank Lipman to measure how much you eat: i) Salad size – about the size of two open hands; ii) Vegetable serving size – about the size of your open hand; iii) High quality carbohydrate – about the size of your fist; iv) High quality protein – serving size is about the size of your palm.
  6. Indulge in moderation.  Very few people can toe the line and live without indulging for a long period of time. I find that most of those people are usually motivated by $$$ or absolutely insane. I am neither so I say to you: indulge, in moderation. Don’t eat the whole bag of chocolate chip cookies. Eat one but make it an experience.  Take a moment and stop what you are doing: flavor that cookie and make it count.  Has it ever happened to you that you would sit in front of the TV with a bag of chips and you end up eating the whole bag without realizing it.  That is because you are not making it count – you are not experiencing and the act of eating is only mechanical, but the calories are REAL.  Stop for a second, taste your cookie, chocolate truffle, anything, but make it count!
  7. Don’t be afraid of the fat.  The grocery stores are filled with “diet-friendly” items that promise a calorie or fat free meal.  That is a LIE! Those products are not your friends: they don’t taste like the real deal and you end up eating more than you need to because you think they are guilt free. Listen to Aunt Serena here: eat the real deal, just eat less.  Not all fats are bad for you, and those that are bad can still be enjoyed, as long as you (1) know it is an exception, not the rule and (2) don’t stuff your face.  Make your own mayo, for goodness sake, just don’t eat it all in one day!
  8. Your feet are the key to your heart’s health.  Take the stairs. Walk outside during lunch break.  Play with your kids.  Bring home the groceries.  We make our life sedentary; it is not the other way around.  If you have a desk job you could take your conference calls standing up instead of sitting down.  Once, a partner of the lawfirm I worked at, found me downward dog position during a conference call. My hubby walks around when he talks to people on the phone. Moving is the best way to improve health and it is fun too, but it doesn’t have to be a full work out every time.  For example I (try to) go to the gym 3 times a week but for the rest of the time I am pretty active – that probably burns more calories than the workout.
  9. DON’T Smoke/Do drugs.  Say what you will but cigarettes age you, no matter how much botox you have injected in those crows’ feet. Nicotine is responsible for solidifying fat in your arteries and you know where that is going, right?  Same applies for drugs… look at LiLo, does she look like a woman in the mid-twenties? Definitely not. It is not worth relying on cigarette and drugs (even the recreational ones age you!) because their effect is temporary and way to damaging when you balance the damages.
  10. Limit your drinking to 1 or 2 drink a week.  I have a couple of friends that drink a lot: they consider the serving size the full bottle of wine.  It is uncomfortable to see them drinking and think about the health concerns, even if they don’t get (visibly) drunk.  I know many people who drink every day.  They just go home and open a bottle of wine or relax with a glass of something stronger.  I am a fan of the occasional margarita/bellini/Rossini or glass of wine but opening a bottle every day is not in my culture. See in my family drinking alcohol is considered something you do in special occasions.  Birthdays, Anniversaries, Accomplishments call for wine and drinks but day to day that is not something we would do.  It is a cultural issue but also an health one: yes they tell you wine is good for you, but you can also get the antioxidants elsewhere.  As I said before, have a glass and make it count, make it an experience… sometimes you have to abandon the concept of everyday luxury so you can still get carried away when you pamper yourself with champagne!
  11. Build long muscles.  You may be a treadmill warrior or an elliptical machine fiend but that only takes you so far.  They qualify as cardio but do they make you strong and resilient? Yes and no.  You need to challenge yourself with something new… weight training, kettlebells, some martial art routine. They are fun and get your body tired while you relax your mind.  But building long muscles is not always easy because classes focus on sweating more than elongating. SO you may end up with contracted, sore, irritated muscles.  My advice? Stretch while you watch TV at night.  Stretching is a fairly passive activity but it may save you from injury now and limited movement later.  There is nothing better than a good stretching session before going to sleep and if you manage to also take a warm bath, it becomes a real treat.

So these rules along with the Mediterranean Diet are the key to a healthy lifestyle.  For more tips you should check out my twitter feed as I usually post daily advice on it too @serenapalumbo.