Planning for Better Health

We’re spending the month of June exploring health.

Specifically, we’re going to spend much of it looking at nutrition and exercise.

I explained in the last post that this month will be from a more experiential viewpoint than previous months. With that in mind, it would probably be useful for me to let you know the starting point and the plan.

Finding a Starting Place

Before starting any experiments I wanted to learn what I could about nutrition and fitness.

My approach to any new problem always starts with books. The problem is that there are tons of books on diets and many of them are BS. I had no idea where to start.

So I asked for recommendations on Twitter.

I was looking for something that gave suggestions for how to improve your health, but also took the time to explain the science behind it. While I may not understand all of the science, I want to know that the research is there.

I got some great suggestions but the most on point was Thinner This Year, which came from Vicki at Make Smarter Decisions.

I know it sounds like a diet book, but it is actually exactly what I was looking for. It explained the science behind nutrition and exercise and recommended an ideal diet and exercise routine.

(If you want a more in depth look of Thinner This Year than what I include here, check out Vicki’s Facebook group that has been working through the book.)

Nutrition

I knew that I was starting from a terrible diet.

This is something that I had told myself I would tackle eventually, but bad food tastes so good and my health has been good enough. Why rush it?

Even knowing this, however, I was not prepared for how bad my diet actually was. The book contained a list of “Bad Stuff” to avoid that might as well have been my food diary.

“Bad Stuff represents about 50 percent of the average American diet—and by that I mean fatty cuts of meat, especially red meat, fried foods, overly processed and refined grains (white bread and pasta), fast food, ice cream, butter, pizza oozing with cheese, heavy salad dressings, and many kinds of crackers and chips. Oh, and let’s not forget the obvious—candy—from the beloved Twizzler to the infamous M&M’s.”

The book also recommends eliminating “Dead Food” which it breaks out into fillers, processed foods, and fast food. “Fillers include refined grains such as white or refined wheat flour, white rice, white pasta, and corn products. It includes almost all bread, bagels, chips, crackers, croissants, pancakes, breakfast cereals, muffins, cakes, cookies, snack foods, and pasta.”

This was going to be harder than I thought.

Exercise Starting Point

I figured I was in a bit better condition on the exercise front.

I don’t have much of an exercise routine, but I assumed that I was in shape enough that I could pick something up quickly and run with it. No pun intended.

Fitbit says that I get 10,000-12,000 steps on an average week day. I walk to and from the subway during my commute. I walk around the office. I try to take a walk during lunch. I take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.

Until the baby was born I had built a solid habit of using the elliptical at the gym at work – 3 miles in 30 minutes, usually 3 times a week. I also played hockey once a week.

Both the workouts and the hockey games dropped off the map after the baby was born. I was too tired to work out and hockey games were too late at night for someone that already wasn’t getting enough sleep. However, the baby was starting to sleep more as I was starting this experiment so I figured I could start working exercise back into my days.

I am also the least flexible person in the world. I’ve always felt like some level of yoga would probably be helpful on that front, but had never tried it. Maybe some introductory yoga could be a part of the experiment.

Recommended Exercise

For exercise, the book recommends strenuous exercise that gets your heart rate up for 45 minutes a day, 6 days a week. This plan consists of four days of aerobic exercise and two days of strength training.

There is a specifically recommended warm-up routine as well as a recommended strength training routine. There is also a whole lot of information on form, details on how best to approach workouts, and how to structure your long term goals.

We don’t need to get into the specifics for the purposes of this blog, but if you’re interested I recommend digging further and reading the book for yourself.

The Nutrition Plan

Change is hard.

Especially food for me. I have tried to eat healthier before and the new diet rarely lasts. There have been plenty of times where I’ve read about dietary changes and just didn’t even bother because they would be too difficult to sustain.

For this attempt, I decided that I would try to make sustainable and gradual changes. I didn’t need the perfect diet. I just needed to keep progressing in the right direction.

First, every week I would cook one healthy dinner.

This may seem like a simple task, but I rarely cook dinners at home and when I do they are never healthy. This would be a pretty big change in that I would need to start from scratch in finding recipes and learning how to cook them, but I figured once a week was manageable.

Next, I would gradually cut out the bad foods and add in the good.

Week 1 I would cut a bad food. Week 2 I would add something healthy. Week 3 I would cut a bad food. Week 4 I would add something healthy. Rinse and repeat.

Also, recognizing that cutting a type of food completely and forever felt like too overwhelming of a task, I figured that in “cutting” I would limit that category of food to once a week. Cutting something bad out entirely is ideal, but mostly eliminating it from my diet is better than failing to cut it at all because I got frustrated and gave up.

Once I got around to limiting everything I wanted to limit, I could work back through and start eliminating things.

The Exercise Plan

As for exercise, I decided to aim for two days of cardio, two days of strength training, and two days of yoga. This was a bit of a departure from the book, but I felt that flexibility was a weakness that was worth addressing. I could always cut it later and replace it with more cardio if needed.

My only cardio option while watching the baby appeared to be jogging. With that in mind I bought knee braces and found some running shoes that were highly rated for bad knees. I would have preferred some other form of exercise, but alas, my options were limited.

For the strength training I planned to complete the specific exercises laid out in the book. For yoga I planned to find some introductory videos on YouTube that I could follow along with at home.

I put my plan together the week before starting family leave and got ready to rock. Stay tuned for the initial results.

Join the Conversation!

What exercise plans have you found work for you? How about nutrition? Have you found gradual change to be useful or do you prefer big changes? Let us know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Planning for Better Health”

  1. I looove the idea of alternating cutting and adding. The small baby steps make it feel like it’s not such a big life change. Too big of a change will just make you feel miserable and it’s a recipe for falling off the wagon. I’m always trying to exercise and eat better. My goal this week? Go to my first ever pole fitness class! I want to have the chiseled abs of a goddess lol.

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