Who doesn’t want to live a happy, healthy life?
But who’s got the time?
We are tired, overwhelmed, struggling to just get through the day. We seem to be working harder and longer for less. We are moreover-scheduled than ever.
Well, there’s a better way.
It’s time to take back responsibility for our own health with freedom. What does that mean? I have come to realize that as we have grown more detached from nature, we have grown more detached from our intuitive knowledge about making peace with ourselves. Living in harmony with our surroundings has become nothing more than a cliché that we bandy about without understanding–or knowing how good it feels to actually live that way.
We live in a time when every self-proclaimed expert under the sun wants to tell you what’s best for you. And interestingly, as more and more of them are paraded in front of us, each heralding his or her plan as ‘the answer,’ we grow more confused. There’s a reason for that.
There is only one expert in your life–you.
There is only one person who knows exactly what it is that you need to live in harmony with your world–you. And while the advice offered by experts can be sound and thoughtful, the wise person will listen and apply to their lives that which is appropriate.
Diet for Living Well
I am of the belief that the quality of food we choose on a daily basis influences the health and vitality of our bodies. While it may not be the sole determinant of whether or not we are healthy, it is one of the most important–and it is the one over which we exercise control. We decide what we eat.
In the fifth century, B.C., Hippocrates, the philosopher said to be the father of Western medicine, coined the famous oath, ‘let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.’ Food and healing were very much entwined in ancient times, but in our modern world have been relegated to the world of folklore and alternative lifestyles. From chicken soup for a cold, to garlic for lung congestion and purifying the blood, to ginger for circulation, foods have been used for their ability to balance and normalize our energy. An understanding of the power of food in our life enables us to utilize food, in all its delicious glory to create the life and health we want.
Whole, natural, unprocessed foods that are well-prepared are both delicious and satisfying to the body and soul. I come from a passionate Italian family, where everybody cooked and everybody loved food. Richness runs in my blood. No matter what, I can’t subsist on a diet of steamed vegetables, boiled foods and no fat. And to avoid dessert would be like avoiding life itself. When I drastically changed my diet to cope with a health crisis (cancer), I went from a diet rich in simple sugars and fats to a diet that could only be described as austere. My health recovered, I went in search of ways to regain the sensuality of eating and maintain my health at the same time. I have learned to fuse the understanding I’ve gained about food and its effect on us, with my heritage–and have discovered that they differ very little after all.
My Italian mother told me that there were two important principles in cooking that would ensure success in meal preparation, as well as health. She said that the importance of ingredients, what she called ‘materia prima,’ was essential to creating a delicious meal that would satisfy the body on all levels. Everything needed to be fresh for the meal to be delicious.
The second principle not to be ignored, she would tell me, as she gently stirred and sautéed, was simple presentation. She believed that showing food in its naturally beautiful state was all that was necessary to create appeal. Again, she was right. She never chose canned vegetables or processed foods for her meals. As a child, I never understood her obsession with freshness. It was more than inconvenient to travel with her from market to market, in search of the best broccoli at the best price. I was aware, however, of how delicious her food was to me. I’m so grateful to her for instilling that standard of excellence in me. And she did what she did, creating feasts that delighted anyone lucky enough to be at her table on, shall we say, a very limited budget.
Food that is of excellent quality and in its whole, natural state, requires very little adornment to appeal to us. Simple foods that are well-prepared have an elegance that can not be improved upon…and require very little fuss, making them easy and quick to prepare.
If cooking and visual appeal aren’t enough incentive for you to make a change in your food choices, there are other–perhaps more tangible ones. You’ll find that you feel stronger and have more stamina. You’ll sleep more soundly and wake refreshed. You’ll think more clearly and find that you handle life’s daily crises more calmly. You’ll find that you have less aches and pains, more flexibility in your muscles and joints, better digestion and a more positive attitude. Your skin and hair condition will improve, your eyes will be clearer and you won’t tire as easily. You’ll feel like new.
What’s For Dinner?
What do we eat to ensure that our vitality is strong and we look and feel our best? I think it’s important to say, again, that eating well doesn’t mean eating a grim regime of foods that taste like mildly-seasoned cardboard. It doesn’t mean food that breaks the bank either. Whole, fresh foods that are well-prepared are as delicious as any fussy dish you can imagine. The most simple of ingredients literally bursts on your tongue with flavor. And they are not expensive to acquire.
A truly healthy diet is wide and varied, featuring a selection of grains, beans, seasonal vegetables and fruits, pickled foods, condiments, superior quality fats and sweets (that you make at home to ensure quality). The proportions of any variety of foods you eat needs to be based on your own health condition, your goals and your dreams for your life.
Whole grains are the centerpiece of a healthy diet, real powerhouses of energy. Whole grains are cereals that have yet to be stripped of their fiber, germ and bran, retaining the lionshare of nutrients and include brown rice, millet, barley, quinoa, oats, wheat, corn and many others.
And then there are beans, providing us with protein, complex carbohydrates and other essential nutrients. More importantly, they provide us with a slow-burning energy–like putting our energy on the simmer burner, so that we have reserves of vitality to draw on to keep ourselves going through the day with even levels of stamina. From azuki beans to chickpeas, lentils and creamy cannellini beans, tofu, tempeh and split peas, beans are incredible sources of richness and nutrition.
When it comes to vegetables, nature has provided us with such an array of abundance that I am in awe. Each time I stand in a market with bins overflowing with the seasons’ harvest I’m inspired with a renewed passion for cooking. There is so much for us to choose from, I sometimes feel like there aren’t enough meals to prepare them all. So wander the produce section or farm market, drink in the life and go on the a culinary adventure. Cook some vegetables. Your life will change.
A diet rich in whole, natural foods will sustain us, fueling us for life’s little challenges. A diet rich in animal protein, saturated fats, sugars and chemical additives will rob us of our vitality, leaving us looking as drained as we are feeling. You decide.
The Art of Living Well
Food is merely the foundation upon which we build the rest of our lives. We live in a world where it is quite difficult to maintain a natural balance. Everything around us pushes us to work harder, make more money, move more quickly. Even our leisure time is frenetic with activity.
Think about how you feel when you take a holiday to a beach or go camping. By returning to natural surroundings and rhythms, the body is allowed to shift into a more natural way of being. That’s why, even a weekend away, with no agenda, is so incredibly refreshing. If we observe nature, we will notice that she is wiser than us. She maintains periods of activity and periods of rest–in perfect balance.
I am not, by any means, suggesting that we all vacate our lives, move to the country and accomplish nothing. I am suggesting, instead, that we strive for a bit of balance in our lives–which we take care of ourselves, so that we can accomplish our goals and realize our dreams. I am suggesting we unplug from time to time so our bodies can be rejuvenated.
A bit of natural balance goes a long way in keeping us vital…here’s ten tips to get you started.
1. Try to retire before midnight and rise early in the day for the most restful sleep.
2. Try to get outdoors each day, regardless of the weather.
3. Keep your home environment clean and organized. Orderly surroundings make us feel more calm and safe, while a chaotic home agitates our frazzled nerves. Think of your home–be it simple or palatial–as your sacred haven.
4. As much as possible, utilize natural materials in your home, like cotton sheets, pillowcases and towels and natural carpeting and flooring. Use stainless steel, earthenware or cast iron cookware. Avoid aluminum and non-stick pots and pans for your cooking. Bring nature into every aspect of your life.
5. Open the windows every day, if possible. Even just a crack in a window or two, for ten to fifteen minutes each day, will freshen and enliven the air in your home.
6. Place several green plants throughout your home. They freshen the air and enrich the oxygen content in the air we breathe.
7. If you work on a computer, keep a green plant close by to enrich the oxygen content of the air. Plants will also help you to stay a bit more hydrated, as computers make us feel dry and tired.
8. Take a break. If you are working at a desk or at a computer, take a stretch break for about ten minutes every hour or two. This will prevent tight back muscles and stiff joints, re-focus your energy and keep you from feeling exhausted.
9. Exercise at least four days a week, but five is best to achieve your best overall health and radiance.
10. Be grateful for your life and all that it entails, even your difficulties. Show gratitude for the many blessings you have–family, friends, neighbors, our life and work, the food we eat. Each day, each breath we take is a blessing for which we must be deeply grateful.
And if you forget all of this–or feel that it’s just too much, simply smile and enjoy your day. That alone will change your life.