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Health reporter tries on healthier habits for size

Health reporter tries on healthier habits for size

Picture of Jondi Gumz

When I heard Congressman Sam Farr was teaming up with a local nutrition educator to launch a 30-day health challenge in July, I decided this is something I want to do.

Since adding health as one of my four beats, I did more research on food. I changed what I eat. But exercise – that’s a harder nut to crack for a journalist.

I read “Eat Great, Lose Weight,” by Suzanne Somers. Yes, she’s famous for acting, not nutrition, but I love her breakfast recipe for eggs with red onions and red peppers, which never leaves me hungry.

Then I read “Wheat Belly,” by Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who has found patients got healthier by going wheat-free. I cut way back on bread; my husband was shocked.

I met nutritionist Bruce Fife at the Weston A. Price Foundation conference and bought his book. I use his recipe for lunch: cocoanut oil on cottage cheese, coconut flakes, sliced almonds, fresh-cut pineapple and berries (plus a hard-boiled egg, almonds and half a dark chocolate bar for snacks).

I read about Ancel Keys and his theory that a low-fat diet would protect against heart disease, and newer research indicating that fat does not make you fat but takes longer to digest and thus is more satisfying. Watching “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” by Dr. Robert Lustig, had me reading labels to calculate the teaspoons of sugar in jam and ice cream.

My younger sister told me she lost weight by walking, but with the deadlines I have, I thought: “No can do.”

I’ve tried to keep my weight at 125 pounds, but last year a broken left toe and a fractured right ankle caused me to be more sedentary than usual.

I tucked away the size 4 black Vera Wang slacks I bought in 2009 because I doubted whether I ever would be able to zip them up.

But I didn’t give up entirely.

This spring, I found more tasty and healthy recipes at Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives, a conference presented by the Harvard School of Public Health and Samueli Institute at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif.

At the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Denver, I heard the authors of the book “State of Slim” talk about their research at the National Weight Control Registry and the importance of walking 7,000 steps every day. At a booth, I picked up an inexpensive pedometer.

Back home, I fell short on steps but wasn’t sure the device was accurate.

Then the pedometer broke. Luckily on Mother’s Day, my son bought me a trustworthy pedometer. I began keeping track on my home calendar, reaching 7,000 steps three or four days a week.

The Sam Farr Challenge gave me the motivation to push for 7,000 steps every day.

The challenge had two more rules: Only one bread item per day and no alcohol after 7:30 p.m., with bonus points for not eating after that hour.

I watched the video on bread by nutrition educator Mary Toscan, explaining that carbohydrates turn to sugar the moment they hit your tongue.

My favorite mid-morning snack with coffee was a cranberry-orange-flax muffin, chock full of omega-3 fatty acids. I realized the muffin had 23 grams of carbs, close to 6 teaspoons of sugar. Worse yet, the one muffin constituted two servings. I cut the muffin in half.

The hardest part was eating dinner by 7:30 p.m. On a couple of days, I was writing late stories and didn’t get home until 7:30 p.m. I tried to make amends by eating a big green salad with tomatoes, leftover veggies, walnuts, oil and balsamic vinegar, then walking around the block to get 2,000 steps in. Sometimes my husband joined me.

When my husband and I went on a two-week camping vacation, I adapted Mary’s breakfast recipe: Quarter-cup raw rolled oats, coconut flakes and yogurt, with a third of a banana and a plum cut in pieces. The avocado was my go-to for lunch, along with tomatoes and cheese. I topped 10,000 steps a day by hiking, and I never got hungry.

Back home, it was tough to get up from my desk to walk when I had a deadline, but I did not want to wimp out. One night, I walked up and down stairs at home until I could write on my calendar: 7,000 steps.

The best part was trying on those Vera Wang slacks after 30 days and zipping them right up.

The challenge wasn’t easy – just ask Sam Farr, who succumbed to temptation when there were late meetings in the Capitol. But it can be done.

Farr, 73, decided to stick with the challenge, and so did I. I’ve done 7,000 steps for 51 days in a row.

The positive comments from people who took the challenge tell me Farr and Toscan are onto something.

Could this be a way to actually lower health care costs? Why not give it a try?

Photo by Helgi Halldórsson via Flickr.

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