Health­ful liv­ing doesn’t have to be all or noth­ing

Restau­ra­teur and cook­book au­thor says bal­ance is key

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - LIFE SUNDAY - Holly Ep­stein Ojalvo

Sea­mus Mullen knows it’s un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect col­lege stu­dents to count calo­ries, de­prive them­selves of treats and eat only things that are good for them.

Any­way, he doesn’t even want you to do that.

In­stead, the award-win­ning restau­ra­teur, cook­book au­thor and celebrity chef — you may have seen him on Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay or The Next Iron Chef — just wants you to start build­ing the foun­da­tion now for a healthy life.

“It’s not all or noth­ing,” Mullen tells USA TO­DAY Col­lege about eat­ing healthy. “You’re go­ing to pull all-nighters and go out late and eat pizza. Bal­ance that with be­ing good to your body.”

Help­fully, Mullen has tips for how to do just that. He says it all starts with do­ing three key things for your­self ev­ery sin­gle day: Eat, move, re­cover. Mean­ing: Nour­ish your body, ex­er­cise and get am­ple rest.

To nour­ish your body best, “Eat real food. As un­pro­cessed as pos­si­ble. Mostly plants, veg­eta­bles,” he says. He says that’s his top tip for col­lege stu­dents, and one he ex­plores in-depth in his cook­book, Real Food Heals.

But that doesn’t mean forc­ing your­self to eat things you hate in the pur­suit of health and well­ness. In fact, that would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. “If it’s not de­li­cious, you won’t want to eat it,” he points out. In­stead, find foods, and recipes, that make healthy items en­tic­ing and en­joy­able. Like av­o­cado, one of his faves.

Not only that, but don’t feel like you have to eat any­thing “fancy” and ex­pen­sive — you can eat healthy by keep­ing it sim­ple. “Best thing you can do is cook for your­self,” Mullen says, “us­ing fresh in­gre­di­ents.” That’s way bet­ter for you than the pre-pack­aged, pro­cessed meals or so­called com­fort foods, which of­ten, he says, end up hav­ing the op­po­site ef­fect of be­ing com­fort­ing by mak­ing you feel bloated and sick.

When it comes to ex­er­cise, Mullen has a fairly sim­ple ap­proach there too. De­spite the term “work­out,” try not to think of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity as work, he sug­gests — in­stead, make it fun, make it a per­sonal chal­lenge, make it so­cial, or all three. For ex­am­ple, Mullen sug­gests, “One day a week, be ac­tive in a way that doesn’t feel like a work­out, like go­ing on a hike” with friends.

Chal­leng­ing your­self to im­prove keeps it in­ter­est­ing and grat­i­fy­ing, says Mullen, an avid cy­clist who sub­scribes to the pop­u­lar ex­er­cise mantra “beat yes­ter­day.” That’s why ex­er­cise, not food, is where he ad­vises pay­ing at­ten­tion to met­rics, for sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ences such as set­ting new per­sonal bests.

Mullen has one ac­tiv­ity that he rec­om­mends for ev­ery­one. “Yoga is key for ev­ery­thing,” he says, not­ing that what­ever you love — from foot­ball to cy­cling to run­ning — do­ing yoga can help you get bet­ter at it.

“Forty-three year-old Sea­mus has so many things to say to 19-year-old Sea­mus.”

on his jour­ney to bet­ter

And just as you should eat when you’re hun­gry, Mullen says, rest and re­cover when you’re tired or when you’ve pushed your mus­cles. Give your­self a break.

Mullen knows all too well the full power of his ad­vice, hav­ing been on an in­tense five-year jour­ney to health.

De­spite be­ing raised on a farm in Ver­mont, for years Mullen made un­healthy choices. “Even in col­lege, when I began cook­ing se­ri­ously, I kept eat­ing crap,” he writes in Real Food Heals.

A fast-paced life­style fu­eled by carbs and sugar and strug­gles with the chronic inflammatory au­toim­mune dis­ease called rheuma­toid arthri­tis, cou­pled with two ter­ri­fy­ing near-death ex­pe­ri­ences, spurred him to start us­ing food as medicine. And it changed his life.

He can see the roots of his jour­ney in those bad habits he had in col­lege.

“Forty-three year-old Sea­mus has so many things to say to 19year-old Sea­mus,” he quips.

Even with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, Mullen main­tains that col­lege stu­dents need not fol­low his lead and live like he does. At least, not yet.

In­stead, he says, just striv­ing for bal­ance will help you achieve many per­sonal goals.

So if you want to do some­thing like lose weight, have more en­ergy, beat crav­ings, in­crease fo­cus, or im­prove aca­demic or phys­i­cal per­for­mance, it all starts with “em­brac­ing a positive re­la­tion­ship with real food,” Mullen writes.



Chef Sea­mus Mullen, cook­ing at Citi Taste of Ten­nis in New York, says “eat, move, re­cover” are his watch­words.

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