10 Things My Mom Taught Me About Health and Wellness

Gabrielle Kassel is a New York based writer who has a deep affinity for weight-lifting, living mindfully, and the em-dash. She has been published at Women’s Health Magazine where she worked on the online editorial team, Feather Magazine where she was a contributing health writer, and ICE NYC where she works as the social media editor. In her free time she can be found reading self-help books, making soup, and practicing hygge.

Spoiler alert: Moms (and mother figures) teach us A LOT. From practical advice like how to choose the ripest cantaloupe or ethical advice like “treat others how you want to be treated”, their wisdom gives us something to live by and believe in until we grow old enough to form our own beliefs. But sometimes their voices and habits get ingrained in our own routines, without us even realizing it. It’s officially been a year since I moved out of the nest, and while I still talk with my mom on the phone every damn day and visit at least every six weeks, in the 12 months since I’ve moved to the city, I’ve reflected on the ways my Mom shaped me into a woman who values health, has a passion for fitness, and priorities self love. While this list will never be complete, below I compiled a list of 10 things my mom taught me about health and wellness through both her actions and words.  

1. Drink Water
One of my chores from age 5 and up was to set the dinner table for Shabbat, the Friday night meal we had to close out the week complete with some Jewish elements (think: Challah bread, a toast, and candles). As I removed the glasses from the cabinet and carried them to the fridge, it was never a question what we would be drinking with dinner. The answer was always water. We never had soda in the house, orange-juice quite frankly wouldn’t taste good with the salmon or steak dinner we were about to consume, and while milk was an option, it was never my favorite. I learned that water was a great go-to beverage, and anything other than H2O would spoil the flavor of the meal. Now, I still drink water with dinner and save my favorite ~flavored~ beverages (like Kombucha and vanilla almond milk) for after eating, just like I watched my mom do growing up.

2. Have Salad With Every Dinner
Some nights it was a portobello mushroom salad with gorgonzola and frisee, other nights it was caprese salad or just a simple caesar. But, without fail, we started every sit down meal with a salad. Not only did the salads never get boring (there is so much you can do with a salad!) I learned it was a pretty easy thing to do, especially when I became the one in charge of helping to prepare them. Even now when I leave the hustle and bustle of New York for suburbia to visit my mom, I’m in charge of picking what kind of salad we have, and then chopping up the ingredients. But my salad-consumption isn’t limited to my Connecticut visits, I always make myself a simple kale or arugula salad (with tomatoes, olives, beets, banana peppers, and cucumbers) while I wait for my main course to cook on the stove-top.

3. Blot Excess Oil With A Paper Towel
While ordering pizza was  rare and home-making the italian meal was as much of a novelty, whenever we did have pie for dinner, I noticed my mother would blot away some of the excess oil. While I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes in terms of reducing calories or fat, I find myself doing the same thing now. When I asked her why she did once, she said “I don’t like my pizza soggy”; heck, I don’t like my pizza soggy either! Sometimes it’s the simple the food-habits that stick with us long after we move out of the nest.

4. Cheese and Crackers Make A Great Snack
One of the things that passed down from my mother to me, in addition to our roarous laugh, smiley-disposition, and thin patience (sorry, Mom!) is our body clock. Everyday between 3:00pm-4:00pm, like clockwork, we both get suddenly ravenous, a little cranky, and in need of an afternoon pick-me-up. Her go-to munch has been the same for 15+ years: a few crackers, a few slices of cheese, and a piece or two of salami. When the hunger hits, I always have a variation of this snack: an apple with cheese, peanut butter with crackers, a slice or two of deli meat, or ever a turkey and cheese roll-up. Mama taught me that snacking won’t ruin a meal, hanger will ruin a meal- so take care of the hanger so you’re not a monster for the 2-3 hours before it’s time for dinner.

5. Everything In Moderation
My mom definitely taught me that country music made great everything music: in the background of dinner? Yep! In the car? Only if we can sing along with the radio! At the gym? Why the hell not. Our favorite song was “I Wanna Go Too Far” by Trisha Yearwood. Both of us, terrible singers, would belt out the first line “Everything in moderation, that's the way it's always been”. The phrase “everything in moderation” was as commonplace as the phrase “i love you”, which is to say I heard it with great frequency. She taught me there’s nothing wrong with enjoying less-than-healthy foods every so often—the key is balance and being kind to my body. She taught me that there is no “bad” food and “good” food, but rather, that everything should be eaten in moderation.

6. Take Charge Of My Own Health
My mom taught me that it's important to ask a lot of questions and to advocate for myself when it comes to doctors, not to just do what anyone says blindly. She let me never to feel embarrassed for asking any question concerning my body or my health because ultimately, any decision about my health is up to me. She let me know if a Doc gets irritated from all my questions, that’s their problem, not mine.

7. Eat Clean
Growing up, our pantry was scarce of processed and sugar-laden products and treats like ho-ho’s and sweet cereals. Lunchables were reserved for special occasions and at McDonald's the only thing I ever was allowed to order (and even wanted to order) was a soft-serve cone.  Instead, my mom fed me clean, nutritious food—including kale and salmon, way before they were trendy. Having been fed whole foods so young, as my palate developed, I ended up craving those foods. Now when I go home and she asks what I’d like, I always answer “kale, salmons, and artichokes”. If this is any indication of clean eating, my roommate always comments on how colorful my side of the refrigerator is, and how empty my side of the freezer is.

8. Make Time For Sleep
My mom gets up with the sun and is in bed by 9pm, unless she’s feeling wild, then she’ll stay up until 10pm ;), and it's a schedule she’s had for my entire life. I can’t adhere to my early-bird body clock on the weekdays because I don’t get home from work until 10pm, but I try to turn in as early as possible and get a solid  8 to 9 hours of sleep. Considering how good she looks and how active she is, it’s clear that sleep is one of the keys to health. She’s the only person I’ve ever known who doesn’t complain about being tired all the time, which is pretty remarkable considering her go-go-go schedule.

9. Wear Sunscreen
My bad bitch of a mother was lathering on that sunscreen before it was the cool (aka #selflove) thing to do. For as long as I can remember, she has carried around a bottle of thick and creamy 70 spf and slathered it on every two-hours . She let me know that it is lame and dangerous to avoid sunscreen for a summer glow, and never congratulated (or complimented) my summer-tan because she knew the negative effects of too much sun-kissing. Now that I’m living alone and often take to my rooftop for some relaxing rays, I lather on some sunscreen and remember what mom taught me: cancer is uncool, and if you really want a summer glow, invest in some Jergens!

10. Move Your Body Everyday
In a good mood? Good! Let’s go for a walk around the neighborhood. In a bad mood? I’m sorry to hear that, but you need to go to soccer practice, you’ll feel better after! In my household growing up, moving was the solution to any negative move and a great addition to joy. When my mom encouraged me to move my body (in SOME way, ANY way) I never questioned or doubted her teachings, because moving was how she started her day. As a mother with a career, she made a point to wake up an hour before I had to, to walk on the treadmill in the basement, hit the gym for a boot camp class, or speed-walk around the neighborhood. My mom prioritized moving her body every morning because it made her feel good, and through her example, I learned the power of movement and a good sweat. Perhaps it was Mama W who coined the phrase, “sweat it out”, or maybe she didn’t need to say it, because it she knew it intuitively.

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