Many think of summer as a time to slim down and be more active, but tending to your health is a year-round job. Why not think of summer, then, as the starting point for year-round health awareness? James Beckerman, M.D., a cardiologist with Providence Heart and Vascular Institute, looks forward to summertime just like everyone else, but he makes it a point to practice healthy behaviors all 12 months of the year. Here you’ll find some of his food for thought – much of which is appropriate for all seasons.
If you buy it, you will eat it
Going out for gelato, ice cream or Italian ice on a summer evening can be a delightful way to end your day. But continuing your love affair with the stuff at home should be met with caution. “If you fill your fridge with ice cream, someone will eat it,” says Dr. Beckerman, who keeps his house stocked with fresh fruit for dessert. “I think starting with the decisions you make shopping is one of the best ways to facilitate healthier decisions down the line.”
Put some fresh in your fridge
With the warmer months come farmers markets. “Choosing fresh, local produce is a wonderful way to role model for your children,” says Dr. Beckerman. You-pick farms and orchards also offer an abundance of fresh fruit that’s ripe for the picking – “a great way to incorporate a healthy little road trip” with your family, he says.
Give your sofa a rest
For Dr. Beckerman, the presence of sunshine isn’t a special invitation to get outside – it’s something he and his family do year-round, no matter the weather. They love to run, bike and take road trips to the coast and mountains. He does appreciate the extra daylight that extends the opportunity to play outside with his sons, before or after dinner. With practice, physical activity can become a regular and healthy part of your day, too.
Don’t punish yourself
Dr. Beckerman’s childhood summers were certainly juicy and sweet, full of watermelon, ice cream and Lik-M-Aid candy (now called Fun Dip). Now the father of two boys, ages 5 and 7, he still enjoys summer, but favors the more healthful choices. Along with plenty of fruit, his sons partake in the occasional Popsicle, too, though Dr. Beckerman and his wife look for lower-calorie versions. “There should be no moratoriums on ice cream or other summer snacks that you enjoy,” Dr. Beckerman says. “It’s just a question of quantity and portion size.” As for summer staples on the grill – hot dogs and hamburgers – he says of his own experiences with his sons: “I think it’s hard for a 5-year-old to get a lecture about how a hot dog is processed meat and not as healthy as a piece of steak, or that grilled chicken is healthier than fried.” Instead of lecturing, Dr. Beckerman offers healthy choices, such as whole-grain buns and healthy sides, and models moderate portion sizes.
In general, Dr. Beckerman tries to refrain from sensationalizing one food while vilifying another. “When we label foods as ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ we end up punishing ourselves or feeling bad about our choices,” he says. “I think it would definitely be the wrong message to tell kids – or ourselves – that there are things they should never have.” He does make one caveat for soda, which is something he, and everyone else, would be better off without. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy or have it occasionally,” he says, “but I think it has no redeeming value.”
Make peace with “yes”
Very few of us are able to eat within such strict parameters as these: never eating after 7 p.m., never having sweets, never nibbling when we’re bored, never having that extra glass of wine or scoop of ice cream. We don’t have to label ourselves as weak; instead, we can be empowered by making a conscious decision to say yes once in a while. For all his healthful eating, the good doctor loves his dessert. “It’s not something I have every day,” he says, “but when I have it, I enjoy it.”
A healthy life is not a struggle
“I’ve seen my 5-year-old playfully pretend to do a pushup,” says Dr. Beckerman, “or ask if he can join me on the treadmill.” Already, he says, his son is internalizing – and normalizing – activity as part of life. The best thing you can do for your family, Dr. Beckerman says, is to lead by example: eat a less processed, mostly plant-based diet; be more measured in how you approach what you eat, and how often and how much; and add more physical activity to your daily diet. “Demonstrate to your family that living a healthy life is a normal thing to do,” he says. “Show them it doesn’t need to be a struggle.”