When it comes to making healthy choices or living a sustainable lifestyle, it's easy to get caught up in the idea that you'll have to change everything in your life to make a real difference. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking can leave you feeling so overwhelmed and intimidated you don't even want to start making any changes at all, even small ones.
That's why I encourage clients to aim for small changes in their lives that will be sustainable over time. These consistent actions have the power to loosen the grip of habits that aren't serving us anymore; I call them healthy evolutions. Since the health of our bodies and the health of our planet are totally interwoven (and because Earth Day is right around the corner!), now is a great time to start a new healthy evolution that will preserve both at the same time. Here are five easy places to start.
1. Stop buying processed foods.
To quote Dr. Frank Lipman, "Sugar is the Devil," and processed foods are loaded with sugar and other undesirable ingredients, oftentimes in foods you wouldn't expect. Even packaged foods that are marketed as "healthy," with words like "natural" on the label, can include strange things in their ingredient list -- so make sure to read labels closely!
Add to the mix that these foods are often packaged in plastic that isn't readily recyclable, and can contain endocrine disrupters. In short, it's clear that these foods aren't good choices for you or the planet. The same goes for bottled beverages, so it's great to cut those out too.
2. Leave the produce bag behind.
The best food choices are the ones closest to nature: fresh, whole fruits and veggies are excellent options because they're full of nutrients to keep you feeling your best. However, when you put these nutritional gems in plastic produce bags, you're harming the health of the planet! Not only are you adding to the eight million metric tons of plastic that enter our oceans every year, but you're also cutting off airflow to your precious goodies! This means the produce will spoil sooner, turning it into waste as well.
3. Buy local produce from small farms, and grow your own!
It's a good idea for both you and the planet to eat food that hasn't been shipped across the country, let alone around the world. Supporting local farms means you're eating more fresh food, and that less fossil fuels were required to transport the food to your doorstep.
Even better is the fact that small farms are much more likely to support biodiversity and traditional farming practices than their giant agribiz counterparts. Of course, the best choice of all is if you can grow some of your own food too. It's like printing money, and you may be surprised by creative ways edibles can fit into your environment even if you don't have a yard for growing them.
4. Clean up your cleaning supplies.
While there are a LOT of nasties in common cleaning supplies, the good news is that there's actually no need to expose yourself or your environment to these harsh cleaners. A few common ingredients like a good, eco-friendly dish soap (and any of these) will clean your home from top to bottom without a drop of toxic chemicals. But make sure to be aware of some common myths about green products, as not all eco-friendly products are equally good for you/the planet. This healthy evolution is so easy it's a great place to start!
5. Walk, bike or carpool whenever possible.
The environmental impact of reducing the miles you rack up in your car is pretty obvious, as are the health benefits of more walking and cycling in your life, but if you have to drive to work don't discount the benefits of carpooling! Use the time to connect with a old friend or make some new ones. You can also reduce the stress of traffic slowdowns if your route has high speed carpool lanes. Finally, your budget will get a break because you'll be spending less in gas and wear and tear on your vehicle.
These five are just ideas to get you rolling. If all five sound like too much, choose one or two, and commit to sticking with it/them for the next 30 days. When this first one or two starts to feel like habit, add in something new. Keep it up over the course of a year, and you'll be one heck of a healthy conservationista!