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Health: Are Wellness Fads Stressing You Out?

By Jenifer Tharani, RD Email By Jenifer Tharani, RD
January 2019
Health: Are Wellness Fads Stressing You Out?

Choose simplicity and mindfulness over fads and superfoods! A nutrient-rich, planned diet, mindful eating, and an enjoyable fitness routine are the simple secrets of wellness and weight control.

Sheila asks Fareeda, “Have you tried intermittent fasting for losing weight?” Fareeda says, “No, actually I’m doing the Keto diet to lose weight quickly for my best friend’s wedding in two weeks.” She continues, “Let me know how intermittent fasting goes for you, and I’ll see if that helps me lose more weight.”

I hear this kind of conversation at the subway station, doctor’s office, food courts, gyms, family gatherings, and South Asian FB groups. We are constantly working on our weight loss goals through yo-yo dieting, following fad diets such as Keto and Intermittent Fasting, drinking superfood smoothies and concoctions, and calorie restrictions. What we forget is that these fad diets are typically not sustainable in the long term, can lead to disordered eating patterns in ourselves and our children, and last but not least, take away our mental peace. Additionally, diets like Keto can negatively impact our heart health by increasing bad LDL cholesterol due to extensive intake of saturated fats like butter, ghee, and animal protein. Lack of carbohydrates in the Keto diet can take a toll on your energy and brain function as your brain heavily relies on the energy from carbohydrates, not protein or fat.

Instead of constantly attempting a different diet, get a head start with my top five tips to say goodbye to stress and yo-yo dieting for health and wellness.

1. Keep it simple! Choose a basic balanced plate: Fill half of your plate with veggies, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with whole grains, with a side of fermented foods or beverage like buttermilk or kefir and healthy fats like nuts and avocados. Let’s see how this diet works:

• The insoluble fiber in vegetables is food for the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. Also veggies are loaded with micronutrients that keep inflammation at bay and prevent constipation. Remember that feeling constipated all the time is not normal!
• Whole grains, beans, lentils, and legumes provide energy for daily functions and induce a feeling of fullness, preventing carbohydrate cravings and overeating. Soluble fiber, found in oats, beans, peas, carrots, barley, apples, and citrus fruits, binds with your “bad” cholesterol and removes it from your body. So don’t skip the good, nutrient dense, fiber rich carbs!
• Protein is important to repair muscle cells, boost immunity, transport and store nutrients, balance fluids, and provide satiety.
• Lastly, healthy fats increase your “good” HDL cholesterol which keeps the “bad” LDL cholesterol in check, and fermented foods help nourish your good gut bacteria.

2. Healthy snacks: Incorporate a healthy and balanced snack to bridge the gap between your meals, boost metabolism, and prevent overeating and making unhealthy, guilt-laden choices at meals. Pair protein and healthy fats with carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) for a balanced snack. A few examples include rice cake with almond butter and banana, chia jam with whole grain toast, Greek yogurt with nuts and seeds, fruit with nuts, and veggies with hummus or tzatziki dip. Start by replacing your evening chai or coffee snacks like chivda, gaathiya, or rusk with one of these healthy snacks a few times a week to keep you fuller for longer and maintain your blood sugar at a stable level.

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3. Meal planning and prepping: A desi at heart, I truly enjoy and prefer eating freshly cooked meals daily. However, as an immigrant who’s busy juggling many responsibilities in a foreign country, I have come to terms with weekly meal planning and prepping meal components ahead of time to save me time for my workouts, help me eat balanced meals most days, and spend more quality time with friends and family and less kitchen time. This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting cooking and freezing complete meals and eating the same thing every day. This sounds pretty boring! Let’s dive into the meal planning and prepping process a little bit. The first step is to plan your weekly balanced meals and have a loose plan. Next, keep your pantry and fridge stocked with beans, whole grains, legumes and lentils, fresh and frozen produce, nuts, and fermented foods. On the weekend or one of the weekday evenings, set time aside to prep. Use this time to batch cook beans and whole grains, chop veggies, make smoothie bags, boil eggs, and marinate chicken and fish. Freeze small quantities of whole grains like quinoa, barley, and beans in separate zip lock bags. Create meal combos where you can use same meal components for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For example, use boiled eggs to make an avocado and egg toast for breakfast, egg curry for dinner, and pair a boiled egg with a piece of fruit as a snack. Over time, meal planning and prepping becomes second nature! A little effort provides freedom from stress, unhealthy eating, and spending hours in the kitchen every day.

4. Mindful eating: This is a simple, but very effective strategy for health and wellness. In simple words, tune in to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, ignore dietary rules, and honor your cravings. For example, if you feel full after eating your veggies and protein at lunch, feel free to skip whole grains OR know that it’s completely okay to eat a few balanced snacks instead of a full meal if you are in a time crunch due to work and life responsibilities or don’t have an appetite. Just remember to take small bites, eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly, bring all your senses to the meal, and appreciate all the flavors and textures. In short, learn to recognize and use your own internal cues to make food choices instead of allowing external environment or diet rules to dictate these choices.

5. Intuitive Movement: Note that I’m using two keywords “intuitive” and “movement” instead of exercise. I find that the word exercise indicates highly planned, structured activities, while movement can be any way you choose to move your body. My key recommendation is for you to engage in a movement that you are most comfortable with and that brings you joy. If you enjoy dancing, go dance your heart out in a Zumba or Bollywood dance class. Remember, there’s not one workout, time, or location that works for everyone.

Wellness and exercise should be fun—not punishment or restriction. Finding the right plan for you will ensure that your wellness routine and weekly meal plans are doing their job of decreasing stress and bringing happiness to you. Make healthy and mindful eating a part of your lifestyle instead of calling it “dieting” to lose weight.

Jenifer Tharani, MS, RD, LD is a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist with training from Emory University Hospital. The main focus of her nutrition consulting practice is working with South Asians to prevent and manage diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

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