healthy eating summary

back to basics | in summary…

Earlier this month, we kicked off the “Back to Basics” series, digging into my principles of healthy eating.

If you recall, my five principles are as follows—we’re leaving the first one out of this series because it deserves an entire month all to itself!

The beauty of these principles is that they apply to every eating style—from carnivore to Keto to Paleo to omnivore to [fill-in-the-blank]-tarian to vegan to plant-based.

Want to eat nothing but meat? I personally don’t recommend that approach, but if you’re into it, make sure you’re getting your animal products as close to the source as you can, cooking them from scratch, eating them in moderation and with mindfulness. That means no conventional sausage or chicken nuggets or burgers, all of which are full of fillers and other unnecessary ingredients.

Want to eat nothing but plants? Make sure you’re getting your plant products as close to the source as you can, cooking them from scratch, eating them in moderation and with mindfulness. That means no fake meat, which is hyperprocessed and full of junk your body doesn’t need. And yes, those chocolate sandwich cookies may be vegan, but they’re really not good for you.

i feel you.

Last week, I had gum surgery. Can’t say I recommend it, but I guess it can be a necessary evil if you have teeth and gums like mine.

The truly unfair part of this story is that as a child, I religiously brushed and flossed. And every dentist’s visit turned up a cavity. My brother was, shall we say, not so rigorous in his dental hygiene. And he didn’t have a cavity until he was well into adulthood. (Yes, I admit, I did learn about this with some glee.)

Anyway, this gum surgery came with a sheet full of post-operative instructions: focus on soft foods, no toothpaste for 24 hours (too gritty), no swishing, and (ewwwwww) no brushing or flossing in that quadrant for a week. Gross, right?

Let’s ignore the nasty parts and focus on the food, though.

What really struck me was a line about “possibly consider adding a nutritional supplement/meal replacement to your diet” during recovery.

Have you ever read the label on any of those supplements/meal replacements?!? It’s hard to imagine a “food” less aligned with my principles.

And yes, I get that as someone who works with food and nutrition daily, I have a privileged insight into how to get the most nutrition from a puréed/soft foods diet.

Honestly, a large part of the solution was simply altering what I had on hand in the fridge—beans for tacos turned into soup, roasted sweet potatoes became mashed, etc. BTW, puréed cabbage—not so good. It’s all about experimenting, though, right?

I remember a client who was preparing food for her husband, who suffered from difficulty swallowing. She told me once that she was converting many of the soups we’d cooked together into puréed versions. All went well until she hit beef barley, which apparently turned into a gritty, chalky, nasty-colored mess.

My point is that it is really possible to get the right nutrition even when facing a restricted diet.

And the process gave me a deeper empathy for the medical center patients I support who are on a puréed or soft foods diet. I feel you!

an unscientific study

It’s been fascinating to observe the patients I serve at the medical center.

I need to do a more rigorous study, but I’d estimate that about 50% of them is on “a regular diet.” (Meaning the other 50% is on carb, fat, sodium, protein, potassium, fluid, etc. restrictions.) It’s logical to assume that these regular-diet patients are less likely to be hospitalized with so-called “lifestyle diseases” (heart disease, diabetes, etc.) or they’d be slapped on some sort of restriction/s.

I’d further estimate that a higher percentage of the “regular diet” patients are over 70. Surprising? Maybe. But let’s remember that the 70+ year olds are the transitional generation. Prior to WWII, most food was cooked from scratch using whole ingredients, eaten in moderate portions and in community. Food was appreciated and rarely wasted. After WWII, as women continued to join the workforce outside the home, processed/convenience foods became the norm. These patients are on that cusp.

would you like some vegetables with that?

Here’s the kicker: most of the patients over 70 on regular diets, when asked what they would like for dinner, choose meals that stick closely to my principles for healthy eating:

  • Focus on whole foods (choose close-to-nature foods like fish, rice, veggies)
  • Cooked from scratch (okay, the kitchen is cooking for them, but the kitchen, in this case, does a fabulous job of cooking from scratch on most of the items on the menu)
  • Eaten in moderate portions (these are NOT the patients ordering 3 entrées, 4 desserts, 5 snacks EVEN THOUGH THEY COULD!)
  • With mindfulness and gratitude (well, hard to measure that one, it’s true—although they tend to be the patients who are courteous to me and grateful for the service I provide)

You know me, I’m a kale pusher. And since the kitchen doesn’t regularly have kale on the menu, I push vegetables.

My older regular diet patients regularly respond to the question, “Would you like vegetables with that?” with, “Oh yes! What’s the vegetable du jour? Brussels sprouts? Sign me up. And I’ll take some cooked carrots and green beans, too.” Mom would be so proud.

The most common response from those on restricted diets? You guessed it: “I don’t eat vegetables!” (Sometimes said with force, sometimes downright rudely.) “But I’ll have an extra serving of the pot roast and three desserts.”

The ones who make me smile, even though I really want to cry, just ignore the question and say, “I’ll have tapioca pudding.” (Well, tapioca does come from a plant, but still….) They at least have the sense to chuckle when I say, “Um. That’s not a vegetable.”

We are, of course, strongly forbidden from being rude to the patients on the phone. So far, I’ve managed to hold my tongue even when what’s on the tip is, “You don’t eat vegetables?!? And how’s that working out for you so far???”

a learning opportunity

I run into a lot of patients who push back against restrictions and make it clear that they’ll be going back to eating whatever they like after discharge. Many of them show no interest in learning how to modify their food and lifestyle choices once released.

And every once in awhile, I’ll get someone who says, “This whole [consistent carb/renal/heart healthy…] diet thing is new to me, and I’m so confused!”

Naturally, the health coach in me lights up at this—and I do have to mind how many people are in the phone queue before helping them out…. And you can bet that my four principles of healthy eating show up regularly in those conversations!

make the connection

Whether you’re facing a diet change for an acute medical condition or procedure or you suffer from chronic/lifestyle disease(s), it’s worth adhering to the principles of healthy eating I’ve outlined above. And it may just keep you out of the hospital in some cases!

Are you looking for a reminder of the four principles of healthy eating to post on the fridge? I’ve made one just for you! (And if you’re looking for additions to your employee wellness program, feel free to share the link in your newsletter!)

Questions about a new diet you’ve been prescribed or are considering? Feel free to join me for my free monthly office hours! We can talk through how to more easily align your food choices with the principles, come up with a meal plan, etc.