Healthful living doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Restaurateur and cookbook author says balance is key
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.