Sunday, August 9, 2009

Taking the 'kaizen' approach to eating healthy

Wikipedia defines kaizen as: 'a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life'. Often this improvement is by making small but regular changes. When I look back over the past ten years, I can see I've taken the 'kaizen' approach to eating healthy (and having a healthy lifestyle overall).

This certainly wasn't intentional. In fact, I operated in exactly the opposite way! I remember a time when I saw an article on television about the health benefits of garlic. So, I started incorporating more garlic into our foods. But instead of making just a small adjustment with garlic, I put it in every meal I prepared, whether it called for it or not! My husband does not do well with garlic (it gives him headaches), and he finally had to voice his complaints when he found entire cloves floating in his vegetable soup one evening.

That is just one example of my 'more is better' attitude when it comes to dietary improvement. So, how does this qualify as a 'kaizen' approach? Well, even though I would throw myself into making radical changes to eating (or exercising), only some of it would really stick. The stuff that 'stuck' were things made me feel better and were sustainable. Garlic in every meal did not make my husband feel better and thus was not sustainable - for either of us. :-)

I'm not sure if it is delusion or optimism, but I always think I've found the magic bullet of health or weight-loss so I throw myself into whatever it is whole-heartedly. I can see so many of the 'small changes' I've incorporated into my diet and lifestyle over the years started out as massive undertakings (check out my post on doing triathlons!).

What I have finally realized is that the most sustainable way to eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle is to make gradual changes - and build on them. Make the changes when you feel ready, when the time is right for you.

If I add up all these little changes I've made in the past ten years, I can see how my diet and lifestyle have become more healthy. Some of these changes were harder than others. In fact, most of them were not that easy for me. But they felt right to do, and I've managed to incorporate them into my everyday life. Now they are second-nature. Here are some of them:
  • Exercise regularly four to five times each week
  • Stop eating foods that list numbers as ingredients (I call them fake foods)
  • Eat foods such as cake, ice cream, cookies, pies, potato chips, french fries, burgers (I could go on for a while here!) only as treats - for me that means only at a free meal
  • Use skim milk in my tea or coffee instead of full fat milk
  • Eat organic fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy whenever possible
  • Eat only free-range eggs
  • Drink at least 8 tall glasses of water every day
  • Grow some of our own vegies (save money on those organics!)
  • Replace wheat-based carbohydrates with more variety such as brown rice, oats and kumara
  • Eat fish at least once a week
  • Eat red meat at dinner only three times a week
  • Make our own ice cream (my, there are some strange ingredients in supermarket ice creams!)
  • Eat nitrate-laden deli meats such as salami, ham or corned beef only rarely
  • Zero consumption of fizzy, soda pop drinks
  • Always read labels (recently I was stunned to find MSG - flavour enhancer 621 - listed in the ingredients of my favourite 'Italian herbs' cottage cheese)
And that's not the end! I know there will be more changes in the future. I get to junctures where I think: I can't do it this way anymore. And then I need to change it.

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