Opinion: Healthy Ways, Happy Days: 10 tips to a healthy life

Nanea Haynes, Guest Writer

Hello, and welcome to the start of a new column in the Seabury Tides: “Healthy Ways Happy Days.” Here, you’ll learn how to create a healthier life with simple, easy-to-follow tips. For this column, I share my top 10 tips for a healthier lifestyle. But before we begin, let me tell you a little about myself:

My name is Nanea Haynes, and I’m a senior at Seabury Hall. My healthy journey started in the fall of my freshmen year, when I noticed the impact that my unhealthy diet had on me. I found myself tired and lethargic; my skin was oily and my hair was brittle; I felt a loss of energy. So, I talked with my mother about this problem, and she recommended that I alter my diet. I decided to give it a try.

In November of my freshman year, I focused on my health, cutting unnatural sugars and grains (which were in the majority of my favorite foods) from my diet. From that day on, my unhealthy, primarily beige diet transformed into a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Sugary cereals were swapped with fruit and yogurt for breakfast, and vegetables dominated my lunch and dinner plates. It was definitely a big change for me, but nonetheless, I felt the results.

Little by little, I’ve noticed changes. My energy levels began soaring, my skin cleared, and I felt much more in tune with my body. I could concentrate for longer periods of time, which helped me tackle assignments in school. As an athlete, my proper nutrition supported me through each workout. I felt like a new person thanks to the changes in my diet. Fast forward three and a half years, and I continue to eat healthily and enjoy the way it has shaped who I am.

Since the day I changed my diet, I’ve been researching nutrition websites, articles, and studies to get a better understanding of food and its effects on us. After grasping all this information, I feel that I’m well equipped to share my advice. So, here it is, the 10 simple steps to begin living a healthy life, whether that be to challenge yourself, have more energy, lose weight, gain muscle, feel better, or whatever other health-related goals you might wish to achieve.

1. Eat your fruits and vegetables
I think this goes without saying, but in order to have a healthy diet, you’ve got to eat your fruits and veggies! A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and can help keep appetite in check. To avoid many future trips to the doctor, try adding more fruits and veggies to your plate.

Fruits and veggies also make you prettier! It can improve your skin, and strengthen hair, nails, and eyesight! And the fiber in these foods tells you when you’re full; it even aids digestion. By adding more fiber into your diet, you can feel more satiated from your food and experience fewer cravings.

I eat fruits and vegetables every day. I love to eat a bowl of berries for dessert at night, and a banana before my workouts. I usually eat salads for lunch, and vegetables take up most of my breakfast and dinner plates.

2. Get enough sleep
With the long lists of commitments that Seabury students all have, it’s fairly easy to work on tasks until the late hours of the night. It might seem worthwhile to pull weekly all-nighters to get all the work done, but trust me, it has ominous effects. Lack of sleep can heighten stress levels and can greatly affect your health. The most common effect is the accumulation of lower belly fat. Most doctors recommend that students get between seven to 10 hours of sleep. If that seems impossible to achieve every night, even a few days a week of more shut-eye will make a difference.

When school work gets in my way and I compromise my sleep, I can feel the negative effects. I’m tired, less enthusiastic, and have trouble concentrating. For these reasons, I try to get on average eight hours of sleep. When I do, I have more energy in the morning, am less stressed, and feel happier. And I’m excited to tackle my workouts every day.

3. Reduce stress
Stress and sleep go hand in hand: lack of sleep causes stress, and stress can cause lack of sleep. But stress can also cause other health problems, like many emotional and physical disorders. It can lead to depression, anxiety, heart attacks, increased anger, feelings of loneliness, obsessive or compulsive behavior, reduced work efficiency or productivity, social withdrawal, and weight gain or loss without diet changes. Needless to say, stress impacts you more than you may think, from everyday thoughts and decisions, to our life-long habits, emotional outbursts, and perception of the world around us. Stress can ruin lives.

I recommend taking deep breaths when feeling stressed, and allowing time for yourself to relax and unwind. That tends to help me.

4. Avoid processed foods
Much like the common phrase, you are what you eat, what you put into your body defines a lot about you. So, why would you want to be fake, processed, and artificial? Likewise, the Harvard Medical School discourages people from eating processed foods because it “reduces a food’s nutritional wealth or adds things, like sodium and sugar that you may prefer to avoid or limit.” In particular, they recommend people limit refined grains, added sugar, sodium, and trans fats.

What should you do instead? Eat whole foods! Not only will they fill you up, they’ll make you feel much better too. Three years ago I gave up refined grains and unnatural sugar and I haven’t looked back since.

5. Exercise
You’ve already learned that exercise can reduce stress, but it also has many other benefits. Exercise can strengthen your body, help you lose fat, gain muscle, or maintain your weight. It also gives you killer endorphins.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends 60 minutes of daily physical activity. So, get active and do what you love! Find your favorite form of physical activity and stick to it!

6. Read labels
One way to understand the food we eat is to read the labels. Whenever I buy packaged food, I always read the ingredients list, and avoid buying products with added sugar, grains, trans fats, and sodium. Reading the labels and ingredients can also help you understand how much of each macronutrient (carbs, protein, fat) you consume, and whether or not that’s a healthy amount.

7. Know your portions
A really helpful tip is to know the right portions to use for each type of food. Nutritionists have set official portion sizes for each category of food, which can easy be accessed on the internet. Use these rules when cooking meals, and use measuring cups to control the amount of each ingredient. And be aware of your portions at restaurants! Unlike the standards set by nutritionists that address the correct serving sizes, restaurants tend to throw nutrition out the window and create food that satisfies our taste buds but overloads our stomachs.

8. Find the healthy foods you love
The best way to stick to your healthy diet is to find the types of healthy foods you love. Once you enjoy the foods you eat, it’s harder to miss the foods you used to eat. I recommend that you try a variety of healthy recipes until you find your favorites.

For the past three years, I haven’t eaten a single slice of pie, slice of cake, or any other traditional dessert. While this may seem like it was an impossible feat, I never felt deprived of my favorite foods. That is because I experimented with different fruits and vegetables until I found my favorites. It makes eating healthy every day all the more enjoyable.

9. Substitutions work
Making healthy substitutions for certain ingredients is one way to improve your diet without even realizing it. Now, you can eat your favorite foods without sacrificing your health. I like to replace grains from traditionally grain-centered meals with healthier, grain-free options so that I can enjoy these foods without sacrificing my health. My substitution staples are almond flour over traditional flour, quinoa over rice, and zucchini ribbons over traditional pasta. These ingredients not only offer a gluten-free option, but taste great too. Try them and judge them for yourself!

10. Eat breakfast
Your mother was right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Studies by the American Dietetic Association have shown that eating a healthier breakfast can significantly help control weight and concentration levels, improve athletic performance, and lower cholesterol levels. An article published in 2013 by Life Science states that skipping breakfast can increase the risk of developing type-2 diabetes and heart diseases, elevate blood sugar levels, cause memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and weight gain. Now, why would someone gain weight after skipping a meal, you might ask. Well, skipping meals tricks your body into thinking it’s starving. The body, acting as a defense system against famine, goes into starvation mode, and begins holding on to the food you eat later and stores it as fat. The metabolism also slows when people skip breakfast, so not only do people gain weight easier, but it is much more difficult to lose weight through exercise.

Please do yourself a favor and eat a healthy, protein rich breakfast. It will help you concentrate, fuel you through workouts, regulate a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of many health problems down the road. I love to include protein and fiber in my breakfasts to keep me feeling full for hours.

So, that’s it! These are my top 10 tips to achieving a healthy body that I use every day. Since I have started focussing on my health, these ten elements of health have proved to help me the most.

If you decide to follow these guidelines, I invite you to share your story with me. I’d love to hear what worked for you, what did not, and your experiences throughout the process. With that said, I hope your journey through health is a fun, positive, and rewarding experience!