Eat, drink and be active — and accountable

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Whether you’re a seasoned athlete, weekend warrior or the average Joe just starting out on the road to wellness, all can benefit from going back to basics.

It’s easy to get caught up in the latest study, diet and fitness trends, but often our health and wellness goals can be reached with simple steps.

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts: Don’t overlook the basics just because they sound so simple.

To those just starting out on their journey: Start slow with steps that sound easiest first so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Eat

Rather than feel deprived by what you shouldn’t be eating, focus on adding to your diet.

Our bodies need more than just protein, carbohydrate and fat. We need vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. One place we get those is vegetables and fruits.

Work toward consuming at least five servings of non-starchy vegetables and three fruits every day For leafy greens (spinach, kale, lettuce, etc), consider 1 cup of packed leaves as a serving. For other raw and cooked vegetables, estimate 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup as one serving.

If you don’t like greens, get a good blender and mix your leafy greens with water and frozen fruit for a tasty smoothie. Do this every morning and you will have had an entire salad before lunchtime even arrives.

Select a variety in color, starting with green. For fruit, consider one piece (an apple, orange, banana, etc.) or 1 cup of chopped fruit or berries as a serving.

Add whole foods and start replacing refined and processed carbohydrates with whole foods

Pay attention to the labels on the foods you eat — better yet, select foods with one ingredient. If there are words on the label you don’t recognize — they’re often chemicals from a lab,rather than food from nature — then don’t eat it.

Substitute whole grains for processed ones. White flour, white rice, sugar, etc., are foods that have been processed and had most of the nutrition stripped away. If you choose to eat wheat, make sure the label says 100 percent whole wheat or sprouted grain. When food is as close to its natural state as can be, it is most nutritious.

Don’t skip meals, and be sure to eat a meal of high-quality carbohydrates — fruit, veggies, whole grains — and a little protein within 30-45 minutes after your workout.

If you enjoy eating nuts and nut butters, remember that though they are nutritious they are also high in caloric density and fat. If your goals are fat and weight loss, aim for no more than one 1/4 cup of nuts or 2 tbsp. of nut butter per day. Skip the salted roasted nuts, which are easy to overeat, and select raw unsalted nuts.

Substitute hummus for the nut butters, or raw chopped vegetables to snack on instead of handfuls of nuts.

Drink

Aim for 70 to 100 ounces — about eight to 10 8-ounce glasses — of water daily. Try keeping a large reusable container with you at all times. Add lemon or lime juice if you like to add flavor.

Drink more water on days you have a heavy workout or sweat a lot, especially when the weather is warm and dry.

Being properly hydrated is important for many reasons. For one, drinking an adequate amount of water keeps your blood at the appropriate viscosity for optimal delivery of nutrients to your tissues, helps moderate heart rate during exercise and helps remove waste so the kidneys and liver can do their job and your metabolism can function optimally.

Also, many cravings, especially the craving for sugar, may actually be the body telling you it needs water.

Getting headaches or feeling sluggish during the day? It, too, could be a sign you need more water.

If you dine out often or eat prepackaged or processed foods, you will need more water due to the high sodium content they carry. Also, try slowly cutting back on caffeine, which is a diuretic.

If you feel you are eating right and exercising and still not losing body fat, examine your hydration and caffeine habits.

Move

If you are already a fitness enthusiast, don’t do the same workouts week after week. Mix it up.

Our bodies get really efficient — and thus burn fewer calories — when doing the same things over and over. That’s great if you are a long-distance runner, bad if you want to burn maximum calories in minimum time.

Try a new activity or add higher intensity intervals to your current workout. If you are new to regular exercise, work your way up to a minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous activity most days of the week.

Try a class at your local gym, walk your dog — whatever activity is enjoyable, or at least bearable. Give yourself one day of active rest per week with maybe just a light walk and stretching.

Be accountable

Start a food and activity journal and measure and record every morsel you consume. You can go the old-school pen and paper route, or find many free websites to help, like www.myfitnesspal.com, where you can become “friends” with other members who can all keep each other accountable.

Journaling is important for more than identifying the non-healthy choices and patterns, it is a powerful tool for repeating successes. What if you had a week that was particularly successful, you lost weight, slept great, had energy all day and felt great during and after your workouts? Wouldn’t you want to replicate that?

With a journal you would be able to see exactly what led to your success.

And weigh in. If weight loss is your goal, get on the scale weekly. Make it a Monday to reduce the temptation to overindulge on the weekend.

Elizabeth Sparks is a certified personal trainer, registered yoga teacher and holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell. She leads fitness and wellness classes at Whitman College and the Walla Walla YMCA.

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