WORK HARD, EAT WELL: Principles of Healthy Living from our 98 Year Old Grandma
Do you ever get overwhelmed with all of the "health" information out there? Obesity is rampant and yet "health & wellness" businesses are thriving. Somehow this doesn't add up. I don't know if any of these fad diets actually work long-term, but I DO know a woman who has a sound, sustainable plan for living a long, healthy life.
My husband's grandma, Lorene, is 98 years old, and she lived with us for 1-1/2 years before transitioning to a nursing home. This was a precious time together in general, but the lessons I learned from her about how & why to care for your body have had a lasting impact. I do not claim to be a picture of perfect health, but I do believe I can continue to build good, long-lasting habits by mimicking some of her behaviors. Here are the principle of healthy living I've learned from her:
1) Learn to love your veggies. One of the first times I met her was when my husband and I took her a bag full of his turnips. She was giddy with excitement. Do you know anybody that gets giddy over turnips? I believe that you can learn to love your veggies by committing to find a way that you do like them. If this means baking kale into your lasagna or adding a little bacon to your green beans, do it! The more you eat them, the more acclimated you will get to the flavor, and will eventually learn to love them without the extra goodies. You may even find yourself looking forward to turnip season!
2) Get your exercise. Every day that Grandma lived with us, she would get her exercise. She would walk as fast as she could, back and forth on the deck or in the hallway until she was out of breath and had her heart pumping. At the age of 95 this didn't take long and certainly wasn't painless, but she got it done nonetheless.
3) Eat healthy food, but don't deprive yourself of the occasional treat. Grandma eats her whole grains, veggies, meats, fruits, and milk. However, I've never met anyone that appreciates a good piece of pie more. She enjoys all things in moderation.
4) Know your healthy weight range & keep an eye on it, but DON'T obsess over it. I used to take Grandma to all of her doctor appointments, and they would weigh her. If it was a number that she knew to be in her range, she would nod her head and say, "That's about right." If it was a little high, she'd grimace and say "I better cut back." And then she would. She knows her weight is a good indicator of how well she is taking care of herself, but isn't in the habit of fretting over it daily.
5) Skip the "health foods" and eat simple/basic/real food. When Grandma lived in independent living by the nursing home, I did her grocery shopping for a time. She never once asked for a protein bar, slim fast, or fat-free anything. The grocery list varied, but it always included oatmeal, whole wheat bread, raisins, seasonal fruit, seasonal veggies, milk, eggs, and pantry ingredients for a specific meal. (Meat would come from the farm.) Her meal portions were small - she stretched one big dish to last the week - and she would supplement them with things like apples, bran buds, and cottage cheese. And the occasional cookie.
6) Find something productive to do. Twenty years ago, Grandma raised a garden that makes the square footage of this 28 year-old's look wimpy. She also was involved in about every community & church group she could be in, sewed her own clothes, read books, you name it. I really wish I could have met her as a young woman! Rather than turn on the TV after work, could we get moving to learn something new or give our time to contribute to our community?
So often, we think of health in terms of the number of pounds we want to lose by a certain date. We completely flip our lives upside down trying to achieve this, hating the diet all the while, and eventually go back to old habits. It's a wicked cycle, and one that keeps us constantly focused on ourselves. Grandma doesn't obsess over herself. She methodically does what she has to to maintain good health, but for the most part, goes about her day focused outward on her family, her work, and her community.
There was a summer in college when I had tremendous weight loss success - but I spent that whole summer obsessed over what the scale would say in the morning. Every spare minute was devoted to a workout and I couldn't enjoy my mom's hearty Sunday dinners because I was scared it would set me back. The worst part? At my skinniest, I was the most critical of myself I've ever been. That's a place of self-absorbtion and self-loathing that I hope to never visit again.
Having this amazing lady in our lives has helped ground me by giving me proper perspective of my long-term health. I find myself doing and saying things that I've learned from her. Maybe there are a lot of people seeing big weight loss with a protein shake, but common sense tells me to stick to foods that people ate when this woman was born. I could track every calorie that I consume, but common sense tells me to eat less when the jeans get tighter.
Part of my mission at The Fork in the Road is to not only get myself back to these old-time approaches to health, but to help our community do this as well. When we cut out the dieting and the distractions of technology, there can be immense joy to be found in simply working hard & eating well.