Simple Messages continued (#4, 5, 6)

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, but there was no way I couldn’t finish my thoughts on the Blue Zones and their important messages. So here it goes continuing on from my last post (see below).

4. 80% Rule

It’s a tradition in Okinawa to say the phrase “Hara hachi bu” before every meal, which serves as a reminder to eat only until your stomach is 80% full. I find it amazing that this is a Confucian teaching from 2500 years ago, which just goes to show us that this idea is not a new concept. You may have heard before to slow down while eating, because it takes our brains around 20 minutes to register that our stomachs are full. It’s very difficult, especially the way our culture is today, to remind ourselves just how much of a difference this simple idea can make in our overall health and enjoyment of food. 

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We live in a world where the more that can get done at once in the shortest amount of time, the better. But how is that affecting us? Well, we’re eating while doing a million other things at once, shoveling food into our mouths and rushing to the next activity. Even eating a meal at a restaurant, an intentional decision to make that specific meal more of an experience and social hour, has become a race to finish huge portion sizes in a short amount of time. Because that’s only fair to the others that are waiting, right? We almost need to re-teach ourselves what once was, when a meal was about sitting down with others, talking about the day, and actually having the luxury of chewing our food. We need to get that phrase that Mom and Dad once taught that we must lick our plates clean before we are allowed to do anything else, free from our minds. Especially when that plate is served for one, but can easily feed two or three! Look, I’m not here to judge anyone’s portion sizes or tell you not to enjoy your food. In fact, I think the main result of this mantra is quite the opposite. By reminding yourself not to eat to the point of discomfort, which we all have done, you’ll end up enjoying your meal even more. Feeling satisfied and satiated. And the best part is, you may even have room for dessert!

This all being said, it’s no wonder the Okinawans have 80% less incidence of heart disease than in the U.S., as well as lower rates of cancer. And I bet they’re smiling after each meal, too. 

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5. Plant Slant

Dan Buettner discovered that beans are a staple among the centenarian’s regular diets across each of the Blue Zones. Can I just talk about beans for a minute? It seems like they get such a bad reputation these days, and it makes me sad. There aren’t many natural foods that can give you a healthy source of complex carbohydrates, protein, and a boat load of fiber, all rolled into one small nugget. Yes, they have carbohydrates in them; I think that’s one reason that the mention of a bean may cause that dramatic gasp you may have experienced. But guess what? They also have a low glycemic index (rate at which our blood sugars rise), because of all that fiber that’s in them. Let’s not pretend like the carbohydrates that are in a bean (a natural food) are the same as the carbohydrates found in white breads, white pastas, cookies, and cakes (processed foods, despite their rating of deliciousness). Plus, most Americans are lacking in fiber intake as it is, so why not get it from an unprocessed, whole food, rather than relying on powders, pills, and whatever other synthetic concoction some scientists come up with tomorrow. 

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Meat is eaten an average of 5 times per month. Guess what? That means these people are only getting protein and iron from a meat source about once a week, and they’re still surviving! Not just surviving, but living to the age of 100 and beyond. There’s a big misconception among us Americans about the amount of protein we need in a day. With all the protein powders, shakes, and bars available wherever you go, it’s not surprising that that’s the case. But the truth is, on an average we actually consume more protein than our body needs. Plus, our only source of iron is not just red meat. What about dark leafy greens, whole grains, potatoes, nuts/seeds, dark chocolate (my personal fave) and wait for it … beans!!

Let me take a moment to clarify that I’m not advocating for a vegetarian or vegan diet by any means. I believe that to be a personal decision and that every individual is different. However, I do believe that we can still be mindful of balancing our sources of food. There are a ton of foods out there that have gone through no fancy form of processing or manipulating, whether to increase its protein content or otherwise, yet they are nutritional powerhouses left just the way they are. And I don’t know about you, but finding beauty in something left untouched is my definition of perfection.

6. Wine at 5:

I think it’s safe to say that for some of us, this might be the best news yet! Apparently, with the exception of the Adventists, people of the Blue Zones drink moderately on a regular basis. Moderately is the key word here – so no, binge drinking on the weekend isn’t going to help you live longer. But, 1-2 glasses of red wine a day during a meal among friends can actually be beneficial to our health. This does make me wonder if it’s more so about the resveratrol found in red wine that may offer protection against heart disease, or if it’s simply about relaxing and enjoying with friends that offers us a dose of happiness we need every day. Either way, CHEERS! 

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Today, a passage in the book I am reading, Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty, caught my eye, and matched up perfectly with the theme I wanted to talk about in this blog entry. In the scene, one woman (a married mother of two, probably in her thirties), is admiring and complimenting the physique of another mother in her neighborhood who is around the same age as she. The woman is wearing a tight white t-shirt and ripped jeans and still looks like a model. The married mother of two compliments the sexy blonde, but the latter does not know how to respond because “[y]ou weren’t allowed to be proud of your body. Women expected humility on this topic” (Moriarty, 322).

What I want to know is, why is that? We can and should be proud of our bodies and all that they allow us to do, yet, somehow, we are made to believe that no matter how we choose to feel about the way we look, the outcome is a double-edged sword. If we accept a compliment, we are narcissistic and show-offs, yet if we remain modest or become self-conscious when others notice our bodies, we clearly lack confidence. The bottom line is that we compare ourselves to others all the time, and there is nothing comfortable in that behavior, neither for the envious nor for the envied. I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that at least once in your life, you have looked at someone else, whether live, on the T.V. screen, or in a picture, and thought to yourself, “I want to look like that.” What we must work toward accepting is that it is not only physically impossible to look exactly like someone else, but also that we should not wish for it. What kind of a world would it be if everyone looked the same? Not aesthetically pleasing at all.

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Let’s talk about why a “one size fits all” concept for body shape, diet, and exercise is a recipe for failure. First of all, genetics play a major role in determining our body types. Do you ever feel like you’re eating the same way as someone else, and maybe even doing the exact same workout routine, and wondering why your body isn’t changing in the same way? You can beat yourself up over this, cut back on calories, or work out for an extra hour to the point of discomfort, to try to match the other person’s results. The only result you will achieve is frustration. The other option is to understand your own body. While it can be an unfair reality that we all have different metabolisms, leading to our building muscles and losing fat at different rates, there are certain factors that we CAN change.  What we can change is our attitude. We can be kind to ourselves and celebrate the ability to live a healthy lifestyle, with proper nutrition and exercise. If that means being pear-shaped instead of a string bean, then so be it. Is it really so important to have a specific butt shape or a six-pack? What is important is our HAPPINESS, and I can tell you that if we are killing ourselves trying to maintain or reach a weight that is not natural for our bodies, the only thing we’ll be feeling is irritable and HANGRY.

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This idea even applies to the way we choose to eat. For example, I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, however, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to maintain a healthy diet without the consumption of animal products. What works for my body will not be the same as what works for yours, and vice versa. I am always asked the question, “What is the best diet out there? Low fat? Low carb? Vegetarian? Intermittent fasting?” and my answer every time is that there is no best diet. What I can say is that as long as you’re getting all of the essential nutrients in the right quantities by eating a balanced diet, making sure you’re fueling yourself adequately, and living by the motto everything in moderation”, then you will be good to go. Eat the way that makes you feel your best and most importantly, choose a pattern of eating that can be sustained over the long term, rather than last for just a few months or a few years.

Amy Schumer said it best in her new Netflix stand-up show Amy Schumer: The Leather Edition. She discusses her struggle with her weight and the added pressures from Hollywood to be thin. She worked hard to achieve the desired “look” but felt unnatural at the body weight she reached and went back to her “old self”. She received a lot of criticism for gaining weight and is now speaking up against her body-shamers. Her response to them comes from the lessons she has learned while watching her father be stripped of a simple pleasure that we take for granted every day: walking. Her father has MS and is confined to a wheelchair. Schumer ends her show with words that should help her audience, and us,  reset priorities: “You’re alive. You can move. You feel good!”

And with that, I leave you with these words of wisdom by Theodore Roosevelt:

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