As I work with more and more women I am hearing a common theme: knowing what is most practical for daily nutrition is overwhelming.
We are saturated daily with messages about food and what to eat. Further, recommendations are varied from source to source on what is “best.” For many, the messages are overwhelming and lead to feelings of pressure: there are so many things to do better or change in the name of good health it feels like you aren’t ever doing enough. Not to mention, quality food is expensive. When you can’t afford all of the best or recommended food for your family, you begin to feel guilt…and pressure…which can lead to simply throwing in the towel. If I can’t do it all, why bother?!?
Here are a few suggestions which might help take the load off your food decisions.
1. Gradually incorporate better options into your purchases.
It is okay to gradually move away from processed food or gradually incorporate organic/pastured/locally sourced food. I don’t care what others in the industry say, healthy food IS expensive. What my family spends on food each month is far and away our largest expense outside of our mortgage…and I’m not including restaurant meals in that figure. Industry experts can say all they want about the cost of illness being way more than eating healthfully. None of us wants to get a life-altering disease, but let’s be realistic here!! Money, for the majority of us, is in finite supply and we’ve got to make our dollars stretch for the many commitments in our life. And, there usually aren’t coupons for fruit, veggies, and protein!
I don’t believe it’s feasible for most families to simply flip the switch from their current purchasing patterns to all whole/local/organic/pastured/local/gluten free/whatever. I wasn’t able to transition how my family eats overnight…it has taken almost 5 years. Further, we absolutely eat healthier now but we ABSOLUTELY spend more on food. In our single income household we simply could not afford to change everything all at once.
There isn’t a hard and fast rule about where to transition your food dollars first. Ideas:
- Maybe you want to make more room in your budget for whole food by eating out less. Not only do you save money, but you also will be eating healthier, too.
- Perhaps you want to begin with your protein sources. What do you eat the most of: meat like pork or beef, poultry, or fish? Maybe begin by selecting locally sourced protein of one kind, then work from there. You could also explore doing a meatless day of the week…it will save you some money and will improve your health.
- If you are a proponent of purchasing organic, learn about the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen (see www.ewg.org). Work on purchasing organic from the Dirty Dozen list first, then incorporate other food after that as budget allows.
- Think about what you eat the most of. Buy the best quality of that food you can afford or make the best version of that you can afford. Once your budget has settled and you’ve adjusted to that change, pick the next item to transition. For example, if you eat a lot of pasta dishes consider reading the label on your sauce and perhaps pick a better option with lower/no sugar or no mystery ingredients. Opt for whole wheat pasta or a combo of white and wheat pasta. Or go for non-traditional “noodles” like spaghetti squash, spiralized zucchini, or carrot ribbons.
2. Reduce junk food and eat more veggies
I happen to think the quickest way to effect your health is to whittle away at the amount of processed food you eat. When I work with my Learn n Burn clients we start with these basic, yet effective things:
- Eat more vegetables
- Drink more water
- Eat less junk (you know what I mean…less chips, less candy, less ice cream, less Totinos Pizza rolls, fast food lunches)
You can make great headway with your health with these simple things. Start your day with a big glass of water. Incorporate some veggies into your morning eggs or add spinach/kale to a fruit smoothie. Have loaded salads with different veggies and a protein. Make steamed veggies your side in the evening instead of a starch (rice, potato, bread, pasta).
Now, I’m not saying cutting out the junk is easy, that does take time. But you can work at things by REDUCING. Instead of five lunches out, begin with four lunches out and bring a lunch one day a week. START there and work at improving what you do. Or rather than chips or cheese and crackers every night for a snack, pick your favorite TV night and munch on that night only. REDUCE, REDUCE, REDUCE!! Not perfect, but better, little by little.
3. Don’t get bogged down with details. Start with simple basics, then refine as you go. Think critically about how to eat.
I have found the broader and simpler I make my approach the better I feel and the more I stick with my plan. Some examples of what I mean:
Don’t focus on a specific number of servings each day or week of fruits/veggies/protein/whole grain/fats/etc. Further, don’t focus on eating specific foods with specific vitamins and minerals. Try to eat a variety of food and trust that you are getting the nutrients you need via variety. Shopping locally and at seasonal markets will help you with this piece, too.
Transition to using plain yogurt with fruit, adding honey or pure maple syrup for more sweetness. Once you’ve eliminated the sugary yogurts, then you can delve into more reading and decide what level of dairy fat makes sense for you and your family.
If you are working to lose weight, look at the big picture of how you eat. Begin your changes there. By this I mean, at the start, don’t put your emphasis on things like no fruit after 4 pm, no grain for breakfast, no eating after 7 pm. Rather, focus on reducing your junk food intake and prepping and preparing more whole food. The details of when and how you eat can be tweaked as you go along. Think about it! Was eating fruit after 4pm the root cause of your weight gain? Did having toast for breakfast really contribute significantly to your extra weight? While in some cases the answer to these two questions MAY be yes, I’m willing to bet for most of us the larger problem was/is: eating too much of the wrong thing and not moving our bodies. Look at the big picture first, refine next!
Is paleo best? Is vegan or vegetarian best? Should I be eating gluten and grain? Is dairy bad for me? I’m not a dietician or nutritionist so I cannot recommend what to eat. What I can say is that even though there are varied approaches to WHAT is best to eat, nearly all of them will tell you eat whole, real food the majority of the time. First get the crap food under control and transitioned out of your eating for the most part. After you’ve incorporated meal prep and whole ingredients into your patterns, THEN explore ways to eat. I really think it’s more important to stop consuming Frankenfood (food with a crazy, unpronounceable ingredient list) than it is to eliminate grains, for example (exceptions like gluten intolerance aside). Get to eating real food from any food group MOST of the time, then REFINE!
Health is different for each of us, you don’t need to apologize for your choices. Do WWFY and change your food in a way that makes sense to YOU.