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You’ve decided to eat and live more healthfully. Good for you! Changing your lifestyle can be daunting. There is so much information (and misinformation) out there; it can be difficult to know where to begin. It seems like every week, new studies are released that refute old studies. One week eggs are bad; the next, eggs are a health food. Low fat diets prevent heart disease; no wait, fat is good for you! How do you know what’s right and where to begin?

Everyone is different and has different physiological needs. But I can say with certainty: no matter what the study says, stick with whole foods–foods from nature that have not been processed with additives and chemical ingredients. In the words of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Good place to start. Write down everything that you eat during the day and review it. How much of your diet is whole foods? Foods that you cooked yourself, so that you can control the ingredients? Lean Cuisines might contain whole foods, but read the label, and you’ll find a laundry list of chemicals and preservatives. See the distinction?

Start with a pantry cleanse. Throw out products with artificial ingredients and flavors, shortening, margarine, and anything with hydrogenated oils or cottonseed oils. Throw out boxed foods, packaged, and microwave-ready foods made with the aforementioned ingredients, such as crackers, cookies, tv dinners, and anything with artificial sweeteners like aspartame. Avoid products with white flour and refined sugar. Get rid of fat free products (high in sugar and other chemicals) and anything with ingredients you cannot pronounce. Stock good, natural fats like butter, olive oil, sesame oil, and coconut oil. Buy real food: brown rice, lentils, oats, nuts, quinoa, organic meats, veggies, fruit that’s in season, spices, fresh herbs, organic and fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir).

Begin by making one positive change per week in both diet and lifestyle. Seasonal non-starchy vegetables should be the foundation of your diet. Think kale, spinach, chard, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, asparagus, cucumbers, celery, salad greens (NOT iceberg lettuce). During week one, make an effort to eat more vegetables, especially leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale, beet greens, collard greens). Eat a green vegetable every day this week: it could be broccoli, or the leafys. Take 5 minutes to do some deep breathing and relaxation this week.

During week two, add some tea to your life. Try a cup of green tea every day to replace a cup of coffee. Add filtered water, and drink 8 or more glasses every day. Eat fish once this week, preferably salmon or cod, high in omega 3 fatty acids. (Avoid tuna – it is very high in mercury). Get moving! Try a 20 minute walk a couple times this week. Eat two servings of veggies per day this week.

Week three. Take a tour of the health food store and buy one vegetable you don’t recognize. Google it and use it in a recipe. Increase your veggie load to three servings per day. Add some starchy root vegetables such as beets, carrots, or yams. Try some grass fed beef this week. Add some gentle stretching or yoga to your deep breathing and walking routine.

Week four. Take an inventory of your home. Are you using toxic products? Do you have the tv and radio and phone near your bed? Re-do your bedroom to foster restful sleep: use heavy curtains to block light and remove excess clutter. Consider an air purifier. Get in bed by 11pm each night and sleep 8-9 hours.

It’s been a month of integrating healthy patterns into your routine! How many servings of vegetables per day are you up to? Are you having a serving at breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Are you even eating 3 meals a day? (DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST!) Are you eating organic meats, including 1-2 servings of fish per week? Using whole grains and legumes like brown rice, quinoa, oats, lentils, and beans?

Increase your exercise to include activity 30 minutes per day. This could be walking, yoga, gardening, anything you enjoy. Continue with deep breathing. Experiment with herbal teas. Try adding beneficial spices to your dishes: curry powder, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, garlic.

You’re on your way! Of course, consulting with a nutritionist can help you reach your goals and determine what foods are right for you, and in what quantities. Get an individualized plan, and uncover your food allergies and sensitivities, correct hormonal imbalances, and increase energy through diet and natural therapies.

Here are some great book recommendations to assist you on your journey:
Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon
Garden of Eating, by Rachel Albert-Matesz & Don Matesz
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis Balch
Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, By Dr Michael Murray