June has felt like a fleeting moment. I started off the month visiting a nearby village where there wasn’t even a lone coffee shop and waited over an hour for a train ride home. I’ve been to a beautiful spa town, a village pub by famed Marco Pierre White and seen Blenheim Palace. All of which I must and will write about.
However this month has primarily been about self-reflection. I’ve gained an addiction to documentaries and am so heavily invested in what next, what will happen in a year after I’m finished in this bustling market town. But there’s been something even more salient on my mind that is solely rooted in present actions: what should I be doing to take care of myself nutritionally?
This hasn’t been a new thought, in fact I’m sure everyone thinks about food all the time but not necessarily in a positive way. I think one of the biggest issues in Western society is how we relate to food. A lot of us have a negative attitude to food, we think of food as our enemy. It controls us: our body weight, our emotions, our energy and in many ways how we enjoy our life. However taking control of your own nutrition is a simple process, we just complicate it with diets and fads and primarily our way of thinking. These are some simple guidelines I’ve adopted that have truly helped me feel better and eat better.
Reduce processed foods and check labels for ingredients, not calories
This sounds like verbatim, everyone knows to eat less processed foods. But what are processed foods? Most foods in the supermarket (barring the fresh food section) are filled with sugar and some sort of grain by product as their top ingredients. There’s usually added preservatives, colors and even fragrances to make it more appealing. Forget about counting calories and just see what is actually in the food you’re eating.
Cook your own food and go for simple recipes
I know, everyone is tired, no one likes slaving over a kitchen, cooking is an effort. It’s actually really easy to get into the habit of making meals. One of the biggest mistakes is going for complicated or lengthy recipes that take up so much time. The thought of cooking makes you not want to because it’s turned into such a huge effort. Don’t make life harder for yourself, it’s fine to buy pre-cut vegetables, frozen or tinned produce. Especially when you’ve just started out, taking shortcuts is fine. Go for simple meals that you can cook in one pan and add a few spices. Or put in the oven and not worry about it. Vegetable bakes, eggs with veg and simple veg-based curries are usually my go-to lazy recipes.
Vegetables are amazing and we don’t get enough of them. Eat a variety and eat ones you like.
Don’t eat bland food
When I was younger, I used to eat salad on its own. I was under the impression that salad made me lose weight. The biggest issue was that the salad tasted disgusting. Bitter leaves, no dressing, just a crapload of green leaves. Forcing ourselves to eat what we think is “healthy” even though we don’t like it is stupid. It took me literally years to rewire myself into liking salad and stop thinking of it as this bland thing on the side of my plate that I was forced to eat.
Instead now I look at “salad” as just a name. These days a salad is so much more than a pile of bitter leaves. It’s a base for adding whatever I like and dressing them up so I actually like the taste. I can add cold-pressed oils, citrus, vinegar, tuna, egg and any other vegetables or fruit to make it taste the way I want it to.
The same principle lies in eating your vegetables. Please don’t boil your vegetables to a mush and then curse every mouthful. Add flavour and enjoy them. Don’t eat them simply because it’s the right thing to do because you won’t stick to it.
Juice! If you want.
There’s been a lot of hype about juicing. I love juicing because it helps me get a concentrated boost of vitamins and minerals and helps me use up a lot of excess veg. My absolute favourite juice is a refreshing green juice: apple, celery, ginger, spinach/kale. I also add a tablespoon of cold-pressed oils.
A lot of people juice because its quick and easy. Honestly I don’t find that the case. You still need to chop up the veg and then clean the juicer. It’s probably quicker to eat peanut butter on some toast. But juicing is nutritionally dense and tasty. It is so so important to remember to juice your vegetables, not just fruit. Fruit juices are still high in sugar.
Reduce sugar and grain
Eat less bread and drink less soft drink. Both sugar and grains (including wheat!) can negatively impact your insulin. Lots of new diets are eliminating these two groups because they cause havoc on your body. Personally I think trying to cut anything out of your diet especially when you’re so reliant on them will probably just make you go back to them. Eat more vegetables, cook your own meals and you’ll find you will naturally eat less sugar and grains anyway.
Accept fall backs and continue on: no meal is the end all
If you’re used to eating a diet consisting of processed foods, take out and easy options, it’s not like you’re going to start eating just vegetables the next day. There’s going to be times where you are going to want and eat pizza (or whatever your vice is). It’s important not to get into a spiral of negative thinking (I need to eat salad for the next blah blah meals or I need to work it off). Just keep trying to eat well.
Stop thinking about controlling your eating habits as a way to control your weight. This is obviously been a massive struggle for me but I know for a lot of other people out there.
Think about this: what happens if you were the same body weight now for the rest of your life.
Don’t buy clothes that are too small for you as inspiration, don’t compare yourself to other people’s weight, don’t use food as punitive, don’t use exercise as punitive, don’t “delay” cravings, don’t starve yourself. Eat well because you deserve to be well.
Do as much as you can
It’s expensive to eat well. You can spend 1-2 pounds on a complete meal at the supermarket. It’ll probably be full of thickeners, cheapest grades of meat and food-like ingredients but it will be cheaper than buying vegetables. Let alone whatever else you need to dress up those veges. I definitely won’t deny that.
But investing in your health is worth it. If you truly can’t afford to do it all right now, you can always take baby steps. Try buying salad or frozen vegetables to put on the side and dress them with cheap ingredients (garlic paste, onion and lemon).
Do your own research and be an advocate for your own health
Read books. Learn about ingredients. And eat what you know will fuel your body. Reading blog posts and everyone else’s experiences can be motivating but you won’t truly commit to eating well unless you get out there and educate yourself. No one has your health in their best interests. Society wants you to be unhealthy and unhappy so you will buy diet pills and go binge on take out. It truly is up to you.