Eating food is a pretty simple job, but somehow we have managed to make it seem really complicated. What diet is best? Is bread good or bad? Is the keto diet safe? What about fat?
Every week someone asks me for help figuring out their food, and as they begin to tell me their story, I need them to back up and start again from the beginning. They start in the middle, you see, telling me about what they are doing without first telling me why they started doing anything to begin with.
Sometimes, we need to stop, look around, and take a few steps back in order to see the mess we’ve made of things before we can start cleaning it up. If food feels like a mess these days, you can simplify by remembering to prioritize, organize, and compromise.
Prioritize What You Want
You’ve likely heard the adage to begin with the end in mind, right? It’s good advice, because it demands purpose for your actions. The first step to figuring out how to eat healthy is to decide what “eating healthy” means to you. Do you want to eat more vegetables? Drink less soda? Spend fewer meals in restaurants and more at home? Lose weight? Knowing this helps simplify your process because you can focus on meeting a specific goal and choose actions that support it.
Next, think through the to-do list of what it will take to achieve the goal. Let’s say you have a goal to each more vegetables. That seems like a simple objective, but it’s likely that you may need to get out a piece of paper and write out the steps for making that happen:
Going through this process helps you notice the next step: being honest about the obstacles in your way. Maybe you look at that list and think, yeah right, I don’t have time for that. Maybe you have a friend who always invites you to your favorite burger place for lunch.. Maybe eating vegetables is something you just feel like you should do but don’t really want to. You owe it to your future self to be honest about what is standing in the way of you and what you want, so that later on you can have a good answer when your future self asks why you didn’t do something sooner.
Once you’ve come to terms with all of that, decide what you are willing to do (or not do) to achieve the outcome you want. This could mean adding vegetables to meals three days a week rather than every day. Maybe you are so motivated that you’re ready to try a meatless day once a week. This is where the rubber meets the road - you’ve identified what you want, now how much hassle are you willing to put up with to get it?
Alright, you just did a lot of work there, and I told you this was going to be simple. The rest of this is easier, I promise.
Being organized about your food means taking the steps necessary to make healthy food as convenient as junk food. Research shows that you’re more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they are the first thing you see in your refrigerator. Get them out of the crisper drawers and into a bin, front and center! Take the extra step to chop and package snacks to go, or spend a little more for the pre-cut veggies and remove that time barrier. Learn from the times that you don’t reach your goal and ask, “how can I win next time?” Then, do it!
Be Ready to Compromise
Here’s the truth: food can be healthy, it can be cheap, and it can be really tasty; you can choose two. You have to compromise! Sometimes eating healthier means scrimping on other things so you can spend more on quality food. Sometimes the meal that is going to be the healthiest for you doesn’t taste like Grandma’s macaroni and cheese with two sticks of butter and the crackers crumbled on top. Choose your two biggest priorities...and remember that future self.
It’s okay to grumble about not getting to have everything you want, but it doesn’t change things. It helps to know what you are willing to let go of (and what you are not) in order to feel your best.
So, which way of eating is going to be the best for you? I don’t know. Let’s start from the beginning.
Happy Eating Season! With the kickoff of college football last weekend, Eating Season has officially started. Can you feel it?
Weekend tailgate BBQs and pumpkin spice lattes will carry us through to Halloween, which will trigger the candy parade that marches on to Thanksgiving, a day when we take pride in how much we can eat in one sitting. Then the parties begin, accompanied by fancy drinks, grandma’s time-honored recipes, and cookie baking contests.
Eating season eventually wraps up shortly after Christmas, coming to a slow roll in the week between Christmas and New Years Eve, when we eat everything that we are sick of so we can really have our work cut out for us in January. And finally, on January 2, or the first Monday of the year, whichever comes second, we wrap it up, for real this time, and get back on the straight and narrow. Whew!
As a health coach, I am often in the role of navigator and guide, tapping folks on the shoulder and nudging them off the curb of life’s highway and back to the middle of the road. It’s human nature to veer off once in a while, but since living in extremes isn’t conducive to good health, it’s my role to go around and help anyone who wants to travel a little more moderately. I like it, because I need help with that sometimes, too.
So, here we are at the beginning of it all. Do you know which path you will take to January? As your navigator, I’ve created a few itineraries that may be of interest.
The Fast and Loose
Adventure-lovers take note: this path is going to be a thrill ride! The playing field is pretty wide open, and the rules are….well, there are no rules. Whenever you arrive at a destination, you’re free to sample anything and everything until you need to unbutton your shorts or take an antacid. In this journey, people will regularly bring food directly to you, becoming more decadent as you go. There may be times when you aren’t really hungry or in the mood for lots of food, but hey, you only live once, right? This itinerary is great for folks who like a project, because in January you will definitely have a pile of work to do. This trip has already departed, but if you start now you can catch up!
The Scenic Route
For those seeking a change of scenery and a route that feels special and fun but not quite so spontaneous, the Scenic Route is perfect. In this journey, there are selections of food available more often than during the rest of the year, but no urgency to taste everything at once. To maintain a sense of calm, many of the foods are things you’ve likely eaten before, so you don’t necessarily need to experience them again unless you really want to. There is a lot of water on this path, so bring a bottle to fill at your pleasure. You may want to pack a pair of stretchy pants for a day here or there when you overdo it, but if you stay with the group you should arrive home to find that there is some tidying up to do but things will be back to normal pretty quick. This trip begins today, whenever you are ready.
The Work Camp
If you’ve been intrigued by the idea of a vacation working as a farm hand or rebuilding storm-ravaged villages in a third world country, then you may like the Work Camp path through eating season. There is no real change from your daily life in this journey, you keep doing all of your regular stuff, just while surrounded by people who are having a lot more fun than you. This path does include some social events, but you need to bring your own food because there is not likely to be anything there that works for you. In a fun twist, this journey becomes more challenging and the terrain steeper as you reach the end, which makes it perfect for martyrs, show-offs, or anyone with a personal goal that brings internal satisfaction regardless of the sacrifice to achieve it. It’s an exclusive path, but a noble one, with the reward of arriving at January with everything exactly as you left it. This trip does not have a beginning or an end.
Now, the choice is yours. How will you spend the next four months, and what will January look like for you? This is a great time to choose, because you can maximize the amount of time that you spend on your chosen path, where you feel best.
And don’t worry, I’m out there with an eye on the field, guiding wanderers back to their path. If I see you and you need help, just wave me over. I’ll help you get back where you belong, or arrange for you to join another group if you’d like. I hope that if I need help, you’ll guide me back to my path as well. I want to make sure that everyone arrives at January with the set of circumstances that make them feel the most satisfied and content with life!
Happy travels, and have fun!
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!