I’m amazed by the number of people who don’t know how to eat. Seriously. I used to think that people just didn’t care what they ate, but I realize many just don’t know HOW to eat. For being the smartest living organism on the planet that doesn’t say much for the human species, but I’ll leave that discussion is for another day. Here in this article I am going to help you learn how to eat. First and foremost, eating should not be complicated. Over complication and excessive rules to follow is not needed for 99% of those just wanting to drop a few pounds and feel better.
I’m going to outline a plan to simplify your eating and allow you to create your own individual perfect “diet”. Now this first step is probably going to be the most difficult and requires some initial thoughts and self-reflection. I want you to ask yourself the following questions: Why do I eat the foods that I currently do? Why you want to “eat better”? Am I happy with the other areas of my life? Such as family, job, and relationships. This last part can be very complex, but I want you to be aware that those outside influences can greatly impact our mental attitude towards food. Stress and emotional disarray can lead us to seek comfort in eating and make any diet change doomed to failure. Work on fixing these areas and the changes will trickle down to improve all areas of your life. Admitting that seeking comfort in food can help you to watch out for triggers and pitfalls so that you can find other ways to deal with unexpected twists and turns of life. If life is treating you well, then the rest of this journey is going to be a piece of cake, but just a small piece.
So, now I’ll just set some general guidelines to follow. I don’t want to call them rules, because they are flexible. Most importantly EAT REAL FOOD. If the majority of your food comes from plants and animals, in as close to their natural form as you are comfortable with, you are doing great. Fruits & veggies, seeds, nuts, eggs, meat (including fish, pork & poultry) should comprise the bulk of your food intake.
Secondly, stay away from processed foods, including ones with “healthy” and “diet” labels. These foods have tons of added chemicals, preservatives, sodium and sugar. It bears repeating, added sugar is in more foods than you could ever imagine. Foods that have no business containing sugar. Be wary of labels like all natural, low fat, and other catchy phrases used to make foods sound healthy. If it’s processed, comes in a package and in a form that is unrecognizable from the ingredients it was made from, or if those ingredients include lots of bizarre names, avoid eating it or at least eat such foods in limited quantities. For many this will be the hardest thing to do. I understand, Doritos are delicious, but, you have to determine your ability to moderate things like that. Can you eat a very small portion without going overboard? Some people can, most cannot. If you are one of those people, keep these items out of your food pantry and there will be no temptation. One way of easing into this is taking a look at each item and asking do I REALLY like that? Find a whole food alternative to replace eating that particular junk food, and slowly over time your Doritos, hot pockets and frozen pizza becomes carrots, grass fed beef and quinoa.
Now that we have those two cornerstones established, let’s talk about a few tips and tricks to make the transition easier. Try not to forbid yourself from having a particular food or food group, instead, choose not to eat it. For example, saying “I’m not allowed to eat fast food” has a much different mental impact than “I do not want to eat fast food because of its low quality ingredients, and low nutritional value.”
Try new foods and new recipes, don’t be afraid to experiment. If you don’t know how to cook, there are an endless number of cook books and recipe books (and websites) out there that do not require one to have gone through culinary school in order to produce a quick and nutritious meal. Seasonings and spices are your friends!
Identifying your moderation abilities. I touched on this already, but it needs mentioning again. I for one am tired of hearing people say everything in moderation. Well, that is true to an extent. What is left out of that statement is an individual’s ability to moderate. So while I am against forbidding foods, I understand that not everyone can have a bag of chips in the pantry and only eat a few at a time. In those cases, you have to make the conscious decision to not keep them in the house. Maybe once a month buy a small bag as a random treat. Or better yet, find a natural food you like to snack on that replaces the “junk food” and shortly you won’t even want the old snack.
My thoughts on food intolerances; if you have one to a particular food, avoid it. If you do not have any food intolerances there is no advantage to cutting whatever the evil food of the week is. Dairy, wheat, gluten, soy etc. If it’s a legitimate intolerance, by all means avoid it. But please don’t think it makes you healthier to avoid those foods when your system has no problems with them.
Cheat meals/days- I’ve grown to hate this term. I used to use these tactics many years ago to try and maintain my sanity while watching what I ate. What I didn’t realize is that setting aside a special meal or day to eat the “forbidden” food items, was actually kind of dumb. It forced me to go out of my way to intentionally fill myself with foods that I didn’t want to eat. I have now since changed my attitude and indulge guild free when the occasion is warranted. I know that the overwhelming majority of the time, my nutrition is spot on. I’m eating my fruits and veggies, I snack on nuts and Greek yogurt. My dinners are delicious meals with meat and vegetables, potatoes or rice. So when I’m invited to dinner out or have a summer picnic to attend, whatever food I may consume is just all taken in stride. When the majority of what you eat is whole, real foods, you can have that dessert, or go for wings with your friends without worry that you are going to derail your entire life.
What should my “Macros” be? Until you have your total calories under control and a decent handle on eating whole foods, don’t worry about your macros. That is a topic to worry about later if you really want to dial things in AFTER you’ve established your solid eating foundation.
Keep your diet simple, do not obsess over minutia. Although the premise really is that simple, I understand that putting it into practice can be difficult. Win small battles, develop a plan moving forward. Eat real food. Keep the majority of your intake highly nutritional foods, and avoid or only sparingly eat calorie dense low nutritional foods like processed junk. The way I see it, ditching the Pop-Tarts on a regular basis opens up room to have that guilt free slice of pie for dessert when you are out with friends, and really that’s going to impart much more flavor and happiness than those Pop-Tarts ever could.