Last week I talked about 7 steps for finding a fitness routine that works for you. One that makes you feel great, and one that you truly LOVE – not something you do out of obligation. As I discussed back then, fitness is just one component of overall wellness. There’s so much more that goes into what makes us well, including nutrition, relationships, spirituality, how we manage stress, sleep, etc. While all of these impact us on a daily basis, nutrition is an area that we have SO much control over, yet tend to get so overwhelmed by. That’s why it’s the topic of today’s post.
It seems that no matter where you look – from your circles of friends and co-workers to social media and even the grocery store, different dietary practices are being thrown at us from every angle. It could be your bestie who’s decided to try going vegan, or the box of cookies on the shelf at Whole Foods wanting to make you think they’re healthy because they claim to be paleo and gluten-free. (As a side note, if any food needs to be prefaced with the word ‘paleo’ to make it sound wholesome, it’s probably isn’t.) But what is healthy eating, really? And how did it get so confusing?
Just like politics and religion, food is something people can get really fired up about. I think we all really want to believe all the decisions we’re making for ourselves are the right ones, and ones that put us in a better position for the future. When our personal beliefs about nutrition get challenged, it’s only natural to get a little defensive about it. And when it comes to choosing a category to belong to, let’s be honest – we’re more likely to lean towards the ones that don’t force us to give up the things we’re most emotionally attached to. The plan that means facing the least discomfort. I’m pretty sure bacon lovers everywhere rejoiced when the paleo movement told them it was “healthy”! But is anyone actually right when it comes to these dietary debates? Should we eat animal products? Go raw? Abstain from alcohol? Avoid gluten like the plague?
Science exists to support both sides of any nutritional argument. This won’t surprise you, but I don’t think there’s just one way. Just like fitness, what you choose to nourish your body with should be what works for YOU. That could be any of the dietary preferences I just mentioned, a hybrid, or whatever you’ve found makes you feel at your best.
As you guys have seen, I’ve transitioned through all sorts of phases. I went from not eating red meat and chicken for my late teens and most of my 20s, to recently re-introducing both. I used to eat plenty of dairy and didn’t care whatsoever about gluten, but have made the decision to avoid both for the majority of my 20s thus far. I enjoyed more than my fair share of booze in my university days, but very seldom consume alcohol today. These have all been personal choices, and I’m sure you’ve made plenty for yourself.
Being very immersed in nutrition as a fitness enthusiast, Culinary Nutrition Expert and blogger, I read studies, blogs and other food-related news all the time. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that all of the mixed messaging can be really overwhelming and confusing to decipher, but I want this to be a place where you don’t feel that way. Where things are broken down in ways that make sense and feel manageable for you.
What I really want you to hear from this post is that ‘healthy eating’ doesn’t have to be hard.
Eating well can be really simple, even though what you’ve witnessed might seem overwhelming, restrictive, time-consuming or no fun at all. With that, I’d like to offer you x ways to make healthy eating easier and more FUN!
1. Take a baby step every day. Not every meal has to be nutritionist-worthy.
Eating in a way that’s healthy for you is not an all or nothing concept, and the great thing is that even tiny changes can do wonders for the way you feel. If you’re spending a ton of time stressing out about whether you’ve got the right proportions of fat, protein and carbs on your plate, that’s probably counterproductive to your efforts!
We’ve evolved to instinctively understand that whole, unprocessed foods in all sorts of bright colours are the ones that provide the most nutrition for our bodies, so just aim to work those in when you can. The more you do it, the better you’ll feel.
The fun factor: Keep enjoying your favourite indulgences, and when you do, engage all of your senses. Without distractions, they’ll be THAT much better! You don’t have to do anything to “deserve”or “earn” your favourite foods, just as long as when you do, it’s done in a conscious way that keeps them feeling special. #balance. 😉
2. Focus on adding, not removing.
Yes, you can still have your grandma’s lasagna, a slice of cake to celebrate your birthday, and even your favourite comforting mac and cheese. AND maybe you have a side salad with that lasagna, really savour every bite of that one piece of cake with all of your senses, and go for a walk to help boost digestion after that mac and cheese.
The more you focus on ADDING nutrient-dense foods (and in the case of digestion, natural movement), the more likely it is that the less-ideal choices get crowded out. In the process, your palate changes and that might mean that your cravings for hyper-palatable foods (those high in sugar, fat and salt) become less frequent.
The fun factor: Make it a game! I do this with all sorts of new challenges. Keep a tally of the positive choices you make each day and see if you can step up your game a little each week.
3. Just eat real food.
Don’t over-complicate things by worrying about whether you should go gluten free, dairy free, FODMAP free, etc. By focusing on eating more whole foods (and crowding out the others, as described above), I think you’ll notice a lot of the issues you experience start to disappear. Of course, if you suspect something specific is causing symptoms, have it tested or try eliminating it to see if it makes a difference.
The fun factor: Frozen produce is often cheaper than fresh. Use that saved money saved to treat yourself to something you love – a matcha latte, a pretty water bottle, new workout gear, or a spiralizer!
4. Use frozen produce.
There’s nothing wrong with buying produce from the freezer section of your grocery store, and when what you want isn’t in season, this is probably a better choice anyway. Yes they’re not as fresh, but in many cases, the food has been frozen at peak ripeness and still has a ton of nutrition locked in there. Ideally we’d try to make local and seasonal choices year-round, but obviously this isn’t always possible. If you need to make a berry trifle in the middle of winter, wouldn’t you rather use organic, locally-grown frozen berries than ones that have spent weeks on the back of a truck en route to your grocery store?
The easy factor: Frozen produce is typically washed and pre-chopped, which saves you time. We always say we want more time, so use it however you like! A few extra minutes lying in bed in the morning? An extra long shower? The possibilities!
5. Don’t overestimate your need for variety
Trust me, you don’t need a different lunch and dinner every single day. Not only is that mentally exhausting to think about preparing, but your body really doesn’t need that much variety. If you’re worried about getting all your body’s required micronutrients, simply put a few different colours in your grocery cart each week.
The fun factor: Use the time you save by simplifying your weekly meal choices to have a fun experience – go for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, actually DO a Pinterest project, or get outside and explore your city like a tourist.
6. Have some go-to recipes on hand + make leftovers.
I’m a fan of meal prep on Sunday, and some weeks that might look like chopping some veggies, washing greens, cooking up a big batch of quinoa and roasting a few salmon fillets for later in the week. Other weeks, it might be making double batches of my favourite easy recipes that keep well in the fridge. By having a few go-to’s, menu planning doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal and you can swap ingredients in and out to keep them interesting. While you’re cooking, make a bigger batch than you need to save yourself the time later. Even if you don’t end up using them, you can always pop the extra portions in the freezer.
The fun factor: Multitask and get a dose of entertainment as you cook. Watch your favourite shows on Netflix or listen to a podcast or have a mini meal prep party with a friend and catch up while you cook.
7. Make taking your supplements more delicious.
Yes, it’s true that our soil and plants aren’t as nutrient-dense as they were years ago, so there’s a place in the diet for supplements. I don’t take a ton of them, but one I keep on hand (especially when traveling away from my own kitchen) is a digestive enzyme. One of my favourites is Garden Of Life’s Doctor Formulated Organic Digest+ Chewable Digestive Enzyme. These have a tropical taste and sort of remind me of those chewable Flinstones I used to have as a kid – only without the artificial colours!
The easy factor: Set your supplements in a pill container (yes, the kind your grandma uses) at the beginning of the week for each day so that it’s easier to remember to take them. Alternatively, if they’re in powdered form, toss them in a morning smoothie where the taste is hidden (rather than trying to dissolve them in water and knock them back like shots!)
8. Drink more water.
Yes you could get alkalized or other special filtered water, but most people would probably feel better (digestion, energy, mental clarity etc) by simply drinking more of the stuff – even if it comes from the tap.
The fun factor: Boost the flavour by adding sliced cucumber, mint, citrus and/or berries, or steep fruity herbal tea and chill it before drinking.
9. Consider grocery stores new restaurant options.
This is especially helpful if you get overwhelmed by trying to eat healthy foods in unfamiliar cities. At a grocery store, you can pick up the things you want, leave what you don’t, and save money on overpriced dishes that might not come out the way you like them. You don’t just have access to what’s on a menu – you’ve got the entire store!
The easy factor: Next time you travel, go to the grocery store while en route to your hotel. Take a lap around and pick up some whole fruit, pre-cut veggies (if you don’t have time to do it yourself), some raw nuts or seeds, and whole grain crackers. A few pouches of tuna, cans of sardines or a small packet of smoked salmon are great protein-rich choices, and if you’re 100% plant-based, roasted chickpeas, hummus, edamame, nuts, and seeds are all good protein alternatives. If you’re at a grocery store with a salad bar, you’ve got even more options! Voila – now you don’t have to worry about finding a restaurant with healthy options.
10. Try meal planning services
Fresh Prep, Hello Fresh, Blue Apron – even Amazon now offers meal delivery service! There are a ton of companies willing to make eating healthy easier for you, whether that’s delivering meal kits or fully prepared meals to your doorstep. While I haven’t personally tried any of these myself, I’ve been told by friends that they’re really good, and in many cases, cost-effective too. (If you live in Vancouver, here are 9 that deliver locally.)
The fun factor: This can easily be turned into a learning + bonding opportunity! Split the cost with a roommate, friend, or significant other and make your meals together. Many of the kit delivery services provide pre-portioned ingredient pouches and extremely clear directions so even if you claim to have zero cooking skills, there’s very little room to go wrong.
So tell me…
- If you’re feeling awesome about your eats: How do YOU make eating well easy and fun?
- If you’re not feeling quite so awesome: What’s the biggest thing getting in the way of your desire to reach your nutrition goals?