Your body is your engine, and food is the fuel to get you through the day.
If you don’t eat a healthy diet, odds are your body isn’t running as it should. Do you:
- suffer from swelling in your feet or hands, especially toward evening?
- measure larger around your belly than elsewhere?
- find it exhausting to run errands?
- suffer from body aches, stomach issues (belching, frequent belly aches), or a general sense of no energy?
While all these can be symptoms of more serious health issues, many can be “cured” with a healthy diet.
A young adult patient, not overweight and generally active, suffered from body aches. His joints hurt as he woke up, and through the day, he experienced fatigue despite sleeping 8-9 hours every night. With recommended diet changes — basically eliminating processed foods (fast food, hot dogs and lunch meat), sugary foods (soda, high sugar cereal, and excessive desserts/candy) and cheese (very high in fat with little nutritional value), he noticed marked improvement in just one week. No medicines for the pain, no sleep aids, just a healthy diet.
If you suffer from body aches, upset stomach, poor sleep or swelling AND you are otherwise healthy, these three dietary changes could help you too.
1. Eliminate processed foods. Processed foods include fast food, any food with a shelf life of months instead of days (those boxed pastries, white bread, Doritos, Fritos, etc), lunch meats and hot dogs, and most frozen meals. If the information label includes things you cannot pronounce, then the food is processed. These foods are incredibly high in sodium (salt). Excess sodium in the diet makes us “retain water,” which leads to swelling in soft tissue (achy joints), hands, feet and even the face. Those baggy eyes that stare back at you every day might signal water retention!
Replace processed foods with the following:
- Freshly prepared meats (grill or bake chicken breast and slice it for sandwiches),
- Homemade popcorn (old school, popped in a pot on the stove or made with an air popper),
- Homemade cookies or other desserts (using natural ingredients — flour, sugar, eggs, oil — but no additives!)
- Fast food (if you must eat fast food, order the salad and skip the cheese!)
2. Eliminate sugary foods. Foods high in sugar give us a quick energy spike as the sugar is quickly digested to fuel our bodies. But, sugar “fuel” doesn’t last long. When the sugar rush ends, we “crash,” feeling incredibly tired and cranky. Many people counteract the crash with another sugary snack — or to avoid the crash, just eat sugar all day long. This is not how your body was designed — it’s like putting diesel fuel in a car that requires regular gas. You gum up the whole system and break down. Sugar comes from a number of sources: soda, sweet tea, fruit juices, processed foods, candy, desserts, breads and dairy. Fast food restaurants understand the “sugar addiction” of the American sweet-tooth and add sugar to many products, including meats, fries, breads and sauces.
In the past 200 years, American sugar consumption has grown from less than 20 pounds/year to more than 130 pounds per year. The average adult consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar PER DAY, while children are eating even more at 32 teaspoons PER DAY. At this rate, our obesity epidemic and major diet-related rate of disease will continue to grow. Sugar is a hidden danger in processed foods — we don’t know that we are eating all these extra sugar calories and then can’t understand the weight gain or related health issues.
Replace sugary foods with the following:
- Instead of soda and sweet tea, drink water — not only will you lose weight, your complexion, hair and skin will improve!
- Instead of fruit juice, eat the whole fruit! Fruit juice is the sugar of the fruit. When you eat the whole piece of fruit, you get the added healthy fiber and other nutrients that the juice doesn’t have.
- Say no to processed foods like hot dogs, lunch meats, store bought white bread, snacks, fruit “chews” (candy with a fancy name — it is NOT healthier), and substitute real meat (chicken breast, flank steak, pork roast), bread made without additives, and fresh fruit instead.
- If you still want a treat, purchase individually wrapped snack size candies (Hershey kisses, hard cinnamon candies) and keep them out of sight! If they’re on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard, you’re less likely to eat them than if you keep a candy jar on the counter. “Out of sight, out of mind” really does work!
3. Eliminate cheese. Cheese, especially processed American cheese that is mostly made of non-dairy chemicals, is incredibly high in fat, sodium and calories. While milk is a high calorie dairy product, cheese concentrates those calories by eliminating the liquid. It takes a lot of cheese — which translates into a lot of calories, sodium and fat — to fill up. It’s one of the least healthy foods out there. For those who love lasagna, pizza, mac ‘n cheese and nachos, this can sound really tough. But, healthy living means learning healthy eating habits.
Minimize cheese consumption with the following:
- Say no to cheeseburgers — especially if the cheese option is processed American cheese. A juicy burger with lots of toppings (lettuce, tomato, avocado, mustard and ketchup) has loads of flavor. Enjoy it.
- Order that pizza with extra veggies, not extra cheese — load up that pizza with onions, olives, peppers and other veggies. Before eating, blot your slice with a paper towel to soak up unnecessary calories. AND only eat one or two slices, not the whole pie!
- With pasta, skip the cheese if you can. If not, make your pasta dish without the cheese and sprinkle some on top. Add pesto, sun dried tomatoes, onions or peppers for flavor. As you get used to it, you won’t miss the cheese. Alfredo, lasagna and mac ‘n cheese are some of the worst offenders to the American diet.
- Use cheese as an accent, not the main course. Shred some fresh parmesan (not the shaky kind that comes from a chemical laden can) over your pasta for flavor without quite so many calories. Make the lasagna with layers of sauce, veggies, and noodles topping it with one layer of cheese instead of a layer of cheese through the whole thing.
If you’re tired of always being tired, and if you ache when you wake, you might not be sick — you just might be eating yourself into poor health. Make these changes and give yourself a month to see how different you feel and look. If you want to discuss your diet with your doctor, please call for an appointment or request one through the patient portal.
There are a number of community resources available to you too. Click here to learn more and take the next step on your journey toward healthy living!
**If you have any questions about how diet changes might affect your health care plan, please contact your provider. This article does not substitute for medical care.**