How to Shift Your Eating Habits for the Better and Not Hate Your Life
Eating. We all have to do it to stay alive. Until Google or Apple or one of the other big technology companies can upload our brains into a giant computer simulation and we can opt-out of having a digestive tract entirely, we all have to find ways to balance good nutrition with our increasingly busy and complex lives.
Even though I work in healthcare and practice East Asian medicine, I can admittedly be a little ambivalent when it comes to the topic of nutrition. Maybe it’s because I spent too many years living in uber-healthy Boulder and got tired of being asked what I thought about Michael Pollan’s ‘Food Rules’ for the ten-thousandth time, or for being made to feel unenlightened for committing some perceived dietary sin, such as eating cheese fries. I grew up in the Midwest, and I am pretty sure that at a certain point in time while I was in high school my blood tests would have registered the amount of Doritos and Chipotle I was consuming on a regular basis.
But I can also very much appreciate the very real relationship between good nutrition and improvement in quality of life. For many people struggling with chronic pain, psycho-emotional distress such as anxiety and depression, and autoimmune conditions, high-quality nutrition can mean the difference between barely functioning and regularly suffering, and having a high quality of life and accomplishing what you need and want to do on a daily basis.
So this article is for those of us in the ambivalent middle. Those of us who know we can do a tiny bit better when it comes to how we feed ourselves. As the author Anne Lamott once said, “Food; try to do a little better.” Improving your diet does not mean having to move away to live on “Deprivation Island” all by yourself. Doing a few simple things can help improve your overall quality of life. This list is by no means exhaustive, but just a starting point with a few suggestions to consider.
If you really, really struggle in the breakfast department, as in you wake up every single morning and five minutes before you have to run out the door it occurs to you that it might be a good idea to eat something, or you regularly drive down I-70 with a microwaveable Starbucks muffin thingy in your hand, then just focus on breakfast. For 30 days, just focus on making some improvements with that one meal, arguably the most important meal of the day and the one that can set the tone for how you eat the rest of the day. Figure out what you want to eat in the morning. Maybe make it the night before. Read some articles online. Teach yourself how to poach the most exquisitely beautiful egg, or how to make the most delicious omelet. Spend some time on the weekends trying new recipes. Read about what other cultures eat for breakfast. Just start with optimizing one meal and go from there.
Vegetable-ize Your Life
This is a big one. A really big one. When I am regularly excelling in the vegetable-eating department, I basically feel like a different person. Happier. Way more energized. Lighter. I never utter a snarky word to my husband. Blue birds land on my shoulder. It must be what Gwenyth Paltrow feels like all of the time. Simply and utterly amazing. So how does one do this, you might ask - this eating-of-the-vegetables? Well, it definitely requires an open mind. Maybe you don’t like asparagus, or celery, or Brussels sprouts. But maybe you do. I didn’t grow up eating sweet potatoes and different types of squashes, and never thought that I would like them, and now they are a few of my absolute favorites. Maybe you just haven’t found a way to prepare certain vegetables - how to prepare them to your maximum culinary satisfaction. This might require experimenting with different recipes, or trying different preparations when you go out to eat at restaurants. Roasting vegetables in the oven is incredibly easy to do. There are YouTube videos galore on how to do this. Roasting vegetables requires minimal preparation and effort. It’s incredibly simple. One very easy (and admittedly lazy - lazy is good!) way to eat more greens is by keeping a few types of fresh greens on hand (arugula, spinach, and romaine are a good combination) and making a quick simple salad to go with whatever you’re eating. Chopped up and put in a bowl with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.
Don’t Let Yourself Get HANGRY
‘Hangry’ is the act of becoming irritable and bad-tempered as the result of being hungry. When I eat irregularly or go too long between meals, my husband says I turn into Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors (“FEED ME SEYMOUR.”). I do not recommend letting this happen to you. Not only will you have to put all of your disposable income towards marital counseling, it’s a set-up for your eating to go completely off the rails - eating too much, eating too much of the wrong thing, torpedoing all of your good intentions to eat well. If you’re finding yourself hangry on the regular, there are some things you can do: Eat small meals every 3-4 hours. Keep snacks on hand - nuts, fruits and veggies, protein drinks. My experiences with being hangry (and I think I have enough to write a memoir at this point) have really driven home how important it is to have good food in the house and plan for the week accordingly. Otherwise I may find myself coming home at 8 o’clock on a weeknight, famished and hangry, and all kinds of foods that I would otherwise try to steer clear from start to look very tasty. Like all those cheese fries.