February is National Heart Month. And Valentine’s Day falls this month too. So it seems fitting to write a post about mindful heart health.
When your ticker shows signs of trouble, it’s not something to ignore. But it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of boring tasteless meals filled with foods you hate. With a little help from your intuition, and my intuitive eating knowledge, we can find a healthy happy balance between a heart healthful meal plan and the food satisfaction you deserve.
1. Boosting fiber intake from foods you enjoy promotes mindful heart health
Okay so if I were to just say, “eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains”, you would roll your eyes at me and ignore everything after that. So without saying that, I’m going to figure out a way to say that. Make sense?
Here’s the deal. Fiber helps the body in a lot of ways. It’s great for keeping you regular, filling you up so you feel satisfied from your meals, works to keep the colon healthy, and it helps your heart by working to lower cholesterol in the body.
So knowing all of that, let’s try to find a way to get more of this stuff into you without you feeling like you’ve been eating cardboard or bran flakes all day.
This is where most dietitians would start giving you numbers. They’d tell you how many grams of fiber to look for in a serving, blah blah blah.
Not me. Numbers are too distracting and will cause you to spiral back into old dieting and diet culture ways pretty quickly. When you eat for the numbers, you lose sight of your intuition that can and will guide you towards variety, balance, and overall enjoyment.
Where to start?
To start, you need to know what you like to eat. I stopped doing food diaries a long time ago, but food preference lists are still amongst my repertoire of tools. Take some time to jot down the fruits and vegetables you like to eat. Do this without judgement, meaning no deciding between is it a fruit or is it a vegetable, is it “healthy” or “unhealthy”…who cares, and we don’t label foods in mindful and intuitive eating. If you like it, write it down. If you feel stuck with this, open up Google or your cookbooks and search fruits, vegetables, side dishes, appetizers, etc. It’s important to think outside the box to get the largest variety of ideas written down.
Now add in the grains. What are grains you ask? Things like rice, pasta, bread, cereal, crackers, etc. Yes it’s true the more chunks and pieces it has, the more fiber it contains, but don’t be fooled by that alone. Food manufacturing companies have gotten really good at “hiding” fiber in their products and you’d be surprised at how much fiber some so-called “white” breads and pastas contain these days. Here’s the only place you’ll ever hear me say it’s okay to look at that label. But you still won’t get a number from me. Simply pick a couple similar products you like and compare their fiber content. If there’s a clear winner, your mind is made up.
It’s about creating options that support your mindful heart health
In the end you should have a list of foods you like to eat. Here’s the kicker. I want you to START your meal planning with these foods. I know I know, normally you start with some “main course” or meat or protein dish. Not anymore. We’re gunning for heart health, so our meals are going to center around the vegetables, fruits, and grains. And if you choose the ones you enjoy eating, you’re gonna love this!
You see, when it comes to fiber, it doesn’t matter if it’s disguised in a casserole or used to top off a fancy hors d’oeuvre…it all counts. We will talk about how to keep the saturated fat and sodium content down in a little bit.
2. Limiting saturated fats don’t have to feel restrictive
Did I say we’d talk about limiting saturated fat? I guess I did. And here we are. This part gets tricky, so I’m kind of glad to be getting it out of the way early. In order to talk about “limiting” something, we are getting really close to a restrictive mindset. We want to be aware of and make good decisions about our fat choices while holding true to our inner wisdom.
Typically, foods high in saturated fat come from animals. Not all of them, but most of them. So it makes sense to focus your attention on those. Take some time to assess your intake of animal foods, especially those containing fat like fattier cuts of meat and higher fat dairy products. How often are you eating these? How much or what portion sizes are you usually eating? Of the higher saturated fat foods that you currently eat, which ones do you feel you can cut back on (either eat smaller portions or eat less often) without feeling limited or restricted?
That is the question you have to answer for yourself. What can you do that won’t leave you feeling restricted?
3. Food can have flavor without all that salt
Here’s where things get fun and creative. If you’ve lived your whole life thinking foods tasted like one or both of two flavors…salt and/or pepper…you’ve got an amazing world just waiting for you.
Feeling well versed in different seasonings? Great! Try using them without the salt. Or cut back by a third the salt you usually use. Salt definitely enhances flavors in food, but when used in excess, you’d be surprised at how much salt masks other flavors in foods too (1).
Remember the goal is cut back. And it’s a process. Unless you have something like heart failure and your doctor has instructed you to be strict with your sodium intake, give yourself some time to work towards this reduction. Doing this gradually will feel less like a restriction, and more like a shift in your taste buds.
And for those daring enough, I have a challenge for you to try. Only do this when you think you’re ready and it won’t trigger any of those lurking restrictive mindset thoughts. Take your salt shaker and give it to a friend with instructions to not give it back to you for 3 weeks.
4. The only thing cycling should be your bicycle when it comes to mindful heart health
While I don’t normally talk about weight, I’m going to very briefly here. But I’m not going to say what you probably think I’m going to say. Because I’m not going to tell you to lose weight. I may get kicked out of my professional association and I may have doctors who don’t like me for saying that. But truth be told, dieting to lose weight does not work. Weight loss for the great majority of people (we’re talking greater than 95% here) doesn’t stick. And that sends their weight cycling up and down. And we know weight cycling causes health problems.
So just don’t do it.
Instead, focus on mindful heart health approaches. Focus on eating foods that help you feel well and give you energy. Work on being physically active doing things you enjoy. Focus on lowering your stress and improving your sleep. These are all things we know improve your health.
5. Use the power of three to your advantage
Human brains look for patterns and have a tendency to enjoy things more when they come in sets of three. (Pardon me while I completely ignore the popular saying that “bad things happen in three’s”, it just doesn’t fit the point I’m trying to make.)
Well, your heart tends to like things in threes too. Omega-3’s that is.
Now before you start hollering at your phone that you don’t like fish and won’t ever eat it, hear me out. Omega-3’s come from a variety of sources, not just fish (2).
If fish is your thing, go ahead and add it to your meal plan, keep some smoked fish on hand for an appetizer or snack, try out some (professionally prepared) sushi, or glaze up some salmon for dinner.
If fish is truly not in the cards, then aim for things like flax seeds (ground is best because the oils containing the Omega-3’s are more bio available), add some chia seeds to your yogurt or smoothie, and a go ahead and dive into the bag of walnuts for that snack.
6. Added sugars aren’t the only way to satisfy your sweet tooth
I have to be honest. And I feel a little like a hypocrite writing this part. I love my sweets. With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, this part may feel hard. If that‘s the case, start somewhere else, anywhere but here. Give yourself permission to put this one on the back burner. Remember, you don’t have to make all these changes at once.
But sweet doesn’t have to come in the form of added sugars. Mother Nature is pretty amazing and has created some sweet sources for us.
- Fruits…pineapple, new kinds of apples like the grapple and pink lady, oranges, kiwi, and bananas are just a few. Try exploring new fruits you’ve not tried before to help satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Stevia is a natural low/no calorie sweetener widely available now.
- Squash and sweet potatoes are on the sweeter side from the vegetable family.
Heart health is not something to mess around with
And while I always want you to follow your doctor’s orders, I hope you were able to find some tidbits of information here to help you make some improvements. If those improvements come in the form of relaxing a little about your nutrition and feeling okay about enjoying food more, then I’ve done my job.
And if you’re feeling like you need a little more guidance on making this happen for you in a non-diet way that feels a little more like freedom and a little less like the end of the world, book a curiosity call with me to chat about whether or not we’d be a good fit to work together. Book your free call below!