Sometimes when I reflect on some of my main goals (like eating well), I can't help but feel overwhelmed by how far I still want to go. Healthy eating in particular seems a daunting task in today's frenzied fast-food culture, with sugar lurking behind practically every label (bread! yogurt! pasta sauce!), different opinions on what constitutes a healthy fat (to wit, the butter vs. margarine debate), and the cold hard reality that buying local and/or organic produce costs at least double the price of your average grocery store option. (I'm sorry, but I get really fed up with all the people who say that eating healthier foods does not cost more. It does! Do the math, people!!)
While I'm doing my best to navigate the sheer bombardment of food choices we are faced with on a daily basis (a blessing or a curse - you decide), there are inevitably days where I get to the dinner-making hour and just run out of steam. And in those moments, I would dearly love to drop a packet of ramen noodle into some boiling water, toss in a handful of veggies, and call it dinner. (Or better yet, just order a pizza.) Fatigue just makes everything seem bleak, I find. Making a dinner that at 2:30 pm seemed like a wonderfully balanced and not too time consuming option suddenly becomes The Impossible Dream right around five o'clock.
It doesn't help that I seem to be prone to severe bouts of sleepiness anytime between 4:30 pm to about 7 pm or so, and have been every since I was a child. (My mother used to have to force me to keep moving/do something active in the late afternoon/early evening when I was little, because otherwise I would fall asleep and then end up awake for the entire night.) This natural (genetic?) state of fatigue does NOT help matters when one is trying to pump out healthy dinners night after night (all those veggies won't chop themselves, you know!) and resist the urge to be lazy and just eat something convenient (read: unhealthy).
Last night, as I attempted to ward off sleep by plugging away in the kitchen (and calling my parents for a pep talk ♥), I was feeling kind of discouraged. (Along the lines of, why does something so basic (ie. feeding oneself) have to be so ridiculously complicated? What if after all this work I'm still not able to make any progress? etc.) And then it hit me, that just because my eating may not be perfect*, just because every goal I've made has not yet been reached, does not mean there has been no progress!
Thus, I decided it would be a good self-encouragement tool to document some of the lasting changes I have already made that are fine evidence of how I am working towards my goal of improving my diet and health.
In no particular order:
-Cutting out all soft drinks (Not that I used to drink a lot of soda, but I would often order a diet coke when we went out for lunch or dinner. No more!)
-Increasing vegetable intake (There used to be days where I wouldn't eat anything green. No more!)
-Eating more kale (Or other dark leafy greens. I read or heard somewhere that you should have at least one serving of dark leafies (as I like to call them) and one serving of bright orange veggies per day, and I try to hit this as many times a week as I can.)
-Replacing simple ("white") carbs with complex (whole grain) carbs (Except on Sundays, we get all our carbs from whole grains, fruits, and veggies. This is a HUGE change from my old white flour, white rice-eating ways!)
-Vastly reducing our sugar consumption (Not only have I greatly reduced how much refined sugar I'm eating straight up (to almost none), I'm also much more aware of sugar in foods like bread and yogurt, and have changed what I buy accordingly.)
-Replacing vanilla yogurt in my smoothies with plain (unsweetened) yogurt (Just one concrete example of how I'm eating less sugar.)
-Eating less meat (I used to scoff at the palm-sized portion idea, but now I try to follow that pretty carefully.)
-Eating more fish (Aside from the last couple weeks, where fish has not made an appearance on our plates, we usually eat salmon or some type of white fish about 1-2 times per week.)
-Reading package labels (I was REALLY good at this for a few years, and then I just became lazy or stopped caring. No more! I am now super scrupulous about reading every food label on the products I buy. Of course, it's best if most of what you buy doesn't come with a label, but some healthy stuff like oatmeal is still packaged, and I want to make sure I'm getting what I think I'm getting, with no added sugar or ingredients that can't be pronounced by normal human beings.)
-Cutting out juice (I used to only drink 100% fruit juices (none of that sugary "cocktail" stuff, please!) but now, except for the rare occasion we have orange juice, it's pretty much just milk, soy milk every so often, and lots of water.)
-Not letting sickness be an excuse (So, confession time: I used to be awful at eating well when I was under the weather. I figured that I was feeling lousy anyways, so I might as well eat whatever the heck I wanted (both to feel better and I guess because I thought it didn't matter since I was already sick?). Well, no more! I now have a mental list of Sore Throat Foods, for example, and am overall SO MUCH BETTER at sticking with healthy options even when I'm not feeling well. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but not nearly as many exceptions as there used to be. I call that a win!)
-Controlling portion sizes (I'm not sure I'm entirely hitting the mark on this one, but short of measuring everything (which I have done before, what a pain!!) I'm doing my best to eyeball using the hand-sizing method. At any rate, I'm doing better than I was before, although I'm sure there's still room for improvement...)
-Keeping track of what I eat (Another thing I used to sort of brush aside, but now I'm a believer! I think this is such a helpful tool in sticking with any kind of eating goal that goes against the mainstream.)
*And by the way, who defines what a perfect diet looks like? Scientists, doctors, dieticians, governments, and everyone else do not seem to be able to come to a consensus, though for the record, I think Michael Pollen's take is pretty spot-on.
P.S. A longer article about why butter IS better! ;)
P.P.S. In case you're wondering, Sore Throat Foods are foods that are cool, soothing, and not in the least bit acidic (ouch!). They should also not be deep fried (or too fatty), sugary, or contain much dairy, as these can also irritate the throat when it's at its most tender. Examples of my favourite Sore Throat Foods include watermelon, cucumbers, bananas, frozen blueberries, and steamed green leafies. Watermelon is one of the best because it is also super hydrating, which helps the body flush out toxins and recover faster. Plus, who doesn't love watermelon? :)