Eating is such a daily thing. It’s so constant.
My dad used to joke that when my mom’s family gets together, we’re all planning the next meal even as we’re eating this one!
What’s not constant is my approach to food. It’s mutable, variable — sometimes in the space of as little as an hour, or even a single meal.
And I find, especially lately, that dogma just doesn’t work for me when it comes to food.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to eat healthfully lately, and I’ve vacillated: should I go Paleo? Should I go back to Weight Watchers? Should I try something new?
What I realized, though, is that any prescriptive “diet” has things I don’t like or don’t agree with about it. And it has that big looming problem of being so restrictive, it might trigger a binge cycle at some point.
I actually worried (this is my disease talking) about how I would explain my diet choices to people if I didn’t go all-in with one type of diet or another. Well, I’m Paleo, kind of, but I eat bread sometimes, and cheese, and cheesecake…
And so, I decided, I needed to stop listening to what other people tell me to put in my body, and start finding out for myself what works for my body (and my life).
I know. Kind of revolutionary.
Here’s what I’m doing right now, if you’re interested:
Create some guidelines.
I used to rebel against anything that smacked of rules or routine when it came to food, because it felt BORING. And while I still can’t understand how my husband can eat the same exact foods for breakfast and lunch every. single. day, I am beginning to embrace the idea of food guidelines.
(P.S. We’re not calling them rules, OK?)
So I have a couple of food guidelines I’ve started following lately:
Go easy on the refined carbs. I love bread. And pasta. And pastries of all sorts. But experience has taught me that refined carbs are one big place I overindulge in my life. So I’m deliberately avoiding them at breakfast and lunch. (Sort of based on Mark Bittman’s vegan ’til 6 idea.)
What this looks like in practice (right now) is a big bowl of fruit and cottage cheese, or an egg with some veggies for breakfast and then a big bowl of soup or salad for lunch. It also means that when I can do without them at dinner and not feel a big loss, I will. For example, I tend to enjoy Chinese food just as much without the rice — but don’t even try to serve me a bowl of my mom’s chili without some tortilla chips or we will have a problem.
Fruit or veg at every meal (and snack). This started as a rule when I was learning how to feed a toddler. Putting at least one fruit or veg on her plate every time we sat down to eat ensured that she would get at least a few bites of both in her every day.
Turns out, it works for grown-ups, too.
And before you think, “That’s silly. I eat lots of fruit and veg,” I encourage you to really examine what’s on your plate at each meal — because it’s stupid easy to go most of the day without. Just as an example, those meals my hubs eats every day? Cheerios for breakfast and a turkey sandwich for lunch. Now, I’ve encouraged him to add some fruit to his cereal and veg to his sandwich, but it would be (and has been in the past) easy for him to go 2/3rds of the day without a fruit or veg.
Lots of liquids. I don’t worry too much about what those liquids are as long as they’re calorie-free. I drink a lot of water — plain and with fruit in — tea, black coffee, and La Croix bubbly water. Addicted to that stuff.
Volumetrics. A zillion years ago, some B-list celebrity was touting a new diet plan called “Volumetrics” and the idea was that you can eat and eat and EAT and fill up — as long as you’re eating “healthy” foods. Now, don’t ask me what they defined as healthy, because I have no idea. But I’ve embraced this with regards to my own eating, and for me it simply means: eat more veggies. It’s why I have a big bowl of soup or salad for lunch. It fills me up.
And pretty much every diet, every doctor, every health guru in the world will agree that veggies are good for you. As my old Weight Watchers group leader used to say, “We didn’t get here by eating too many carrots.”
Pay attention to hunger — and fullness. Here’s a lesson I’m learning: hunger isn’t bad. If I’m hungry by around 10:30, it doesn’t necessarily mean I need to eat right then. It means I’ll really enjoy my lunch at 11:30. And it also probably means that I didn’t overeat at breakfast. I’m still learning to tune back into these signals — because I spent so many years tuning them out — but it’s something I try to remind myself.
Buy the best you can afford. This is a guideline I’ve adhered to for a long time, and I’m sticking with it. Anecdotally, I think organic, local, seasonal foods taste better. Pastured eggs actually taste like eggs. Humanely and sustainably raised meat has more flavor. So I’m going to buy the best I can, whenever I can. Which leads me to my next point.
Food should be a pleasure.
I really, truly, deeply believe this. Some people may be able to see food as strictly fuel, and that’s fine, but to me, food is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Which is why any “diet” or eating prescription that sucks all the joy out of eating isn’t going to work for me.
It might mean indulging in a perfect macaroon or brownie at my favorite coffee shop, but it also might mean savoring an incredible satsuma or strawberry.
Revelation: pleasurable food doesn’t have to be unhealthy food.
I can take pleasure in a spear of asparagus or gorgeous salad as much as I can take pleasure in a slice of cheesecake. That’s kind of a big deal.
I, personally, also take a great deal of pleasure in choosing and preparing food. That’s why a meal delivery service isn’t going to work for me, and why I choose to do a lot of my shopping at Whole Foods — it’s just a more pleasurable experience to me.
So I’m not going to deny myself a slice of my homemade sourdough bread when it’s warm from the oven. And when I feel like making cupcakes, I’m going to make some damned cupcakes. Because there’s pleasure in those things for me, and that’s not something to be taken lightly.
It also has to be stupid easy.
Just because I tend to take pleasure in cooking doesn’t mean it’s always pleasurable. Sometimes, it really is about fueling myself or my family as quickly and easily as possible.
That means I have to take care to make sure that the healthy options are at least as easy as the unhealthy ones. Here are a few ways I do that:
- Have lots of veggies on hand, pre-cut and ready to eat. I do like to make my own veggie trays, but I also tend to raid the salad bar at Whole Foods Market Bradburn at least once a week because they have more interesting things like roasted veggies and kale chips.
- Same goes for fruit. (They had grilled blood oranges last week. How cool is that??) It’s worth it to me to buy pre-cored pineapple if it means I’ll actually eat it instead of letting it sit on my counter and go off.
- Keep real food snacks on hand, like:
- Nearly Naked Popcorn. LOVE this stuff. The fact that it’s popped in coconut oil is a bonus. No icky industrial oils. I buy the pillow-case-sized bag at Costco. And while I’m trying to eat less of this as I veer away from grains, my fam loves it. And it’s gotta be better than munching on the same amount of chips.
- KIND bars. The fact that I can pronounce all the ingredients makes this a good option to have on hand. And they only have about 5 grams of sugar, which is also a bonus.
- Coco Bliss Coconut Chips. These are SO TASTY. When I’m craving candy — but not wanting to actually eat candy — these totally hit the spot. Only coconut nectar for the sugar.
- Bare Organic Apple Chips. Apples. Period. Why not just eat an apple? These hit that sweet spot as well as a crunchy craving.
- Crunchies freeze dried fruits. I started buying these sorts of treats for my daughter before she had teeth — because they kind of melt in your mouth. Now we put them on cereal, in trail mix, and just eat them plain. Great snack to stuff in a bag and not worry about it going off!
- Frozen veggies. I have a post in mind to do some day about all the many variations on “veggie bowls” that I do for lunch, but suffice to say that a bag of frozen veggies, some kind of leftover protein, and a tablespoon or two of sauce makes a fast, healthy lunch. Example: bag of stir fry veg + leftover chicken + Gyoza dipping sauce = “stir fry.” In less than 10 minutes.
- Cooked protein. In a perfect world, this is left over from a roast I cooked earlier in the week. Chicken or roast beef or slow cooker pork. In the real world, sometimes it’s “just chicken” from the Whole Foods deli, turkey carnitas from Sprouts (seriously so delicious), smoked salmon from IKEA (really! It’s sustainable and cheap.), or some beans. I use it to top salads or make the aforementioned veggie bowls.
I guess this is turning out to be a bit like my new manifesto. And so, in keeping with that, if you’re looking for an action step, a takeaway, here it is:
Create your own guidelines. Don’t live by mine. Read widely, be informed, listen to your body, and form your own opinions.
That’s what I’m trying to do.
Promotional consideration for this post was provided by Whole Foods Market. Crunchies also provided us free samples for promotional consideration.