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NOLA Girl Gone Green: 10 tips to get started on a healthier lifestyle

Written by  Nicolette Colly
Editor’s Note: Ms. Nicolette Colly is as New Orleans as they come. Born and raised in Gentilly, a graduate of Eleanor McMain High School, Loyola University New Orleans, and Southern University Law Center, Nicolette is currently an Assistant Attorney General at the Louisiana Department of Justice in Baton Rouge and fitness guru. Join Nicolette on her journey of healthier living.

The number one question I’ve gotten since my first article, Meet Nicolette Colly, a NOLA girl gone green’, is “Where do I start?” This is a very tough question to answer because no one diet, plan, or method will work for every person. Where you start is up to you, but you have to want to start.
To figure out where that starting place is for you, take time to look at your family health history; write down any illnesses or diseases in your family so that it becomes real to you. Take a look at your own health history as well. What health challenges have you had? How often are you sick? Again, write it down, make it real.
If you haven’t had your blood pressure taken, cholesterol or blood glucose tested, a dental, eye, or vision exam within the last year, I want you to start here (I discovered that my cholesterol was elevated at the age of 28 only because I requested that particular test). You need to see where you are physically on paper and hear the doctor tell you what state your body is actually in. You may feel ok, but your body could be hiding risk factors. Knowing and facing where you currently are is the very first step.
From that point, there are small changes you can make that can have big, almost immediate results. By setting smaller goals (baby steps), you’re more likely to stick to them and work towards permanent lifestyle changes.

Here are 10 steps that can help you work your way up to living a healthier life:

1. Drink more water, less coffee and soda.

You may be dehydrated and not know it. Many times you may feel hungry, but you are actually thirsty. To achieve this goal, invest in a good, sturdy water bottle and carry it with you. The Institute of Medicine “recommends that women consume a total of 91 ounces (that’s about 2.7 liters) per day – from all food and beverages combined. For men, it’s about 125 ounces a day (or 3.7 liters). Depending on your diet, about 25% of the water you consume comes from your food.”

If drinking water is a challenge for you, start out small. Try to finish a 12-ounce bottle in one day. Do not add flavor enhancers. Instead, add lemon, oranges, or strawberries.

2. No more fast food.

If you’re eating fast food, what are you eating? A cheeseburger, fries, and soda? Pizza? Fried foods? Replace that fast food with a salad (add a topping of grilled chicken). Choose fruit as a side instead of fries. And of course, water instead of soda!

3. Reduce white processed foods.

White rice, white pasta, table salt, flour, grits…the list goes on. If a packaged product is white, you can be certain that it has been processed, bleached, or enriched. The product has been stripped down and modified to get it to its current uniform and consistent state. Opt for brown rice, brown rice pasta, quinoa, corn grits, and sea salt. Love your pasta too much? Try some spaghetti squash, a good alternative to the usual spaghetti, and full of nutrients.

4. Modify your meals when dining out.

Many restaurants use a lot of salt, MSG (monosodium glutamate – flavor enhancer), and gluten (a protein composite that gives food and consumer products their elasticity) in their dishes. Menus do not disclose this information and many times, servers aren’t familiar with what is being offered. A tiny step that pays off big is to eat before you eat. Have some fruit or eat a salad at home. Bypass the bread and soup. A little trick I like to do is order a couple of appetizers instead of a large entrée or split my entrée with a friend.

5. Cook at home.                

This will not only save you tons of money, but a meal prepared at home (if you stay away from the table salt) is often times more healthy than what you can find at a restaurant. Meal plan, write your grocery list, and shop on the weekends. On Sunday, cook and package your lunch for the week. This reduces your chances of making that stop at the fast food joint.

6. Eliminate canned and packaged foods.

Canned and packaged products are usually loaded with salt (table salt as opposed to the more natural sea salt) and preservatives in order to extend their shelf life. Try to work these products out of your fridge and cabinet. Opt for frozen fruits and veggies as opposed to canned. You can also buy fresh and freeze them yourself. This is not only healthier, but less expensive with most fruits and veggies.

7. Reduce or eliminate dairy.

Contrary to what we’ve been taught, dairy is not essential to our diet. I know this is a tough one for some! Start out with eliminating milk; we do not need it. There are many great alternatives to cow’s milk, for example, almond, coconut, or rice milk. In fact, many of us are lactose intolerant and may not even realize it.

8. Reduce animal protein.

This is even tougher than dairy elimination for some, but it’s important to try to reduce your intake of animal products! Many of us have been taught that we have to have animal products in order to get enough protein. Just like dairy, the human body struggles to process animal protein. Both dairy and animal products create an acidic environment in the body. The body in turn pulls calcium from the bones to neutralize this acidic state.

9. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Many of us don’t get nearly the amount of fruits and vegetables we need. Carry fruits with you that travel well, such as bananas, apples, or oranges. When you find yourself hungry, snack on these instead of chips or cookies. A diet filled with greens and other veggies can provide you with more than enough protein and the energy you need to get moving. Can’t eat a ton of veggies? Try smoothies…you’ll still be able to get those important nutrients from the vegetables.

10. Get moving.

If you’re new to exercising, there are innumerable free resources online. You can research different types of exercises and even find free exercise videos. If you spend several hours a day sitting at a computer, get up! If your workplace has stairs, walk them up and down for five minutes at your own pace. Take a brisk walk on your lunch break. The goal is to work towards incorporating physical activity into your current schedule. It must become part of your routine and it must be something you enjoy.

Changing your eating habits and living a healthier life is not easy. It is a real spiritual, emotional, and physical challenge that is personal to you. You have to educate yourself and know what is going on inside your body. Getting into this fitness arena, I've found the apathy surrounding weight, disease, and sickness to be frustrating. People want to talk about it, but don't want to do what needs to be done correct it.
So my answer to “Where to start?” would have to be education. Learn your family health history, take a serious look at your own health history, ask questions at the doctor’s office, and teach yourself about food and the human body.
Lastly, you have to want this like nothing else. Your choices are a matter of life and death.

Follow Nicolette on Twitter and Instagram!

See Nicolette's previous posts:
Meet Colette Cole, 'a NOLA girl gone green'
Last modified on Thursday, 06 March 2014
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