March 3, 2021 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Me and my (non romantic) Partner need to overhaul our diet and exercise habits. Please help make this easy (lol). Difficulty level : body positivity, crohn's, moving, mental health, trauma, pandemic, etc.

Some background:
I'm 30, they're 28. We are financially and platonically tied, we eat all of our meals together, etc. We're both fat. I have never been at a high athletic level, but overall I was only a bit lower than average, despite my weight. Then two or 3 years ago i sustained a bad injury to my ankle, and was bedridden for months. Since then I haven't gotten back to where i used to be. I am currently very weak, cardiovascular and muscle wise. I hate this. I cant hike or swim like I used to. I haven't been tested in 4 or 5 years, but the last time i checked my cholesterol, blood sugar, etc was fine. My blood pressure is checked regularly and is fine.
He had lab work done this week, and is pre-diabetic, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and his ALT and AST are both elevated (waiting to see DR to discuss results). He went from being very physically active (basketball) to almost no physical activity in the span of a year about 4 years ago.

They have Crohn's, a slipped spinal disk, ADHD /Depression, and has been told by their physician that being in public at all is a bad idea due to being immuno-compromised. This adds to the depression, obviously. They are responsible for making dinner most nights. Long , involved recipes and meals are not feasible for mental and physical health reasons. I work more than full time and having to cook on top of that drains me of spoons. I also have adhd and depression. We do like to cook, though! Planning is hard. We both grew up food insecure and use food as a comfort, which is a huge impediment in this process. Since they're house bound, I have to do the shopping.
In addition to chronic and personal issues above, we're also in the middle of an overhaul of our finances and personal lives, as we are planning to move next summer. This is an amazing opportunity we've been given and cannot be put off for various reasons. Oh, and there's a pandemic, which just adds to the mental exhaustion.

What we need
Advice and resources plainly explained or accessible to help us figure out how to eat differently and exercise. Body positivity is a must. Would prefer nothing with weight loss as a goal. We just want to be healthy and strong, and weight is irrelevant. I want to stay far away from gaslighting like "clean eating", "bad foods", fasting, sacrificing, calorie counting, etc. Exercise geared toward fat people is great. Cooking books that have a shopping list would be so good. Easy recipes that don't have a lot of cholesterol would be great. Blogs about fat exercise, etc. Apps that track food or recipes? Cannot stress enough how much our adhd etc will impede our ability to learn information on ways to change. Its hard enough to make changes as a neurotypical person, even harder when I can read an entire book and then the next day forget it existed.

I'm sorry this question is such a mess, We just got the lab results back and I'm stressed and worried about him, and also my brain is goo.
posted by FirstMateKate to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The American Heart Association's "heart healthy" diet, which is closely related to the "Mediterranean" diet, is recommended by doctors for a lot of people trying to eat more healthy food for a variety of reasons. It's also very broadly-supported in the US because so many doctors/hospitals use it with patients, so there are lots of cookbooks available and websites, etc., for "heart healthy" or "Mediterranean" cooking. Here's a link to the AHA's own webstore with several cookbooks. But there are heart-healthy cooking magazines etc. that you can find in the grocery store checkout lane.

There are also various meal delivery services that do "heart healthy" meals, although I haven't tried one so I can't make a rec. But an older relative used one for a while while rehabbing from a heart attack, and too overwhelmed with life stuff/recovery to manage the shopping and menu decisions. It was more expensive, but they did it for a couple months to kickstart the lifestyle changes, and then were more comfortable shopping and cooking from scratch and had a set of meals they knew they liked from learning them from the meal delivery service and had two months of practice with portion sizes and daily mixes of snacks/meals, which made it a lot easier to go forward.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:14 AM on March 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds like a lot to manage. I'd work at making things as easy as possible and setting yourselves up for small successes. I personally found the Tiny Habits book useful, in that it focuses on doing the smallest possible step towards yourself, and then (genuinely!) congratulating yourself. Rather than complicated systems, I'd take three key principles and look for ways to incorporate them into your life:

1) buy and prep food that makes it easier to reduce sugar, processed carbs and snacking that includes vegetables and legumes/whole grains

2) move more in ways that are small, incremental, and pleasant (or at least not unpleasant.)

3) Build simple triggers into your daily life for 1) and 2)

WRT to your specific goals, I would think about what you can prep on the weekend that you enjoy and is healthy to have ready to eat during the week. For me, having tasty salads (or prepped salad fixings) ready to go all week really increases my incentive to eat healthy things instead of snacking, because it's not a mental effort to think about what to do. And by salads, I mean something that includes a grain, or nuts, or protein, or something else that makes it rewarding and satisfying. (On the diet front, I think there's a lot of differing evidence from a lot of sources that all agrees on cutting out added sugars (not fruit) as much as you can, and reducing refined carbs. Starting there should help!)

So the principle would be: when I walk into the kitchen and I'm hungry, I will take the prepped food out of the fridge and put it on the counter.

On the exercise front, I'd again start super small. Is walking outside permitted? (Can you ask if it could be?) If so, I'd do a 10 minute walk each day together. If walking is off the table, I'd do a very gentle 10 minute exercise or dance video.

So the principle would be: when FirstMateKate gets home, we will change to walking shoes and go outside.

In both examples, you don't have to commit to doing the whole thing. If you take out the healthy food, look at it, and really want something else, ok. But you have to do the first tiny step.

If you put on your walking shoes and get to the mailbox and it's really too cold, fine, but put on your shoes and go outside.

Hope this helps - it sounds like you have a lot to handle.
posted by mercredi at 9:22 AM on March 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Rule of thumb: if it's an animal product, it has cholesterol in it.

Instapot bonus feature, it has a timer. I no longer set something on the stove to boil and come back later to find all the water gone.
posted by aniola at 9:30 AM on March 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Unlike upright bicycles, recumbent bicycles have full-size seats.
posted by aniola at 9:32 AM on March 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: whatever changes you choose, I find that the single biggest factor in sticking to it is making it convenient. Identify the little barriers, and eliminate them.

With what you're describing, I'd start small and easy. Walks are great. .

For instance, if you decide on a little evening walk every day upon getting home, as mercredi suggests: then make sure you have comfortable walking shoes and socks, and you keep them by the door or somewhere else accessible and unchanging, along with your jacket or whatever else you need.

Or if you want to drink a lot more water, make sure you have whatever your most palatable water form is easily accessible. (My family drinks a TON more water since we got a Sodastream.)


Don't try a whole overhaul at once.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:32 AM on March 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I also suggest starting with one thing at a time. Two possible starting points.
Get a meal planning app. (Recommendations).
Get a slow cooker from a thrift store, craigslist, an acquaintance. They aren't as versatile as instant pots, but as someone with ADHD, I appreciate their simplicity. There are a ton of slow cooker recipe books, and if your public library uses Overdrive ebooks, you can try them out. I liked Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:11 AM on March 3, 2021

Oh! The Kitchn also has some great meal planning posts.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:16 AM on March 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know you're not a senior but Eldergym Academy has a free trial and a lot of workouts that start at literally every level including chair workouts. They're video based so no one is watching you so they won't know you're the wrong age.

(Edited, sorry, the 'not watching you' has nothing to do with size!)
posted by warriorqueen at 10:45 AM on March 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I tried out a couple of meal kit services during the pandemic, and they were useful in reducing decision-making and expanding my repertoire of plant-centric dishes. I recommend although they're a bit pricey. I have heard good things about Green Chef, Home Chef, and Hello Fresh too.

I hate indoor exercise. I'd rather ride a bicycle to a place that has tasty adult beverages, though that might not be a great idea if one of you has a grumpy liver -- a non-adult beverage or other treat might be a good motivator though. (Some kind of goal or gamification would help.) If you live where your map says you live, then you've got a giant natural exercise track right outside your door.

Can you get vaccinated? Your BMI might qualify you and you won't have to prove it to anyone. That would be a great step in getting you both outdoors more often. Heck, you might even find a place to shoot some hoops.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:11 AM on March 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, and we've found that tossing a little foam football in the backyard is fun exercise if we don't want to go anywhere.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:16 AM on March 3, 2021

Response by poster: thank you all for the help. I was really overwhelmed this morning and didn't know how to handle it. This was great advice! We are going to use a grocery delivery service to take off some stress from my plate, and to help curb impulse buys. The recumbent bike is a great idea, we're looking into that, too. Thank you for the reassurance that any movement is good! He's been having a bad Crohn's flareup all this week, so we're going to be playing fetch in the backyard rather than going for a walk so he can be close to home, but it will help us get used to going outside in the evenings right when I get home from work. Gotta set up habits. We both have experience being vegetarian, so at least once a week we'll be doing meatless, and I'm going to try and get over my dislike for fish so a couple nights a week we can do that. I looked into Joyn, a body positive exercise subscription and I'm really liking it so far. Focused on moving and joy rather than fitness and weight. Much like warriorqueen's suggestion, it also has chair exercises.

I feel much more collected, thank you all so much.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:21 AM on March 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

If you can work in a low-intensity outdoor exercise like walking or cycling into your daily routine, that goes a long way towards improving overall health without being too hard on the joints or unpleasant (and can even be pleasant, once you get used to it). Maybe your partner could walk in quiet areas at less popular times to avoid people, or if outdoors is truly off limits even in quiet areas with a mask then a treadmill or exercise bike (maybe while watching tv/etc) might be a tolerable alternative. If you can exercise together it'll be more fun and help you both stay on track.
posted by randomnity at 11:25 AM on March 3, 2021

I definitely nth short daily walks. Do you have a Nintendo Switch by any chance? If so I would recommend trying Ringfit. It is extremely customizable difficulty wise, and once you get past the first bit you get an increasingly large number of exercises so you can pick the ones that are best for your body and change it up as needed. There is some jogging in place involved but I think you could modify that to be as low impact as you needed. Most importantly, I find it fun enough that I'm motivated to do it- and I HATE exercise classes and videos with a passion.

I think the advice on food above is great; having lots of fresh fruit & cut up veggies (with dips if needed, like hummus) in your fridge might be helpful. If I don't have easy access to simple foods like that I grab for easy food that is less healthy, because I'm often tired and stressed and busy and just don't have the motivation to put effort into making things. Another suggestion is to make large batches of healthy salads that you can store for several days. I really like making a quinoa one that is basically just cooked & cooled quinoa, whatever cut up veg I feel like (usually cucumbers, either cut up snap peas or cooked frozen peas, corn), and dressing that consists of olive oil, a little bit of djon mustard, and vinegar (either apple cider, balsamic, or red wine) mixed together. There are also good recipes for bean salads & broccoli salads out there; the point is having a large batch of something healthy that is easy/ready made when you're tired and need to grab some food!
posted by DTMFA at 11:44 AM on March 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh also soups; there are a ton of good, healthy and vegetable based soups out there! We've recently started making a double batch of soup on the weekend and then eat the leftovers for a couple days during the week for lunches or supper. So far we've done a Swiss Chard soup, a broccoli soup, and a carrot soup; we use non-dairy milks. We are Soup Beginners but I have so far found it pretty easy and enjoyable to make them (and I'm not much of a cook). There are lots of good recipes out there, and Metafilter has some threads about good soups also. Same principle: pretty healthy, easy to make, and can last for multiple days so when you're tired it can just be heated up with some bread or whatever else you want on the side.
posted by DTMFA at 11:53 AM on March 3, 2021

Do a search on "personal chef" or "meal prep" on your Yelp and local Craigslist. If the idea of something straightforward like the Mediterranean Diet or Zone (which is basically "balanced" proportions - pretty close to USDA recs) is appealing to you, it should be pretty easy to find someone already doing that type of meal prep. Some chains and local restaurants/caterers are starting to move pretty aggressively into this space, but you will also find just individuals doing this, usually with some kind of basic food service certification. Many will have a delivery area, some do pickups or meeting points, there are various levels of flexibility out there.

It sounds expensive, but there are a lot of price-range options out there, and especially for people with food anxiety it can be cheaper to do this than to try to handle every single day's meal-plan yourself, just in the extras you're not buying and the stuff you're not getting "just in case" that goes bad in the fridge. Local services are also often better bang-for-buck than national shipped meal prep/ready-to-heat because you're not paying for shipping and the enormous amount of packaging, plus it keeps your cash local.

And you barely have to think about it, aside from maybe a weekly review of the menu. Food is there, heated when desired, dishes are minimal, the time and energy goes to other things. That has a value. And maybe you start with just a few pairs of meals a week to see how it works in your life, maybe those days you eat the prepped meals are to save your time and energy for something else.

There are also services like Freshly, which is one of those national shipped-services with a ton of packaging. We get enough meals from them each week for some of our lunches, just so we do always have a grab-and-go option on busy days.

This way you can limit your grocery runs to maybe breakfast items, beverages, and snacks, and when that's all you're buying it's much easier to visualize the choices you're making, and you can prioritize easy and comparatively healthy food groups since grabbing a snack shouldn't have to be a time-consuming function.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2021

I swear this isn't random but at least for a length of a tv show sit fully on the floor. Use a cushion if it's initially uncomfortable. Splay your legs out, and just keep doing small stretches as you're watching your show. Use whatever you have on hand as support but try stretching from your hips to the side and to the front. I like how it keeps me limber.
posted by cendawanita at 12:36 PM on March 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

So, I have ADHD also. I don't like cooking elaborate meals. I found a very simple approach to food that makes sense and is easy to facilitate. It's actually based on a diet to treat Type 2 diabetes. It's called the Plate Method. For every plate, design it to have:

50% non-starchy vegetables
25% protein (lean is better)
25% starch (complex carbs better, but simple is also ok)

I make spaghetti with "carb nada" noodles (available on the evil Amazon), taco salad, sheet pan dinners, stir fry using this method. It's simple and quick and doesn't require a lot of tinkering.

This way of eating also has the added benefit of being less inflammatory than the standard American diet. Sugars and white foods are yummy but they tend to trigger inflammation which isn't good for Crohn's. I have conditions worsened by inflammation so I try to eat with that in mind.

Speaking of sweets, I've also had success with limiting sweets to either a small vanilla yogurt with a tiny bit of chocolate candy pieces or a glass of whole milk with some chocolate syrup added. I don't believe in ignoring cravings, but rather finding ways to fulfill those cravings that are better for me. Sweet potato chips vs no chips allowed, for example. Hummus vs the giant serving of cheese I was craving. Etc.

Moving is good for you but what we eat tends to have a bigger impact so if you only have the bandwidth for one or the other, working with your food will help more with your stated goals.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:46 PM on March 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Since I've been working from home for the last year and preparing a lot more of my meals than is typical, I've seriously increased the amount of vegetables I eat. (Fruits too, to a lesser extent because I mostly prefer vegetables, but ymmv.)

I always found the serving recommendations confusing because the serving size could vary based on the fruit/vegetable type and because I'm not great at estimating spatially. At some point I searched for the health-based recommendations and found that the WHO recently recommended a minimum of 400g of fruits/vegetables per day (unfortunately potatoes don't count for this). That seemed doable as a goal, particularly because I have an old food scale a former roommate left it behind. So I'm not calorie-counting or otherwise tracking macros or eliminating anything - I cook the vegetables with butter or oil if appropriate, I eat cheese and carbs, etc. I'm just using the food scale to help me try to hit 500g of vegetables/fruits per day (aiming higher to balance the occasional day I fall very short). It is a very non-drastic change.

(Since I'm working from home, I also chop vegetables in preparation while I'm listening to meetings/calls where I'm not on video - I actually find that I pay more attention when I'm doing this than when I'm sitting at my laptop, tempted by the internet. I mention it because of the ADHD mention.)

Separately, I really like the recipes at BudgetBytes. It isn't geared towards healthy eating precisely, but she has a lot of recipes that are healthy. Because the recipes are organized around cooking on a budget, she tends to use meat/cheese more sparingly, which seems like it would work. She also reuses ingredients in a lot of recipes, which can streamline shopping and meal planning. Additionally, she often includes ways to substitute or expand the recipes (e.g., you can use spinach instead of kale or you can add chicken to a vegetable recipe). You can also search the recipes by ingredient (listed at the bottom of the Recipes drop down on the top left of the homepage), which I really appreciate.
posted by Caz721 at 12:56 PM on March 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

My wife has gotten me into the Mindvalley "10X Fitness" online workout program. I was like "anything that'll help you exercise, I'm happy to support", but I'm at this point (Day 43) I'm completely on board.

I think it's a few hundred bucks, and we've spent a few hundred more on some workout gear (weights, elastic straps, and a bench, though you can do most of the exercises without the latter). It provides a whole lot of options for altering difficulty of the workouts, and what you're trying to accomplish so you can adjust for the gear you can get access to, and is really good about setting that up for "wherever you are now". There are some exercises I do with 50 lbs of additional weight and my wife does modified for fractional body weight, or she does on both legs that I do on one leg with additional weight.

And I'm not super sensitive to such things, but I haven't run across fat shaming. If losing weight is your goal, great, they support that, but it's not focused on weight loss.

Part of the notion is instructions for a bunch of different exercises, adjusted for weight and technique such that they take 5 seconds per rep, 12 repetitions to failure (increase the weight 'til you can do 12 with good form, but not 13). On the days when we're supposed to do a circuit of 3 exercises 3 times, I need to take breaks in between so it can take a little while, but it's not an overwhelming about of time to commit.

We do it together, so it's a good "hey, we've gotta get out of bed to..." schedule normalizer, in this time when "let me sleep, I don't have to be on Zoom 'til 10:30" can be a strong force.

I'm sure there are other similar programs. This one is working for us.
posted by straw at 1:17 PM on March 3, 2021

These are some of my favorite recipes in that they aren't really recipes, but are geared for max flexibility. They are full of nutrition, but are by no means diet food:

1) Stir-fry: whatever vegetable(s) + whatever protein (tofu, chickpeas, beef, etc.) - ideally in a wok (but a regular pan will do) first fry the protein, then the vegetables. Serve over rice or noodles. I usually season with just some soy sauce and hot pepper paste.

2) Lazy curry: I buy a few tubs of different curry pastes whenever I go to an Asian Supermarket. Honestly, this is similar to the above, except the protein gets fried up in some oil + curry paste, then I dump in a can of Coconut cream (I guess just coconut milk would be healthier), then I let it simmer a bit, and then eventually add in the veggies (but eggplant should get fried up with the meat).

3) Lazy "Black bean Soup": Fry up some onions, hot peppers if you have them, green peppers (optional), garlic, maybe a dash of cumin, cayenne, and then just dump in a can of beans and simmer. Really not fancy, but I'll serve this over a bed of rice, dollop with some sour creme. I prefer black beans, but have also used black eyed peas.
posted by coffeecat at 1:33 PM on March 3, 2021

I haven't done it, but I wonder if the Whole 30 could work for you all? My friends who have done it haven't been motivated by weight loss. It's a great food re-set as it emphasizes vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, and eggs, and keeps you away from sugar and things highly processed. You don't count calories or have calorie restrictions, and you're not supposed to step on the scale. Apologies if it's still hitting the wrong buttons, but a friend of mine just did it and said he's sleeping through the night for the first time in ages and has so much more energy now to be active.

I do want to give one tip in terms of compulsive eating, eating for emotion, and ADHD: maybe you already do this, but in case not, I think it's important to be really honest with yourself and each other about what foods you're turning to when you're feeling bad and what foods you overeat--and then make an agreement not to have those foods in the house even if the other person loves that food and doesn't have food compulsion around it. There are certain foods I can walk by for ages but then as soon as I have a bad day, I turn to them and overeat. Keeping those foods out of the house is so important for me.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:44 PM on March 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

My advice would be to pick one thing (diet OR exercise) to overhaul first. Trying to do both at once might be overwhelming, especially with everything going on. Once you change your habits with that, you can move on to the other thing you want to overhaul. That might be something to discuss with his doctor - which to focus on, as I know you are concerned about his recent test results.

YouTube has been really helpful for me in terms of finding EASY recipes that can be prepped weekly. Search for "easy meal prep" and you'll find a ton of great ideas. Also - add some of your concerns to your search, like depression, cholesterol, budget/frugal. You can find many videos of what people ACTUALLY cook for on a regular basis - things that are easy, healthy, and not too complicated or fancy.

You sound like a great partner. You both should feel proud that you're taking the first steps in a healthier lifestyle :)
posted by Shadow Boxer at 2:15 PM on March 3, 2021

I'm not sure where you live, what your public health system is like, what kind of health insurance you have or anything about your finances, and as an Australian I'm coming from a position of incredible privilege, but if seeing an exercise therapist is an option I recommend it. In a couple of sessions they can tailor a plan for home exercise that will build strength and flexibility while taking into account other issues like available time or past injuries. The plan will probably revolve around pilates bands because they're low impact, inexpensive, and versatile, so you could also check online (eg YouTube) for low intensity band workout programs.

If you'd like to eat better, then there are foods that seem to give more bang for their buck when it comes to promoting cardiac health and preventing cognitive decline, so you could start with adding those to existing meals. These are leafy greens; nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds; fish, particularly oily fish; berries; olive oil; whole grains; beans, legumes and pulses; lean poultry a couple of times a week; red and orange non-starchy vegetables; and possibly the occasional glass of wine.

Breakfast might be an omelette with lots of veges, or wholegrain toast with avocado, or a bowl of wholegrain cereal or oats. A snack might be some low-fat yoghurt with berries. Lunch might be grilled chicken or salmon with a salad that includes some pulses and a sprinkle of chopped nuts. Next snack might be a small can of baked beans or tuna or some hummus with some wholegrain crackers. Dinner might be a hearty vegetable soup with wholegrain pasta.

If these sound like the whitest foods ever it's because a lot of plans for this style of eating are rooted in Mediterranean diets but there are amazing and delicious options that use these sorts of ingredients in all of the world's cuisines.

You don't have to do this all the time, for every meal to make a difference. Start with a couple of meals a week, or meal prep a lunch for a few days, or have a vegetarian day.

There are also foods that aren't great for your heart or your brain, and over time you can eat these less often and the foods above more often. There aren't any surprises here: butter, margarine and full-fat cheese; fried food; red meat; and pastries, cookies etc. Eliminating these foods probably isn't a realistic goal, and it probably isn't necessary to make a big dent in your health risks.

Throw some healthier frozen meals in the freezer for when you come home, haven't shopped and all that's in the cupboard is a box of brownie mix.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 3:02 PM on March 3, 2021

If you can stand eating the same thing everyday, here's what I do. Breakfast is a Premire Protein shake. They come in multiple flavors and all are pretty good. I buy them at Sam's or Costco because it's so much cheaper than the 4 packs at the store. I keep a couple flavors on hand and rotate them. Lunch is a greek yogurt, chia seeds and Kashi Protein cereal, all mixed together. Dinner is whatever I or my family makes.
posted by kathrynm at 3:37 PM on March 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Try to reward yourself with praise for all the health-promoting things you do, and train yourself out of negative self-talk about things you "should have done better." So you ate a whole package of Oreos...there's another meal coming around pretty soon and you can try again. I even avoid weighing myself more often than once every couple of weeks, because a lower number on the scale turns out not to be a great motivator for me.
posted by wryly at 3:57 PM on March 3, 2021

So many great answers here.

Restricting foods can be a drag.

Consider what foods can stay that are fun.
My friend with Chron's loves dark chocolate

Frozen fruits are nice mixed with (dairy free?) Yogurt and a bit of honey

Plain food can be enjoyed with a chimichurri sauce or a spicy mustard

Oatmeal is so much better with nuts, blueberries, raisins, some honey
posted by jander03 at 6:08 PM on March 3, 2021

« Older Brooms for the 1 percent?   |   Complete beginner's PowerPoint question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.