Growing up, I wasn’t one of those people blessed with good health. In fact, I’ve worked really hard for the last 20 years to earn the health I currently have. Eating right, exercising and making healthy lifestyle choices have been a life-work for me and I’ve been successful with my diligent lifestyle. So when I got my annual health screen results back in April and my bad cholesterol was at risk, it made me take notice. (It was the first time I’ve had my cholesterol checked, so it really was news to me)
After seeing my results, I began to do research for a game plan. I recently read a Mayo Clinic article about lowering cholesterol. Since then, I’ve been developing my game plan from the tips they provided to better understand and combat my unfavorable results and I’m going to share with you what I’ve discovered and (I think) has been working for me:
Lose Weight. You’ve seen me lose 30 lbs in 6 months through diet and exercise, but most recently I’ve lost 5 lbs in 2 weeks through my new lower-cholesterol changes. When I was working to lose 30 lbs, it seemed like work the entire time, but since I’ve been making my lower-cholesterol changes, the weight has just been coming off and it’s easy! My plan is listed below and it’s really been working, you’ll have to make it a priority. Because when I say it’s easy–it’s easy if you put your mind to it every day.
Eat Heart-Healthy Foods. This was a big one for the article and it’s the biggest opportunity that I have (mostly because I’ve accomplished all of the other ones, so this is the only option I have). I eat healthy on a regular basis, so it was difficult–at first–to really think of what changes I needed to make. My biggest change, and my continued biggest success with all of my healthy-lifestyle changes, has been to be mindful of what I’m doing. With every choice I make I: Think about it in advance, decide if it’s the right decision, track my progress, and I don’t make a decision when I’m Hungry, Angry, Bored or Tired.
Choose Healthier Fats. In the past, I’d just buy oil, butter and margarine at the store without thinking about it and then I’d use whatever was available for cooking our food. But when I started reading nutrition labels, I realized that olive oil and canola oil were healthier purchases. We’ve also limited our oil intake significantly–many foods taste the same (or better) if they’re not cooked with oil, so we’ve been trying this for everything recently. Switch out your oil and switch up your cooking to make two easy, important changes.
Eliminate Trans Fats. Reading ingredient lists in foods and looking for partially hydrogenated oils has saved us. (Don’t be fooled–trans fat-free doesn’t always mean zero trans fats in a food). I’m also working on lessening our kids’ snacks that contain these items. And it’s hard, because we know what we like and we’re in a routine of buying food when it’s on sale. But now I’m trying to remind myself that on-sale and unhealthy food is never a deal.
Limit Cholesterol in Food. I love eggs, peanut butter and dairy. Love them. Love. Them. But all of these foods are high in cholesterol or saturated fats (which leads to cholesterol). I’ve made a mindful effort to reduce unnecessary intake of these items (no, I don’t need 3 scoops of ice cream–in fact, I don’t need ice cream) and I’ve been measuring serving sizes for each of the items, so I know exactly what I’m eating and can track my daily food-related cholesterol intake (I love my FitBit tracker and before that have used MyNetDiary in the past with great results)
Select Whole Grains. This has been my newest and most fun change so far. I’ve switched 90% of my grains intake to whole grains. Now I’m eating quinoa, bulgur and brown rice instead of pasta and bread. I’ve never felt better and I’ve never been more full and satisfied with my daily food intake. I’m never crazy-hungry anymore! Inconceivable! You can find bulk whole-grains at most nice supermarkets now and they’re usually cheaper than their processed non-whole grain counterparts! My tip: Start Easy. If you like white rice, switch to brown rice. If you eat instant oatmeal every day, switch to “large rolled” oats or steel-cut oats. These simple switches can make a big difference in your cholesterol health and your weight loss goals.
Stock Up on Fruits & Veggies. We love fruits and veggies so it’s really easy to incorporate these into our regular meals and snacks. I’d recommend eating one serving (minimum) as part of each meal or snack. And by keeping these items with you and keeping them visible, you’ll be much more successful getting the right foods into your diet. Remember, the Skinny Rules say “Eat an Apple or Berries every single day.”
Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Still working on this one. I’m not that interested in fish or nuts (well the heart-healthy ones, at least) so I’m going to research ground flaxseed and see how I can incorporate this into my diet.
Exercise on Most Days of the Week. Last year, I’d been getting most of the results I’d wanted through my running plan. I’d been losing the baby weight much more easily. But I’d realized I wasn’t gaining all of the muscle I’d wanted, so I added in core, strength and cardio training classes. Now, between running and these classes, I exercise 8 hours a week total divided into 5-6 days a week. I’m lucky, these classes are held during my lunch hour and they’re on campus, making it easy for me to go. But when I worked retail back in Baltimore, I had another strategy that worked well for me too. I found a great gym that was in between my job and my home. Every night on the way home from work, I’d drive to the gym and workout for an hour. And since I always had my packed bag in my car, it made it easy for me to regularly exercise. Sure, it seems difficult to begin the routine to exercise regularly–but guess what? If you can set yourself up for success, you’ll discover the workout willpower you need is easier to find than ever.
Quit Smoking. Never started so checked this success off my list easily. If you smoke or are a social smoker, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Even if you can lessen your intake, you’re making progress. See what you can do and make it a priority to remove this from your life (improve your health and save tons of money!)
Drink Alcohol only in Moderation. Never got into this either, so checked it off my list easily. If you drink and you’re of age, that is your prerogative, but remember. People like you–if you’re just drinking to fit in–you don’t need to.
This is month three of my healthy-living and lowering-my-cholesterol plan. I’m working to make progress and I’ll be able to see my results in April 2014. I think they’ll be improved, so I’m hopeful what I’m doing is working.
If you’re struggling with a health-related issue, and believe me–I know that some of them are difficult (or impossible to overcome–I’ve been there), I’d recommend really making a commitment to making this your year to make a positive difference with your health. I’ve done it before (the first time took me twenty years) And now, I’ve been developing, organizing and implementing my plan. And the small-step progress is giving me hope to reach my end goal. Here’s to a successful year together!