Yesterday evening I was in Barnes & Noble shopping with the gift cards I received for Christmas (can't help myself -- I am addicted to books and I couldn't wait any longer to go and get some); there I noticed the large population of books on weight loss, nutrition, and exercise that were crowding the ends of shelves. There were also many books on how to look and feel younger, example title: "Turn Back the Clock," rubbing shoulders with the other diet and exercise manuals.
These books signal the lurking new year approaching at the end of this week, and everyone is starring at his or her waistline regretting what he or she ate over Christmas, or maybe even thinking all the way back to when the overeating started at Thanksgiving. The diet book industry, which is part of the mammoth self-help book industry, makes gajillions of dollars every year, and yet I am here to help save you money. Don't buy a single book out there about how to lose weight or how to look younger, because I will save you $23.95 by telling you what each one will recommend. Every kind of those books is based on five basic tenets of good health, and they are:
1. Get plenty of sleep. Everyone should know by now that sleep deprived people are more prone to weight gain than those who feel rested. Also, getting enough rest is essential to maintaining your youth; you can spot a tired person because they look old and haggard. Generally, those who get at least eight hours a night maintain steadier weights, are less likely to overeat and more likely to get daily exercise, and they have a more positive outlook on life. So get all your zzz's.
2. Drink plenty of water. Go by the standard eight glasses of eight ounces rule. Drinking water helps everything in your physical body function better, and even helps you look better -- skin needs to be hydrated, and this also affects your hair and nail quality. Thus, the chapter in every "look younger book" on drinking water. In this category, the books will also advise keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum (obviously alcohol is hihg in calories and it dehydrates you, odd tradition that we start our New Year with so much of it).
3. Eat plenty of fresh food. Many diet manuals emphasize shopping for food around the outside rim of the grocery store -- that's where you usually find the dairy, deli, meat, and produce sections and you avoid the middle which includes all the boxed, canned and frozen foods which are all generally high in sodium and preservatives. Make sure you get the appropriate servings of fruits and veggies -- they have the necessary fiber, vitamins, and water content to help you lose weight.
4. Get daily exercise. The new food pyramid actually recommends ninety minutes of exercise a day five days a week if you have a sedentary job, as most of us do. But don't freak out. Walking from your car, or up a flight of stairs could count as part of your exercise, as well as yard and housework. Still, you should aim for thirty minutes of exercise a day to help your heart, lungs, and muscles. What you do for exercise should be based on what you like. I like to run -- it clears my head and makes me feel strong and healthy. But I strongly recommend that whatever exercise you do should be something you enjoy; otherwise, you will quit doing it in a week.
5. Relax. Stress and fatigue are probably Americans' numbers one and two reasons for weight gain, aging, and depression (which affects your health negatively in a dozen ways). So, you have to find your own ways of letting go and enjoying life. This can mean taking time to read a book, watch a TV show (preferrably a funny one; laughing is good for all around health), pet your dog or cat (pets are proven to lower stress and people who own pets are reportedly much happier than those who don't), have a beer with a friend, meditate, knit, whatever. Just take the time to not worry so much.
I am, by no means, master of any of these concepts. Still, as the public service announcements used to say: "Knowing is half the battle." Buying one of those gimmicky books will only elaborate on those things which you already know, so instead of buying a book or video, or whatever, we could all be better served by actually trying to follow those ideas. As best as we can while also keeping in mind what's good for us (being stick thin, not good for you; being healthy, good for you) and by being reasonable with goals and expectations. Don't buy the books; that would be feeding an evil machine, a machine that could use a diet.