January is seemingly “National Finally Start Eating Healthy and Exercising Month.” So, for the final installment in my beauty series, we’re talking nutrition and fitness. (Click here for the skincare edition, here for the makeup edition and here for the hair and nail pieces in the series.) To the countless people who made a resolution to eat healthier and get fit in 2015, I say go for it. If making healthy choices part of a new year, new you commitment is what it takes to get started, why not? Most of us occasionally need to hit the reset button. Like all human people, my weight fluctuates for various reasons, including hormones, retaining water or in times of stress and, naturally, because of beignets. I posted to Facebook recently that I’m going to write a memoir entitled, “Don’t Weigh Yourself After Eating Beignets and Other Essential Life Advice.” While I was sort of joking, the faux (or someday real) book title does sum up my philosophy when it comes to eating and staying fit. To me, rather than being about dieting, deprivation and physical torture at the gym, it’s all about balance, perspective, realistic expectations and self-care.

Frankly, eating healthy food and staying fit are the two most important things in your beauty arsenal. Sleep is up there too (Click here to read my post about the importance of sleep and how to get more of it). Nutritious food and exercise keep skin clear and glowing, your heart healthy and your body looking and feeling younger. Who doesn’t want to look a little more youthful? With that in mind, here’s everything that after more than 12 years of being a lifestyle reporter I have found to personally ensure I can always fit into my favorite size 8 jeans — mainly because I hate buying new jeans (it’s so frustrating to find any that are long enough — I know, tall people problems).  Disclaimer: Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime.

 

Move it

As a rather un-athletic and downright clumsy person, exercise classes, such as Zumba, spinning and Crossfit, and team sports, including all of them, are just not my forte. This could easily lead to an expanding waistline and a variety of health issues, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time experimenting with various forms of physical activity in an effort to find the types of movement that don’t result in insult or injury — both for me and for any other poor, nearby soul. So far, I’ve learned that I love walking, riding my bike and yoga (alone in my living room); am able to occasionally enjoy jogging; and am not averse to using free weights.

Walking and riding my bike have become as easy as, well, riding a bike. Living in Uptown offers myriad opportunities to walk or bike to the Fresh Market, Zara’s or Breaux Mart for groceries (my bike has a sweet little basket); enjoy a quick jaunt to the Delachaise or Bouligny Tavern for a couple of glasses of wine or a bite to eat; or simply just stroll or roll through the neighborhood and enjoy the sights and sounds. In fact, years ago, Mark and I made it a requirement that whenever we move to a new neighborhood, it has to be walkable and bikeable. New Orleans is the perfect city for both (provided you take the necessary safety precautions) and we take as much advantage of it as possible, often walking three miles to the French Quarter when the weather is nice or biking to Audubon Park and stopping for lunch on Magazine. The possibilities are endless and it doesn’t feel at all like exercise.

A couple of times per week, I’ll switch it up with a yoga DVD (I love anything by Gaiam, especially Rodney Yee and recommend “Rodney Yee’s A.M. & P.M. Yoga for Beginners” to anyone wanting to try it). When I’m really in the fitness groove, I’ll pull the five- and 10-pound weights out from under the sofa three times per week and bust out a few sets of arm exercises. If I do this while watching my favorite TV shows, it flies by in no time.

Alas, when the weather is cold, rainy or hits the 95 degrees and up mark, I visit the gym for some treadmill or bike time. The Rock My Run app, which offers free high-energy mixes by world-renowned DJs, as well as the TV monitors and books and magazines keep it from being too tedious. Thankfully, I only have to resort to the hamster wheel a few times per month.

There are times when I’m better at my fitness routine than others, but when I slack, I feel tired and crabby, which usually reminds me it’s time to recommit. What I’m saying is that, I feel better when I move a lot and so will you. Also, my favorite time of day is the 30-minute to hour or so walk Mark and I take after dinner most nights. It’s a time to reconnect and we both feel better about the meal we just consumed.  

 

Eat it

Speaking of eating, let’s be honest, most of us know what constitutes healthy food habits. For the February issue of New Orleans Magazine, I wrote about the recently released U.S. News and World Report rankings of the best and worst diets for 2015. The publication worked with a panel of experts to rate each diet based on “short-and long-term weight loss, ease of following, nutrition, safety and performance as a diabetes and heart diet.” At the top of the list were the DASH Diet, TLC Diet, and tying for third the Mayo Clinic Diet, Mediterranean Diet and Weight Watchers. For those who work better with food plans and other guidance, one of these plans might be the best bet. If like me, you prefer a looser outline, here’s what I do to say on track. First, I employ an 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time I eat whole, unprocessed, real food and 20 percent of the time, I eat whatever I want, including but not limited to pizza, tacos, hamburgers and, naturally, beignets.

While variety may very well be the spice of life, when it comes to breakfast, I’m a bit Warholian in my routine. The noted pop artist Andy Warhol is oft quoted as saying, “I used to have the same lunch every day, for 20 years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.” For him, this resulted in the famous Campbell’s Soup Cans series. For me, it just means one less thing to think about and plan on the day-to-day. Fage Greek yogurt with berries, nuts and honey; a boiled egg with whole grain toast (with real butter), seasonal fruit or sliced fresh tomatoes when they are in season; or a bowl of oatmeal are in constant rotation. That’s not to say that once or twice per month I won’t splurge on a pastry or cookie for breakfast. Remember that 80/20 rule.

Lunch is usually a salad with gorgonzola cheese, dried berries, apples or some other fresh fruit, nuts, maybe some chicken and a vinaigrette. When I’m in a hurry, I get a half Apple Pecan Chicken Salad at Wendy’s. The half is more than enough for anyone. Sometimes I’ll have a turkey sandwich with salad or fruit, and often I’ll do sushi, Mexican food or pho with coworkers.

Each night, Mark and I cook something simple, fresh and delicious. A few years ago, he started cooking with me and it has become part of our quality alone time. Usually, we cook turkey burgers, chicken dishes, a variety of fish and some brown rice or whole-wheat pasta dishes with two veggies or a vegetable and a salad. Beef and pork are infrequent guests at our table, but not verboten. Most of our meals take all of 20 to 30 minute from prep to fully cooked and none of it is processed.

An easy way to avoid processed food is to shop only the perimeter of the store, which is almost always where you’ll find the produce, dairy, meat and fish and bakery. Not only does this mean you are getting only whole food, which automatically cuts down on your salt, sugar and fat intake, but also it decreases the time it takes to do the shopping. The only aisles I ever go down are the ones for coffee, rice or pasta and canned tomatoes. The rest is on the perimeter. (Click here for my post on essentials for a well-stocked kitchen.) Also, become a frequent visitor to your local farmer’s market. (Click here to read my piece about farmer’s markets and for loads of links to fresh food resources.)

By simply walking more and eliminating processed food, you’ll see a quick and easy change in the way you feel and look. If you don’t know how to cook, ask a friend who is a great cook to give you lessons; take a fun class; or get one of the many cookbooks on the market for beginners, such as “How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Recipes for Great Food,” by Mark Bittman or “Cooking Light: 5 Ingredient 15 Minute Cookbook.”  I also recommend watching the show “Cook’s Country.”  

By devoting six hours of your week to moving and about four hours (or less) a week to cooking, surely you’ll be able to fit into your favorite jeans for years to come, but most importantly, you’ll feel great, inside and out. Also be sure to drink lots of water. The rule of thumb is eight, 8 ounce glasses per day. But remember, if you drink caffeine or alcohol, add back the same amount of water, because both will dehydrate you. Additionally, you’ll need more H2O when you exercise. I like to start the day with a glass of water and keep it on my desk all day for sipping. Recently, I started using a food and exercise journal. I got the most adorable custom one from May Designs, it helps me stay accountable and be honest about what I’m actually eating and doing each day. The journal includes a water tracker to mark off throughout the day. 

As I mentioned to in my last “Bonne Beauté” post on hair and nail maintenance, taking care of your appearance shouldn’t be about vanity and ego. Rather, it’s about feeling and being healthy, energetic and strong, both inside and out. Self-care is one of the most important aspects of living a good life and living a good life is at the crux of this blog. It’s of course the meaning of the words “bon vivant.” Many of us have a hard time putting ourselves first. For some reason, we grew up believing this is selfish. In fact, self-care is the most generous thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones. It ensures that you will have enough energy and presence to be there when your family and friends need you. If you have trouble with the concept of self-care, click here to read “A Seven-Step Prescription for Self-Love,” by psychologist Deborah Khoshaba.

In the piece, Khoshaba defines self-love as “a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth.” But, its what follows that really hits home for many of us:

 

“Self-love is dynamic; it grows by actions that mature us. When we act in ways that expand self-love in us, we begin to accept much better our weaknesses as well as our strengths, have less need to explain away our short-comings, have compassion for ourselves as human beings struggling to find personal meaning, are more centered in our life purpose and values, and expect living fulfillment through our own efforts.”

 

As a person who prefers reading on the sofa to running on the treadmill and who believes any time is a good time for beignets, Khoshaba’s words are a great motivator to stick with my 80/20 rule, go for that walk and put fresh food in my body. In other words, I don’t have to be and likely can’t be perfect. But, that’s OK. As long as I’m taking care of myself, listening to my body, following my gut and finding joy in simple pleasures — such as the occasional warm, fluffy, sweet beignet — everything else tends to fall into place. Committing to yourself mind, body and spirit is a no fail resolution to leading a good life.