10 Ways to Make Food Work For You
It isn’t as simple as “tracking your macros”
Hi my name is Rachel Wood
I have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and worked as a bedside nurse for two years before realizing that it wasn’t the right line of work for me. Now, I work in a relaxing spa setting and take care of my husband and fur child, Teddy. This really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with nutrition right? Well here’s the thing: I’ve suffered with disordered eating in the past and anxiety related to food, exercise and body shame. If you know anyone that has dealt with disordered eating or been diagnosed with an eating disorder, they know A LOT about food. More than they should, in fact. This is from where my knowledge derives. I’ve done many different types of diets in the last 7 years, including “clean-eating”, low-carb, low fat, low calorie, reduced/no refined sugars, etc. Through the years I’ve read more articles than I can count, books, every food label I can get my hands on, and recipe/food blogs until I was blue in the face. I don’t proclaim myself to be a nutrition guru, and for concerns about your diet and health problems, definitely seek out a professional. But this is just my experience and I hope that some of these subjects will resonate with you to help decrease some confusion you may have.
First, I wanted to shed some light on my relationship with food over my life.
When I was a kid I ate whatever I wanted, as most people do. My parents were not restrictive or subscribers to the “clean your plate” club. But I really only got 1 fully nutritious meal a day that included vegetables and a protein of some kind. I had a carb heavy diet, but I was also very active. I ate lots of frozen burritos and drank soda everyday, pretty typical. In college my habits started to change. I stopped drinking soda and started making more conscious decisions because I was the only one looking out for my wellbeing nutritionally. Junior year in college, my sister told me all about this amazing diet called “clean eating”. Everyone touted it as “lifestyle” and basically labeled all foods as clean or dirty/bad. I did that for 4 brutal months, and gained 10 pounds, because I was eating 6x a day, per the recommendations of many fitness influencers. After I started living with my now husband, I had to learn to cook for two, and to keep the meals interesting. So I started learning from my grandma, calling my mom frequently to ask questions, and simply learning to be frugal with both our money and attempting to not waste food. We also joined a CSA one summer and that opened up pandora’s box. I was forced to make something with all these vegetables. When the disordered eating happened, it was originally based in vanity but then progressed to a place of self-righteousness. In my head, I was better than everyone else who ate frozen pizzas and drank 2 liters of soda everyday. Needless to say, that self-righteous attitude about food is very consuming and can mentally leave you in bad place.
Fast forward to now and things are much different. This is when the useful lessons come in.
1. Learn to cook - this is the single most important thing you can ever do for yourself nutritionally. Aside from the nutritional benefits, it is a great way to unwind at the end of the day, a fun hobby or an easy way to bond and spend time with those you love. You don’t need to go to cooking school to learn to cook. Ask a family member, grandma, foodie friend, or actually try making something you see on a food blog or cooking show.
2. Learn to work with what you’ve got- growing up, my mom was always the type to “throw something together”. When I got married, I discovered that my husband is the complete opposite. If he is going to cook, he needs a recipe, and he needs to follow it to the letter. While neither way is inherently better than the other, I would argue that learning to adapt existing recipes to what you’ve already got in your pantry or to your tastes is what is most sustainable. Also learning healthy substitutions can be a big helper. For example, I know many people will use mayonnaise when baking cakes to make the cake moist. If you can find a high quality mayonnaise without funky chemicals in it, GREAT! But mayo tends to be a highly processed food and there are better options out there, like a high quality greek yogurt, or no sugar added applesauce. Or if you want to stick with adding a fat, try adding avocado or organic coconut oil. Now, this is a very basic substitution, and I could go on all day about this particular topic, but I won’t. It’s just a lesson in being aware that there are a million options out there for healthier substitutions.
3. Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store- when shopping at the grocery store, the vast majority of the food you are buying should be coming from the produce section, and a little from the fresh meat and dairy aisle if you aren’t vegetarian/vegan. Most of the stuff in the center aisles is highly processed food that you don’t need or could fairly easily make fresh yourself. Example: canned beans, a great product for convenience but have you ever read the label on a can of beans? Holy sodium!! You don’t need it. It is way cheaper to buy dry beans in the bulk section and soak them yourself. No added salt and you can batch cook them to have for an entire week. *One disclaimer I will make though, is that often times it is very helpful to buy frozen veggies. They are frozen when the vegetable is freshest and this can be significantly more cost effective. But always buy fresh, raw, organic when possible.
4. Read ingredients labels- and I’m not talking about the calories, fat or sugar content on the labels. I’m talking about the actual ingredient list. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t know what it is, or it has artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, ditch it. You don’t need it. When you are eating whole foods that don’t have a label, the fat and calorie content are irrelevant because it would probably be pretty difficult for you to overeat on real, whole, plant based foods. *I would keep any eye on sugar content for certain items such as granola bars, sports/tea drinks, and cereals. They sneak in there when you least expect it.
5. Don’t wait until you are completely RAVENOUS to eat. Conversely, don’t ignore fullness levels. Under eating or over eating is ok sometimes, but your body is pretty dang smart and knows what it needs. LISTEN TO IT!
6. Diets don't work. I don’t care what diet it is: paleo, clean eating, whole 30, atkins, etc. Any diet that is restrictive or labels certain foods as “good” or “bad” will ultimately lead the individual attempting the diet down a path of failure. By nature, humans want the things we can’t have. The second we mentally label something as forbidden, we immediately want what ever it is. For me, it was poptarts. I used to LOVE poptarts, but hadn’t eaten them in years because I demonized them in my mind as a “bad” food. When I finally plucked up the courage to eat pop tarts, they weren’t nearly as good as I remembered. Foods that we never allow ourselves to eat, for whatever reason, inevitably get hyped up in our minds. Food should never hold that much power over us, and by allowing ourselves to eat the things we enjoy, it creates greater food freedom. My advice is: eat according to your cravings and ditch the diet!
7. Shoot for plant-based and lean protein sources: try to eat things that actually come from the earth and try to keep your plate colorful. And when I say mostly plants, I definitely don’t mean only raw vegetables, which can be difficult to digest and cause gas if eaten in excess. Bake, cook or steam vegetables however you want. My personal favorite is roast a pan full of sweet potato, rutabegas and brussel sprouts in the oven. Toss them with some olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper before hand and they are an awesome addition to any meal. Remember that if you struggle with intense sugar/salt cravings from eating lots of processed foods over the years, your taste buds will change over time. After a few weeks, the foods that initially tasted bland will begin to taste more flavorful. I used to drink Starbucks mocha’s when I was a teenager. But now that I haven’t had them in a few years, it tastes like a sugar bomb that I can’t quite stomach.
8. Learn to use spices: if you don’t have a well stocked spice rack, you are missing out! I always thought that the only thing that you could add food to give it flavor was salt and pepper. So not true! In the last two years I have started to have a love affair with curry, chili powder, cumin, turmeric and any other spices I can get my hands on. There are so many flavor options out there and using pre-made dressings or flavor packs isn’t always necessary. My go-to salt free taco seasoning combo includes: onion powder (not onion salt), a healthy amount of cumin, chipotle, chili powder or cayenne, and red pepper flakes (optional).
9. Forget about the idea of “cheat days” or “cheat meals”. You don’t need to justify eating foods that you love. If you want to eat a cheeseburger, go for it! Remember, life is about balance and healthy eating is about sustainability for yourself.
10. Eating is not meant to be purely functional. Humans have been using food as a vehicle to gather together and make connections for millennia. Food is meant to be enjoyed and experienced and is often what brings people together for shared experiences.
Some resources for inspiration and ideas:
- *type any recipe into google and add “healthy” at the beginning, usually yields good results
Instagram accounts to follow for healthy/balanced food inspo:
I'd be more than happy to answer any questions in the comments below. Thanks!
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