It took me about 10 years and lots of rationalizing to finally understand that once I had passed through midlife, I couldn't eat as much as I used to without gaining weight. Not only that, I had to start moving around more, otherwise my body would start feeling stiff and uncooperative.
So, out of self-preservation, I've become a student of healthy eating and movement, and truth be told, it's turning out to be a delicious education. Here are 32 palatable pointers I've learned, including a few micro-missives on movement thrown in as condiments. I hope you'll find them useful, or at least worth a smile.
1. Eat breakfast. By that, I don't mean cold pizza. Try whole grain cereal, fruit, and low-fat yogurt.
2. Don't buy foods that tempt you to overeat. Take, for example, my nemesis, Chips Ahoy low fat chocolate chip cookies. Wolfing down six or eight of them at a sitting renders the low-fat factor meaningless! (Pardon the pun.)
3. To lose weight, eat fewer calories. A calorie is a calorie, whether fruit, fat, or fiber.
4. Don't starve yourself. Eat often enough so that you don't feel like eating the sink when you finally make it to the kitchen to get your meal. Feeling too hungry makes you prone to overeating. (I say this humbly, with thanks for the abundance of nourishing food available to us.)
5. Dr. Allen Levine says that we should eat foods that provide the most nutrition for the fewest calories. We should avoid "empty" calories, such as sugared beverages, pastries, or chips, since they are low in nutritional value and high in calories.
6. Walk at least 100 minutes a week. Where, when, how often, and for how long at a stretch are up to you.
7. Don't eat while you're walking. Don't talk on your cell phone, either!
8. Eat one corn dog per year at the Minnesota State Fair. As an alternative, eat a Pronto Pup.
9. Cranberries, black and green tea, and raisins can help prevent harmful bacteria from sticking to your teeth.
10. Dr. Andrew Weil says that we should eat avocados, walnuts, cashews, and almonds.
11. Eat more oatmeal.
12. Ambrosia, preferred by Greek gods and goddesses because it conferred both immortality and the bloom of youth, is thought to have been either a beverage (nectar) or food (perhaps fruit). Could it have contained a mythical forerunner to anti-oxidants?
13. To get anti-oxidants, eat red foods like beets, bell peppers, radishes, radicchio, watermelon, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, red potatoes and onions, apples, pomegranate seeds, tomatoes, and cranberries.
14. If you must, eat red licorice Twizzlers in moderation.
15. Beef tenderloin filet, cooked to rare perfection, does not count as an anti-oxidant rich red food. Dang!
16. Dr. Andrew Weil says that we should eat salmon, sardines, herring, and black cod.
17. Stretch for 10 minutes a day. Stretching has become a highlight of my day because it feels great (think Tin Man when Dorothy finally oiled his joints) and helps keep me flexible. You can find safe, gentle stretching exercises on reliable Web sites like MayoClinic.com.
18. Though many of us crave fat and tend to overeat fat-filled foods, Dr. Allen Levine says that to his knowledge, science has not yet been able to definitively ascribe a "taste" to, or describe the "taste" of, fat.
19. For healthy hair, eat spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, kidney beans, and lentils.
20. Eat more apples.
21. Eat lunch. By that, I don't mean soda pop and chips. Try a turkey sandwich with romaine lettuce and Roma tomatoes on whole wheat bread. Cap it with a sweet, tart, hard, crunchy apple. Don't ignore your midday appetite in anticipation of a big dinner. You still have well over half the day left and you need to be fortified.
22. Do not eat garlic if you are a vampire.
23. When eating out, always order salad dressings or other condiments on the side so that you can control your portion size.
24. Beware of creamy dressings. Two tablespoons of ranch, bleu cheese, or other creamy dressings contain about 150 calories. That's 7 to 10 percent of what most of us need for an entire day! And over 90 percent of those calories come from fat!
25. Eat more carrots.
26. Beware of eating too much salt. Dr. Allen Levine says that sometimes we can't taste the sodium in foods, citing, for example, foods made with baking soda. And because we need salt, and we're so used to its taste, we often don't "taste" the fact that there is too much salt in what we're eating. Notable culprits are canned soups, cured meats, and other heavily salted prepared foods. He adds the caveat that not all of us eat too much salt, so know thyself.
27. Give yoga a try. It's noncompetitive, engrossing, challenging without being intimidating, exhilarating, and habit-forming. Over the past year, I've fallen in love with it.
28. Beware of mayonnaise on your bread and in your salads, butter in your baked goods or on your vegetables, and cheese on your pizza. If you buy foods at a restaurant, deli, or pizzeria, they will invariably have too much of these palette-pleasing demons in them.
29. Drink water all the time. It keeps you hydrated and helps you feel full.
30. Eat dinner. By that, I don't mean Burger King, the Rib Shack, or the All-You-Care-To-Eat buffet. Try a green salad with tuna or sardines mixed into it, a grilled chicken sandwich (hold the mayo), or whole wheat pasta with shrimp. Maybe add some red potatoes and green beans.
31. Strawberry sorbet mixed with fresh berries makes a perfect summer dessert.
32. What? That's not enough dessert for you? Eat one Chips Ahoy low fat chocolate chip cookie. I dare ya!
(Special thanks to Dr. Allen Levine, dean of the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota, and director of the Minnesota Obesity Center, for teaching me hard and soft science related to food and eating, and for patiently answering my steady diet of questions about food and eating.)