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Healthy Habits & Healthy Hearts

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My New Year's resolution came a little late this year, on purpose. February 1 marked the start of American Heart Month and I resolved to make a big change in my life, for my heart and for the better. Since then I have been walking 60 minutes every day around downtown D.C., snaking my way through neighborhoods, around office buildings, and down to the National Mall -- places I rarely get to see because, well, I'm working just like most everyone I know in this city. This year, though, I had to get out and about, breathe the fresh air, smell the roses and take in some sunshine. I just had to. My mother passed away from heart disease in 2010 and it was a stark lesson that unless I started to get my heart and body in shape I may be headed down the same path.

I dubbed my new personal initiative RIS Walk 60 -- daily 60-minute walks to the heartbeat of DC. I am in the same situation as most people. We all work so hard that we sometimes stop taking care of ourselves. So my resolution then became to walk for me. But one is forced to ask, "If I haven't taken care of myself yet, what would motivate me to do it now?" So I chose to make it a public affair and help others on the way while letting others help me. I got together with Dr. Jannet Lewis at the George Washington Women's Heart Center and for every mile I walk I am donating $1 to the Center. I invite anyone to join me on our journey towards better health and in doing so we help the Center help others. Get out of the office, out of class, just outside at noon any day during the week and head to my restaurant and we'll do it together. My goal is to raise $25,000 and walk 25,000 miles together this year. The magic is already happening. Friends who never get to see me now know where I am every day at noon and walk with me. We already have a few regulars. People are walking and talking at their own pace, networking or forgetting their cares, meeting new friends, strolling their babies and walking their dogs. And feeling good.

I am walking the walk and also talking the talk. It doesn't always happen but it is great when you practice what you preach. The staff at RIS jumped on to the bandwagon. We started a biggest loser challenge; the staff's book of the month is The End of Overeating, Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David A. Kessler, MD; and staff meals have improved immeasurably. The next step was the menu. I created a prix fixe "I Heart Lunch" menu for February which includes lots of greens, fish, green tea, oatmeal and dark chocolate. March's menu will focus on Greens and Grains to celebrate good health, St. Patrick and spring! And I must say that Mother Nature has certainly done her share in helping me out in this campaign. Not only has the weather been flawless for walking, but the milder climes have produced an abundance of bounty in the fields. Never before in February have I returned from the market with kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, sweet potatoes, leeks, arugula, radishes, mache, escarole, romaine, green cabbage, napa cabbage, beets, mizuna, arugula, apples, potatoes and brussel sprouts, all the heart healthiest of foods. All on the menu. It is like summer. I have to make two trips.

I personally decided to take advantage of the bounty of this mild season and have chosen to eat only fish accompanied by those great green and orange vegetables. This version of my plan started on February 1 and will continue through Lent. Having been raised Catholic, fish and Lent go together like ham and cheese. I am drinking red wine instead of gin. Having been on the diet rollercoaster all of my life, and having read every diet book, I will try anything. I am certain that new plots will reveal themselves to keep me going when I get bored with this one as I refuse to give up on myself this time. And I am pretty sure my staff won't let me give up on myself either. I will be healthy and fit.

Here are some combinations I have put together for myself over the past couple of weeks. I don't know if they are the end all and be all. They say calories in/calories out so it's about eating smart calories and hopefully delicious ones.

First a couple of my current rules other than the Lenten fish rule:

  • A liter of water with a tablespoon of raw apple cider every morning and a gallon of water all day;
  • Green tea every day;
  • A glass of red wine every day;
  • Snack of a handful of almonds and an ounce of 70% dark chocolate every day;
  • Walk 60 minutes every day;
  • No whites -- white flour, white rice, potatoes, sugar;
  • Eat protein with every meal/snack;
  • Use all of the local vegetables you can.

Some things that I love:

  • Oatmeal with blueberries and almonds; or shredded wheat, banana and skim milk; or, on the run, a banana, handful of almonds and Triscuits;
  • Salmon with lentils, kale, roast sweet potato and red wine sauce (of course, it helps when you are the boss and can say "Will, make me a salmon, would ya?");
  • My new creation -- sweet potato guacamole! Yes, just make guacamole but instead of the avocado (which is certainly not a bad choice) use roasted sweet potatoes, skin and all. Add onion, tomato, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, dash of OJ and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Delicious. I use my Triscuits again instead of those tortilla chips and it makes a great snack;
  • Codfish or salmon with steamed cabbage, mustard and spinach;
  • Nonfat Blue Ridge Dairy (local) yogurt with blueberries and almonds;
  • Leek consommé;
  • RIS' Caesar salad with egg white Caesar dressing;
  • Kimchi -- love it!
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