Until about three years ago I was one of those people blessed with ninja metabolism and energy, and didn’t really have to worry or think about what I was eating.
“Tori, how do you stay so thin?”
“I eat a lot of pizza and never diet. I pretend to be a Super Saiyan in my brain but I never work out either.”
Then I gained 40lbs out of nowhere and started craving naps. Naps!? But sleep is for the birds! Give me 4 hours between 4am and 8am and I’m good to go! Not anymore.
They always warned me this would happen (the "fat grownups"), but I didn’t believe them. I thought I’d outsmarted diabetes, weight gain, the “16 hour day", and acne forever. Ah, the naiveté.
Learning how to eat healthy has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. When you’re in the shoes of someone who’s never been there, and you’re looking around at all of your friends who’ve been doing it for a while, you start to ask yourself why you’re having so much trouble grasping the concept of healthy living. It can be a terrible feeling when you couple it with pre-shower mirror time (ladies understand). So today, I’d like to talk about how to eat better when you’re starting truly at square one, worrying about your eating habits for the first time.
Something You Should Know Before We Get Started: You Shouldn’t Be Dieting
If you’ve noticed, I’ve been very careful to not reference the act of ‘dieting’. This is because dieting is a short-term thing. The Slow Carb Diet, Adkins, 5-2, and anything else you see out there is all for short-term goals. They are simply too rigid to ever be able to keep up with them permanently. Some people give it a great shot, and kudos to them, but do you really want to give up carbs forever? It’s okay to be realistic and say “No, I love pasta.” and figure out what you can do from there. There are other, better long-term options.
The bottom line is that being healthy is a long-term commitment, and diets, whether they work or not, typically don’t fit that mold. If you have a ton of weight to lose and want to start on a crash diet and switch over to a general healthy lifestyle, then that idealism may work. Otherwise, you don’t want a diet, you just want to eat healthy.
Step One: Changing Your Worst Habit
When you start changing your eating habits, or dieting, all advice seems to start with “This is what you should be eating” or “This is what you shouldn’t be eating”. I propose we start a little earlier in the game.
If you’ve been terrible about your eating habits up until this point, your worst habit isn’t what you’ve been eating. Your worst habit is thinking about it in retrospect instead of before the fact.
Here’s what happens: You’re about to settle down to watch Scandal at 10:00pm on a Thursday night. You head to the kitchen to look for a TV snack, and find a pint of Rocky Road, unopened. The glory. After grabbing a spoon you enjoy your delicious show. It’s heaven. You go to get ready for bed, catch a side view in the mirror and say, “Man, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that ice cream.”
Here’s what should be happening instead: You’re about to settle down to watch Scandal at 10:00pm on a Thursday night. You head to the kitchen to look for a TV snack, and find a pint of Rocky Road, unopened. You stop and think. What will it do to my body? Will I regret it later? I will? Okay, but will I regret eating some celery and peanut butter instead? Not nearly as much. Let’s do that. You prep some celery and peanut butter and head on over to your luxurious sectional to watch your favorite show and have a tasty snack. You go to get ready for bed, catch a side view in the mirror and say, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t eat that ice cream.”
Notice what a small change in thought process can do for your actions. Thinking in retrospect was my absolute biggest problem, and it was also something I spent a long time overlooking and underestimating. I would literally not think about what I was eating until something reminded me about it later. It was tough, but I had to force the habit of asking myself what each food I put in my body would do to it. This helped me become more conscious and ready to really start successfully digging into the rest of what it takes to eat healthy. I recommend that if you feel, or have ever felt, like your eating habits are out of your control, you start with this. Before you even go grocery shopping down the organics aisle, start getting into the habit of thinking about what it is you’re eating, before you actually eat it.
Step Two: Surround Yourself With People Who Are Eating Healthy
“We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with.” - this quote is true in every walk of life. It’s true with work ethic, sleep habits, drinking/drug habits, dieting, negativity/positivity, and anything else you can probably think of. This is because we have a natural tendency to want to keep up with the Joneses, no matter what they're doing. Don't go against the human in you, just change the outcome of going with it.
If you’re not eating healthy right now, you’re likely not surrounded by healthy eaters. That’s okay. They’re still good people, but they’re holding you back without any of you even realizing it, because the biggest peer pressure doesn’t happen with words, it happens with example. You’ll need to do one of two things:
- Spend less time with the people who are setting a bad example and more time with people who are setting a good one.
- Change the minds of the people who are setting the bad example, if it’s extremely difficult/impossible to spend less time with them.
You will also want to make sure healthy eating is a trending topic on your social media sites. You want to surround yourself with it.
It’s a ton easier for me to eat healthy now that my girlfriend’s on board. I finally just started taking the initiative, going to the grocery store without her and cooking dinner for her every night. She didn’t really have a choice, but she didn’t complain, because she did no work and spent no money on the project. After trying and liking a couple of recipes, she finally came around to the idea that eating healthy isn’t synonymous with torture, and has been much easier to work with on it.
The most difficult part about it before was when I would be sitting down to have a healthy snack (or no snack at all) and she would come in with ice cream, or mac and cheese, or one of several other options of unhealthy quickies. She didn’t have to verbally peer pressure me. Seeing the food that I knew I loved eating was enough. Now, out of sight out of mind, and all’s well in the world.
*If you’d like to micro-manage this step, keep in mind that it’s most important during times when you’re actually eating. If you spend dinner time with a wife who loves cookies for dessert, this is something you want to focus on finding a solution to. If you work closely with a guy who has poor eating habits, but you never have lunch with him, it’s not really as pertinent an issue, though it does help to be as completely surrounded as possible by good influence, because clean eaters tend to chat about their lifestyle, which can be just the push you need for doing the right thing at lunch.
Step Three: NOW You Can Set/Follow Some Ground Rules For Eating
I wanted to lose 40lbs. Not a lot of weight, in my opinion. If you’re trying to lose a lot more weight, you may change some of these rules. But these are the ground rules that keep me on track, and more importantly, keep me happy about it. Hopefully you find some gems in here for yourself. At any rate, expect your rules to change and evolve over time. Mine have.
- Use Paprika ($4.99 Android/iPhone/iPad $19.99 Mac) to find recipes and organize grocery lists. Select the recipes I want on my grocery list and Paprika automatically makes the list for me. Boom. Ready to shop.
- The majority of my recipes are low/no simple carbs and sugars, and high in veggies and protein. I’m not picky about what types of veggies. Veggies are all good for you. When you find a diet that says “Eat leafy greens instead of corn” you have found a diet that is not interested in your mental health. Progress is progress. Just eat veggies and you’ll be fine.
- Two recipes per shopping trip should be replacement ninja recipes for #6.
- If my shopping cart isn’t (at a glance) 70% produce, 15% meat, 10% fruit and 5% guilty pleasures, I’m doing it wrong.
- Save guilty pleasures for the weekend. This will reset my metabolism for next week and allow me to keep shaving off the inches. Keep myself busy and with a full tummy on healthy stuff during the week so I don’t even crave guilty pleasures.
- When I’m having a tough time with rule #5, cook up a healthy replacement for my guilty pleasure. For instance, I love spaghetti. Love love love. If I really want spaghetti on a Tuesday, I make this alternative. Equally as delicious, yet so much better for me, and has the tomato flavor so help end the craving.
- Complex carbs replace simple carbs whenever possible. If that fails, see if there’s a cauliflower recipe. If that fails, save it for the weekend.
- Eat as much as I want, whenever I want. Just eat healthy alternatives to what I was eating before.
- Sweets now come in the form of fruit, not ice cream and donuts.
- Alcohol now comes in the form of wine, not beer or liquor.
- It’s okay to fuck up sometimes. Take the rest of the day off and start back tomorrow morning.
That’s it. That’s my “diet”, but it’s not a diet, it’s just my new lifestyle, and it’s not rigid (for me), which brings me to the next step.
Step Four: To Avoid A Rigid Change, Cater to Your Faults and Play on Your Strengths
The reason my rules work for me is because none of them ever struck me as “difficult”.
Everyone has a weakness or 5. There's no escaping it, which is exactly what fad diets have you try to do, which is exactly why they don't last. People go on a low carb diet wondering how they’re ever going to let go of their beloved carbs. That’s what gets them, they’re not playing to their strengths and weaknesses. By the time I got to step three, it was easy. Let me explain.
My weakness: I’m an overeater who likes food that ‘tastes good’. I also love carbs. Pasta, bread, you name it, I love it.
My strengths: My pallet isn’t limited, nor do I have a fear of trying new things. I’m actually one of those people who will try just about anything once, and like most of what I try. Just don’t put an insect in my face and call it cuisine unless you desire vomit.
The outcome: I’m perfectly happy trying new recipes to find great tasting, healthy alternatives to what I’m eating now. I also like complex carbs as much as I like simple carbs, and complex carbs break down much quicker and cause far less weight gain. Then, I can continue to eat the same amount that I’ve been eating, because veggies and protein and complex carbs don’t stick to your bones like simple carbs and sugars do. This is the mentality that’s shaped my entire set of rules in step three.
Find out what your weaknesses and strengths are, and how you can cater to them and use them to help you.
Step 5: Finish All The Crappy Food In Your Pantry And Get To It
Make your last supper a good one, because tomorrow is a new life, until Saturday.