Ah, America: land of the free, home of the brave. It's all Mom and apple pie, large fries and a Coke. Have you ever taken a moment to realize that all of our “iconic” American foods are absolutely terrible for you? Why are all of our most iconic foods so bad for you?
Alas, the freedom to eat anything we want has led us down a bonkers trail of trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup and bacon-wrapped everything. Just because you can eat something, that does not mean you should.
While it's kind of sad that we need to designate a National Nutrition Month at all, the 35.7 percent of adult Americans who are obese — not just overweight, but medically-defined obese — are proof that we have a serious problem with nutrition in the United States. We need to start giving a sh*t about it, or our kids will grow up to be like the characters in "Wall-E," rolling around in their little moving chairs instead of being the active, healthy adults we want them to become.
There's no need to go to extremes.
While the problem of obesity is a super-sized one, the solution doesn't require monk-like abstention from all things delicious. Sure, there are those people who run marathons and are so crazy healthy, they only drink chia seed and kale smoothies for breakfast and would rather be nibbled by fire ants than even look at a Big Mac.
I guess they're happy? If intense willpower and zero Girl Scout cookies for life works for them, that's awesome.
You don't have to go off the vegan, sugar-free, raw food deep end to be healthy. You also can't let yourself slide into the nutritional shallows of all fast food all the time. One in four Americans has at least some type of fast food meal every day, and it's killing them slowly but surely, one stent or insulin injection at a time.
There has to be a middle ground between Ronald McDonald and gluten-free Gwyneth, right?
Find a healthy balance.
If you're like most people, you'll be glad to know that National Nutrition Month is all about finding a workable balance in your diet. You don't have to follow any diet at all, and I'm definitely not looking at trendy cleanses or eliminating a particular food from your lifetime menu.
Instead, you just need to understand that “dieting,” by definition, does not a healthy lifestyle make. Instead, consider the 80-20 rule: Eat right 80 percent of the time, and don't stress about the other 20 percent. Seriously, it's that easy.
The idea here is that making good choices most of the time will add up, and it will allow you some wiggle room for the things you love once in a while. On a daily basis, choosing a healthy breakfast and lunch will allow you some room to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Over the course of the week, eating well Monday through Friday means you can have a banana split on Sunday without upsetting the balance of the nutritional scale.
The beauty of the 80-20 rule is you don't have to measure portions, calculate points or count calories. You simply have to be conscious of your choices. Just as importantly, you need to be honest with yourself about whether you're mostly eating well in any given moment.
Here's to a healthy future.
The other great thing about the 80-20 rule is that it's an eminently sane way to go about teaching your kids to make their own healthy choices. No child is going to embrace an arcane calorie-counting system, and it's much better to teach your kids to recognize healthy foods and make good choices on a daily basis.
But, you do need to teach them. Children are programmed by evolution to reach for sweets if you let them have some. To counteract their natural preferences, you should talk about good nutrition early and often. Make it a priority right now because too often, parents let nutrition take a back seat to convenience in our busy world.
To get you started, check out these useful tips for bringing good nutrition to the forefront of your family's consciousness:
- Model responsible snacking: Make sure your home is filled with fruits and veggies, instead of those little baggies of chips and 100-calorie packs of cookies. String cheese and hard boiled eggs also make for fantastic snacks, with minimal effort.
- Get into a good routine: During the week, cook at home and set the expectation for healthy breakfasts and dinners. Save your splurges for the weekend, when you're out with friends and family. This sends the signal that junk food is a special event, not the norm.
- Read the labels: When you're out shopping — or even when you're grabbing something on the go — check the nutrition facts. Just about every fast food joint now offers a healthier choice. At the grocery store, a quick glance at the label will help you decide which item is less sugary. Remember: If you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn't be eating it.
Good nutrition is only hard if you make it hard. With a genuine commitment to the 80-20 rule, not only will you reap the health benefits for yourself, but you'll also be modeling good choices for your future generations.
So, go ahead, have that slice of pizza — or two, if I'm being realistic — and wash it down with your favorite glass of wine. Just don't forget to have a salad first.