Are you ready for some football food?
You better be, because tailgate season is here! Whether you head to the stadium to tailgate, watch the game at home, or ignore it altogether, this is the time of year when food comes front and center in grocery store displays, television commercials, and of course, on the bbq grill. Some approach this time with open arms, ready to be reunited with their favorite game foods. Others, though, take a deep breath and get ready for a test of will power. So many fall events are centered around food, and if you’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle, it can be a challenge. So, here is my playbook for the upcoming tailgate season, and coming out as a winner.
Plan Your Offense
Pull out last year’s tape and review your strengths and weaknesses to make a plan. Are there certain foods or drinks that sacked you last year that you need to avoid? Make a plan before arriving at the tailgate party for not only what you will not eat, but what you will. Traditional advice like bringing a veggie tray or other low-calorie dish to share is a great strategy, and online recipe sources have plenty of creative ideas for making healthy eating fun. If eating beforehand curbs your appetite and makes it easier to pass on snacks, have a well-balanced meal before you arrive and bring a bottle of water. But that approach does not work for everyone; if you want to indulge, decide ahead of time how you will manage portions, and why it is important to do so.
Be Strong on Defense
Even with a smart and solid offense, a strong defense protects that plan. Remember that bottle of water? Keep it in your hands to make holding a plate of food a bit of a hassle. If you’re anticipating pressure from friends to sample their prized recipes, practice your responses ahead of time. You might feel silly, but that’s okay. You can care enough about yourself to do something silly. And remember, no one needs an explanation for why you eat what you eat. A simple, “thanks, but I’m good,” is a perfectly perfect response to unwanted offers of food.
Be Ready for an Interception
Of course, there will be times when none of that works, and you get intercepted. It happens, even to the pros. When you realize you screwed up, do what any champion does: figure out where your weakness was, patch it up, and get back into the game a little more alert and aware. Setbacks happen, but winners don’t make the same mistakes often.
I don’t care what the ref says, when you get through a food-central social event without regret, that deserves a victory dance. Celebration is important, because living healthfully should be rewarding and fun, and the more often you are able to connect healthy living with a sense of achievement and reward, the more likely you are to repeat the process. Give yourself every compliment in the book. Don’t hold back! You deserve to feel like an MVP when you do push yourself to the next level.
Have I used enough football analogies to make my point?
You’re in the game whether you want to be or not! When tailgate parties lead into Halloween temptations, then Thanksgiving right around the corner and quickly followed by a parade of holiday sweets, we’ve all stared down a table of food and broken the promises we swore to keep. Well it’s a new season now, and all of the polls predict that you have what it takes to be undefeated.
One morning last week, as I crawled out of my car in the predawn hours to go for a run with a friend, I noticed that the sky seemed to have more stars in it than usual. When my friend trudged up her driveway, also still groggy from sleep, she followed my gaze up to the sky. For a few moments, we stood in stark wonder, truly in awe of the sight before us. A solid five minutes passed before we broke our trance and began running. And the stars followed us.
As we ran, we talked about the stars and the vast enormousness of the universe. We talked about the eclipse and our memories of the solar eclipse we both experienced as children. And the stars followed us.
We talked about the news, and feeling conflicted between wanting to be informed citizens and also wanting to bury our heads in the sand. We talked about our kids’ first week of school, and how aware they were about current events, and part of us hoped they were blissfully absorbed in their own middle-school worlds and unaware of the tornado swirling around them. And, yes, we looked up at the stars, and they were still there, a silent part of our conversation.
Things feel really big right now. Sometimes they feel so big that the pressure of processing our world today is overwhelming. And sometimes, looking at the stars and thinking about what else is out there besides us, it helps to remember that we are but specks. We are a blip on the radar of time. The stars gaze silently down at us as we scurry about, trying to turn this planet of ours into something we can be proud of, and they have seen it before. We are nothing new.
We live in stressful times, as have many before us. We have an advantage though, that our ancestors did not. We know more now than ever about the power of the resilient mind to keep us calm, strong, and present as we tackle some of the biggest issues of our day. It’s as if the stars are patiently waiting for us to look up, feel small, and check our egos at the door.
If the daily barrage of current events is beginning to take it’s toll, take advantage of what we know about how to cope:
Talk About It
We were not meant to shoulder life’s burdens alone, and resilient people know and remember this. Talk with friends who share your viewpoint. Talk with folks who don’t. Talk to people about completely different subjects; laugh, appreciate the lighter side of life. Whether you connect with a friend or a therapist, talking about what you’re experiencing is a key step in relieving stress and moving beyond it.
Take Positive Action
History shows us that resilient people and teams have something in common: they take positive action and become part of the solution to the problems they face. Positive action doesn’t have to solve everything or be something big; it just needs to be a step in the right direction. Stomp around, shake your fists, shout your protest, and then do something positive to change things in your pocket of the world.
Stay Active and Sleep Well
Even the most powerful, robust machines need maintenance. For our bodies, that maintenance is exercise and sleep. Healthy food helps, too! A brisk walk can clear a cluttered mind, and a good sweat-fest can fill you with energy. A good night’s sleep gives your body - and your busy mind - the time it needs to recover and embrace another day. It is worth the time it takes to make these things happen!
In the moments that the noise of the world around us becomes a clashing cymbal, just breathe. In that moment, close your eyes, inhale deeply through your nose, hold that moment, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat four or five times, or until you feel calm again. It may help to internally chant a mantra like, “this too shall pass,” or “I can handle anything.” Both are true!
About thirty minutes later, my friendand I arrived back at her driveway. The sun was beginning to dim the brilliance of the stars, and we commented that we had been lucky to see the most dramatic part of their show. I walked to my car to drive home, and my radio came to life with a news update. I turned it off. I looked up at the sky. I couldn’t really see the stars anymore, but I knew they were there, watching us. And waiting.
Sharpen your pencils and shake the dust off of the backpacks that were tossed in the back of the closet back in May...the first day of school is here! Whether you have kids in school or not, the back-to-school energy signals the beginning of a new chapter, the opportunity to make a fresh start, and a time to transition into new habits. To be honest, things at my house get pretty casual during the summer, so each year when we begin a new school year I announce to my family that we will no longer be eating our meals in front of the television or running through the grocery store every other day to pick up something quick for dinner. It’s time to get organized!
But even though I am a health and wellness professional and love to eat healthy food, asking me for advice on how to get picky children to eat vegetables is a waste of time; mine seem to live on pizza, grilled cheese, cereal, and fruit. I don’t want it to be that way, though. Food affects the way our brains function, and our ability to focus, sustain attention, and make good decisions is linked in part to how we fuel our brains with food. I am not going to be much help when my kids get to more advanced levels of math homework, so I really need them to be as prepared to learn as possible. I do my best to equip them with a breakfast and lunch that will help, not hinder, their school day.
After all, what kids eat now affects brain function beyond their school years. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report that a poor diet has been linked directly to heart attack and stroke, as well as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inflammation, all of which can have a negative impact on brain function and performance.
So, no pressure, mom. It’s just the entire fate of your child’s intellect and future health resting in that little lunch sack. But that’s okay. We’ve got this. Giving our kids a nutritional boost is all about making sure their meals contains the A-B-Cs.
A = All-Natural. If our goal is to fuel our kids’ brains with nourishment, we should provide them with real food! Wholesome eating has become much more convenient with the availability of healthier versions of foods that appeal to kids. For example, some packaged applesauce or yogurt contains added sugar, but a no-sugar-added variety is also available and a healthier choice. Most snack foods like fig bars, crackers, and fruit bars are offered in versions that are just as convenient but with less sugar. When you need something quick to toss in a lunch bag, check the list of ingredients and look for “added sugar” on the nutrition facts label. Higher quality brands can be more expensive, so I skimp on other things so I can get better food.
B = Balanced. When advice rolls around that we should be feeding our children as they do in France, I joke that my children are practically dual citizens: most of their meals consist of bread, fruit, and cheese! It’s not an altogether bad combination, since the most satisfying and nourishing meals are those which contain a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Protein and fat can come in the form of lean meats, low-fat cheese, eggs, hummus, and yogurt. Nuts are also a great source of protein and fat, but usually not permitted in schools due to common allergies. Whole grain starches like bread, rice and crackers are commonly considered to be our obvious choices for carbs, but fruit and vegetables are also carbohydrates. We need a little bit of each to have a balanced meal.
C = Colorful. If you look in your lunchbox and see a lot of beige, liven things up with color. Sometimes it is fun to have a goal of eating each color of the rainbow during the day (popsicles do not count) or aiming for five servings of fruits or vegetables. There are so many creative ways to prepare vegetables that some people’s children really enjoy. Not mine, but we’ll get there. For now, I’m thrilled to buy as many berries as are in season!
Of course, the foundation of these healthy meals is on the habits we have for meal times. Food is a brain and energy booster, but only when portions are appropriate, hunger signals are respected, and it is not used as a reward or incentive.
I hope you have a great start to the school year, whether you are raising children or watching the school buses roll by. I’ve made my family announcement, and I’m sure everyone at my house will be super excited to get back on track. This year, we will all race to the head of the class when you remember our A-B-Cs.
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!