by Claire Lang
One of the most important tools I can think of when it comes to changing ones entire nutritional lifestyle is changing how one looks at food.
I, like so many others, have always thought of food in the terms of hungry, full, or not hungry. Basically, food was only viewed as something to fill me. If it tasted good, made me not hungry anymore, and had an element of health, it was good enough.
The problem with that thinking is that I put almost no thought into exactly what I was putting into my body. I could tell you the fat and calorie content of every morsel, but could I tell you how much protein, how much iron, omegas? Of course not. Could I even tell you which food item had which nutritional value? Outside of protein and maybe iron, no.
The funny thing is that the desire to change my health through food started out as a much more superficial goal, the desire to lose weight.
In my search for ways to cut calories, I discovered a website called Sparkepeople.com. It’s an online community that helps people set up personalized weight loss plans. It’s very user friendly and can be used as much or as little as desired. After inputting some basic information such as weight, height, age, and weight loss goals, you can have the site set up a menu or simply input food. Truthfully, my explaining how the site works takes more time then entering a daily menu.
As a wife and mother and not a mealtime island, I decided to just enter the food I was consuming throughout the day. I was not so pleasantly surprised by my calorie counts and for quite some time focused only on that. At some point, I noticed that the data also included fat, carbohydrate, iron, protein, and other nutritional information. In fact, one can add as many items to the nutritional list as they’d like. I discovered that I wasn’t getting nearly enough protein, and on some days not even enough fat. I was, however, overloading on carbohydrates
This set me to thinking about my view of food. For years, I would concentrate on calories. The truth was, even with eating too many calories I was starving my body of nutrients. It was a strange realization that was confirmed even more after watching Supersize Me. Yes, I was full. Yes, I could eat and no longer be hungry, but my cells were starving. I was malnourished. I was 60 pounds overweight and malnourished.
This is something I continue to struggle with. I could take supplements and fool myself into thinking that this will help balance things out. While I believe in supplements to a certain extent, I do not believe that one can eat nutrient empty foods and then try to pop a pill to make up for it. The body does not absorb nutrients as well, but more than that, I believe it creates a false security about one’s health.
Whole nutrient packed foods is where I needed set my focus. While this sounds ideal, it’s more difficult than I had thought. One of my days off is largely spent running errands for a loved one and my small family. On workdays, I hit the snooze button more than once and then have to hit the ground running. Even worse, I find my small refrigerator far too small. Eating whole, fresh foods requires much more refrigerator space than I have. I make up for it with a delicate balance of organization, imagination and simply opening the door slowly, ready to catch whatever may be falling out.
Making the switch isn’t easy, either. Our poor bodies are so conditioned and addicted to salt, unhealthy fats, sugars, and additives that sweet peppers taste bland and not at all sweet, spinach feels foreign, and it takes more time to peel an orange than unwrap a candy bar. All of these small conditioned behaviors and tastes have to be chipped away at and broken. It can be a constant battle.
The fight isn’t just in our cravings, addictions, and behaviors; it falls into the way our lives are set up. Two working parents, kids with games, rehearsals, play dates, eating in the car, is a pretty normal experience for many of us. Drives thru windows are our kitchen counters. The worst part is that our choices outside the kitchen are severely limited to a neon pathway of burgers and fries. Even when we try to make more nutritious choices, we find out that the dressing is packed with more fat and calories than the burgers offered. Even when we try to cook at home we find our kids and our significant others bemoaning the offerings.
Here’s the thing I’ve simply set my mind too. I don’t care. I must take the time to make dinner, I must put the food down in front of everyone at my table and say, “Too bad, I love you, you love me, and I’m expressing that love here”. I will toss an apple and string cheese into a bag, pack a sandwich, or take the time to stop at somewhere like Chipotle’ when on the
Have I given up all my vises? No, that would be foolhardy. Saturday nights consist of pizza and soda with friends. One of my favorite treats is Macaroni Grill Alfredo pasta. However, these are approached with the knowledge that they are not just not good for us, they are bad for us.
It’s about finding balance, for me. Most of my meals consist of food that I know is good for me. I view food in the terms of protein, fat, iron, fiber, and omega 3. Just a few days ago one of my coworkers looked onto my breakfast with a bit of disgust. Granted, I understand her trepidation. An over medium (no additional oil needed) egg over a small whole grain/flaxseed pancake, a touch of maple syrup and my iced coffee (made at home). I laughed and called it my protein/fiber fill. Sure, it looked disgusting, but this is my favorite breakfast. It’s filling, it’s healthy, and I love savory/sweet. There’s not a thing in it that I feel bad about.
For me it’s a wonderful thing to eat a meal that I can feel good about. A meal that serves me, not just fills me. This change has brought about something I hadn’t expected in that my family has discovered that not only can we get used to this healthy eating, we prefer it. We find the visuals in fast food commercials just this side of disgusting. The body begins to recognize what it needs. It begins to crave the foods that nourish it.
One of my favorite moments is when I was put into the position of starting a kindergarten afterschool program. This was the year our schools began to put more focus on healthy holiday treats. That week before Easter, I told my kids that we would have an Easter Bunny feast. We would eat all the foods that the Easter Bunny likes. I remember putting together the trays and thinking that the staff room would be happy to find all of the carrots, celery, broccoli, sweet onions, radishes, peppers, and rolls of lettuce left over. I placed the trays on the tables and a few brave souls started with what they recognized. Before I knew it, the trays looked like a great vegetable massacre. It’s like the Easter Bunny himself had been starving. Even the radishes had been devoured.
It wasn’t that I had a group of vegetarian children. It wasn’t that these kids didn’t eat corn dogs and pizza as a norm. It was simply that at this moment in time their little bodies recognized and rejoiced in food that nourished them.