Ever have one of those days when no matter how much you want to be healthy,
life gets in your way? Even those of us who take the stairs instead of
the elevator and do our best to steer clear of the drive-through can unconsciously
allow a couple of bad habits to creep into our everyday routines. Don’t
let it get you down. Plenty of women have stayed up late tweeting fellow
#Gladiators about Olivia Pope’s antics only to pay for it by feeling
sleep-deprived the next day. Or left that healthful lunch in the office
fridge be-cause the burger-and-fries special in the company cafeteria
smelled so good.
A slipup (or two) doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel or come
up with an elaborate New Year’s health kick. In 2015, all you have
to do is resolve to hit reset. Start by giving yourself credit for the
good moves you’re already making. Kudos if you don’t smoke
and if you eat a healthful breakfast most days, drink lots of water daily
and try to make room for me time now and again. Then, to be an even healthier
you, end those last few lingering unhealthy habits with these simple steps
sure to help you achieve your overall physical, mental and emotional goals.
goal: Eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 60 grams of lean
protein (fish, chicken or lean red meat) and 25 grams of fiber daily is
best for adult women. All that should add up to no more than 2,000 to
2,500 calories per day, depending on your activity level.
if... You see physical signs that your good eating habits have waned. “Besides
hating how you look in your favorite pair of jeans, you notice your hair
or nails are brittle, your skin is drier than normal or your face isn’t
as clear as it typically is,” says Jessica “Chef Jess”
Swift, R.D., a chef and registered dietitian in Washington, D.C., who
is regularly featured on the Food Network.
support. “My girls and I have ‘pick your pantry’ parties at
someone’s house, which is our own healthy-eating support group,”
says Swift. Once or twice a month, everyone brings three nutritious ingredients
they already have in their home. As a group, they decide how to use them
to make a meal together. “Not only does hanging out with your girls
bust stress, it inspires everyone to make better food choices,”
store. Swift says that’s where you’ll find the most nutrient-dense
foods, like fruits and veggies, lean meats, grains and low-fat dairy.
plates. Add a pop of color to your table by only eating off ared plate, which
research has found can act as a stop signal and reduce food intake. “Eat
all meals, even dinner, off a salad plate for appropriate portions,”
says Ian Smith, M.D., medical contributor for Rachael Ray and author of
the best-selling book
Diet (St. Martin’s Press). Can’t find a salad plate at the office?
“Leave one inch of empty space around the perimeter of any plate,”
secret: “I start my day with a smoothie,” says Smith. “One
of my favorites is full of fresh or frozen berries for antioxidants, and
has kale for fiberand soy or low-fat milk. Add a teaspoon of flaxseed
oil for its great omega-3 fatty acids that are heart-healthy.”
goal: Ideally, women should get 30 minutes of physical activity three to five
times per week. And once a week, you should do a high-intensity activity,
like running, swimming or spinning, with resistance exercises to increase
cardiovascular health and lean muscle mass.
if... That jar of almond butter is getting harder to open. Or maybe you make
old-lady moaning noises when you bend to tie your shoes.
buddy. Recruit a pal to join you in taking ballroom dance lessons or a tai chi
class or walking the dog every night after dinner. “This bonding
time can enhance your excitement levels, reduce boredom and push you further
along in your workouts than if working out alone,” says Kenya Moses,
certified personal trainer, professional dancer and founder and president
of Be a Fit Mama, Inc., in San Francisco.
up. Small moments of activityduring a busy day add up. “They create
the same value as sustained workouts,” says Andia Winslow, a New
York City certified fitness professional, sports performance coach and
American Heart Association Go Red for Women ambassador. “Five minutes
here and ten minutes there, even in nontraditional places like the kitchen
or laundry room and with
nontraditional exercise equipment, can be very beneficial.” For
example, if a rolling pin is part of your meal prep, do squats in front
of the counter while rolling out bread or cookie dough by standing with
your feet and knees pointed forward. With your legs about shoulder width
apart, start with the rolling pin at the edge of the counter and as you
lower your butt toward the floor, push the rolling pin away from you.
Repeat five to ten times.
“I maintain focus on my fitness goals by listening exclusively to
Christian music artists like Lecrae, Swoope, Christon Gray and W.L.A.K.
when exercising,” says LaMecia Butler, 31, of Houston. “My
morning workouts give me time with God on a daily basis and allow me to
start the day refreshed and focused.”
secret: Once a week, bookend your workouts. “Do a 20-minute high-intensity
session in the morning and then do a 20-minute moderate-intensity session
after 4 P.M.,” says Smith. This will keep your metabolismboosted
over a longer period of time and increase the amount of calories you burn
throughout the day.
goal: Every woman deserves to enjoy time spent with the people she cares about.
“You should feel supported and motivated by your children, parents
or other individuals in your life, and have people you can talk to and
confide in for your personal growth and sanity,” says Nekeshia Hammond,
Psy.D., a psychologist in Brandon, Florida. You might need to reset if...
You can’t remember what your BFF looks like orthe last time you
and your main squeeze actually squeezed each other.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Schedule dates with your children. Going to a park or movie is fun, but even if you stay at home, make the
time special. Read to the kids while they’re soaking in the tub,
designate a technology-free zone in the house for sharing a pizza or PB&J,
or sing songs together while making dinner.
2. Binge-watch with your BFFs. Invite your closest pals over to stream movies that embody sister-hood.
Some of our faves are
Waiting to Exhale,
The Women of Brewster Place and
The Secret Life of Bees. Watching such strong and moving scenes can inspire you to reconnect and
strengthen your own sisterhood," says Hammond.
3. Do a random act of kindness. Don’t wait for aspecial occasion like a birthday or anniversary
to let your spouse, family, coworker or friends know how much you value
them. “Make a random day special,” says Hammond. Cook a favorite
birthday meal on an ordinary day or do a chore for a day. “Your
loved ones will get warm fuzzies from the special treatment and you’ll
feel good making them feel special,”
4. Play the Body Parts game. After 20 years of marriage, Stephanie Freeman, 45, of Raleigh, North
Carolina, and her husband keep their marriage sizzling with it. Put one
name of a body part (eyes, nose, arms, hands) on a piece of paper. Toss
all the pieces in a bowl and every morning, one spouse draws outone sheet.
“That part of the spouse’s body becomes the focal point for
the day,” says Freeman. During the day write poems about it, send
a text about it and/or call your spouse and say what you want to do to
that body part. “The point of the game is letting your spouse know
that each little part is important and deserves your attention,”
Celeb secret: “My husband works a lot, and his work often involves traveling to
sets and film shoots,” says Tia Mowry-Hardrict, author, entertainer,
mother and happy wife of fellow actor Cory Hardrict. “To maintain
consistency in our relationship we make time for date nights. Not only
do we meet for meals, but we also dress up for each other and act as if
it’s our first date."
INNER LIFE AND SPIRITUALITY
The goal: You’re on good spiritual footing when you can be genuinely happy
for others, says Lisa Nkonoki, a life and family advocacy coach and founder
of Live Your Dreams Life Coaching & Family Advocacy in
Greenwich, Connecticut. “Even if you’re not happy for someone
else but can honestly say so without malice or jealousy, that’s
okay too.”You might need to reset if... You’re feeling lost
or negative. “If you’re not sure you’re moving forward
or unsure how to take that step, it might signal a disconnect in your
inner peace or confidence,” says Nkonoki.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Smoke out negativity. “I have been using dried sage to smudge away negative energy at
least once a week for almost two years,” says Desh Dixon, 32, of
Alexandria, Virginia. “Getting rid of negative energy brings me
peace.” Cleanse your house by putting sage in a heat-resistant container
and lighting it, letting it burn for about 30 seconds. Blow out the flames
and walk around your house with the container, allowing the smoke to waft
around the rooms. “I light the sage and walk into each room chanting,
‘All negative be gone, only positive love and light remain.’
Then I open the windows and doors to make sure negativity can leave,”
2. Get back to basics. Learn about your family’s spiritual history. Find out where your
parents, grandparents and ancestors worshipped and try to visit that place
or learn about it for context. “Exploring the generations might
open the door to family beliefs, customs and so on. And recreating or
revising those customs can connect you to a proud legacy and create traditions
you can pass onto your children and grandchildren,” says Nkonoki.
3. Create a praise circle. Gather women from all faiths who want to share their positive spiritual
connectionsat least once a month (or more if you want). This can have
a social element if you want to host a dinner ordessert where your circle
reads biblical verses or spiritual literature, and then discuss one another’s
point of view.
The goal: You’ve got a good handle on your stress levels if you regularly
havepositive exchanges with coworkers, friends and family members. “When
we’re overwhelmed with stress, we tend to have habits like being
short and rude, lashing out at family, being overly sensitive, or not
communicating what our needs are and then getting upset when those needs
aren’t being fulfilled,” says Tecsia Evans, Ph.D., a clinical
psychologist in Oakland.You might need to reset if... The simplest things
set you off—you’re often on the verge of shouting at a telemarketer
who calls during dinner or the driver who cut you off on the way to work.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Go back to school. Take an art or a ceramics class regularly. Participating in expressive
arts has been shown to be instrumental in reducing stress, says Evans.
2. Be an apprentice. Volunteer in a field you have considered but have little or no experience
in, like floral design or cake decorating. Immersing yourself in a “want
activity” rather than a “must do” task can boost self-esteem
and melt away stress.
3. Crank up the music. Infusing your atmosphere with music has been shown to reduce stress and
anxiety in studies. Try positive anthems for your mind and spirit, like
Pharrell’s “Happy,” Chaka Khan’s “I’m
Every Woman” or the Jackson 5’s “Enjoy Yourself.”
Celeb secret: “I’ve reduced my stress over the past few years by letting
go of the pressure to cook everything I put on the table,” says
Lisa Leslie, former WNBA star and four-time Olympic gold medalist. “There’s
nothing better than the whole family at the dinner table toshare food,
conversation and laughter. But sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow
time to cook everything from scratch. On busy days I pick up a rotisserie
chicken and a few sides so the family has a delicious meal to gather around...even
if I don’t have time to cook it myself.”
The goal: The general rule of thumb for adult women is eight hours of sleep a night.
“However, eight hours isn’t for everyone,” says Vernon
Williams, M.D., a neurologist and director of Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports
Neurology and Pain Medicine in Los Angeles. “It’s quite possible
to function well on less and to also need an hour or two more.”
You might need to reset if... You’re pooped by 10 A.M. or find yourself
head-bobbing your way through the grocery store after work. So how much
sleep would work best for you? The way you feel when you wake up is the
best indicator. Williams suggests logging the amount of sleep you get
and how youfeel every morning for one week.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Scale back on booze. Not only can it lead to waking up with a doozy of a headache the next
day, but downing alcoholic beverages two to three hours before bedtime
may prohibit the brain’s ability to experience restorative sleep.“Even
though alcohol may make you feel drowsy and you might even doze off, you
won’t experience the type of sleep needed to keep your body and
brain healthy and feel refreshed in the morning.”
2. Sleep on purpose. “I’ve found that what is on my mind the last 5 minutesbefore
sleep can have magical or tragic results,” says Elle Swan, 44, of
Las Vegas. So instead of thinking about e-mails she
has to answer or grocery shopping she needs to do, Swan approaches sleep
as though she’s in a movie. “When I lie down, I am the heroine
of my movie, and I see and feel myself having what I want or being where
I want to be. This works wonders to block out the shoulda-woulda-couldas
of the day and keep me from lying awake,” she says.
3. Bathe yourself in early
light. Take a walk or read the morning paper in natural sunlight, suggests Williams.
“Exposure to early morning sunlight, between 7 and 11 A.M
., sets up our brains to release melatonin, the chemical needed to sleep,
at night.” Filtered light through a car window doesn’t count,
but using a lamp with a full spectrum lightbulb on your desk can regulate
sleepy brain chemicals.
4. Have a sleep snack. When eaten as a bedtime snack, protein can help you fall asleep faster.
So instead of going to bed with an empty stomach, Smith suggests snacking
on a handful of almonds, a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt or 1/4 cup roasted
soy nuts about an hour before hitting the sheets.
This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of ESSENCE
Magazine, on newstands now!