Food is fuel. Nutrition is a lifeline. Eating is survival.
The one constant that remains with us in each decade of life is the need to exercise and the necessity to replenish things lost during exercise. Our cells thrive or die based on the choices we make.
This is not yet another lecture telling you how bad “processed foods” are or how if you want to lose weight, you must give up everything that excites your palate. No. That is not it at all. When you understand what is happening at the cellular level, you will have no cravings to fight nor will there be any battle of will power, because you will only want to choose what is best for your body and for your health.
Nutrition is a Pandora’s box that I will save to open for another day. All we really need to understand is that nutrition starts early. The habits practiced in our early years is the quality of life we live in our later years.
It is never too late to start healing. How many of you can tell me you actually ate clean as a kid?
I would be kidding if I said I did. Being thirty pounds overweight for most of my life, my breakfast consisted of three doughnuts, lunch was a standing date with the vending machine, afternoon snacks were whatever I could sneak into my backpack, dinner was the only meal that resembled anything close to the food pyramid and late-night snacks were those cute little powdered doughnuts and a whole bag of buttered ACT microwave popcorn, remember those?? If you don’t believe me, you should look at my high school pictures!!!
If I only knew then what I know now. When you know better, you do better. It wasn’t until 2010 that I began to know better. As I learned, I changed. There was nothing easy about it. It is still not. In 2014, fortunately or unfortunately, I developed a gluten sensitivity that helped curb my doughnut addiction. But man, what I wouldn’t give for a chocolate caked doughnut.
I was nearly into my 4th decade of life when I finally realized how I had treated my body. I didn’t dwell on the repercussions of my earlier choices, I focused on how to stop the self-destruction standing in the present and walking into the future.
As we age, just like everything else, our nutritional needs change.
The stomach is a powerful muscle in the human body. Just like other muscles, it also atrophies. Due to the smaller size of the stomach, it is unable to hold the same quantity of food that it once did. Naturally this causes us to eat less. While this may seem like a great thing, but remember by consuming less food we are also consuming less nutrients.
Aging also affects digestion and absorption of important vitamins and minerals. Combine this with the diminished calorie intake, the cells no longer have the necessary lifeline it needs to keep us healthy.
So, what do we do?
First, we take a deep breath. The human body is a machine of epic proportions. It has this unrelenting need to fight for homeostasis. Just because our activity levels naturally decline with age, we don’t become sedentary, right? We just make it a point to put in more effort to keep moving. Same thing with nutrition. While we may not be eating as much as before, we must train our habits to eat foods that are nutrient dense and calorically satisfying.
Here are few simple ways on how you can start to do that:
- Hydrate. It is easy to forget to drink, especially when thirst mechanisms also change. I recommend everyone fill a pitcher of water every morning or the night before. Infuse your favorite flavors if you wish. You can even put time markers on the pitcher reminding you how much you should have drunk by that time. By the time bedtime comes, the pitcher should be empty. When we don’t quantify our efforts, we overestimate.
- Make a weekly grocery list. Pick one day of the week that is dedicated to planning your health needs for that week. Sit down with a pen and paper and write down foods that are around the periphery of the grocery store. Shop only according to the list. If shopping is difficult, most grocery places provide home deliveries. When we plan in an environment that promotes calm and tranquility, our choices will reflect the same. So, do the planning at home and the shopping in the store.
- Be deliberate about protein choices. While protein maybe one of the most important components to health, it is not the most obvious. It is easy to bypass reading the food label. To spend time daily figuring out if you have had adequate protein is cumbersome and well, frankly, boring. That is exactly why we need to be very calculated and deliberate in planning our meals. One of the fastest ways to know you are getting in your protein is with a protein shake. Add fruits or nuts. Make it with water or a milk of your choice (coconut, almond, oat, skim etc). Watch those extra calories that tend to get added. Once scoop of most protein powders offers 20g/serving. Those 70 years and older or those that have difficulty chewing due to dental concerns, can add one can of Boost or Ensure drink per day. Both offer nutrient dense calories to the diet.
- Supplements. As most of you know, I am not the biggest fan of taking or recommending a list of supplements. Personally, I feel it is better to get it from its most natural source, mainly food. As we age, this may not be possible. Taking a good quality multivitamin along with Calcium and Vitamin D offers immune protection and cellular support. Some evidence suggests adding additional B6, Folate, Magnesium Vitamin E, Omega-3 may offer limited benefit, but further research is needed. Take only what you need. Eat real. Eat green. Eat natural.
- Sleep like a baby. Move like a teenager. So simple, yet so profound. The three most important gifts we can give to ourselves are sleep, exercise, and fuel. Sleep to restore. Exercise to rejoice. Eat to replenish. No matter our chronological age, we must do at least this much every day. While we can’t prevent everything, we can go to bed knowing we tried.
To live a healthy life is just listening to where our body is guiding us. Where we get lost is when we listen to the illusionary advice of the outside world. Every webpage, every article, every ad, every corner you turn, someone is giving us advice.
Is advice really what is needed? I don’t seem to think so. Once I was able to answer this question for myself, I began to change how I practice medicine. Of course, I still use all my medical knowledge to diagnose. But I have painted a very different picture for how I treat.
If we just listen for a moment, our bodies are telling us how to heal. Sleep. Exercise. Fuel.
Yes. It really is that simple.
There still lies a doughnut loving teenager inside of me, and she will continue to be with me in my daily choices. But the difference now is, she knows better. She is me. I am her. And together, our future self will remember the memories of enjoying those “sweet” teenage moments, but is thankful for delivering us to a hopeful, healthful, happy future.
Aging is a process of existing. But living is a choice of privilege.
It is never too late to begin. You are only as old as you think you are young!
Dr. Raman’s Concierge Medical Practice is focused on holistic care and good health maintenance. For more information on healthy eating habits and achieving and maintaining OPTIMAL health, CONTACT our office today to schedule your appointment. You can also learn more by following Dr. Raman on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.