12 Week Plan for Optimum Health
Peg Doyle, M.Ed., CHHC
I’ve been helping people with diet and lifestyle issues for more than 15 years. You may be
someone who has had the best intentions to eat well and engage in other healthy lifestyle
practices, but life keeps getting in the way.
To be successful in developing lasting healthy habits, you need a plan. I’ve taken the work out
of making a plan and laid it all out for you in a simple program that will get the juices flowing and
will move your plans and intentions out of park and into drive.
You can follow this plan in any order you choose. I promise you that in following it you will be
quite successful in attaining a healthier lifestyle. You will have more energy and look better than
you have for a long time. If you haven’t been eating well, you will be amazed at how much better
you feel when you follow this plan. Don’t accept bloating, gas, headaches, grogginess, body
aches or clogged arteries as your new normal. All of this can be relieved and even reversed
through the power of nutrition and positive lifestyle practices.
Here’s how it works: browse through the 12 weekly actions and decide where you’d like to
begin. Give each weekly goal your full attention so it will become a habit, not just a temporary
experience. If you do this, by the end of the 12 weeks, you will have 12 lasting practices that are
sure to make you a vibrant boomer. You will see how each accomplishment feeds the next, and
good habits build more good habits.
Here we go:
1. Eat your veggies
This is the week when you put a laser beam on your vegetable intake. Dr. Walter Willett, a
renowned nutrition researcher at Harvard School of Public Health, said one study found that 4-5
servings of fruits and vegetables each day gives you the greatest benefit. Eating more than that
doesn’t seem to add any benefit beyond what you get from the 4 to 5 servings. If you’re looking
for ways to manage your weight you can eat even more until you’re feeling full, as vegetables
are very low in calories and high in nutrients. I think the good news here is you don’t have to eat
a ton of them to get great nutritional benefits. Doesn’t that make it more doable for you, even if
you’re not crazy about veggies? I think so.
Here’s the plan: choose the vegetables you really like. Buy fresh and frozen so you have a
good supply at home. Aim to eat 1/2 to 1 cup of vegetables 4 times every day. A big salad at
lunch time could take care of it. Just don’t forget to put some protein in your salad to help
balance the meal. Vegetables can be part of any meal or you can have them for snacks. I often
have my first serving at breakfast.
2 Breakfast Time
Let’s look at breakfast this week. The plan here is to have a good breakfast with no refined
sugar every day of the week. Do you have a tendency to skip breakfast, or eat a sweet roll or
bagel? These foods won’t start your engine. They will set the stage for illnesses like unstable
blood sugar. No skipping breakfast this week. No sugar. Just a good mix of protein, whole grain
and fruit or vegetable. Commit to having a real breakfast every day for the week. Watch your
energy and hunger through the morning. Watch your mood. Play with different foods for your
breakfast. It might even include a vegetable or two. See how a good breakfast helps. Some
examples: whole oats with cinnamon and walnuts; sauteed green vegetables with organic egg;
grapefruit with a bowl of steamed quinoa and greens of your choice.
3. Reading Time
Daily reading. Being a health and nutrition coach and writer, I am reading about nutrition all the
time. Whatever you put your attention will reflect in your behavior. This week I’d like you to read
something every day about healthy eating, or health in general, or aging, or cravings, or
whatever your interest is. It’s easy to find articles on health and wellness. One word of
warning: do not read articles about rapid weight loss and perfect bodies. These are designed to
make you feel like you can never measure up. Find a favorite website, or google a topic, or take
a book out of the library that interests you. Keep reading. Notice what is relevant for you and
read more on the topic. Soon you will be your own nutrition expert. There are MDs I like -
Andrew Weil, Mark Hyman, Christiane Northrup, and other solid health sources like Michael
Pollan, Andrea Beaman, Marc David and Annemarie Colbin. Google them and see what they
have to say that relates to your life.
4. Great grains
Grains might be the biggest missing ingredient in the Standard American Diet. They are also a
source of confusion because many bread items are described as whole wheat, which is not a
whole grain. Grains in conventionally processed foods have been emulsified, purified and
stripped of their nutrients, then shot up with synthetic vitamins and minerals for repackaging.
Avoid these highly processed grains. Real grains haven’t been torn apart, They are robust and
full of nutrients, and they keep you full, just like vegetables. Some examples are brown rice,
whole oats (not instant oats), quinoa, bulghur, amaranth, and barley. Some have gluten. Brown
rice and quinoa are gluten free. Choose the ones you like. Find some easy recipes and cook up
a batch. Replace your bread with portions of whole grains. One slice of whole grain toast in the
morning should be enough bread for the day, at least for this grain-focused week. Get the rest
of them from whole grains.
Do you love the idea of dessert? At least occasionally? I am a P in the Myers Briggs profile, so
I like a little treat sometimes. Choosing a dessert isn’t always a poor decision. If you have
visions of double fudge brownies piled high with whipped cream, that’s not where I’m going.
Some examples: a bowl of berries; a sliced apple or pear with cinnamon and walnuts, baked
until caramelized; a piece of high quality dark chocolate; a ripe fig; or a bowl of warm
When you have dessert over this week , ask yourself if you want one to complete your meal. If
you have been accustomed since childhood to having dessert after your dinner, it may simply be
a habit and not a necessity. But if the answer is yes, you really do want dessert, then choose
one of the above, or some variation of these suggestions, and enjoy it. If the answer is no, have
a cup of herbal tea or leave the table to carry on with your evening. You will discover that
sometimes dessert has been a habit more than a need. This is an important piece of selfdiscovery
when it comes to your eating habits.
Focus this week on modifying desserts by choosing both delicious and healthy with a focus on
opting in or out of having dessert after your meals.
6 Move and stretch
Boomers need to move. Many people I work with first complain of body aches and pains. It’s a
common condition but not an inevitable one. Just watch a child for an hour or so and you will
see how much they move, and they rarely if ever complain of aches and pains. If you have a
dog or cat, you will see they stretch every time they stand up. Humans should too.
Ironically, the older you are, the more often you should be moving, but life often gets in the way.
Desk jobs, driving, sitting at meetings take up a lot of time for adults, and none of these
activities provide opportunities for movement.
You need to find time to move and stretch. Most aches and pains will go away when you eat
well and move often.
Make a plan for this week to move for at least 30 minutes every day. You can do it all at once, or
you can break it up each day if you don’t have a 30 minute block of time. If your daily routine
requires a lot of sitting, make a plan to get up and stretch several times each day.If you have a
condition that doesn’t allow for independent movement, have someone help you with some form
of passive movement and stretching.
7. Commune with nature
Find a way to get yourself outside every day to take in the beauty of Nature. We often think of
spirituality in relation to religion, but communing with Nature is the simplest form of connecting
with something greater than ourselves. Just read the work of Henry David Thoreau, or Robert
Frost, or Mary Oliver to capture the deep meaning that this connection offers.
Dig your hands in the garden if the weather is good. Find an outdoor sanctuary, especially if
you live in a busy city. The land around you may be beautiful too, but if it isn’t, keep your eye on
the ever changing sky. Being outdoors every day gives you a chance to recharge and move
your body in ways you cannot inside a building. In planning this week of communing with
Nature, you might want to be outdoors at the same time of day, or you might want to explore the
outdoors at different times of day. Whatver you choose, be mindful of what you experience
outdoors. Begin by breathing deeply and relax into the sights, smells and sounds around you.
Touch a flower, or a tree, or a stone, as you move through the space. Plan to spend at least 15
minutes each day outdoors during this week. If it’s winter, bundle up. If it’s raining, put your
boots on and splash through puddles. Have fun.
8 Get Fruity
This should be an easy one. The hardest part of this is having a supply on hand. I recommend
buying in season for many reasons. Buying in season increases the likelihood your fruit is local
and fresher than something that’s been shipped from the other side of the world.
Buying in season gives you a nice variety if your climate and fruit production changes over the
course of the year. In New England we have cranberries, apples, pears and dried fruits in
autumn and winter, berries in late spring, and an abundance of choices all summer long. See
what is seasonally available in your community and buy those fruits. Keep a few bags of frozen
fruits in the freezer too. They are great for smoothies and fill-ins when you run out of fresh fruit.
Eating fruit is easy because it is so portable You can tuck an apple in your briefcase or
Three fruits every day for one week should get you in the habit, and remind you of just how
delicious and filling a piece of fruit can be.
9 Take a refined sugar fast
Are you a sugar addict? If so, you are not alone. Sugar is the simplest and fastest way to
access quick energy, and it tastes good. Refined sugar is that white or brown kind of sugar that
comes in a box. It is highly processed and too much of it leads to all sorts of inflammatory
responses in your body. You may not be aware of how much sugar you eat because most of us
don’t dive into the sugar bowl and scoop out spoonfuls of sugar. The sugar bowl is not the
source of most sugar consumption. The real source is any processed food: food that comes in
a box; white bread, cereal, juice, and soda. Sugar is hidden in nearly every packaged food you
To be successfully sugar free this week, you will need to look carefully at any packaged foods
you use to see if there is sugar on the ingredients label. It may be listed as sugar, corn syrup,
cane syrup, high fructose corn syrup or fructose. To successfully complete this week, any food
with more than 2g. per serving of any of these forms of sugar should not be eaten.
Because sugar is so ubiquitous, this week’s challenge may prove difficult. I recommend that
you wait until you have completed your fruit and vegetable weeks before you do your sugar fast.
Eating fruits and vegetables will give you natural forms of sugar that will give you energy and a
flavorful experience without the inflammatory effects of refined sugar. Sweet vegetables like
squash, beets, sauteed onions, and sweet potatoes, along with an abundance of fresh fruit, will
please your palate.
You may find that abstaining from refined sugar will improve your energy and your focus. If
you’ve had an achy body or foggy thinking or fluctuating energy levels, abstaining from sugar
can change all that for the better. Post on my Peg Doyle Wellness and You Facebook page and
tell me how it’s going.
10. Eat at the table
This is a really important one if you want to fall in love with healthy eating. Today many families
and individuals eat on the fly, and not together, due to schedules that give a higher priority to
things other than quality food and dining together. Eating at the table puts you directly in touch
with your food and your immediate social circle. It gives you the opportunity to taste and enjoy
your food, and the space to know when you have had enough.
Put the effort into buying and preparing healthy delicious food every day this week. Now you
might be thinking sitting at the table is too hard, but give it a try and see what happens. Follow
this practice for at least one of your meals. Create a peaceful atmosphere at your table.
Imagine you have a special guest joining you if you normally eat alone. If you have family with
you, light a candle to create a welcoming table. Create a nice atmosphere for yourself.
As you eat, look at and taste your food. Chew it. Enjoy it. There’s no need to rush. A surprising
outcome of this practice is that when you fully focus on the experience of eating you just might
eat a lot less. You may also digest in a completely different way than you do when you eat on
the fly. Take note of all of this to fully appreciate the difference between eating mindfully and
eating on the fly.
11 Express gratitude
This is one of my favorites. A client told me today how her Mom is on a negative jag. Every time
she stops by to visit she feels drained and sorry she went there. This astute woman knows that
an atmosphere of negativity makes it very difficult to appreciate all that is good in a person’s life,
even when it is right in front of them.
The expressing gratitude week is something that will get you out of the messiness of negative
thinking and will give you an amazing burst of energy.
Begin each day with a few moments of reflection on all that you have. It may be your health, or
your loved ones, or a sunny day, or even having a chance to be alive again today. Make a
mental note that you will be doing a gratitude reflection again at the end of the day. That will
keep you more aware of the positive moments you experience throughout the day. Take time in
the evening to remember and give thanks for all the things you were grateful for that occurred
during the day. Include any difficult moments that taught you something, because learning from
difficult experiences can be enormously helpful to our growth. When you catch yourself having a
negative thought, see if you can switch it around to something positive. Lift yourself up.
These gratitude practices are a little like morning and evening prayers, The nature of these
practices is spiritual. When we tap into gratitude, everything gets better.
12. Beans. nuts and seeds
Beans, nuts and seeds have a great number of nutrients and because they are packed with
fiber, they will fill you up and keep you from feeling hungry. If you include beans nuts and seeds
in your diet every day for one week, I predict your meat consumption will drop without your even
Nuts and seeds have good fats in them. All three items require a fair amount of chewing, and
that always slows down the volume you consume.
Mix these foods into any meal. Very often I have nuts or seeds as part of my breakfast, and if
I’m snacking, they will be included. Beans are great in burritos, with rice, in soups and in cold
bean salads. These are really good foods for you and will bring a good balance to your plate.
If beans, nuts and seeds are not foods you typically eat, start slowly, adding one food at a time.
I know someone who feels ill from cashews but is fine with almonds and walnuts. We’re all
different. If you have diverticulosis, you need to be cautious with these foods, and perhaps
avoid seeds altogether. But if you have no digestive or allergy related sensitivities to these
foods, make them a regular part of your plate over this week. If you find you enjoy them,
continue eating them. I make a Tuscan bean soup in the winter that I just love. It’s a great
meatless meal. Three bean salad is refreshing and healthy as a summer dish. Explore ways to
use these great foods.
So there you have it. Twelve weeks of change and improvement in your diet and lifestyle. When
you take one bite of the lifestyle challenge each week you will see how manageable it is. It’s
been my experience that success comes most easily when you take the challenges in little
steps rather than trying to do everything at once. With this plan, you have the control over the
order in which you make the changes.
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