All right everybody. Diet, health, and weight are complicated issues. Biological factors vary from person to person, along with financial, time, and other restrictions that make what we eat and how we eat deeply personal issues. So instead of create some all-encompassing, complicated guide to everything, I’m going to share a few simple guidelines that have helped me eat healthier and feel better about myself.
A quick disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am well-researched and will cite my sources throughout this article, but you should always run any major diet or weight loss plan by your doctor.
Rule 1: Don’t trust anyone trying to sell you something.
This could just as easily be titled “Women’s magazines are terrible amalgamations of guilt trips and ads promising to solve the issues that you are newly neurotic about.” There is no such thing as a yogurt that will give you a perfect butt, or a berry juice that will melt away wrinkles. Do you know how people on magazine covers get perfect butts and eliminate wrinkles? Heavy make-up and Photoshop. Once I stopped paying attention to publications that promised to make me an ideal woman, and instead started reading actual medical advice, I instantly felt better.
Rule 2: Pay attention to what you’re eating.
We can’t fix mistakes that we don’t know that we’re making. Did you know it’s possible to eat an entire can of Sour Cream and Onion Pringles in one sitting? It wasn’t until I started keeping a food diary that I realized I’d accomplished this amazing feat at least once a week. Food diaries don’t need to be complicated – all you need is a notebook or a small document on your smart phone where you jot down the date, time, what you ate, and how large the portions were. There are some fancier apps out there, but I’ve found that any more data than what I’ve listed above really isn’t necessary. Keep it up for a month and you can start seeing patterns and making changes based on what your health goals are.
Rule 3: Pay attention to what you’re eating.
Same rule, different application. Once you’ve got a rough idea of your typical diet, it’s time to start reading nutrition labels. Yes, I know this sucks. But it’s the only way to know what’s actually going into your body. And luckily, you only need to do this for a few shopping trips before you’ve picked out new brands/foods and can go back to simply grabbing what you need off the shelves.
So what do you want to avoid? Down in the ingredients list, you’re looking for super-long paragraphs of words you don’t recognize. Michael Pollan goes into more detail in his book, In Defense of Food, but basically, the more preservatives and crazy chemical names your food has, the less healthier it is. It is also likelier to be higher in sugar, salt, and/or fat, aka the trifecta of unhealthy eating. And don’t be fooled by “healthy” claims on the front of the box, like “low fat,” because a lot of so-called health bars and diet aids use the same junk that’s in a package of Oreos, and contain about as much real food.
Rule 4: Anything you cook at home is better.
For the first couple of years after we got married, my husband was the cook in the family. One morning he announced that he was going to make pancakes.
“But we don’t have any Bisquick,” I said. He looked at me like I just landed from Mars as he took out flour and eggs and a few other things.
“I know,” he said.
And that was how I learned about from-scratch cooking for everything from pancakes to brownies to ravioli. Okay, so the ravioli was a pain in the butt. But the fact of the matter is that anything you make at home will be healthier than a store-bought, or restaurant-made, equivalent. Most of this comes down to the fact that if you’re cooking, you’re using real food (actual meat, fresh vegetables, etc.) instead of preservative-and-chemical Franken-foods. (See Rule 3).
I know cooking is intimidating if you haven’t done it. Luckily, there are hundreds of online videos, tutorials, recipes, and tips that can help out. I love the blog Cheap Healthy Good because not only does it feature great ways to cook on a budget, the recipes are usually stupid-easy. Their article on bringing your own lunch is great for any working woman, or any stay-at-home mom who wants to spice up their kids’ lunches.
Like I said, this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide. But by seeking out reliable sources of information, keeping track of what you eat, and making more of an effort to cook at home, you will find yourself feeling better and better. And after the initial learning curve, you’ll also feel much less neurotic, and will start enjoying eating for the simple, wonderful pleasure that it is.
by Megan Glenn
Being honest with yourself about your eating habits is a critical step toward getting fit. Make the list. Count calories. Get support in the form of a shoulder to cry on. And then make the changes you know you need to make (and use that support).