Here’s to Your Health
Five simple steps to living better in 2016
Photos by Simon Hurst
It’s January. Viva la resolution, right? This is the month we’re going to turn over a new leaf and eat healthier, kick off and dominate a mad workout plan, set some super unrealistic goals and give up, only to slog through February defeated, full of French fries and wine, and sick of sweater weather. Does it have to be like that? Again? In the immortal words of Austin Powers’ nemesis Dr. Evil, “How about no?”
Instead, let our team of experts help you choose something manageable to try. Something a bit healthier, but doable. Do it for a while, then try adding a second thing when you’re ready. Do not expect to change everything at once, but do expect positive change because, my dears, you’re worth it.
Whether you need to calm down, rev up, eat better or move more, we can help. Here are five great ways to start.
Eat Clean, Eat Green
Dr. Jimmy Conway, one of the founders of Plant Based OKC, was really sick. He had a severe blockage in a major artery, and his cardiologist told him he needed triple-bypass surgery. A surgeon himself, Conway was hyper-aware of the enormity of what was about to happen to his body, and he agreed that something drastic needed to happen.
Where he differed from his doctor, though, was in the approach he wanted to try. No surgery, no sir, no way. A word about Conway: He is one focused individual. He dove headlong into the Internet, and when he came up for air, he had read everything there is to read about the effect of diet on heart health, and health in general.
“After I read The China Study, and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, my wife Andrea and I began eating a plant-based diet,” he says. Another helpful thing he did was to stop drinking a daily six-pack of Mountain Dew Code Red. “The first week we switched to a plant-based diet, I immediately had more energy, no afternoon slumps, and I felt so much better. And believe me, I never feel deprived, and I love to eat. My love of eating is what got me in so much trouble.”
“I didn’t want to,” says Andrea. She laughs and shakes her head. “Not at all. But it was for Jimmy’s health, so I said OK.” OK to what, exactly? “We began eating only minimally processed, whole foods. Foods in their original state,” she says. The Conways are trim and healthy looking, and their skin is amazing. Each easily looks a decade younger than they are, as does their collaborator, Randy Titony.
Conway, his wife Andrea and fellow veg head Titony formed Plant Based OKC after Titony ran into the pair at a concert. “I was fat and cranky,” says Titony. “Every day for breakfast I was eating a Sausage and Egg McMuffin and a large Dr. Pepper. I used a ton of that powdered hazelnut creamer – the powder – in my coffee every day. One September, I was at the Train concert and at intermission I saw Jimmy and Andrea and I said, ‘Man, you guys look good,’ and they told me about The China Study and that was it. I said, ‘I’m in, and I want this to be a club.’”
To this trio and their ever-growing band of converts, eating plant-based foods is all about what you can eat, not about what you can’t or choose not to eat. It required a bit of adjustment, and daily and weekly planning to accomplish, but the way its adherents feel makes it more than worth the effort.
As Conway points out, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” Or, as Titony says, “A plant-based diet is like a marriage. You can’t cheat and expect it to work.”
So what does a day’s worth of plant-based meals with no added oil look like? It’s beautiful, colorful and aromatic. It tantalizes all of the senses. And it’s a ton of food. For Titony, routine is king.
“I eat the same breakfast every day,” he says. He concocts a tried-and-true blend of old fashioned oats, Uncle Sam’s Wheat Flakes, Grape-Nuts and small shredded wheat. To that he adds some flaxseed, cinnamon, a small handful of walnuts, blueberries, a banana and unsweetened almond milk. Lunch is simpler. Quinoa with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, Wright’s Liquid Smoke (which all three swear by) and a shot of balsamic vinegar. Dinner might be black beans and brown rice, topped with Ro-Tel tomatoes and peppers, and spinach.
The Conways are smoothie people in the mornings. Andrea spends a couple of hours each week washing and chopping vegetables for the “buckets” of salad the two enjoy for lunch most days. These filling concoctions are combinations of vegetables, greens, nuts and seeds, maybe some dried fruit and wonderfully fragrant herb-filled dressings Conway whips up. Dinners vary but always include a complex carbohydrate, so a meal might be a black bean burger and potatoes.
There’s a monthly dinner and meeting open to everyone. It’s the first Monday of each month – for example, Jan. 4 at Rococo in The Shoppes at Northpark. The meeting is free, and there’s a plant-based menu of which you can partake. Learn more at jimmyconwaymd.com/plant-based-okc/.
You’ve Got to Move It, Move It
Angela Jones, director of health and wellness initiatives for the YMCA of Oklahoma City, is all about taking a realistic approach to increasing fitness, and suggests that people start by finishing the sentence “The last time I felt well … .” Maybe your answer will involve sleep, or maybe you used to take better care of yourself by exercising.
From there, she says, it’s a good idea to take a look at your support system. Does your family exercise? If you have children, will someone help you watch them while you work out? Or can you take them with you?
“Time is the biggest killer of good intentions,” Jones says. “We are all trained to want instant gratification, and when we’re tired or low on time, we opt for what’s easiest, especially if we don’t have a support system in place.”
The next crucial piece of the puzzle is a readiness for change. “This could be from an external source, like a doctor saying your health is suffering, or maybe you have an internal desire to become stronger and fitter.” In either case, what follows is the same, she says. “Put your sneakers on and walk. Start there.” Jones explains that there are far fewer barriers to becoming physically active than there are to eating well. “It’s as simple as tying your shoes.”
How do you make the habit stick past January? “Repetition, readiness and commitment,” says Jones. For six to eight weeks. If you can make it that long, your odds of continuing are fantastic. You’ve likely formed a connection to exercise at that point and hit a milestone or two.
Now Be Still
Dr. Shanna Teel is a psychologist and executive coach who finds the direction of her work changing to include a greater emphasis on food as medicine and the mind/body connection.
The first step in cleaning out your brain, according to Teel, is to let it rest. Quietly.
“The goal is to unplug and get quiet,” Teel says. “You want to eliminate incoming stimuli. Our brains are overwhelmed. The good news about brains is that they have phenomenal capacity, more than we even know. When we are better able to harness them, they become a secret weapon for health. But first we have to calm the chatter.”
Another word for chatter is rumination. Rumination, or you might call it stewing, is very different from its healthier cousin, reflecting. Reflecting is looking back at something that has occurred, whether it was good or bad, then calmly evaluating it and extrapolating lessons that will benefit you as you move forward in your life.
When a person ruminates, it’s problem-solving gone off the rails. It’s a damaging tornado of obsessive thinking, a non-stop instant replay of the negative over and over and over. For a healthier outlook, it must be stopped. Easier said than done, though. How not to do it? Repeat, “Why can’t I stop ruminating? Stop ruminating right now,” to yourself every Sunday night as you try to fall asleep.
Steps Teel recommends to encourage a calmer mind are simple and sensible but not necessarily easy at first. “Start by putting your phone away – for example, during meetings. Remove your phone from beside your bed at night. Don’t even use it as your alarm clock, get another one,” she says. The phone is distracting in a meeting and at night, any light from a backlit screen will disrupt your body’s production of melatonin. “The message your brain takes from light is ‘wake up,’ not ‘it’s time to shut down for the night.’”
We’ve forgotten how to rest, and Teel says there are obvious signs of it. “You may be experiencing one or more of these: fatigue, restlessness, anxiety, short-temperedness, impatience, brain fog or food cravings. Your skin may look puffy, or you may say things like, ‘I feel like I’m about 100 years old.’”
Another way to rest and recharge is, ironically, to do something physical. “Get out of the mind and into the body,” Teel says. Clean out a closet or take your dog for a walk. Without your phone. “You know that satisfied feeling of accomplishment when we finish a project we’ve been immersed in? That’s what we want to shoot for.”
A New Shape Starts Now
Get that summer body in winter months
If you want to look good at the pool next summer, January is the perfect time to start a new workout regimen and get in shape.
Many folks have that goal in mind when they try to start shedding the holiday pounds and make New Year’s resolutions to hit the gym. Unfortunately, a lot of them give up and lose interest when those Valentine’s Day chocolates arrive.
Kevin McBride owns Four Star Fitness with locations on N May and in downtown Oklahoma City. He says they have a simple philosophy: “Summer bodies are made in the winter.”
“Put your sneakers on and walk. Start there. It’s as simple as tying your shoes.”
- Angela Jones
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your desired physique won’t be either,” he says. “Everyone in our gym has a story and a starting point, and most all of them are eager to share and support new members in their journey. Fitness is exactly that – a journey, with ever-changing goals. That makes it exciting to witness the changes our members continue to make.”
The best time to start is now, McBride says. Not yesterday and definitely not tomorrow. Changing routines, habits and your body takes consistency and everyone may get discouraged at some point.
“It’s common to lose motivation as the New Year’s resolution hype fades, but dedication is harder to lose,” he says. “Finding the right goal and a place full of dedication is really the trick. All new people start with good intentions, but a lack of knowledge leads to a lack of immediate results, which leads to frustration, then snowballs into quitting. A key to breaking that cycle is having easy, non-intimidating access to gain the right knowledge.”
McBride says the novice who walks into a gym full of hard, fit bodies should not feel intimidated.
“Everyone was new to the gym at some point,” he says. “We are all built uniquely, but a great body is inside all of us. Don’t compare yourself to others. Even for the genetically blessed, there is no magic pill. It takes hard work, dedication, and it is always worth it. No matter what your age or shape, there is a success story to give you inspiration. Anything is possible if you set a goal, follow a plan and have the right guidance.”
Your Gray Matter Matters
Adventure and experimentation go together like peas and carrots, and are fantastic for your brain. Teel and Jones agree that getting out of your comfort zone is a great idea. “The tricky thing is that as we age, we become more inclined to stick with a routine,” says Teel.
But fighting that urge and branching out will change your brain’s neural pathways for the better. It will make your brain stronger. “Certainty makes the brain feel good. The brain gets lazy. When we do new, scary things that take us out of our comfort zone, there are huge benefits,” she says. So switch some things up. This does not mean that if you’re a golfer you should switch to skydiving. “But you want to engage in moderate challenges that require you to exert effort and experience some discomfort.”
If you usually only read biographies, read a piece of fiction. Say yes to things. Do the opposite of what you might normally do. Swim laps instead of running or take up yoga. Other ways to wake up your brain? Drive home a new way every so often, or play a board game you haven’t tried before.
“Just try some things and get out of your comfort zone. There’s no stronger connection to self than to learn how to do that,” Jones says. Meaning that trying new things boosts your self-esteem.
Adjust Your Attitude
Step as far as you can outside of the natural inclination toward immediate gratification. Rather than setting your sights on massive, sweeping change, set lots of smaller, short-term goals. “Be sure to reward yourself. A good starter goal if you have not been active is to work out two times a week, for half an hour at a time. Do this for two weeks. Then reward yourself with something – a movie, a pedicure, a new workout top – or create a reward jar with slips of paper you can draw out,” Jones says.
The most important thing you can do is approach your plan with a good attitude, says Jones. “You are never too old to make a difference in your health. Don’t let fear of failure stand in your way. We all ride a roller coaster as health seekers – sometimes it’s easier and sometimes it’s harder. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t be harsh when you have a setback. Keep your focus on the reason you are doing what you are doing: you.”
While you’re at it, make time for other people. “We are social and emotional beings, and when we get stressed we often ignore that need,” Teel says. Small touches work just fine. She suggests reaching out to two people every day with a text. “Our social health affects our emotional health, which affects our physical health.”
Healthy change is worth it, and you are worth the effort. As the ever-straightforward Conway puts it, “It’s never too late to start. If you’re breathing, you’ll benefit.”
Your Healthy Habit Cheat Sheet
Forming more rewarding routines
Eat well even if you can’t cook
Maybe you didn’t chop up enough vegetables for the week, or maybe you need a break from cooking. Either way, Whitney McClendon, owner and creative force behind Provision Kitchen in Nichols Hills Plaza, feels your pain, and lucky for you, she’s done all the hard work. She’s researched nutrition, grown produce on a 160-acre organic farm, harvested the vegetables, sourced nutrient-dense organic meats and cooked it all up into color-coded, environmentally friendly packages that are ready for you to pick up whenever you need them.
The food is perfectly portioned and will keep for a few days so you can buy in batches. Things like chicken teriyaki bowls, chicken Bolognese, buffalo burgers, quinoa fried rice and lots of delicious sides will keep your palate engaged and your body healthy.
“We create delicious, craveable, clean foods that will give you lots of energy and make you feel happy. We apply science to food,” says McClendon, who is an epidemiologist. “We even have curbside pickup so you can call ahead and we’ll walk it right out to you.”
Laura Bowen is an artist, mother and avid juicer (fruits and vegetables, not steroids) and has helped to educate Oklahomans about its benefits unofficially and officially for years. In fact, she’s dabbled in the practice for 25 years. “For the last three years, I have really committed to juicing as a way of life,” she says.
She explains that there are several ways to go about it. “Traditional juicers create heat, which means that in minutes the benefits of the juice begin to decrease. Cold pressers, on the other hand, gently press the juice from the fruit or vegetable like an auger and allow the phytonutrients to survive.”
She suggests watching the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead to witness the magic of juicing. It’s a documentary – the story of Joe Cross, who, more than 100 pounds overweight and unable to correct his resulting poor health via traditional medical means, begins to use fruits, vegetables, exercise and the body’s ability to heal itself to become well.
She also recommends starting a juicing regime slowly. Have juice as a meal one day a week, and start with “anything with apple,” she says, because the newbie juice palate won’t love the more savory juices right off the bat.
Create a culture of health
Surround yourself with healthy inspiration. “One healthy thing leads to another,” Bowen asserts. “As you begin to feel better, you will naturally make better choices.”
Fill the fridge with colorful fruits and vegetables. “Food can be medicine or poison,” says Teel. “Eat fewer things from packages and more real food. Cooking and preparing foods daily can be a meditation and a source of joy.”
Find ways to make healthy connections with people. “We spend so much of our lives at work,” Jones says. “So form a connection with your work family and gather three or four colleagues to train for a 5K run with. Or meet up for a spin class instead of going to happy hour after work. Or start a ‘water initiative’ with others and challenge each other to stop drinking soda.”