Jayne Marzello RDN, Upstate Programs Manager, at a powerlifting competition in Latham, NY.
When it comes to food, it’s all about balance. Lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats nourish our body and brain. But ice cream, cookies, cakes and chips can nourish our soul, and we need to nourish all parts of ourselves. When I think about entering the new year, I’m reminded of all the pressure I used to feel to become a new person during this time, and the resulting guilt that came with failing on that impossible mission.
Becoming a registered dietitian has taught me to have grace with myself, first through diet, and then in all other aspects of my life. In my very first nutrition course our professor told us there are no bad foods. What a revelation! The truth is food is not good or bad, but nourishes us in different ways to different degrees. Food also brings people together and builds community, which is one of the cornerstones of a fulfilling life.
This is one of the reasons I love working for The Sylvia Center. We teach our students the skills they need to nourish themselves and their communities in a balanced way. Making mac and cheese with whole grain pasta and seasonal vegetables is just one way they learn about balance, and that’s a lesson I think we could all benefit from learning.
So, instead of trying to “become a new person” this January, why not try a more balanced approach? I like to take the time to reflect on the good things in my life. Then I think about the ways I’d like to improve. From there, I write down small incremental steps I can take to work towards that goal. Big steps are where we fall down. Is a drastic change sustainable? Will I stick with that new habit beyond the end of the month? How can I use balance to build myself a healthy, fulfilled life?
My approach is “nutrition by addition”. Instead of counting calories or eliminating foods from your diet, focus on what you can add. Add a fruit or vegetable to every meal or snack. Add a whole grain to a meal where you’d have normally used a refined grain (swap whole grain bread for white, etc). Without much extra effort, you’ll be adding vitamins, protein and fiber to your diet. Over time you’ll become used to looking for healthy swaps and may find that because you’ve added more healthy calories to your day, you naturally eat fewer of the less nourishing foods on your plate.
Start with five minutes a day. Try sitting in a quiet place, and focus all your attention on breathing in and out. Once you’ve worked five minutes into your day, slowly start to increase it. This method doesn’t work for everyone. Instead, you could take a walk and focus on each individual sound you hear, or the feeling in each foot as it takes a step. Meditation is all about being in the present moment; it’s not about clearing your head of all thoughts, as many people think. As with any new routine, don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a day–or even a week. Just pick it right back up when you’re ready. I started meditating in December of 2020, and now I meditate most days for 30 minutes. It’s had a significant impact on my mental health.
Find a movement that you love! I was a powerlifter for 8 years, and while I loved it, eventually I found I no longer looked forward to going to the gym. So I stopped lifting and started doing group fitness classes instead. They appeal to me socially, and the other participants help to motivate me. When this gets old, I’ll acknowledge it and move on. Some fun things I’ve tried over the last few years include dog-walking, dance classes (I’ve tried hip-hop and belly dancing in the last year and loved how hard they both are), yoga (I prefer restorative yoga, but there are so many different kinds–buti, flow, aerial, power), and even in-house dance parties! Set a timer, throw on your favorite playlist and just dance. You won’t believe how great this is for your body because you’re having so much fun. The best part? All of these can be done for free! Don’t let prohibitive costs stop you.
I’ll be honest, I struggle the most with this one–but it works. Our brains tend to focus on the negative so give yourself five minutes to do just the opposite, and write down what you’re grateful for. Try to find five new things each day. Doing it before bed makes for a good night’s sleep, especially if you struggle with intrusive thoughts at night.
There are many things you can add to your day to give back to yourself. Try to make this easy and less stressful by focusing on just one at a time. We are told on a daily basis to do more: get up at 5am, exercise, journal, learn an instrument, read more, eat better, be better etc. The truth is, you are perfect the way you are. Instead, focus on what would make you more fulfilled and do just that, starting with just five minutes per day.
Until next month, be powerful in the kitchen!
Jayne Marzello MBA, RDN, Upstate Programs Manager