Eating healthy seems to be a recurring theme among my family and friends recently:
My sister had a flareup of her major chronic stomach disorder. A friend of mine told me she’d heard that sugar might potentially be more damaging that fat (which I totally believe). Another friend and I were discussing the overwhelming amount of “food rules” we were hearing about: cutting down on dairy, avoiding certain nuts, going gluten-free, etc.
My mind swims with all of the healthy eating trends. I feel inundated by the constant barrage of “eat this” and “don’t eat that.” “This is good for you” and “this is terrible for you.” How do you eat that? Is _______ still a part of your diet?
I feel panicked that I need to stop everything and rethink my eating habits. But then I remember how far I’ve come. I remember how far we’ve come as a family.
Eating healthfully is about progress not perfection.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve been on a journey to improve my eating habits.
Soda & High Calorie Beverages
The first major change was cutting out soda. Between the high sugar content, calories, and the chemicals found in common sodas, I decided it had to go. I learned to substitute for seltzer when I still craved that bubbly taste. And even that evolved, when I switched from drinking seltzer with sodium and synthetic sweeteners to a brand with no sodium and natural flavoring.
Next to go was high calorie, super salty fast food. I realized that in order to make food as cheaply as they do, fast food chains must use pretty low quality ingredients. Plus, the very nature of fast food really encouraged me to eat on the run, which lead to unconscious eating and poor digestion. I make two exceptions, Panera Bread (although I am cutting back due to high calorie content) and a quick pre-packaged sandwich from places like Starbucks. I am also very likely to stop for a yogurt or a granola bar to tide me over until I can get home for a real meal.
Then we began drinking less. In addition to the useless calories, I was also turned off by the fact that alcohol turns into sugar in your body. And as I’ve aged, I have definitely become less tolerant of large quantities of alcohol. A second glass of wine has been known to give me a hangover, no matter how much water I drink.
Cutting back on red meat was tough, but all of the evidence was pointing to the fact that Americans eat way too much. I can go a few days without red meat, but my body really craves it if I go any longer than that. Even cutting back to 2 or 3 times a week is a huge improvement for our family. One added bonus was a reduction in our grocery bill as red meats can really add up.
We worked to reduce our consumption of pre-packaged foods. This one is hard to balance because it takes time to prepare foods from scratch. I am a SAHM now, but if I went back to work full time, we’d really need to figure out how to continue this habit. Occasional exceptions to the rule include: pre-made ravioli, baked beans, Kraft macaroni & cheese, etc.
Sugar is EVERYWHERE! This was is really hard to do since it seems that most products have added sugar. And sometimes even switching to sugar free was difficult because we were so used the taste of certain things with sugar. Some of the big ones have been low sugar yogurt, sugar-free peanut butter, and sugar-free tomato sauce. If we choose a product that has sugar we opt for one that uses real sugar as opposed to high fructose corn syrup. We also avoid artificial sweeteners due to their high chemical content and questionable effects on the body.
Full Fat Dairy
I read a study review years ago that highlighted that the common recommendation of switching to low fat dairy products due to curb obesity concerns was actually having the opposite effect. The body does better consuming full fat products, because a) fat isn’t as bad as we thought, and b) consuming full fat allows us to feel fuller faster as opposed to being deceptively empty from reduced fat content. As a result, we’ve switched to full fat dairy wherever available (although some categories are difficult).
We realized we were eating way too much meat and that oftentimes meat was the main focus of the meal. Instead, we are making some vegetarian meals, as well as cutting back the meat to a much smaller percentage of the whole meal.
As we’ve had more expendable incomes, we have slowly been able to switch to more and more organic products, especially meats, dairy, and produce. Not yet at 100% organic, our goal is to continue to improve in this area, especially as more products become available and the cost decreases with demand.
Actually writing this list helps me realize just how far we’ve come. And I know that we will continue to adjust and make improvements over time. Eating right is an important theme in our lives and we will continue to learn from new research and trends.
It is important to consider that trends aren’t always right (as in the trend to eat sugar as opposed to fats) and that many people (and companies!) have an agenda when it comes to espousing food rules. They are trying to profit in some way by encouraging changes in your eating habits.
So, before I give up cheese (gasp!) or bread (gluten) or anything else, or allow myself to get stressed over the endless rules being tossed about, I will stop and remember how much progress I’ve made from the girl who used to live on Ramen noodles and the McDonald’s dollar menu.
It’s a journey, like most health related habits. It’s impractical, (virtually impossible) to expect to change everything at once.