Eat for Your Heart's Content

04/25/2015 11:31 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2015


Have you been told by someone to "Eat to your heart's content?" Usually this phrase is used when you are a guest in someone's home and they want you to enjoy the food they've prepared. Or you could be at a restaurant or resort and the owners also want you to enjoy what they offer. Most often, when this phrase is used it's about eating an abundance of food with various ingredients and no consideration about the quantity you eat. While this may be acceptable and fun for an isolated situation, for the majority of the time change the phrase to eat for your heart's content.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States -- nearly one in four people die each year from heart disease. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are the leading risk factors, and one out of two Americans has at least one of these. Each time you are with one other person, one of you is at risk for heart disease. Is it you?

Other risk factors for heart disease are:

  • Overweight/obesity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Poor food choices
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Genetics

How many risk factors do you have?

In my nearly three decades of coaching and speaking to people about controlling their risk factors, the one comment I hear most often from people trying to lose weight and eat smart is, "I have to do this for myself. I can't do this for anyone else." While that statement is very true, I would ask you to use a different perspective. How does your eating affect those you love, and those who love and depend on you?

I don't believe comments should be made to anyone as they are eating. Eating is an intimate act between you and your food, and it is not the time for others to suggest a better food choice. But what do you do when it's the person you love most in your life? What if your spouse makes poor food choices whenever he/she has the option? Should you speak up?

Often I hear from clients that their spouse will make comments about their weight or eating. I will ask my client, "What is your spouse's intent?" If the intent of the comment is to belittle, there is never a reason or excuse making it acceptable. If it's from love or concern for health, I will suggest to my client to listen to the love in the message. Too often the intent of the message is love and concern, but the message delivery stinks!

In our home, we eat smart, yet we eat out often and vacation frequently. When we are out, my husband would order steak grilled in butter, or Fettuccini Alfredo, and then ask for extra whipped cream with his dessert. These items are not heart-health friendly. I would say nothing most of the time. About every eight or ten times after he ordered I would lean over and whisper to him, "Do you want to live to see Megan get married?" Megan is our daughter. He would then reconsider and order more heart friendly food, but it wasn't long before he would fall back into his old, unhealthy habits. This went on for years. Heart disease is genetic in his family, so his heart health was always a concern of mine.

Then in September of 2011, at 57 years of age, my husband was taken to the hospital experiencing a heart attack. When I and my two adult children arrived at the hospital, we were taken into a conference room as a cardiologist explained to us that my husband needed immediate quintuple cardiac bypass surgery. He had five blocked arteries, one was 100 percent blocked and four were 90 percent blocked. We were told that without this surgery, his life expectancy was about three minutes.

We were assured he would do well after surgery because he was not overweight, did not have diabetes or high blood pressure, and does not drink or smoke. He had one high risk factor for heart disease -- high LDL cholesterol. He was our one in two.

In the years that have followed, he is more cognizant of his food choices, and pays closer attention to his LDL cholesterol.

Each one of us will leave this earth at some time. While you are here, why not be the healthiest you can be? Don't wait until you have a major health scare. The food you choose can be a major risk factor for preventable diseases, or smarter food choices can prevent or lessen the severity of those illnesses.

Eat for your heart's content means that the majority of the time you choose food that promotes good health and is enjoyable to you. If you dine out often, it's the majority of the time. If you eat out once or twice a year, it is not. Do this for you, but also for those who love you. Avoid putting your loved ones in the position my children and I were in and everyone benefits.