Not many people have perfect six-pack abs (but if you do, good on you!) but having an exceedingly expanded waistline can do more than keep you out of figure-hugging clothes, you could face serious health issues: Your risk increases up for high blood pressure and high cholesterol– m…
If you’ve ever made a fruit salad, you probably know that squeezing lemon juice onto the apples, pears, and bananas will keep the fruit from turning brown. This brown color happens because of a process called oxidation—a reaction between the oxygen molecules in the air and the molecules in the substance the air meets.
A similar type of reaction happens inside your body all the time. Substances called oxidants, or free radicals, react with your cells, harming healthy tissue, weakening immunological functioning, speeding up the aging process, and contributing to chronic degenerative diseases. These free radicals are formed through normal body processes, as well as through environmental exposure to the sun, pollution, cigarette smoke, too much stress, and the intake of alcoholic beverages and unhealthy food. Antioxidants are substances that work like that lemon juice on the fruit, protecting healthy tissue by destroying free radicals before they do any damage. Antioxidants are believed to play a role in helping to fight and prevent cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic conditions.
So how do you get these magical antioxidants to work for you? Not surprisingly, a healthy diet full of a variety of fruits and vegetables will do the trick. But are all fruits and vegetables created equally when it comes to antioxidant benefits? Not necessarily!
In a study published in the July 9, 2004 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the USDA analyzed over 100 different foods and their antioxidant levels. Each food item was ranked according to its antioxidant concentration and its antioxidant capacity per serving size.
The results may surprise you. Topping the list were small red beans and wild blueberries. Cranberries, red kidney beans, and artichokes also ranked very high, and unexpected contenders included pecans and ordinary russet potatoes.
However, every study has its drawbacks. Researchers say that although the data can help guide consumers who wish to include more antioxidants in their diet, the health benefits of these foods may not be directly proportional to their antioxidant content. So, even though small red beans have the most antioxidants, they may not offer the greatest overall health benefits when you consider the other nutrients they contain (or lack). Keep in mind that the health benefits of antioxidant-rich foods depend on how the foods are absorbed and utilized in the body, and this varies depending on the food (and where it was grown, how it was grown, when it was harvested and more).
For reference, here are the top 20 antioxidant-rich foods in the USDA study, in order from greatest to lowest levels of antioxidants.
If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, health-related or otherwise, you know how difficult it can be. Every morning, you awake to a daunting, gut-wrenching choice: to commit to change or to fall short of your goals. Those of you who have taken on the challenge of becoming your healthiest self can attest that this choice especially applies to creating changes in your diet and exercise routines. We all realize that the trick to lasting good health lies in mastering positive fitness and nutrition habits. But how can you put bad habits behind you and make wellness your main priority… every single day?
When attempting to dial back unhealthy behaviors, you’re up against several obstacles:
- It is likely that you’ve been practicing your unhealthy behavior over and over again for decades. Since your first childhood experience with brussel sprouts, you’ve become a master at avoiding vegetables. Since middle-school gym class, you’ve become adept at excusing yourself from exercise. Because you’ve been forming those unhealthy habits for so long, it isn’t easy to leave them behind.
- Efficiency and convenience are another knock against your good-health goals: unhealthy habits are often much easier than the alternative. Should I drive to work or ride my bike? Play football with the kids or rent a movie? Chop and prep fresh veggies or hit the drive-thru? Usually, unhealthy alternatives save us lots of time and require less physical and mental effort than their healthy counterparts. We’ve created such an efficient society that making good choices is almost impossible next to the not-so-healthy, yet quick and easy options.
- Finally, bad behaviors also come with sneaky, seductive pay-offs. It is understandable that most of us enjoy chocolate more than apples–it’s sweeter! And why wouldn’t we avoid morning exercise when we could stay cozy and warm just by hitting snooze one more time? Of course, there are pay-offs for healthy habits as well: lower cholesterol, lower BMI, increased energy, longevity… But they’re usually not immediate or powerful enough to control our choices in the moment.
With the odds stacked against us, it’s easy to understand why conquering unhealthy habits with willpower alone can be rough. Luckily, the science of habit change gives us more effective ways to go about banishing unhealthy routines for good. Let’s take a closer look at some common unhealthy habits to see how we can put behavioral science to work for us.
Bad Habit: Eating on the Run
We’ve all fallen into the trap: You’re late for work, so you stop for a latte/muffin combo. The kids have soccer practice after school, so you settle for take-out tacos. And if you’ve ever taken a road trip, you’ll agree that convenience stores definitely live up to their name: there’s a one-stop-shop for all kinds of unhealthy eats within every 5-mile stretch!
Eating out while you’re in a rush is a habit that can definitely wreak havoc on your health and fitness goals. But there are ways that you can combat the convenience of fat-laden fast foods. Get savvy about stowing snacks in your vehicle. If you’ve got apples, carrots, granola bars and water on hand, you’ll be less likely to make unplanned pit-stops. Additionally, if you know you’re in for a busy week, prep quick and easy meals at home ahead of time. This way, you can grab a healthy bite to eat and avoid the all-too-familiar fast-food run in between evening activities. When you’re preparing to leave the house, give yourself more time than you’ll actually need to get ready so you can make healthy decisions with a level head instead of instinctively reaching for the easiest option.
Bad Habit: Skipping Workouts
As important as nutrition is in your health-focused efforts, exercise ranks right up there with it as a tool to achieve lasting wellness and weight loss. There’s lots of work that goes into planning meals and pumping weights, but only one will get you sweaty and crank up your cardiovascular health. If you find yourself missing workouts, you’ve probably fallen victim to one of two bad habit culprits: lack of practice or more powerful pay-offs.
There are two types of people who are most likely to fall off the exercise wagon: people who haven’t yet mastered making fitness an everyday priority, and those who have become bored with their age-old routine.
In the first case, when you’re starting a new workout regimen, it is extremely important to set small, measurable goals and to track your progress daily. Keeping a chart on your wall of the days you fit in your workout will help you stay on track toward creating a lasting healthy habit.
If you’ve been rocking it out at the gym for a while and have recently hit a wall, consider changing up your routine and adding in incentives for reaching new heights. Never tried yoga? Complete a month of classes and then treat yourself to a massage. Think you hate cycling? Commit to biking to work for a week and, only then, indulge in that new handbag or pair of jeans. When you’ve lost internal motivation, adding outside incentives can give you the boost you need to get back on track.
Bad Habit: Mindless or Emotional Munching
On the surface, the analysis of unconscious eating behavior seems pretty simple. Food tastes good, especially the sugary or salty snacks we choose when we’re munching away in front of the television. It is obvious that there’s an immediate, powerful pay-off in the taste and texture of whichever treat you choose from the pantry. What you may not realize is that there’s another nasty habit-maker at fault here as well. If you really think about your instances of mindless munching, you’ll realize that they often occur in coordination with some other environmental trigger. Many of us turn to food when things go bad or when we’re bored; maybe you reach for chips when you hear unexpected bad news, or you’ve always had ice cream as a bedtime snack. The practice of situational eating is deeply ingrained and can be tough to correct.
Here again, keeping track of mindless munching and adding in incentives for staying away from unhealthy snacks can help you to reign in your behavior. Notice your food/mood triggers when they happen and make a point to keep your biggest trigger foods out of the house. Be mindful about what you’re eating and set a goal for avoiding senseless snacking. Is there a favorite show you’ve taped or a new album you’ve been eyeing for your iPod? Deny yourself those little luxuries until you’ve met your goal of mindful eating for one full week. Adding a pay-off more powerful than the flavor of food can help you avoid so many extra calories. And, you can start practicing an alternative healthy behavior to get you through stressful times instead of food. Try journaling, meditating, calling a friend, or going for a walk instead of reaching for your usual comforting snacks.
Bad Habit: Skimping on Sleep
Late to bed, early to rise is a poisonous pattern that rings true for most of us. We know that sleep helps us to function well and be productive. But, between career commitments, family time, social activities and personal fitness, who has time to get a good night’s sleep?
Sleeping patterns are typically programmed in when we’re young. If you think back, you may realize that you were a night owl in` high school or an early riser in college. Your body has found a rhythm and is happy sticking with it. Because being awake is so well-ingrained, when you’re trying to change your sleeping habits, you’ve got to start small. Set up a bedtime routine and stick with it; this will help trigger your brain and body to prepare for rest. Brush your teeth, wash your face, read a book, or meditate to calm your body. Avoid looking at a computer or TV screen right before bed, as this can sometimes make it more difficult to fall asleep. It also helps to reserve your bedroom for sleeping only; relegate the television, video games, and home office to the rest of the house.
After you’ve got your bedtime routine down, aim to go to bed 5 minutes earlier or sleep in 5 minutes later than usual. When you achieve this schedule for a few days, add 5 more minutes of shut-eye. Making little changes like this can lead to big results. Keep it up for a month and you’ll have added over one full hour of restful rejuvenation!
How to Establish New, Healthier Habits
When you’re working on wellness, it always seems like someone is asking you to cut something out: sweets and fast food from your diet, time from your day to exercise, and so on. To stay sane while decreasing unhealthy behaviors, you need to fill the gaps! One of the best ways to break a bad habit is to insert an alternative healthy behavior in its place. You can use tips and tricks based on the information above to help you build new, healthier habits and make them stick, in conjunction with the following three tips:
- Practice. Set an achievable weekly goal for how many miles you’re going to bike, laps you’re going to swim, fruits you’re going to eat, and healthy meals you’re going to cook–and get cracking! As you reach your goal each week, you’ll find a rhythm and your healthy behaviors will start resembling a well-oiled machine.
- Make healthy choices easier and more convenient. Get environmental obstacles (like lack of jogging gear and a pantry full of junk food) out of your way. Once you’ve set up your environment for success, sticking with healthy habits will become much simpler!
- Plan some powerful pay-offs for reaching your wellness goals. Sure, internal motivation is great and hopefully you’ll have a ton of gumption to get fit. But, no matter how committed you are to your cause, unhealthy habits will always entice you with their quick, underlying pay-offs. If you plan ahead and reward yourself with extra incentives for working out and eating right, you’ll be riding high on healthy habits for a lifetime.
While we’re not recommending you load up on butter, experts say naturally occurring saturated fats (like those found in butter, red meat and cheese) may actually be good to include in your diet in moderation (especially when compared with more processed fats like those found in margarine). “Butter made from grass-fed cows is high in conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty-acid linked to heart health and weight loss,” Batayneh says. “It also contains vitamin K2, (which boosts nervous system and cardiovascular function), as well as a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.” Batayneh recommends going organic with your butter since some non-organic dairy products can contain growth hormones and/or antibiotics.
Like butter, cheese also has a high saturated fat and calorie content, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have a place in a healthy balanced diet. Nutrient-rich, calcium-packed cheese also contains vitamin A, B12, riboflavin, zinc, and phosphorus. Top picks for the healthiest kinds of cheeses? Feta, string cheese, Parmesan, Swiss and cottage. “Cheese also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a newly discovered good fat found in animal protein and dairy that has been linked to cancer prevention. Experts believe that the combination of protein and fat in cheese is so satisfying that it quashes your appetite — so full-fat cheese just may be the answer to cravings and weight maintenance.” That’s delicious news to us.
Work How To Eat Healthier at the Office hour.
While that realization can be somewhat depressing, it also shows how your habits at work have a huge effect on your weight-loss goals. Sure, the office can be full of temptation–whether the vending machine calls your name at 3 p.m., or your boss brings in glazed donuts every Monday morning–but your workplace can actually be a place that supports your healthy lifestyle. You just have to know how to work the system. 10 Ways to Stop Your Workplace from Derailing Your Diet.
1. Use the workday structure to work with your diet–not against it. The great thing about being at work on a regular schedule is that you have built-in structure for your day. Set aside time to eat a healthy snack or mindfully enjoy lunch without distractions, if possible. (Eating while you work is one sure-fire way to mindlessly eat out of stress!)
2. Find a weight-loss ally (or 20). Tell your closest co-workers about your commitment to stick with a healthy diet , and see if they’ll join you. Don’t be shy in reminding your superiors that studies have demonstrated healthy employees are more cost effective and productive.
3. Pack your meals and snacks. Preparation is the name of the game when it comes to eating right at work. Pack a small cooler each day full of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. You might have to get up earlier to pack yourself a lunch and snacks, but after you start to eat better and feel better at work, you’ll see that it’s worth the extra time.
4. Keep an emergency stash. For days when you forget your cooler, or find that your snack didn’t quiet the hunger monster after that early-morning Spinning class, it’s a good idea to have a drawer in your desk full of non-perishable, healthy snacks. Easy go-to options are protein bars, snack portions of trail mix or nuts, beef jerky, and even instant soup. So choose foods you like, but don’t consider a treat.
5. Practice your most assertive and nicest “No, thank you.” Almost everyone can name a food-pusher at work. Whether it’s the receptionist who likes to bake or the sales rep that also helps her daugher sell Girl Scout Cookies, unhealthy temptations are a part of the workplace and a part of life. If you’ve followed tip No. 2, hopefully this will stop some diet saboteurs from pushing food, but be prepared to politely say “No, thanks” when you don’t want to eat something.
6. Out of sight, out of mind. Research shows that it’s much easier to avoid that dreaded workplace candy bowl when you can’t actually see it. In a study by Brian Wansink, author of the book Mindless Eating, people were 70 percent more likely to eat from the candy dish at work when it was transparent versus when the jar was opaque.
7. Set a calendar reminder for your H2O. A healthy diet isn’t just about food. Thirst can also masquerade as hunger, making it harder for you to stick to your healthy-eating plan.
8. Keep a list of go-to restaurants with healthy options. Research! Then, the next time you’re surprised with a lunch offer, you can recommend dining at a place that you know has healthy food that you like. Not able to pick the restaurant?
9. Make the vending machine a no-go zone. If you really struggle with junk food or soda from the vending machines at work, the first step is to commit to avoiding the vending machine. (Remember, you packed healthy snacks to nosh on!) If possible, try not to walk by the vending machines at all. Before you know it, the vending machine will lose its appeal altogether.
10. Indulge in your absolute favorites—and savor every bite. By no means should you never eat junk food or donuts at work again! Savor every bite, eating slowly and fully enjoying the experience. Afterwards, get right back to your usual healthy eating plan.
No matter if you follow one of these tips or all 10 of them, one thing is certain: If you work in an office and are trying to manage your weight, you have to be committed, organized and ready to stand up for your decisions to eat a nutritious diet. While it can be hard at first, don’t be surprised if over time, more people start to try eating your way. Being healthy becomes contagious once others see your dedication, increased energy and great results!
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