Basic Steps Toward Healthier Living

This is the text of the talk I gave at my kids’ school assembly, to all the parents and kids that were present for the Fall Festival last Friday night.

There are two main approaches or philosophies when it comes to food.

The first, the one we’re most familiar with, is the Subtraction Model:

We make decisions based on what we’re told to remove from our diet:

  • Fat
  • Carbs
  • etc.

The second food Philosophy focuses more on what your food puts into you: vitamins, minerals, good, sustainable energy. An Addition Model.

If your best friend shows up at the door with ice cream and a new game, you want the door to let that person in. If the dog makes a mess on your carpet, you want that same door to open to get the mess out of your house.

Now, out of those two images, if you imagined yourself in both, which one had you moving faster?

 I’m thinking the dog-mess for me, because if she’s really my best friend, she’ll still be there if I don’t open the door right away.

 This was the easiest place for me to start my growing awareness of nutrition and healthy eating.

For me it was cutting gluten and soy,

The result was losing weight and getting rid of my migraines, so you can understand I was motivated.

But it was also hugely stressful because it meant changing the way I ate, and learning a whole new skill set.

You probably don’t want to start at the gluten-and-soy level, but I’m asking you– to consider—cutting three things that will give your entire family a boost in healthy living:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: you’ve probably heard of already, but it’s a sweetener that only your tongue recognizes, and has been proven to increase your appetite. Not a need most of us have.
  • Bad Fats: Hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated, and trans-fats and oils were invented to improve the shelf-life of the products they were added to, increasing the length of time they could sit on a shelf, increasing profitability. What’s been discovered since then is that they have the opposite effect on human life– on the self or otherwise.
  • MSG—Monosodium glutamate has a zillion names in packaging and has been tied to a number of issues including neurological decline, difficulty learning, and metabolic disorders—that would be things like type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.

Depending on what’s on your shelf, that PB&J might need new peanut butter, Jam and bread. But the alternatives are out there, it’s a matter of learning what to look for then building new habits.

There are other things of course, but starting with those three, reading labels and looking for alternative foods where necessary, will give you a basic skill set that will be applicable no matter how deep you go into this new realm of healthier eating.

As you get comfortable with the level you’re on, you can go a little deeper. I’m at the level now where I’m trying to avoid artificial colors—on a label that looks like a color name with a number after it. They’re made from petroleum, and they’re everywhere.

Did you know marshmallows have artificial color in them? And I mean the white ones!  That’s just wrong! I mean, I’ve made a batch of gluten-free graham crackers for that once-a-summer S’more treat, but I’m so not making the marshmallows.  Not yet. Not there.

So did I make my kids skip the s’mores with Papa and Grandma this year?


There’s this lovely little idea called the 85/15 rule.  That is, if you don’t have a health need (like some people do) where you have to eat 100% perfect, 100% of the time, shoot for purposefully “winning” 85% of the time, and then you can get sloppy and quit thinking about the details as long as it’s the exception and not the rule.

So that’s all about getting healthy through subtraction.

If you’d rather focus more on the adding-side of level one, if that’s where you naturally have more energy, you can do that too:

There are three main things you can increase in your kid’s diet that will help him or her during the school day.

These are Water, Protein, and Healthy fats.

Everybody knows water is a good thing, and this goes down clear to the cellular level. Down to the mitochondria, which are the energy-producers for each cell.  Every cell needs water to move and communicate properly, and so being dehydrated can leave you sluggish, and brain-fogged.

Fat and protein can come packaged conveniently together, or separately. Together they work to provide stable, long-lasting energy.

Foods that are easiest to grab are usually low on protein and high in sweeteners, and this leads to a type of birthday-party affect, where everybody is having a grand old time, then crashes after the sugar high—attitudes tanking even in a party’s idyllic environment.

Butter is good. So is full-fat cheese, and nuts. If you’ve got a kid like mine who will eat half the deviled eggs at potluck, try making egg salad with her favorite spices and send it with a spoon.

Of course we all know we should eat more veggies, but I actually consider that a next-level thing, since it usually takes a parent present to make it happen, so save that one for home.

Start with increased water, fat and protein, and you’ll already be making life easier for your kids’ teachers.

And one more thing I have to mention:


On the info card [I created a front-and-back business card that had a Try-to-Add side and a Try-to-Limit side with this talk’s main points] I reproduced a general sleep guidelines chart from the Mayo Clinic’s website.  Naturally, there’s individual variation, but this can be eye-opening when you do the math. What time do you have to be up in order to get to school and work on time?

Count the hours back (and remember to keep breathing, kids) to find when bedtime ought to be.

Remember, you can take baby steps toward healthier living, walking away from the bad, or welcoming more of the good in.  We’re all on a journey, and none of this happens quickly. I hope we’ll be encouragers to one another along the way.

10 thoughts on “Basic Steps Toward Healthier Living

  1. Teena says:

    Very nicely done. I like how you emphasized the progression of starting slow and working your way “deeper” as you want. So often taking on too much change at once is too overwhelming and ends up ending the attempts at healthier habits.

    • Amy Jane says:

      That was the hardest part about putting this talk together (did I say that already?), finding incremental steps. is one of my favorite resources for that, and it was a blog post of hers that got me started on the add-or-subtract theme.

      Wouldn’t have worked without that.

  2. Brooke says:

    I know I need more sleep. I don’t get nearly enough.

    • Amy Jane says:

      Ugh. The whole world does.

      And I’ve been really grumpy and short-fused lately. Totally tied to the “skimming” I’ve been doing from sleep time.

  3. Becky says:

    I like the two options as starting places…adding or subtracting.

  4. Becky says:

    Also, on sleep…Sigh. My kids need 10-12 hours, and I need 9 hours. Which basically means I ought to start my own bedtime routine as soon as they’re down. Which is tough, because I SO enjoy hours of quiet at night.

    • Amy Jane says:

      Surrendering that awake-time takes a level of maturity and foresight that values overall performance higher than focused, specifically-measurable output.

      That maturity is so hard for me to come by.

  5. Amy Jane says:

    And I had to add an aside I picked up on this post (fascinating blog, btw):

    “’Reducing factory food is a better dietary guideline than reducing calorie consumption.’ (Sing it!) That includes factory-made low-fat milk, because, as she correctly points out: ‘Last time I checked, milk coming out of a cow contains fat; it takes a factory to remove it and add it back in in varying percentages.'”

    Milk has such a blanket pass as “healthy” that few consider how processed that stuff in the store really is.

  6. Illoura says:

    Hi Amy, I found you from your comment on The Wannabe Homesteader (about rabbits). My hubby and I just passed the age 50 mark and quit smoking…and started on a low-carb diet (basically Atkins). We lasted 3 weeks and then were low on funds and just bought ‘stuff’ for a long weekend. It was amazing how healthy we felt after only 3 weeks compared to how we felt in going back to the normal (but healthy) diet we were used to. I was working hard to stick to 20% carbs because I LOVE them so, lol, but I was also amazed to discover that I get whole body inflammation from wheat or gluten!
    Low carb is hard for me because not only the cravings of breads, I don’t really like meats much (without some kind of condiment like ketchup or honey-chipotle’ sauce or something along those lines… all totally no good!)
    I just heard recently on morning news (talk) that there is a seratonin receptor thing in wheat that creates/acts like a drug addiction response in the brain. So basically the wheat that Monsanto developed makes you and addict. (No they didn’t say that…) I haven’t looked it up but it’s compelling!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, ideas and experience on changing diets to one more healthy. It’s a huge and intimidating subject and you did good! I also like the idea of the 2-sided biz card!

    • Amy Jane says:

      Welcome, Illoura.

      I’m similar with the meat-disinterest. I only enjoy meat that has some flavor other than the meat. 🙂

      But that’s been another impetus that’s driven me to more-creative home-cooking.

      Main trouble with cooking all my own food, though, is I get an idea of something that “works,” then try to suggest it to someone else. That’s no trouble in itself, but when/if it doesn’t work for someone else I feel responsible. 😛

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *