Monday, July 31, 2017

Food Guidelines: How I Eat

This two-part post is different from even my usual randomness. So feel free to ignore it if you think it's odd. And yes, we all know that I'm not a nutritionist.

The current trend these days is to say that you love your body just the way it is and all of that--but the thing is, if you really do love your body, shouldn't you try to treat it well? Because we all know that this statement isn't about inherent traits or traits that you can't change (hair color, for instance, is an inherent trait that it seems like nearly every woman and many men now choose to change). Most often (though yes, not always) this phrase is used in connection to weight. And while most of us could probably be more active, mainly weight these days is connected to food.

We've all seen what the aisles in grocery stores look like, and we've all seen what some pretty typical bad food habits look like. We know it's an issue--it's just so ingrained in current culture that it can be hard to change.

So I have randomly decided to share some of my own attitudes toward food, thinking that perhaps these might be helpful to someone. My biggest advice is not to think of what you aren't eating but instead to think of what you are eating. Don't think of it as denying yourself things that you want; think of it simply as changing your habits.

Processed food - This is both the easiest and most difficult change to make. Cut down your processed food. Eat food from home as much as you can and make as much of that food as you can. You can buy frozen food, but by frozen food I mean frozen meat, vegetables (though fresh taste better), fruit (though you can easily freeze them yourself), that sort of thing, not frozen entrees and side dishes. Buy canned food; it's easy. Again, this means vegetables, beans, tuna, etc., not soup. Try to buy the bag of oatmeal instead of the individual packets--and if you must buy the packets, get the ones without added ingredients and instead add what you want in it yourself. Try to make cookies and other desserts at home more often than you buy them ready made.

"Seasoning" - Use salt and use sugar--don't be afraid of them. Just make sure that you're buying either sea salt (which is stronger in flavor) or pink Himalayan salt (which is milder) and get the organic sugar, which isn't refined as much as regular white sugar. Remember that all of the warnings about eating too much salt and sugar are intended for people who are eating lots of processed food. If you're not eating all that processed food, then you have direct control over how much salt and sugar you're adding to your food. I add salt to eggs, beans, vegetables, and meat, so I'm using it every day--but I know I'm still eating a reasonable amount of it because I can literally see how much I'm sprinkling on. And yes, while I use sugar in recipes, on a daily basis I find that I prefer the taste of honey. Honey is great for toast, oatmeal, and even hot chocolate. Again, just make sure you're not buying the cheap honey bears (this may or may not be news to you: they don't have much actual honey in them). Buy pure honey, preferably one that's somewhat local; it may seem expensive at first, but really isn't too bad when you compare it to other products (and think about how wonderful honey is).

Don't deny yourself - Don't starve your mind by going overboard with an ascetic attitude toward food. If you're craving something sweet, eat something sweet--or plan to do so and let yourself look forward to that time. I love using the single serving chocolate cake recipe I've talked about before. Sometimes I'll make half a batch of cookies; they last me for a week. (Obviously the amount of a dessert that you can make at one time varies depending on whether you live alone, with one other person, or with more people.) Chocolate can be great for cravings. Buy craft, fair trade chocolate as part of your regular shopping routine. Eat maybe a third of a 75-100 ounce bar at a time. If you don't like dark chocolate, go ahead and get the milk chocolate: if it's a good brand, then I honestly don't feel like you need to be concerned about a little sugar and milk. It's fine, and it's way better than eating an Oreo. Speaking of Oreos, consider Newman O's instead--and look for other "replacements" for regular junk food. Some you'll be able to replace completely (it's been so long since I stopped eating the Oreo brand that I now think they taste terrible, like cardboard and grease--Newman O's taste much better). Others you can't. For instance, I buy Entenmann's occasionally when I'm craving them. We all have something we like to indulge in. Just remember to think of it as an indulgence, something to look forward to and enjoy when it's time for it, not something for everyday use (kind of like a vacation).

Eat what you need - Eat when you're hungry; don't eat when you're not hungry. It's as simple as that. Do you need something in between meals? It's true: nuts and dried fruit are great snacking material. Do you get full halfway through a meal? Then stop eating and save the rest for later. (On the opposite side: don't automatically stop eating before you're finished. Keep eating until your body, not your mind, tells you you're done.) Don't look at anything as "dieting" because then you'll feel like you're forcing yourself to do things (which you might be at first if you're changing your habits a lot, but you don't want to think of it as a lack of freedom); remind yourself that you just have a new perspective. Eating is necessary, not evil.

Beverages - I can't finish this post without a nod to beverages. It's literally disturbing how much soda stores sell--and not just Wal-Mart and regular grocery stores. Whole Foods sells tons of soda, too (although at least theirs is sweetened with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup). The easy thing is to just say, don't drink soda. I haven't been drinking soda for so long that I now hate drinking anything with carbonation/bubbles (except, you know, champagne). So if you can completely quit it, do so; your body and taste buds will adjust to the change. And while other places all advise avoiding juice, I don't. Get 100% juice that's organic and not from concentrate and be aware that even juices that aren't labeled as blends might indeed be blends. The next key thing is to actually use a juice glass--you know, the small ones. Other people recommend diluting, but I prefer to have a small glass with the full flavor; do what suits you. Again, juice can be a nice snacking drink or even a dessert-type drink when you want something sweet. Other drinks? Drink your coffee in the morning if you want. Add sugar if you want. But don't add creamer (it's just artificial sugar, so you're adding sugar and sugar); use milk or cream or something else instead. I like tea; black tea in the morning with no sweetener. During the day I drink other types. Yerba mate is great, and it can also make a good morning drink. Herbal and floral teas are wonderful; try sweetening them with honey instead of sugar for better flavor. You can drink these hot or cold. Make your own lemonade (just lemons or limes and sugar--remember, you have control over how much sugar you add). Make cucumber water. Or watermelon water. If you know you like to drink other things besides water, give yourself other options than just soda.

What's a calorie? - I'm not joking when I say that I literally don't know what a calorie is. I mean, I know what the definition basically is, but that has no more bearing on my daily life than the definition or protons and neutrons. True, I'm saying this as someone who has never needed to lose or gain weight for health. I guess calories can be a basic guideline for keeping yourself on task. But I think it's better to pay attention to your body and pay attention to the various things you eat in a day. Instead of counting meaningless numbers, just remember the guideline of eating the amount that satisfies your appetite. And remember to keep the sweets down because they're for pleasure, not for a main course.

This will be a two-part post. On Wednesday, I'll go into more detail on the types of things that I usually eat. Not so that you can replicate what I do but just because it's interesting to see what works for other people and get an idea of how positive eating habits don't need to be constricting and don't need to work against your own personal preferences.

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