10 Tips for Feeling Great at Any Age!


I often get asked, “Aviva, what supplements do you take because you look amazing!” And “Say what? Shut up! You’re 46?” I’ve even been asked that after an overnight call in the hospital when I hadn’t slept in 30 hours, and in the OR decked in ugly blue scrubs. I’ll admit it. It’s fun and flattering. And it’s true. I do look young and healthy for my age. (I’ve been accused of acting it, too. So be it!)

So what’s the REAL secret?

[Read on for the whole story, or skip to My Top 10 Tips for Eating Well, Feeling, and Looking Great – At Any Age, below].

Is it just good genes? Well, some of it may be, but my family is riddled with health and weight issues just like the next American. I, myself, had frequent colds as a kid, was anemic, and had horrible seasonal allergies.

And it’s not just make-up, either. I liken myself to French women who wear almost none. Not because I am trying to be chic, but because I am not too skilled in the make-up department and prefer less than making myself look silly – which I guarantee you, I would. Also, most cosmetics are rife with ingredients that are toxic to the environment – and to me too, at least the generally affordable ones are  – so I tend to be a minimalist. Unless it’s for a photo shoot or a very special night out, I am usually pretty much au natural with maybe a whiff of mascara.

I am certain that my secret is my diet – and not just what I eat, but how and when. And this is a secret I am happy to tell. Because eating well – really and truly well – is the secret to good health for almost all of us. And if done for long enough, it’s the best beauty tip you’ll ever get!

I became a natural foodie vegetarian at the ripe young age of 15 years. I was away in college becoming utterly hippie, and it was all part of the path – natural medicine, ecologically sound living, natural food.

So from the age of 15 until recently, I literally ate no processed sugar and no processed foods. I never had a soda other than a few ginger ales for nausea in pregnancy (the first soda I had since age 15 was actually in my mid-40s during medical residency). I took no medications. None. Ever. I prepared my meals almost exclusively, often with foods from my own or a local garden or farm. I avoided foods in plastic wrap and drank out of mason jars to avoid plastic bottles. I ate organic whenever possible,  I often made my own bread, almond milk, even mochi, a puffed rice treat I made with sweet rice in an old hand meat grinder I’d converted for vegetarian purposes. I ate all of my foods in as close to a natural state as possible. And I never used junk food substitutes like “Frankensoy” as Dr. Mark Hyman calls processed soy products, or “natural cookies” or “natural sodas.”

I guess you could say I was pretty crunchy. But my allergies went away and I felt great. I eventually had 3 fully vegetarian pregnancies and years of breastfeeding my kids. By the 4th pregnancy I craved meat – so I ate it. Always organic. I always  listen to my body first, ideology later. All of my pregnancies were super healthy, with babies 7 to over 8 pounds, born at home. No problems. And I’ve never had to struggle to stay trim.

How can I be so sure my diet (and of course, the accompanying lifestyle – more on that in future blogs) has anything to do with my healthy looks?

Well, I started medical residency at age 43 and there you find me making a semi-radical departure from the uber-healthy life. Coffee a few times a week to make it through the regular 30 hour shifts ( = no sleep every 4th night for 11 months!).  Or coffee to stay awake with my kids who wanted mom’s attention after one of those shifts. Then began the sugar cravings from fatigue, and of course eating sugar to quiet them and keep on going.  BOING! A vicious cycle and an 8-pound weight gain around the middle! My diet in the hospital during intern year got so bad that one night, after I’d admitted 3 or 4 complicated patients to the hospital, resuscitated another, and then fought off a patient in alcohol detox (I had to get 2 guards to restrain him), I realized I’d missed dinner by hours. Cafeteria closed. I’d long ago run through my stash of almonds that day. Desperate, me, Miss Perfect Health, ate a “nuked burger” I’d bought for a $1.95 in a vending machine. I nuked it in the plastic it was wrapped in. It was that or a Snickers bar, and I’m not sure which would have been healthier.

During that 3 years of overwork, fatigue led to sheer laziness about my nutrition. I developed menstrual cramps during the months I drank more coffee and irregular cycles generally. I had a chronic skin rash under my breasts and my lower back, and got sick several times, including with a kidney infection for which I had to ultimately take antibiotics.

Of course it wasn’t just my nutrition that was compromised – as we will discuss in future articles, stress, sleep, and personal autonomy and confidence are also important to health. And all of these were affected. But nutrition is HUGE. In fact, I am certain that it was my strong foundation of health and my excellent diet when not in the hospital, that gave me the energy that allowed me to sail through medical education in my 40s as a mom of 4 kids.

I’m getting back on-track again post-residency and as I am, I am also recovering that feeling of excellent health. Eating well and in balance has gotten rid of the sugar cravings – and the 8 pound tire around my middle. If I ever have a cup of coffee, it is out of habit and enjoyment, not a “caffeine fiend” in my brain begging me to do it. The inflammation has almost entirely cleared up in only 9 weeks. And in spite of also making a move to a new city, getting 2 kids off to college, and getting ready for a new job, I am energetic.

All of this has caused me to reflect on what “eating well” means, how other busy women can make it work, and just how very important it is.

Here are My Top 10 Tips for Eating Well, Feeling, and Looking Great – At Any Age

1. Eat breakfast every day. Don’t skip or skimp. It has to be healthy and have some protein. Eggs, smoothies with good quality proteins or yogurt, or toast with nut butter if you’re really in a rush, are all good choices. Coffee and a pastry are not breakfast. Ever.

2. Eat well-balanced meals, in moderation. A well-balanced meal has a good quality protein, good quality oil (olive oil is best), lots of veggies, and a small portion of a whole grain. Less is always best when it comes to food. Lower caloric intake is associated with longevity. This is not the same as skipping meals or undereating. It means eating to what the Japanese call Hara hachi bunme, which means eating to 80% full. Make extra dinner so you can take a healthy lunch with you if you work outside of  your home.

4. Snack minimally, and snack well. It is important to allow the body to rest and digest between meals. Large, heavy snacks prevent your body from doing this. So snack only if you are hungry, but do so before you have a blood sugar crash because low blood sugar can wreak havoc on you and make you overeat sugar and fatty snacks to catch up on. A piece of fruit or celery with nut butter, a handful of nuts or seeds (raw or dry roasted), vegetable sticks with hummus, half of an avocado with lemon and a few healthy crackers or veggies sticks are all examples of healthful smart snacks. You’ll keep your weight down this way, too.

5. Eat a plant based-diet. Don’t know what this means? Veggies, veggies, more veggies. Whole grains, beans and legumes. Nuts and seeds. Fruit. Good quality oils. Berries. Plenty of berries. Healthy herbs and spices for seasoning – they’re great for your metabolism, immune system, and even your mood. Eat minimal meat and dairy, if at all. Eat it organic if you do. Need more info on a plant-based diet? See Walter Willett’s Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet or Mark Hyman’s Blood  Sugar Solution.

6. Drink water. That simple. You can add lemon. Have it carbonated. Sometimes herbal tea. But just water. No sweeteners. No fruit juice other than occasionally fresh fruit and veggie juice. No artificial sweetener or sugar subs. No diet sodas. Water. Just water. I have lemon water every day, first thing.

7. Minimal to no caffeine. Green tea and DARK chocolate are the exceptions. They are antioxidant and good for you.

8. Avoid all processed foods. Like the plague. Diabetes and heart disease are modern plagues. Avoid processed foods and you avoid these problems.

9. Eat your last meal/food  of the day by 7 pm. You’ll sleep better and stay trimmer. If you work a late shift and must eat at night, eat light and healthy after 7. This is all part of that rest and digest I mentioned earlier. But it merits its own point.

10. Eat mindfully, with love  and appreciation. Enjoy every bite. Eat slowly. Savor. Be grateful to have food – for real. Not everyone does. Share meals with someone you love or at least like a lot. Prepare your own food. Prepare it artfully and mindfully. Make eating well your meditation and personal commitment. Did I mention it’s good for the planet, too?

Do you have fave health tips? Nutrition questions? Drop ’em in the comments section. Love to hear from you!

Here’s to your health, happiness, inner beauty, and outer shine.

Love,

 

 

 

 

 

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Whitney Smith

hi Aviva! Thank you so much for this post! I really admire your work and your honesty. I'm a night shift nurse and student nurse-midwife, so I totally relate to the affect odd hours and stress have on our dietary choices! All of your suggestions really resonate with me, and I am proud to say that this is how I nourish myself much more often than not. BUT, your suggestion about cutting out caffeine makes my heart race! What would I do without my coffee?! It is sad how close to panicked the thought of cutting it out right now makes me. I am sure I'm not alone when I say that I almost feel as though I need it for studying and staying up all night at work. Do you have any suggestions of how to do this, or how to keep caffeine intake in moderation? I have felt called to say bye-bye to coffee in the past and succeeded, but my schedule has never been this busy. Any suggestions are appreciated! Thank you again for all you do, Whitney

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gauri

hi wow ! Can so relate to this. I also started studying medicine at an older age (27yrs) and in my final (6th) year discovered caffeine! Also having been strict veggie from age 16yrs. And a healthfood nut... Finding myself succumbing to the toasted cheese at the cafeteria... Eventually after two years of sleep deprivation (also doing 27hr + calls every 3-5 days and a young son at home) the survival became a slab of chocolate a call, a good cup of coffee (tried to time before 2pm so I could sleep if I had the opportunity to put my head down) and the occasional paracetamol. I must thank my husband who kept me going on a foundation of fresh fruit salad and home-made muesli with rice milk or yoghurt for breakfast (though eaten in the car), a fresh salad with a superb homemade dressing and rye bread for lunch and a homemade healthy veggie meal every day!! ... and this remains! And then we would settle in to still my fatigued mind and body with a slab of Lindt dark chocolate! Those calls are extremely imposing on your quality of life! And agree agree agree!!!!!! Diet as a means to health! FIrst and best prevention!!! Thanks!

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Danielle

I have tried on many an occassion to pursue a more plant based diet, but I always come back to meat as my protien source. Blant based protiens have proven to give me unbearable digestive issues very much like those I experience with being lactose intollerant. I have tried the enzyme supplements but they were not effective. I feel disheartened that I cannot include these healthy foods in my diet.

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    aviva

    Hi Danielle. I eat meat, too. Sometimes it's just what one needs. We're all different and so are our needs and digestion and metabolism. Sometimes learning how to prepare things differently or trying different seasonings can help; sometimes probiotics help. Sometimes it's just who we are! :)

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Barbara Loomis

Thanks for the great post. I wrote my fave health tips in a couple of posts on digestion. Some are the same as yours. I added don't eat on the run and physical alignment and a few others. http://alignmentmonkey.nurturance.net/2011/digestive-health-part-1

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Krystina

I love these tips, they make 100% sense to me. I cut out caffeine two years ago and recognize that it was a fantastic move and really helped with years of accumulated adrenal burnout and general anxiety. One question--how often do you drink green tea or eat dark chocolate? I'm so down with making them a regular part of my diet, but being so caffeine sensitive as I am now, I'm wondering whether they'll only exacerbate adrenal issues. And to add to the tip on eating mindfully, I think it's also beautiful to eat with intention. When you're cooking a meal for yourself or those you care about, think about your intention and pour that into the food. Before taking a bite, make an intention that the act of eating is to nourish your body, to make it possible to do the things you love doing, anything that resonates with you. I find it's an amazing way of connecting not only with what I'm doing at the present moment, but connecting with where the food came from and where in my life it's going.

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Julie

Hello, You mentioned that we are not suppose to eat after 7. I believe I have low blood sugar. If I dont eat small foods every few hours, I get shakey and get a headache. So I was told to eat my 3 meals a day and to eat every 3-4 hours(inbetween meals) something healthy. Is this something I should cut out? thank you. I am new to this site

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    aviva

    Hi Julie. Thank you for writing. Of course, the info in a blog is somewhat generalized and if you have specific needs, then you absolutely should take care to meet those. And if that means eating later, by all means, you should! Similarly, pregnant and breastfeeding mommas are burning way more calories growing their babies, and may need to eat later - for sure I always did. Low blood sugar, however, can be treated, unless caused by an adrenal or other medical condition, with dietary changes. I do highly recommend Mark Hyman's book for learning how to eat well to normalize your blood glucose levels. And eating every few hours is healthy and appropriate for some people who do better as "grazers" to keep their blood sugar balanced.

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Melisa

Aviva, as a naturopath (in Oz) and mum of three boys, I like to follow and recommend these healthy eating guidelines to family and clients for achieving good health and energy (after all it is important to walk the talk!). However the way your share this information is nurturing and honest, which makes your blogs so enjoyable to read and motivating. Thank you for your words of wisdom and (humour). PS - I have a copy of your Botanical Medicine for Women's Health (for clinical practice) which I wouldn't be without.

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Jill Richardson

Hi Aviva, I'm a writer specializing in sustainable food and I love your stuff. My career pre-writing was working in hospitals and keeping healthy habits in a hospital is a real challenge. Reading your blog post here made me wonder if the reason why so many doctors are blind to good nutrition is because the demands of their own career makes it so difficult for them to eat well. One point I think should be added has to do with omega-3s. Americans now get that omega-3s are good, but they totally miss that what is important is the ratio of omega-3/omega-6. A good ratio is something like 1:3 or 1:4 but Americans eat WAY more omega-6s than we should, so much that there just isn't enough fish in the sea to balance it out with omega-3s. I'd love to hear what you have to say about that. I use some avocado oil in my cooking when I need something that can take a higher temp than olive oil, and I switched from peanut butter to almond butter. I have my own chickens so I get pastured eggs, and I'm as conscious as I can be about my dairy too... that's a bit harder since you can't exactly have a cow in the city. Also, can you say more about why caffeine is a no-no? And is decaf coffee better? I tried giving up coffee and I came to the conclusion that if my health goes down the drain due to coffee, well, so be it. I love coffee so much that I'd rather not live without it.

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    aviva

    Hi Jill, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Awesome work you've been doing -- both professionally and on your own diet. So much better when health care folks walk their own talk-- then we become a living example of what we do, and we also get a better sense of what we are recommending -- including the challenges for folks. You make many good points and I agree with you on the EFAs. I will definitely talk more about the importance of good quality oils and their balance, too, and will do a blog on caffeine! So please stay tuned! Warmly, Aviva

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Laura Matthews

Thank you for the continued inspiration to live healthy a vibrantly! The newest debate with my Dr. Dad is cooking with coconut oil. Because it is a saturated fat he says with fingers crossed as a T "avoid it at all costs!" But I read on the label that these fats are actually good for heart health. What gives? Also, I seem to remember reading somewhere that breast milk is mostly saturated fats and protein; to support brain and nervous system development. So, with this information I am trying to determine what is true? Is coconut oil with its saturated fats a healthy option?

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Barbara

Hi Aviva, Enjoyed this article and suggestions. But I am wondering how you knew the inflammation was almost gone at nine weeks. Did you just feel better or did you do some lab work? Thank you, Barb

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    aviva

    Ah! The rash mostly cleared up after 4 years of it coming and going under stress. And I'd never previously had a skin condition in my LIFE!

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Rachel

To echo Danielle's thoughts, I too feel like my body needs meat. I can't do dairy but I've always had strong cravings for meat, including lean red meat. Have you read Eat Right for Your type? I'm type O and the book claims its important for my blood type to eat meat. Im not saying I buy the philosophy of the book, but have noticed the O blood types in the fam love us some meat! :). I'm also thin and pale and I think I recall reading in your own literature that we can benefit from red meat. A pulled some research on it awhile back and read it's not meat that's unhealthy but processed meats like sausage bacon hot dogs etc.

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Lissa Farrell

HI Aviva, This is great and what I try to prescribe to. I'm curious if you recommend doing cleansing at all including colonics? I have found it helpful but also find it hard to do just because of daily life. Just wondering what your thoughts are on cleansing! Best, Lissa

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    aviva

    Hi Lissa, Thank you! It all depends on the type of cleanse, the intention behind it (ie some people are addicted to cleanses, some think the are are "unclean") and who the person is (ie if they are very deficient types then a cleanse might not be right for them). Sounds like a blog on this is needed! :)

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      Lissa Farrell

      Thanks! A blog would be awesome...it is a broad topic:)

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Rhonwyn Jennings

RE: Working night shift 7p - 7a. I survived this well by eating a healthy sunup meal and another healthy meal at sundown (which was a nice salad). Then whether I worked at night or was up for the daytime, I would only eat a nice organic apple midway between the two meals. It was less confusing to my insides and I did not put on the weight that the others did working nights (they ate gargantuan amounts of casserole -size heavy cheesy-greasy meals twice nightly). I always drank lots of water and never any sodas. The difference in size, health was striking and I was the eldest but healthiest worker. I hope you are able to have a great influence on the feeding habits of the masses and that we are not just "preaching to the choir".

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Heather

Aviva, I was more than a little surprised that you didn't mention what is in my opinion probably the primary "dirty little secret" you and others "who look and feel great at any age" practice ... Regular EXERCISE!! It is so valuable. So many of us (especially in America) are trying to get this nutritional piece of the puzzle perfected and neglecting the complement. Great nutrition is no substitute for the benefits of exercise. In fact, I believe exercise can cover a number of occasional poor food choices (like the microwaved burger you mentioned). Maybe you left it out because of your recent post on dancing...? Heather in Oregon

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Alicia

HI Aviva! I love your tips, I am writing themm down on my "healthy lifestyle" journal (otherwise all the info becomes a bookmark i will never read again) and I just wonder... what happened to tip number 3? :D Hugs!

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    aviva

    Thank you! I love your journal idea! I know whatcha mean. I've got to write things down, too... Number 3 in the video or the blog? Check the written blog....It's in there :)

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      Tarisa

      I'm also not seeing tip #3 in the blog above (didn't notice tilI read down this far!!)

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Caitlin

How to kick the caffeine? With a 6 month old who does not sleep at night and a 3 1/2 year old who is "full on" during the day, I don't know how to keep going without my black tea!

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Ellen Demotses

Aviva, I am in your Herbal Medicine for Women course and have been studying herbalism for the past 2 years. One of my goals is to incorporate herbal medicine as they do in China - in food/diet for wellness. Do you know of any books/programs that might target this? My goal is to help people build their immune system in their everyday eating and avoid illness.

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    aviva

    Hi Ellen. Do you mean western herbs into western diet? Or do you mean books that talk about how to do this with Chinese Herbs? Like Prince Wen Wui's Cook? A new book by Susan Blum talks a good bit about food for reducing inflammation. Adpatogens by Donnie Yance contains a good bit about immune building but not with foods. Medicinal mushrooms are classically immune building and some, like shiitake, can be included in foods...Not exactly sure what you're asking. Sorry... :) Aviva

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Natasha Lock

Hi Aviva, I recently discovered your work + website and am so incredibly grateful I did. Your comment "I always listen to my body first, ideology later" has really struck me as I am struggling with a decision right now. I have been a vegetarian for 11 + years. Interestingly enough, I have also struggled with candida issues (primarily in the form of yeast infections, no other prominent impacts from the candida) for almost just a long. I don't think the two are directly related, though my love of pasta hasn't helped. I contribute my candida issues to my use of acne antibiotics years ago, but I can't be sure. My candida issue (err, chronic yeast infection) has especially flared up in the last 6 months. I am 27 weeks pregnant and I understand that pregnancy and yeast infections can often go hand in hand. As such, I have been following a candida diet (under the guidance of a naturopath) for the last month. This diet is extremely difficult as a vegetarian. My naturopath has gently suggested that I consider introducing some meat + fish, to ensure I am getting the carbs I need to feel full and enough protein. This is a very difficult decision for me. I don't physically feel bad (I just have the yeast infection) so it's difficult to figure out what my body is really telling me. I know you can't tell me what to do but do you have any advice for how to 'listen to my body' in this case? Thank you! Cheers, Nat

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    aviva

    Hi Natasha, Yes I understand this struggle, having been a vegetarian myself for 15 years before starting to eat meat again, which I've not done for 20 years, and have never felt better. The main thing is that even protein rich vegetarian foods tend to have carbs and sugar (i.e. beans are also carb, dairy also sugar) and this makes it very hard to get rid of yeast. Also, if you're anemic at all this makes it harder for your body to fight infection. And I do believe that meat gets the digestive fire going a bit more. The yeast infection is telling you something -- and that may be that your body needs something different than it's getting. I can't answer whether that's meat, but I can say I've seen dozens of patients make the switch and feel a ton better. Check out my friend Alexandra Jamieson's story, too. It might help you. She was a famously public vegan and started eating meat...

    Reply
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