I spend a lot of time in this space talking about exercise, about running, about being fit. I talk quite a lot about how I did a whole bunch of things at once to lose weight and get trim. I talk nearly incessantly about maintaining the exercise level. Then I occasionally climb up to the top of the pulpit and rail against poor eating an nutrition, throwing a couple of pot shots, and then I to back to prattling on about fitness and, especially, running.
I’ve decided that it’s probably not the most optimal way to explain how I feel about food, and my relationship with food, and how it changed from this time in 2009 to this time in 2010 through now. Understand that I’m still going to remain a zealot about food at the best of times, but I have to be somewhat pragmatic about things. Not everyone is going to be crazy like I was.
Let me take this time to point out that I am not a professional nutritionist. I am happy to give advice but my experience is anecdotal only, and your mileage may vary wildly. I’m just hoping I point you in the right direction a bit.
My food story
I don’t want you to feel like I’m painting my story over your history, but I think you should have an idea where I came from. When I first started out, when I was first changing my life, food was a difficult one for me. While I had lots of advice for being a better eater, I tended to dismiss it. I was fine. I didn’t salt my food (mostly because the foods I ate couldn’t possibly be more saturated with salt…), I ate healthy (at home only, not out, and ate terrible breakfasts), and I very occasionally would have a heavily dressed creamy Caesar salad. That’s green and healthy right? I often joke that, at that time of my life, French fries were a condiment that went on everything, they weren’t a side dish. My favourite food was anything deep-fried. I have joked to many that when I changed how I ate, I stopped eating like I was 19 years old.
The first steps – Deciding, and then education and more education.
The first thing I started to do was to truly shut up and listen, and not the way most people I know wish I would. I started to listen to all the bits about eating well on the news. On the food network. On the radio and television. If you think about it, if you just pay attention, I bet you there isn’t a single week that goes by that you don’t hear something about how you to eat better, or how eating better will help to prevent some long-term disease. Listen to it. Listen to it all. When you do, it’s all the same. It’s all always the same. Eat the same balanced diet. More fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Balance. Watch your fats. Eat healthy fat from fish and good quality oils, eat more rice, eat quinoa. Eat lean protein. The list doesn’t go on. The list is simple.
Once everything started to percolate through my tiny brain, I realized I had a decision to make. That word alone, decide, is interesting – we tend to take it for granted – but when you look at the etymology of the word you gain a whole new appreciation for it”
To cut off. To cut from other options. I cut from the idea of having any other choice when it came to food. I decided to make food a better part of my life, and in doing so cut with eating the junk I normally did. I know @momma2macy did as well, but not as drastically at the start as I did. She even believes in a type of cheat day – something that I don’t subscribe to, but she does it in an intelligent way. She looks at her calorie intake as a weekly unit – if you don’t use all of the previous day’s allowance, or if you plan things out, you can manage it over a longer period of time than a day.
The problem of course is twofold. First, we are in love with believing we don’t have time to prepare our own meals, when we just love convenience instead; and second, darn it but those voices telling us how to eat sound so… smothering, like they are trying to take away all our fun. Those voices aren’t smothering, they’re trying to tell you the truth, the truth that you know deep down is true. So how do you start. How do you act on that? Read blogs about healthy eating and good food. Read the Canada Food Guide. Read, a lot. Start to educate yourself about all aspects of food. When I did it, I read Eat This Not That which taught me about the dangers that lurk in every restaurant I go to. I also read the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which taught me about food production in North America. I read the Canada Food Guide. Education is your best friend in this case.
The next suggestion is to actually read the labels. Pick up a loaf of 100% whole wheat bread – any of them – and count. When you reach more than six ingredients, or if any of those six aren’t whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water or vegetable oil, put the bread back. It costs more for bread that has less ingredients, which is counterintuitive, but that probably means it’s a much more hand-made process, and it certainly means it’s better for you.
@momma2macy had real trouble changing her diet as she was a self-described picky eater. “After reading many sites and searching the web for hours, I found a good foundation of new recipes – something that was key for me. I couldn’t just buy healthy ingredients, I needed to know how to prepare them and make them tasty. I tried a couple and found that they were actually good! My favourite cook book, Hungry Girl to The Max, has tons of recipes for picky eaters, and a lot of single serving recipes which is always a challenge if you are doing this on your own. I ended up cooking different food for just myself in the beginning and this cookbook was really helpful.”
“Find a few recipes and get started, while you commit to learning about proper nutrition. If you need to, make a deal with yourself – implement one new recipe a week for the next month. I promise you will get excited when you start to see food not just as a tool to lose weight but rather as the fuel your body needs to do everything you want to do! It’s a lifestyle choice – not just a change for a few months while you get fit and lose a few pounds. There is a whole world of delicious food out there that isn’t deep-fried or empty calories, but tastes fantastic. One of my favourite sites is coachcalorie.com. They have a ton of great nutrition and fitness advice, recipes, and general health information”
The implementation – how you get there
So how do you start? What do you do when you get to the grocery store? First off, let me tell you that the single best thing you can do is stick primarily to buying food around the outside aisles of the store. Think about your local grocery store – there is the fish, meat, and fresh high quality cheese on your right. Follow it down and around to the dedicated butcher counter. That runs straight to eggs and dairy (skip the more processed cheeses, please!) including yogurt, which in turn leads to the final corner of fresh produce and fresh baking. Ever notice how the middle aisles are filled with processed food, snacks, junk, pop – basically, what I think of as “factory food”. Tasty, salty pabulum with less nutritional value because of the processes of cooking and freezing or drying, and shipping. Factory food sucks. Never eat anything that comes out of a box, with exceptions of whole foods and dried pasta and the like. Making food yourself is always the best solution.
Stick to what you have now learned. Keep your healthy fats in mind, keep your sugars and especially your high-fructose corn syrup in check, eat whole grains, switch to brown pasta and rice, and eat a very balanced, vegetable heavy diet. Learn how to cook veggies in such a way that you get to enjoy them. If you don’t enjoy them, find a different way to cook them. Then start to teach yourself how to find the lower calorie alternatives to many things. I will put in a plug for a company called Bolthouse Farms at this point, which makes wonderful juices, salad dressings, and other products. I’m a big fan of the unfortunately calorie laden creamy salad dressings. Bolthouse Farms has positively fantastic alternatives made with yogurt and 50-80 calories per serving, rather than the 200+ most of them have, and they in fact taste as good or better than the others. There are many products like these on the shelves, and it isn’t like they are hidden. They often don’t have the marketing budget that the big food conglomerates have, but boy is it worth finding them – finding these alternatives will mean you feel less deprived and, frankly, much more empowered.
I did it all at once. Cold turkey, as it were. I didn’t keep track, I just ate better. I ate as I knew I always should have. I ate “properly” for the first time in my life. And I have been eating properly ever since. I’m trim. I’m lean. I’m much happier overall. You can get there too, so long as you make the same decisions to eat well for you. However, keep reading if cold turkey isn’t the route for you, and you need some reminders or more active participation.
I also want to put in a caution about something – avoiding any diet that suggests cutting out any entire food or food group. Atkins is horrible. The new Wheat Belly diet is based on what I consider to be somewhat specious science. You can’t just cut out an entire food group unless there is an allergy. Dairy, wheat, fish, meat, fruits, vegetables – all of them are all incredibly important. Again, I’m not a nutritionist or a researcher, but this is my suggestion.
@momma2macy feels that everyone is different. I don’t subscribe to the idea of a log or a cheat day, but she begs to differ. “For me learning new eating habits meant keeping a log. I knew I was only allowed 1400 calories a day and I sure wasn’t going to waste any. That little miniature Mars bar… 60 calories. That’s a big piece of my day! Some people are able to stay strong without a visual reminder. I wasn’t. I needed to keep myself accountable. There are a lot of fantastic apps for your smartphone for keeping track.”
“There is also a lot of research to support that by mixing up your calorie intake, your body doesn’t go into the panic mode often created by sudden dieting due to the decreased calorie intake. This also allows you to go out for lunch or dinner and not feel deprived. You just make it up the next day. It keeps a lot of people from giving up on the days when healthier eating can be a challenge. You are much less likely to fall off the wagon and give in, or binge the rest of the day with the attitude that you have already ‘blown it’ today. “
“Take your daily calorie limit (i.e. 1400) x 7 days in the week = a weekly allowance of 9800 calories. As long as you stay within this you can allow yourself a bit of variance:
- Sunday 1600
- Monday 1300
- Tuesday 1400
- Wednesday 1500
- Thursday 1200
- Friday 1100
- Saturday 1700
Finally – deal with portion control. You need to learn what a proper portion is! You know that feeling of walking away from the table “stuffed”? Yeah, don’t do it. Ever. Invest in a kitchen scale until it becomes second nature, and learn how to measure out what the nutrition labels say is one serving. You will be very surprised to find out exactly what a proper portion is.”
The results – you will notice a difference in what your body wants
I can remember the bizarre moment when my body changed, and started to crave good food – food to use as fuel. It was a Saturday, during the 2010 Winter Olympics. My body craved a salad. My body never ever craved a salad. And it had to have broccoli. It was the most intense craving I can remember, and it was just plain odd. My body never craved stuff like that and now it did. Weird. I’ve not looked back, and that memory is now a sweet, pleasant one – it’s like a flag I planted in my quest for good food.
@momma2macy puts it well: “Changing your attitude from ‘I can’t have that’ simply to ‘I choose not to eat that’ is very empowering. It puts you in control of what you eat, gives you the choice without feeling as though you are missing out all the time.“ And she is so right about the empowering aspect of it. It’s completely fantastic when you make a choice and stick to it. When you don’t eat that Dorito at a party. When you bring your own light beer because the other stuff isn’t worth it.
“I look back now and I know I had a pretty awful diet” she says. “It wasn’t until one night I was driving home from Zumba class starving, it was 8:30 at night, having gone straight from work with no dinner; I had to stop at the grocery store for stuff for the kids lunches, I knew I still had to go home, get the kids sorted, make dinner… It was going to be awhile before I could eat. I grabbed a Granny Smith apple at the store and while driving down the road I literally groaned with delight when I bit into it. It was so good. That’s when I finally got it. I can change how my body looks at food. I can learn to love new things! Quit being afraid! The old me would have grabbed a Mars Bar and… Ok, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have been doing Zumba so it wouldn’t have mattered, but you get the idea.”
@momma2macy puts it best:
You can’t out- exercise a bad diet!
While writing this, I was listening to “Exit Music (For A Film)” by Radiohead
While writing this, I was listening to “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” by Arcade Fire
While writing this, I was listening to “Who Let You Go?” by The Killers