Get Energized: 3 Steps to a healthy meal

This article was originally published on February 24, 2010 as my column Holistic Outlook, in The Times Herald Record.  To see the original article, click here.

Step one: Four for four

Every time you eat, you are giving your body information. You probably want to tell your body things like:

  • “Burn fat!”
  • “Keep me energized and focused! I can’t be falling asleep at 3 p.m.!”
  • “Keep all my parts working in good order, please!”

The best way to do all of that is to eat real food that balances your “macronutrients” — protein, carbohydrates and fat.

That means for every meal — breakfast, lunch and dinner — you are going to have just a few ounces of lean healthy protein, a little bit of starchy carbohydrate, a little bit of healthy fat and all the non-starchy carbs you want: four components for a four-square meal.

If you balance them correctly, they should keep you full, focused and energized for at least four hours. Let’s break that down a little more.

  1. Great protein sources include fish, chicken, turkey and eggs, ideally raised in their natural environment, so wild caught fish, pasture raised poultry and meats, and free range chicken eggs.
  2. Healthy starches are ones that are grown rather than manufactured, and are fiber-rich and nutrient-dense, such as sweet potatoes, peas, beans and legumes, brown rice and most fruits.
  3. Healthiest fat sources include nut, seed and coconut oils, avocado, and nuts and seeds themselves.
  4. Non-starchy carbs are where you can really go to town: Go ahead and pile your plate! Have a big salad and at least one other vegetable such as broccoli, zucchini, kale, spinach, cauliflower, etc. Cook them lightly so they retain more nutrients.

Step two: Make it taste good
If you are used to lots of salt and sugar (and that’s mostly what you’re tasting in processed foods), initially, “real food” may taste a little bland. However, most of my clients find that after a short time their palate changes, and simpler food starts to taste delicious.

To improve the odds of that happening, buy local, whenever possible. Vegetables that were grown to be shipped before they’re ripe and sit on a truck and then a shelf for weeks are just not going to have the flavor of food that is grown locally. I choose local organic when I can, but I would rather choose fresh local over wilted organic any day.  We are so lucky, here in the Hudson Valley, to have more and more sources for local organic foods!

And learn to use herbs and spices. They are not only delicious, they are health-enhancing. Tumeric has been touted as wonderfully anti-inflammatory. Cinnamon may help increase metabolic function. Sage and rosemary are anti-oxidants.  Experiment with new flavors and see if you can reawaken your taste buds.  It’s easy to put some herbs in your garden, in a pot, or buy them fresh.

Step three: Change the pace

Most people charge through their day full speed ahead, and mealtime is no exception. Do you bolt your food? Do you even taste it? Probably not, especially after the first bite.

So once you’ve taken the trouble to make yourself something healthy and delicious, try this. Before you take a bite, sit down and take five nice, slow, deep breaths, keeping the inhale and the exhale even. This resets your whole nervous system to a slower and calmer pace, and that’s a good thing any time, but particularly for digestion.

Now, if you’ve followed the steps, your meal should be not only perfectly balanced and nutritious but also delicious, so allow yourself to enjoy it.

Take one bite. Put your fork down. Chew thoroughly. You know the old saw about chewing your food until it’s liquid? It’s very wise advice! Your digestion will be so much better if you do. Too often we end up with undigestible chunks of food in our stomach, and that can cause indigestion.

Not only that, but also when we eat quickly, we don’t give our brain and stomach time to communicate about when we’ve had enough. Eating more slowly is an easy way to keep portion sizes more reasonable. Now pick your fork up again. Take another bite. Chew. Pause. Enjoy. Repeat.

Two caveats:

  1. The “four-square” system works perfectly — unless you’re unknowingly eating foods that are problematic for you. If you have a hidden food sensitivity, you probably feel hungry, bloated or tired within the first two hours after eating. Many people are doing their best to make healthy food choices but unwittingly choose food that is actually making them feel worse.

More than half of the clients I have worked with have one or two food sensitivities and are amazed how much better they feel once these are eliminated.

2. This approach works for vegetarians, too. The principles are the same, we just use non-meat sources for the protein. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, having an occasional vegetarian meal is a great idea. Just choose “real foods,” and stick to the four-square principle.

Bon appetit!

%d bloggers like this: