I am a food lover. I truly love the taste of food. I suspect I am not alone in my food-love, or in the challenges this presents in terms of maintaining a healthy weight. Or maybe it is that you are very busy and don’t have time to keep great food habits. Or you don’t know the reason, but for some reason, you just have a hard time with food. The reality is that for many of us, it can be tough to adhere to a nutrition plan. Food is hard for most people.
Many years ago, a friend made me realize that I was not alone in my food challenges. He had spent the past several months at a Buddhist monastery in England where they basically ate one meal a day of rice and vegetables. That’s tough! But it wasn’t just the food that was hard. He had hours a day of meditation, chores, and for one week he took a vow of silence. At the end of his vow of silence, he describes having gone down to “the big bacon hut” near the monastery and was shocked to see two of the senior monks devouring big bacon sandwiches. When he asked about it, they said that they still found food the most challenging of all of the hardships they have.
For those of you who are not mentally stronger than senior Buddhist monks, I give you my 11 tactics for enjoying food without increasing girth.
1. Double Your Salad Pleasure. When making salad, double it and put half directly into a storage container and into the fridge. It takes virtually the same amount of time to make two salads as it does to make one, and now you have a healthy start to another meal ready to go. I’ve found that I do take out much less often since starting to use this practice. Now I might think about take out, but then I remember there’s a salad in the fridge and so I try to think of something that would go well with that. Often that leads me to the grocery store where I pick up some meat to cook up for a delicious, satisfying and healthy meal.
2. Avoid one bad food decision daily. This tip is most important for those who are starting on a healthy eating path. I am going to go on record and say that I don’t think all or nothing works for many people. If you have tried every diet and nutrition strategy under the sun, then you may be someone who does better with a more subtle change process. Instead of finding the perfect date to start a new diet (or nutrition approach), make one change today by avoiding one bad decision. Easy. Do it again tomorrow. What should you change first? Doesn’t matter. But at some point today, when you are about to make a bad food choice, don’t. Then declare a personal victory every time you overcome that one bad decision (Ideally you won’t celebrate it with ice cream!). You’ll find that this adds up over time and one day you’ll realize you eat well most of the time. You’ll probably also realize that you feel great most of the time too. Coincidence?
3. Find some delicious and healthy meal recipes. Add them to your regular repertoire. Extra bonus if the meal recipe is also easy to make. Make them often. Not sure where to find recipes? I’m a big fan of America’s Test Kitchen for recipes, as well as allrecipes.com. There’s also a recipes section on the Female Fitness Forum that has some great stuff in there – feel free to add to it if you come up with something new.
4. Get a good knife. Forget about the knife set and instead spend as much money as you can on one good chef’s knife. If you don’t have a lot of money, ask for a knife for your next birthday present. Or take what you were going to spend on a set of knives and buy a knife. Shop at places like Winners or TJ Maxx to get a better knife for the same price. Trust me that you will cut and eat healthy and delicious food much more often if you have a good knife. If you have more disposable income then get yourself some quality cookware too! My new chef’s knife and skillet led to a month long cooking spree that featured dozens of delicious and healthy dishes. My old knife block has been collecting dust ever since. This year I was able to add a good serrated knife and a paring knife to my chef knife and cheese knife (my prized collection is shown to the left. I am now saving up for a boning knife.
5. Find convenient and tasty meals that are relatively healthy. Remember them when you are thinking about takeout. Not sure what it should be? Think of the meals that you love. Now try to find frozen or instant versions of them. The all-or-nothing nutritionists and trainers will scoff at this option because processed food is bad for you. Well, there is some truth to that. Processed foods are not the best choice. But they are much, much, much better than the alternative that you would otherwise have eaten. If you can find a quick meal that you really like, you will chose that over McDonald’s, pizza, and fried chicken. Chalk that up as a victory. Just make sure you check the nutritional label on your quick and tasty processed food selection because some of them are alarmingly salty and caloric. For me the food item is Stouffers frozen lasagna. I have had a very busy year, and there are many evenings when making a full meal is just not going to happen. So I pop the lasagna in the microwave for 9 minutes while I make a big salad, or if I’m lucky, I get to pull the second salad out of the fridge from yesterday. When the lasagna is done, I let it cool for a couple of minutes then grate a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano on top. I actually look forward to it. And at 410 calories with 40/40/20 as the carb/fat/protein ratios, it’s a pretty healthy option.
6. Oil and vinegar makes a delicious and healthy salad dressing. I use it exclusively now. I grab a small dish and pour in 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Then I mix until it thickens slightly (emulsifies I believe is the actual term) and pour it over the salad. I think it’s delicious but I do think it is a bit of an acquired taste. But I will suggest to you that it’s a taste that is worth acquiring. I used to use store bought salad dressings, but I found that most either had way too many calories, or they were full of ingredients that I can’t pronounce. I also found that they often went bad before I had a chance to use it. I can honestly say that I love my salads as much now than I used to when I used store bought dressings. Only now it is a healthier version. I will admit that sometimes I miss bacon ranch dressing, but I can now reserve that for the odd meal out. I don’t miss it enough to keep using it though.
7. Newton’s laws do not apply to eating habits. An action (over-indulgence one day) does not require an equal and opposite reaction (starve yourself the next day). Accept the indulgence and start fresh the next day without judgement. Self-criticism + starvation is not going to help.
8. Recognize your food weaknesses and try to protect yourself from them. My food weakness is that I lack quantity control. If there are delicious foods in the house, I will eat them. Until they are done. Protection for me means buying in small quantities when it comes to unhealthier foods. I not only consider per serving calories when I select foods to eat, but I also consider the calories per container. This means that I will avoid buying a 2L container of frozen yogurt. Each serving may only be 150 calories, but odds are my serving will be 300 calories, which is still okay. The problem is that there is another 2100 calories of frozen yogurt in my freezer that will taunt me until it is all gone. The 1L frozen yogurt is a much better option for me.
9. Older is better. If you eat cheese, remember the older the better. Old cheeses pack a flavour punch so that you can eat less for the same enjoyment. Put down the low-fat mozzarella and grab yourself some old cheddar or blue.
10. Spice up your life!
Spice is a great way to add flavour and nutrients with virtually no calories. For me cinnamon and nutmeg in baking, coriander with chicken, basil on tomatoes, and cajun spice mix in omelets can turn boring into delicious. Think spicy with sauces and spreads as well. A bit of ancient grain mustard is a much better option than mayonnaise for sandwiches, and salsa makes most things better.
11. Get thee to the market! When summer is upon you, make sure you get to the market. Nothing says “eat well” like a big bowl of fresh vegetables and fruit. Fresh blueberries, raspberries or peaches can almost always steer me away from chips or chocolate. And for those of you with kids, if you are not buying heirloom carrots, why not? Some of them are purple! How cool is that for the little ones? And did I mention that they are cheaper and tastier than the ones you get in the grocery store?
Do you have any tips that you use to help you stay on track with healthy eating? Please share them!
Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.
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