I recently came across a wellness article 7 nutrition trends you’ll see in 2018. It then occurred to me: since when is nutrition “trendy”? Maybe this is part of the problem? An eagerness to jump on the latest dietary bandwagon rather than pausing, thinking and doing the work to figure out what dietary lifestyle achieves wellness for an individual long term. If what you have been doing isn’t getting you healthier, is it time to consider a change? Do we need to consider that what we have been told may not be what is right or true for us individually? I have.
There are hot topics and debate in the community within which I regularly read regarding the food and medical industries, but I thought it would be good to look past the controversy and examine a number of basics that I believe would be generally acceptable within any dietary lifestyle. This post is about iterating the basics, the foundation, of where I would recommend to anyone beginning their journey whether you are vegan or stone cold keto (like me). From my point of view, the following are universally common across all dietary lifestyles are: awareness, cooking and limiting processed foods.
Do we really pay attention to what we eat? Are we eating what we have been eating because we have been eating it? What would anyone be able to say about any recent meals beyond how the meal tasted? How often are food choices made without thought or real consideration?
To make meaningful changes that can be sustained within your lifestyle, I believe it is best to be willing to pause and take a look; shine a light on reality. Increasing awareness is a form of confrontation, which is something most folks shy away from, and may result in the relatively simple task of increasing your awareness harder than it needs to be. Try not to fear taking two simple steps to start:
I recommend choosing a period of time, perhaps 2 weeks, within which you commit to literally becoming aware of what you eat by keeping journal (pen and paper or electronic) or using a food tracker. The awareness period is judgement free, with zero focus on content, quality, or frequency, but simply documenting what you consume. I am not talking about weighing and measuring. I am literally suggesting that one find a mechanism to document what you eat. This behavior continues to be a valuable tool in my life.
Building on having documented what you eat, I recommend deciding ONE specific and narrow area on which to focus on making an improvement. After reviewing you step 1 documentation select a simple (and not overwhelming) focus area. Step 2 is not about making a drastic change, it is about continuing to increase your awareness of your behavior within your current dietary lifestyle. It is also about challenging yourself to make small, doable changes, continuing to build your awareness and foundation as you continue to move forward. You will also build confidence in yourself and prove to yourself that you will not spontaneously combust if you have fewer sodas or snacks in your life.
- If you drink 12 carbonated sodas in a week, focus on cutting that number in half
- If you have dessert after dinner 5 nights a week, reduce that to dessert 3 times a week
- If you regularly snack late after dinner every night, change that to an after dinner snack only on the weekend
Cooking is actually connected to awareness. By default, if you are cooking your food you know what is in it. And by cooking I mean preparing your meals at home, including food you may eat on the go or pack for lunch. In the beginning, establishing the behavior is significantly more important that getting into the weeds of is this food or ingredient “good or bad for me”. The point is to get into the groove and not become overwhelmed.
The lifestyle that you ultimately choose to practice and the one that successfully promotes health in your body will involve cooking and preparing your own food. The pendulum of cooking swings wide but regardless of if you use convenience items and the microwave or get your staples from the local farm you will need to cook them. You will need to cook them at home. Each of us start in a different place in the cooking at home continuum, but what is important is that one start and continue to improve.
- Cooking requires practice. The more you cook, the better you get at it.
- Cooking does not require fancy, costly or specialty ingredients.
- Cooking does not require crazy gadgets.
- I am not sure when everyone became to busy to cook, but with some practice and time investment, you may that in reality cooking is a time saver.
- The internet solves the issue of “I can’t cook” with a plethora of free videos, blogs and forums chock full of information.
- KISS cooking – Keep It Simple Sweetie. Experiment and get creative after the basics are solid.
Limiting processed foods
You would be hard pressed to find recommendations to consume processed foods as part of a healthy diet outside of a commercial sponsored Mr. Dorito’s et al. My post My Take On Food Labels touches on the subject. Processed and the newer category hyperprocessed food would best be limited in any dietary lifestyle.
Armed with the initial improvements of increasing awareness and cooking your own food, limiting processed (packaged) foods is next. In the beginning, depending upon where you are with your awareness and cooking habits, pick one or two items to focus to de-process.
I am not a zealot or a farmer, however I have the worthy goal is for the majority of my foods to be whole or minimally processed. A good rule of thumb is going for 5 ingredients or less. Processed food falls on a spectrum:
Generally not problematic
Minimally processed foods — such as bagged spinach, cut vegetables and roasted nuts — often are simply pre-prepped for convenience.
Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness include canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.
Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.
Ready-to-eat foods — such as crackers, granola and deli meat — are more heavily processed.
The most heavily processed foods often are pre-made meals including frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners.
- Initially it is better to buy the ingredients and make your sub at home rather than buy a sub at Subway. Over time, figure out how to increase the quality of the contents of your sub.
- Start with Bubba, who is selling frozen hamburger patties at the grocery I shop in. Eventually, make “burger patty making day” part of your week.
- Trade those cheese and “cheese food” slices for a block of cheese…..and a knife.
- Use bottled dressing on your salad that you have constructed at home with your favorite toppings and also look for recipes and learn how frighteningly easy it is to make your own dressing (or mayonnaise) at home.
The absolute best thing you can do is to not overthink any of this and just start. Embracing awareness, cooking and limiting processed food is a challenge but they CAN be the foundation of your new normal. Decide to build YOUR healthy foundation!
More to come…..