Over the weekend, I spent time with my 86 year old grandmother, Bambi. She got that nickname from one of my cousins when he was a child, and it has stuck for 30+ years. Fits her perfectly. She is fading in health so I decided I wanted to sop up as much time with her as I could. It was a sweet time spent with the women of my family, my mom and aunt included, and the women of the small community where my grandmother has lived all of her life. We reflected on the past, dreamed of the future, and laughed at the present moments.
I was struck with the beauty of lives well lived. I heard stories of women who lived in the same home for 93 years and men returning home from war decorated heroes. Stories of marriage and divorce, kids and grandkids, overcoming addictions, working on the farm, the smell of the slaughter house, and the twists and turns life brings along the way. Hearing these stories made me reflect on my own life and how I am living it. Am I living it intentionally? What do I want to be true about my life? What stories do I want to be telling my grandchildren at 93 years old?
One thing I know is that I want to live life to the fullest. I want to have deep love for family and friends and deep compassion for the large community and those in need. I want to travel throughout the world to understand all kinds of people and see all types of creation. I want to taste good food, smell the mountain air, and feel the sand between my toes. I want to experience the fullness of simple moments that bring the greatest joys.
I want to be living this kind of life now and when I am 93 years old.
In order to do this, I have to take care of my health. I need my best energy now, but also for the future. Therefore, I have to make wise decisions today on how I am going to take care of my body in order to be that thriving 93 year old.
My college professor told us that to live a long, thriving life, studies show that you need to eat less and mainly plant-based. I remember thinking, “No way, that is it?!” Over the past 14 years as a dietitian reading study after study on health and nutrition, I can say science does show that yes, "food, not too much, mainly plants" can increase your lifespan. For example, this annual review of public health proves this statement by analyzing various diets effects on overall health and longevity.
How do you eat less and mainly plant foods? Here are 3 eating patterns that help you do that:
1. Stop eating when you stomach is 80% full
How this will increase your lifespan: You will give your body just what it needs for energy. If you give it more than it needs, it will store the extra as fat. If you give it less, you will stay hungry (and decently miserable) and binge on anything you can get your hands on the next time you eat.
At home, serve your food on a small plate, you will eat less.
At a restaurant, put 1/4 of the plate in a to go box before you start to dig in.
Anytime, put your fork down between bites and ask yourself if you are still hungry or just mindlessly eating what is on your plate.
2. Eat one plant-based meal and/or snack a day
How this will increase your lifespan: Studies show that plant-based diets (think Mediterranean, vegan/vegetarian, low-glycemic) are composed of natural foods from God’s good earth. They contain antioxidants, polyphenols, essential fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that protect our bodies from free radical damage that breaks it down leading to a host of diseases (cancer, heart failure, Alzheimers, diabetes). These diets also limit the intake of processed foods, those that come from a factory and land in a box or bag, which contain a hefty amount of sugar, unhealthy fats, and other chemicals no one can pronounce.
For breakfast, drink a smoothie made with plant-based protein powder
For lunch, eat a salad topped with walnuts
For a snack, eat a piece of fruit with a little almond butter
For dinner, eat a Mexican themed bowl of quinoa topped with black beans, salsa, roasted veggies, and guacamole.
3. Eat the smallest meal of the day in the evening
How this will increase your lifespan: For one, it may help you eat less food. Studies have shown that eating a larger, high protein breakfast can lower the hormone ghrelin, which increases your appetite, during the day. Two, you have less time to use or burn the calories you eat at dinner because you will be in bed in a few hours.
I have heard it said and think it is a good mantra: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
My goal is to start eating less. I am going to put my meal on a small plate or leave 1/4 of it uneaten. Either my food will go to waste in the trashcan or my waistline. I’d prefer the former.