In college, I had two specialties of the house: pasta with jarred alfredo sauce and Trader Joe’s Pad Thai. My most important kitchen gadgets were: a blender (cocktails, duh!) and a toaster (bagels, duh). There have been points in my life when I considered a bag of mini Hostess donuts a reasonable ‘snack’ and a Chipotle burrito with guacamole a healthy-ish dinner.
With it being January and all, I thought it might be a good time to finally talk about what it means to eat healthy. Eating healthy, in my opinion, means something different to everyone. For some, eating healthy means skipping the sour cream on your burrito. For others, it means drinking only water and tea. For others still, healthy eating means salad.
My approach to healthy eating, as you may have guessed from reading the site, falls in what I would call the variety only if it’s really good camp. What does that mean? I’d say it means ‘everything in moderation’ but that’s not quite it.
Most days, I eat what I would consider ‘healthy’ but I’m not perfect about it. I almost always eat a few handfuls of granola after I’ve finished a bowl of it with my yogurt. I almost always eat three extra squares of dark of chocolate after the end of a meal. I almost always have two pieces of bread from the bread basket (sometimes three, if it’s really good). If I bake a batch of cookies, I almost always end up eating two warm ones right out of the oven, and proceed to have two more every day until they’re gone. And I almost always have seconds of everything I like.
My relationship with food has been mostly uncomplicated, but I’ve had periods in my life when I knew I needed to do something to live healthier. Between my freshman year of college and my first year in the workforce, I gained some 20 pounds, and it showed.
What I’ve learned is that eating healthy is totally personal choice, and there is no one-size-fits all approach. But today I thought I’d share a few ways that I’ve changed my eating habits, without giving up the things I really love (let’s be honest: carbs, sweets, and cheese). Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist and all opinions are simply that — opinions.
1. Don’t just eat a slice of cake at every party. Having eaten a lot of work birthday cakes, sample platter treats, and client gift basket goodies, I’ve realized that it’s ok to say, ‘No thanks, I’m ok!’ Let’s be real: most of that stuff isn’t THAT good. Save the calories for dinner with your significant other, a splurgy dinner out, or a girls night in.
2. Cut the soda. I gave up soda nearly 15 years ago and have never looked back. It’s incredible how little you’ll miss something that’s probably rotting your teeth.
3. Add your own sugar. One of the benefits of cooking at home is your ability to control how much sugar and salt you add to your food. I regularly decrease the amount of sugar in baked goods, and truthfully I hardly notice a difference. I used to drink my tea and coffee with sugar but also started slowly cutting back. Now, when I add a spoonful of sugar to my tea, I can hardly stand it. Make changes slowly and never think of something as a ‘diet’ or a ‘cleanse’ because you’ll just feel deprived.
4. Don’t kill yourself. I once tried a diet that required me to give up all carbs. What happened? I actually started having dreams of stuffing my face with bread. My body craved it and the experience made me realize that I love bread, and there’s no good reason for me to deprive myself of its joy. I’m not gluten-free, nor did I feel better eliminating gluten from my diet. Moral of the story: do what works for you!
5. Get to know your veggies. The proliferation of vegetarian food blogs and cookbooks opened my eyes to how beautiful and delicious vegetables are, and how they can become a focal point in everyday cooking and eating. In the Turntable Kitchen, we eat an omnivorous diet but every night, we try to cook with some in-season vegetables. I never stop at one serving.
6. Stop buying everything low-fat. Look: how many times have you bought something with no sugar and fat only to find yourself completely unsatisfied? When you really want that bowl of ice cream, go for it, but make sure it’s one bowl, and maybe no more than once a week.
7. Eat a little…less. This is probably the biggest and most significant change you can make. Instead of feeling awful about eating a handful of potato chips…stop at a handful of potato chips. I find that healthy eating is, ultimately, a healthy relationship with yourself. And a healthy relationship with yourself is reliant on empathy.
8. Give yourself a break. During the week, I try to stick to a routine of healthy-ish eating, but I always give myself 1-2 days of splurge time. Whether it’s dinner at my favorite restaurant or an ice cream outing with friends, I make sure no week goes by without a cheat day but come Monday, I remind myself that it’s time to button up a little, so to speak.
What are you doing to live / eat healthier in 2014?