Spring Tips for Eating Well

I know that it is now April (though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the blast of snow we received here in Toronto) but it was just March. For those who do not know, March is Nutrition Month, this is certainly a National Health Observance that I can get behind and the inspiration behind this post. Inspiring people to eat well is something I enjoy so much- especially once people realize HOW GOOD (and how easy) healthy food can be, dessert included!!!

Maybe it’s the (impending) arrival of spring, or the post-easter binge guilt getting to people but over the last few days I’ve had A LOT of friends telling me that enough is enough and they are really needing to get back on the healthy eating train (amen, I am right there with you).

But what is nutrition? What constitutes a healthy nutritious diet? There is SO MUCH information out there. Gluten-free? Sugar-free? Paleo? Vegan? Fat-free? Juicing? It’s hard to wrap your head around it all isnt it? And once you finally get on board with a certain diet, everything seems to change faster than you can say “saturated fat”.

However, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s not. Following a nutritious diet is easier than you may think. The first step in this involves ignoring all forms of media you see surrounding healthy eating and health foods, present and past. Okay, so maybe that part is hard. Especially when you see beautiful models promoting a certain diet who tell you if you do what they do, you’ll look like them (they’re lying). Now, once you are able to block that out, throw out what your grandma has told you regarding nutrition (“eggs are high in cholesterol and therefore bad for you!”) and try and ignore your mother too (“whole-fat milk will make you fat!”). Okay, hard part over. Here comes the easy part.

Here’s the secret: Eat real food.

If you follow this rule, you will be healthy, you will feel great and you will be able to eat guilt-free.

What is real food? Real food is something that grows in the ground or is raised on the ground and has been minimally processed. Plants, animals, it’s all real food. Boxed diet chocolate granola bars? Not real food.

Here are the guidelines I follow when it comes to determining what counts as real food:

If you must eat a boxed or packaged meal or food product, read the ingredients. Are they chemicals? Something made in a lab? Do you know what those things are? Can you pronounce them? Are they all things that are grown in the ground? If you can answer “yes” to the last three questions, then go ahead, eat it. Same thing goes for eating out at restaurants.

Limit/eliminate refined sugar as much as possible. But wait, sugar comes from a plant doesn’t it? You’re right it does. But do you know how much work goes into processing that sugar cane to get the sugar? A lot. But what about organic cane sugar? It’s still processed sugar. But what about strawberries? Grapes? They are high in sugar sure, BUT (and this is a big but), they are good sugar, and they aren’t processed. Those grapes and those strawberries are exactly the way nature intended them to be. Eat up. If you need a sweetener for baking, reach for something like pure maple syrup or honey, as they are not as processed and are closer to their natural state compared to something like white sugar.

Do you see where I’m going here?

What about dairy? I thought dairy fat was bad. False! Dairy fat is good and can actually be an aid in weight loss. In fact, go for the full-fat kind. I’m serious. It will fill you up and keep you fuller longer, not to mention it’s full of protein and doesn’t go through as much processing as it’s low-fat versions. (Bonus points if you can get your hands on non-homogenized products that are pasteurized at the lowest temperatures).

What about meat and eggs? Meat is super complicated and as someone who follows a vegan-ish diet, it’s hard for me to tell you what meat to eat and what meat to not eat. Personal opinions and choices aside, meat isn’t bad for you as long as it’s not ALL you’re eating and you don’t eat it with every meal. It is a great source of protein, and rich in B vitamins and iron. Most people will get more than enough protein by eating a balanced plant-based (with or without dairy) diet, but meat can certainly help you get more. The key here: keep it as natural as possible (back to my main theme). Natural means you’re eating a cow that was raised in a natural environment, that ate a natural diet. You are what you eat, therefore, you are what you eat eats as well. If you eat a cow who ate lush green grass and NOT processed corn feed, you are going to get the health benefits of eating something that ate something healthy, as nature intended.

Don’t be afraid of fat. We need fat, it is crucial to brain functioning and as long as we are getting real, good fats, we won’t gain weight. Remember again that dairy fat is good, so is the fat that is found in things like nuts, olive oil and avocados.

Plants. Eat all the plants. All of them. In every form. In any way. Chopped, sautéed, steamed, raw, roasted, purred, heck even fried. Calories don’t count when it comes to veggies. DIG IN.

When it comes to my own eating I follow this one simple rule, as said by Michael Pollan: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants”

The “not too much” brings me to another important point. Eat until you are full. Eat when you are hungry. If you eat mostly real foods, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll eat too much.

One last thing to remember- eating well doesn’t always mean total deprivation of all the yummy things. Sure, if you want to be the absolute best you can be, by all means, go all in. I just don’t think that this type of lifestyle is realistic or sustainable for most of us. What is a birthday without a birthday cake? What is a trip to the cottage without some chips? It’s all about moderation. Moderation doesn’t mean you can eat these things in moderation once a day, but maybe once a week or once every other week. When you do indulge, please don’t feel guilty, the last thing anyone wants is to have a negative relationship with food. Food is amazing, it brings us together, it nourishes us and it gives us energy- not to mention, it brings us so much joy!

Keep it simple, remember these few things and you’ll be feeling great in no time at all!

 

Some suggested reading:

“In defence of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto” -Michael Pollan

“Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” – Michael Moss

“Eating Animals” – Jonathan Safran Foer (this is a good read if you are pondering the philosophy and the ethics behind eating meat, of course it encourages a vegetarian diet but it talks about how unnatural the meat industry is, worth a read even if you vow to not never up meat)

No Junk November

I write this as I sit at home on a weekday in my condo. I’m not sure if I’ve ever spent a weekday here, at least definitely not one where I’ve had the chance to sit back and enjoy it. Here in Canada we celebrate Rememberance Day on November 11th, and being in the Public Sector I am lucky that this is a holiday. While a holiday is definitely a bonus, let’s not forget the importance of this day. Rememberance Day is something that sits near my heart as my grandfather was a world war II vet. This is the third rememberance day we have had without him but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. As a child, I remember a large group of war vets who would visit our school and it is sad to know that many of them have passed on, and a lot of the vets who gave us that personal connection to what this day means are no longer with us. When I was visiting Amsterdam a few years ago, I went to see the Anne Frank house. The experience I had there was something that I can’t quite describe, but all I could think was “This is real. This was so recent”.

For many of us, we are very disconnected from the recency of a World War. We go on in our day-to-day lives doing our day-to-day things. Today, I ask that you take a minute to think about why we are able to do these day-to-day things. Step back and realize how lucky we are to have the freedom of being able to do what we please without even thinking about it.

Not to totally change the subject or take away from the importance of a day like to today but November has often been a very “bleh” month for me. The colder weather really starts to set in, the summer slips away as a distant memory and the coziness and warmth of the holiday season hasn’t quite reached us. Ever since our Wedding, I have really been slipping on keeping my habits healthy (see previous post on running a half without training). Recently, I’ve really noticed just how much this has been impacting my mental health. Coupled with the shorter days, I have been one big grouchy, lazy, sad blob of negativity! I was starting to get annoyed by myself and told myself, enough is enough!

I deemed the month of November “No Junk November” and vowed to give-up the comfort foods that have not really been providing me with comfort over the last few months. November is a great time to reset and re-evaluate. My calendar is not yet packed with Holiday events and knowing that the super indulgent month of December is upon us is really all I needed to get my butt in gear. No more fries, no chips, no more pastries when I go to grab a coffee, no more pizzas, no more bottomless beers, no more binging on chocolate as I watched TV.

I am not usually one to stress total deprivation, but I knew that I needed to start fresh and get back to that place where I could allow myself these treats, but in moderation. They were making up a large part of my diet and my body was craving them as it’s primary source of fuel. This left me feeling like I was never satisfied, and always wanting more. When December rolls around, those foods will still be here (and they’ll be here a-plenty!), but hopefully, I won’t be craving them and instead can pick and choose which ones I want to enjoy.

It has been 11 days and I already notice that I feel better. I’ve run a few times, and have done a few workouts as well. I haven’t had any refined and added sugars. I haven’t had anything fried. I’ve cut back on my alcohol. I’ve stopped with the late night snacking. The first week was TOUGH, I really just wanted to grab a sweet treat as soon as the 2:00pm slump hit. But I didn’t! I can now say I have made it over the hump. Of course, I still long for this stuff on occasion, but my body is not telling me to EAT IT ALL NOW. It is crazy (and scary) how quickly we can become addicted to these foods, and how little control we have over it. (If you are interested in an eye-opening read on this, check of the book “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss).

I am going to continue to stick this out until December and then once again allow for a treat here and there, and get to that point where I enjoy eating a healthy diet but the occasional treat doesn’t leave me feeling sick.

If you’re like me and you need to kick-start your healthy habit again, give it a go! Even if it’s just for a week. Don’t stress over rapid solutions. Pick something that hasn’t been having a positive impact on your health and give it up for a bit, enjoy your life as always and you may be surprised at how quickly you realize you don’t need it anymore.

And aren’t you glad we live in a world where we have the power, freedom and independence to make these choices and decisions for ourselves?

Happy November everyone!