Each day we make choices—from early morning until late evening. Some are family or business decisions, and some affect our health and well being. Important choices include the type and volume of food eaten, activity level, social interactions, and your state of mind. At the same time on a parallel course we must consider our health status and what choices we make which will affect our long-term health.
It is difficult to make the best choices, as some are decided on an emotional basis, some on a factual basis, and some on the advice of others close to us or from the media. One way to approach decision making is to look for more than one option or solution in our daily decisions. When you have choices, it becomes easier to select the best one. Certainly food is at the top of the list of daily choices in terms of frequency and importance and can probably have more impact on our health than most of the other ones.
In deciding which choice is the best alternative, always set up one choice beside another. This could be regular food versus junk food, exercise versus immobility, eating less versus eating more, taking supplements versus none, or even styling and coloring your hair versus leaving it natural.
Probably the most difficult choices we make have to do with nutrition. For example, when you are tempted in a restaurant to order something like a piece of carrot cake from the Cheesecake Factory, remember that it is around 1,000 calories. Alternate possibilities include 3 cups of broccoli (160 calories), 12 large shrimp (300 calories), one glass of wine (150 calories), one sweet potato (112 calories), and 3 cups of strawberries (146 calories). That total is 860, which means you can still eat 100 calories of some other nourishing food which will not increase your insulin levels and be stored as triglycerides and on to fat.
You could also think in terms of whether to eat a sweetened cereal in the morning or unsweetened oatmeal with some milk or cream and fresh fruit on it. For lunch, instead of a sandwich with a lot of bread, perhaps choose a salad with cut vegetables and a small amount of protein, such as chicken. The need to make these choices continues all day and into the evening as we are constantly tempted with processed foods that have no food value but look and taste so good to us. Look at everything you are doing and select an alternative choice so that you can make the best decision between the two. If you’ve only given yourself one choice, then you have nothing with which to compare it.
Exercise versus immobility is a big item in our agenda of daily living. If you choose not to have any fitness activity, you are no doubt aware that it increases your risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, and obesity. However, if you exercise as little as 60 minutes a week, it provides health benefits. Up to 150 minutes a week of moderate activity lowers the risk of the diseases mentioned and will give you more overall energy. If you combine increased activity with good food choices, you have improved your health and well being over the long run. Within this choice area, there is a subset of choices such as whether to play soccer with your kids, ride a bicycle, walk or jog on a treadmill, for example.
Another important area of concern is the health choices which we make. First of all, you can acquire knowledge from the Internet or media about any medical conditions you have versus just leaving it to your doctors. If you make the choice to become involved in your own personal medical care and health pathway, you will benefit and be a better patient for your doctor to guide. If you have diabetes, for example, you can read about insulin resistance, the effect of increased high glycemic carbohydrates on the disease, and what the complications are if a better pathway is not followed.
You have the choice to increase mental stimulation every day. You can watch television three hours a night or you could work a crossword puzzle or read something challenging, which tends to make your brain function better.
You have the choice of gaining weight with aging, as many people do, or staying the same. Although it may seem difficult, making the right choices in terms of nutrition and exercise helps you keep the same weight. The average woman tends to gain about one-half a pound a year after the age of 40. Eighty percent of us are overweight, and a good portion is truly obese with a BMI over 30. Reducing your food portions and eating only those foods that have nutrient value will help you avoid weight gain. Save your “temptations” for the occasional celebration or birthday. If you attend an all-you-can-eat restaurant, start with veggies and fill up on those before you start eating meat. This is because meat is seven times more dense calorically than vegetables, so you can get your fiber and phytochemicals versus just a lot of increased protein and calories.
You always have a choice. Think about which one would be the best. If you choose an option that is not the healthiest or best, think of it in terms of entertainment value. Is it worth the amount of entertainment or pleasure I get out of this to do something negative to my body?
Think about these choices every time you decide on an activity, a food, or even a medical treatment pathway. Remember: you are (mostly) in control of your life in terms of your health pathway.
Dr. Carraway is the director of the Plastic & Cosmetic Surgery Center of EVMS. Call 757-557-0300 for more information.