On today’s show, I’m going to take you through my nutrition journey and how I’ve learned to eat healthier over the past few years, which is invaluable to me as a freelance business owner. As freelancers, in particular, we need to focus on our health. Often, we sit at home all day behind a computer. Many of us are not getting enough exercise—we’re not even getting up enough throughout the day to stand, walk or stretch. And food temptations are just a room or two away.
As freelancers, if we don’t work, we don’t make money. If you’re eating foods that make you feel sluggish, or you’re dehydrated and tired, or you’re hopped up on too much caffeine, you’re not going to do your best work. Your brain might not be as sharp that day, or you’re just tired and want a nap. As an employee, you can feel this way and either push through or just suffer through the day—but you get paid either way. Not so as a freelancer. You need to be on your game and doing your best work.
This episode is not about weight, even though I do want to lose a few pounds. I’m trying really hard to focus on the health aspects in my own life, which does include not gaining any more weight.
First up: water. I have finally embraced how magnificent water is. Of course, I knew this intellectually. But I never drank it. Instead, throughout my 20s, I would drink 3–6 cans of Mountain Dew every day. In my 30s, I switched to Diet Mountain Dew to get away from the calories, but now I was consuming the aspartame sweetener also.
I tried to give up caffeine several times and finally succeeded in giving it up cold turkey in 2009. To do that, I started on a Thursday so I could suffer my caffeine withdrawals mostly over the weekend. However, for several years, I just replaced my Diet Mountain Dew with Sprite or Sierra Mist or root beer.
I did start drinking caffeinated tea a few years ago, but I make sure not to get addicted. In fact, this year I switched to drinking mostly rooibos tea, which is delicious and doesn’t have caffeine.
Then, just a couple of years ago I finally gave up Sprite and all soda in favor of water. But I needed help to do so. I’m a former newspaper reporter and a very curious person. I’m also a “questioner,” according to Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Four Tendencies.” Gretchen divides people into four categories based on how we respond to expectations and make decisions in our life.
A questioner tends to meet inner expectations when we set our mind to something—like when I finally decided to quit caffeine cold turkey—but we tend to resist outer expectations if there’s no reason we can believe in. The catch is that I will meet outer societal expectations if I respect the rule, the person or the process.
With that in mind, I decided to hire a nutritionist at Third Space Wellness here in Silver Spring, Maryland, a few years ago, to help me out on my journey.
I worked with my nutritionist, Susie, for a couple of months. She presented me with facts about food, and she worked to help me develop new healthy habits into my life. Our first step: getting rid of Sprite. And drinking water.
Susie helped me realize that to drink more water I needed to have it with me all the time. So I bought an insulated water bottle and began by drinking 8–16 oz. of water every day and worked my way up to more.
Another tip from Susie: Fill up your water bottle at night and put it on your nightstand. We all start out our mornings already dehydrated, so drinking 8–16 oz. of water each morning starts us off on the right path.
Susie also helped me find healthier snacks. She encouraged me to take a fun field trip to local markets new to me and scour the shelves for healthier alternatives. I headed to Mom’s Organic Market, where Susie recommended I try Hope’s spicy avocado hummus. I now eat it with Jovial organic einkorn sourdough crackers. I also eat more fruit and am trying out Medjool dates, which are a sweet, soft and chewy fruit.
My dad is an avid cyclist. He has been tall and thin and in great shape all of his adult life. However, his cholesterol was sky-high, no matter how much he exercised. So, last year, my dad adopted a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle, which is essentially vegan—except he’s doing it solely for health reasons.
Dad heard about the whole-food, plant-based lifestyle from his cycling friend Ian Cramer, an allied health care professional with degrees in kinesiology and athletic training. Ian has a podcast called the Ian Cramer Podcast, where he interviews doctors and scholars of lifestyle medicine and plant-based nutrition.
My dad had long conversations with Ian about this new lifestyle and decided to try it. He’s lucky that my mom loves to cook and was willing to switch over all of her cooking for both of them to vegan meals. They had fun looking for and trying out new recipes together. Dad ate Brussels sprouts for the first time, discovering he loved them. He bought a Ninja blender to make smoothies with almond milk and fruit.
After six months or so, he dropped 20 pounds—he’s leaner and even healthier looking now. And his bad cholesterol level dropped 62 points! He has kept track of his bike rides for years, and after changing his diet, his cycling app showed him riding faster up hills and riding more miles overall.
I was inspired. So, August 11, 2018, was the last time I ate meat. I don’t miss it, and it was easy for me to give it up, which was a huge surprise. However, I still eat fish and seafood, which I love, though I’ve definitely cut back and usually only eat it in restaurants, not at home.
The other thing I gave up was dairy—mostly. I love cheese, but, again, I cut way back. I don’t have it in the house and usually only eat it when I go out to eat, as a treat. If it’s just a topping, I often ask for the cheese to be left off. But I gave up milk, yogurt, butter, ice cream, plus eggs.
I consider myself about 80% whole-food, plant-based. On most days, I’m fully living a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. Other days, I’m vegetarian, and some days I’m pescatarian—eating fish that day. But it’s a journey.
So, what do I eat? I usually start off my day with oatmeal: Nature’s Path’s Blueberry Cinnamon Flax instant oatmeal. I add chia seeds, flax seeds, cinnamon and fresh blueberries and strawberries. On days when I’m in a hurry, I eat KIND blueberry almond breakfast bars.
I’ve been trying to eat more beans for fiber and protein. I eat a lot of vegetables—I love mushrooms.
I love to cook, but I also aim for convenience, so rice bowls with jasmine rice are an easy meal. I also like tacos and fajitas and trying new Indian and Asian recipes.
If you like sandwiches, you can make meatless sandwiches that are filling and tasty. I use a vegan mayo or hummus for the spread and then fill the sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes and avocado. I especially love buying unique types of tomatoes at the farmers market when they’re in season and trying all those different flavors.
My next step in my nutrition journey is to cut back on sugar. This will probably be the hardest food-related action I’ve ever taken. I think I’m more addicted to sugar than I ever was to caffeine. I’m not quite ready to say I’m cutting out sugar completely though. I’ll be testing myself this holiday season to cut back on sugar, to sometimes refuse the cookies or cakes, pies or candy.
Biz Bite: Use an app to remind you to drink more water.
Some apps to choose from: My Water Balance; Drink Water Reminder; Daily Water; Waterlogged
The Bookshelf: “Ask Again, Yes” by Mary Beth Keane
Third Space Wellness in Silver Spring, Maryland
Melanie’s dad’s blog post: “1000s of miles of cycling couldn’t save me from a poor diet”
Learn more about whole-food, plant-based living at Forks Over Knives.
Churchill’s Fine Teas in Cincinnati
Tot sauce: mix equal parts vegan mayo and honey together; add Dijon mustard to taste.
Linguine with sautéed asparagus (1 bunch, cut in small pieces) and cremini mushrooms (8–12 ounces): Sauté the vegetables together and add one-fourth cup of white cooking wine and two tablespoons of lemon juice and stir. Add one-fourth teaspoon of red pepper flakes, more if you like heat. Mix sauce with cooked linguine in a large serving bowl.