Well, it’s time… the time of year when everybody’s on a diet, setting goals, making changes, yada yada yada…. Can you tell I’m not enthused?
The reason I have a hard time with it is because, frankly, making changes for one month of the year – or less, if you are most Americans on a New Year’s resolution – isn’t going to change the way you live or feel. It’s gotta be a long term commitment. And it has to be based on scientific evidence, rather than the latest fad or eliminating the boogeyman ingredient du jour (In the 1980s, they thought olive oil was bad for you! Can you imagine?)
So I decided to write some things instead of grumbling to myself about fad diets. 🙂 Turns out it is much more productive!
I’m not a nutrition professional – and there are many fine folks who are, if you are looking for a personalized road map. But I am an expert home cook, and at 31 years old I can see my abs and biceps even though I drink beer, eat pizza and don’t follow any specialized diet. What I do is eat healthfully long term – the pizza is a once-every-several-weeks indulgence. And also, I hit the gym *at least* three times per week. Here are some of the practices I follow that make that balance work:
Get some healthy pantry & freezer standbys you can count on.
There will always be some nights where you get home late and are unprepared for a healthy dinner. And that is OK – you should never feel bad about being busy. The key is to plan on this happening, rather than being caught off guard. I’m really fond of the packages of 6 or 8 individually wrapped frozen salmon filets at Whole Foods (which are quite affordable – I think it was $25 for 8). They’re easy to thaw under running water, then throw in the oven. Or, find a good canned chili you like. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but we can all do a hell of a lot better than those terrifying “lean” frozen entrées or ordering a pizza.
Plan to snack – and buy and/or make snacks that will actually satisfy you.
Snacking is also something you should not feel bad about. Avoiding it is unrealistic — if you eat 2 eggs for breakfast before a workout class, you are going to be hungry before lunch — end of story. That’s because you started the day by burning 350 calories! No shit, your body is hungry! Rather than beating yourself up about this, PLAN your snacks just like you’d plan a meal. And make sure that your snacks are actually going to make you feel full: whole fruits full of fiber, or healthy fats and proteins. I’m a fan of hard boiled eggs, apples, avocados, carrots and hummus or a few cubes of cheese.
Depend less on non-whole grains.
The simple fact is that white flour and white starch are nutritionally worthless – at their core, they are a sugar – and unfortunately due to years of corporate lobbying and bad science, they’ve become the foundation of American cooking. For most people, it’s not necessary to give them up completely. But I try to have one meal per day (usually lunch) where I completely avoid grain. It’s an easy way to eat fewer grains without bothering with cockamamie substitutions that result in less delicious food.In other meals, I’m a huge proponent of incorporating whole grains as a nutritious boost.
Cook once, then adapt.
Another way to prepare yourself for the week ahead is to make something you can enjoy multiple ways. Buy or make a whole chicken, and use it for a salad topper one night, tacos the next and in a soup. Chili can be a soup one day, a burrito bowl topper the next.
Cook once, eat twice (or three times!)
Ever notice that almost all recipes out there are for four or more servings? Sometimes as a family of two, or even cooking for one, that seems like a pain. But I like to use this to my advantage! Leftovers are your friend (and if you think leftovers are a drag, it’s time to put your big girl panties on 🙂 ). Cook the full recipe and package the remaining servings for lunch or dinner later in the week.
Water, meet lemon (or lime, or strawberry, or…)
Every time I realize I’ve actually been drinking enough water, I notice how much better I feel. And yet, it’s still a challenge to get myself to drink enough water. I don’t really believe in non-booze liquid calories (read: no soda, almost no juice, and the 10-20 calories of cream in coffee simply is not worth getting worked up over). So that means all water, all the time, hopefully without breaking the bank on seltzer or kombucha (which is very low calorie) every month. The one thing that works for me is throwing a slice or two of fruit in my quart-sized mason jar. Even that little bit of flavor makes it much easier to down more water.
Eat desserts that pack a big punch in a small package.
I don’t believe in giving up anything (unless you have an underlying medical issue or allergy) – it’s just going to lead to a crash down the road that you feel bad about. Desserts are definitely a “sometimes food.” But there will be days when only chocolate will do. So my strategy on that is, just never eat the mediocre ones. Never buy packaged cookies from the store – instead, buy a really nice chocolate bar and enjoy a square or two when you’d like something sweet. Packaged cookies suck, anyway! And absolutely never buy bargain ice creams – they’re full of fillers and chemicals meant to mimic the taste and texture of actual custard so they can leave out high quality ingredients (and I’m not into the low calorie ones, either. Yes I’ve tried them. They don’t taste good.) Instead, spend the $8 on a fancy pint. The cost alone is a motivator to savor it instead of binging.
It’s amazing how you can suddenly bust out a thousand words on a subject you care about. It’s a good thing, because I have a lot more fitness-oriented content coming your way this year. Get ready! And put your healthy eating tips and questions in the comments.