I have been planning on writing this post for a while. Like most Americans, I struggle to live a healthy lifestyle. There has been a lot of talk on the internet recently about the lengths food companies take to keep us hooked on their foods. For people who have trouble sitting still long enough to read content heavy articles, this Buzzfeed article does a great job of summarizing the main points. It’s kind of weird to compare my eating habits to a drug habit, but I think approaching it that way makes it easier for me to try and make some changes.
I grew up in a fast food loving, large portion eating family with a “waste not” mentality. This means that my plate is always piled high and I’m expected to finish all of it. As a child, I received a lot of praise for finishing my food, so as I got older I thought it only appropriate to be able to eat more.
Admittedly, I seem to have a fast metabolism. I know nobody wants to hear a skinny girl complaining about her weight. That’s not really the point of this post. The point here is that being thin does not necessarily mean that you are healthy. You don’t have to look very far for examples of that. This girl is far from healthy at 5’3 and 98 pounds. Having a high metabolism makes it easier for children to develop unhealthy eating habits and to grow into adults with unhealthy eating habits that are extremely difficult to change. I think it also makes it easier for people to end up with high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure. This is probably the way things have gone for my parents, which is why they are both on medications to address high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These are things I’d like to avoid. I’m still young, so I think now is the perfect time to try and turn things around before I get old and set in my ways. Here are a few key things I am trying to focus on right now.
I happened to start this blog after I had started running again and trying to be more active, so people who read my blog may be under a false impression that I am a super active person who loves exercise. Trust me, I’m not. If left to my own devices, I live an overall sedentary lifestyle. Signing up for races is probably the only thing that has ever motivated me to exercise regularly. Training for an event really works for me because I know that I will be unprepared and miserable on race day if I neglect my workouts.
My goal in this area is to get used to being active. At this time in my life, I’m not too focused on weight loss, but I want to get myself used to the idea and feeling of working out so someday in the future when weight loss is a fitness goal (getting rid of baby weight, perhaps?), I will have some idea of how to work out and what my body is capable of.
Fear of Wasting Food
This is a big one. The need to finish my plate stems from the fear of wasting food (and money). I think this is a big reason why finishing your plate has become a praiseworthy accomplishment. I had come to associate that feeling of fullness, even discomfort, with the signal that I had eaten “enough”. The need to finish all my food to avoid wasting food poses the biggest problem for me in two specific circumstances: 1) when eating out and 2) when snacking.
Growing up, the goal when eating out was always to finish my meal in its entirety. This was true whether the the portions were small or large. To put you in context, I think I regularly polished off an IHOP Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity meal complete with a side of hash browns in one sitting. When I eat out, portions are more often than not pretty large, so if I eat out I make a point to eat no more than half of the meal in the restaurant and save the other half for another meal. If I am in a situation where I know I cannot take leftovers home, I try to order something lighter or more nutritious so I can eat the whole thing without being too full. Worst comes to worst, I will force myself to leave food behind. I still hate wasting food, but when it comes down to it, it’s easier to leave food uneaten than to try to work it off later.
My family and I love junk food. At any given time, my house is fully stocked with a variety of different kinds of junk food. Despite what my blog may represent, I do eat junk food pretty often. I’m only human and having these kinds of snacks in my face day in and day out is pretty challenging for me to deal with. I try to be disciplined, but I often give in to the temptation. The problem with junk food in terms of the fear of wasting food is that we often feel the need finish whatever we’re eating even if we don’t think it tastes very good. For me, junk food is something that you know isn’t very good for you, but you indulge in it anyway because you think it tastes good and you enjoy eating it. In general, I think the foods I eat are tasty and/or healthy. I think that’s a pretty good rule of thumb. If food is neither tasty nor healthy, there’s no real benefit in eat it, so why do it?
Being Informed (Nutrition, Portion Sizes and Feeling Full)
This is a tricky area and one that I know I need to improve in. I try to keep tabs on what I’m eating, but being conscious of all the different areas of nutrition is really hard work and can be pretty time consuming if you’re very detailed. Right now, I try to pay attention to the calorie count, sodium, and sugar content of my food, but I know there’s tons of other stuff that is important to look at too (fat, calories from fat, cholesterol, etc). I will take a glance at protein too, but that’s more for me to determine whether it’s something I want to eat post-workout.
Over the years, I’ve been astounded by what people think is “healthy”. One of the most interesting examples of food naivete to me was at my old job. This woman announced to the whole break room that she was on a diet and her goal was to lose 10 pounds. I don’t remember the time frame she wanted to do this in, but I remember it being rather short. As she said this, she was in the process of breaking up a Jack in the Box cheeseburger on top of a Jack in the Box salad. She said that she was using the cheeseburger as a way to “flavor” her salad. A short while later, a few of us went to lunch at Chipotle to celebrate a coworker’s birthday and she went next door to Jamba Juice and came back with a smoothie and a wrap. Obviously she thought she was being healthy by going to Jamba Juice, but I don’t think she even knew what she was putting in her body. Just because you put it on a salad doesn’t mean you aren’t still eating a cheeseburger! Just because it has fruit in it doesn’t make it healthy! Crazy.
I touched on portion sizes and feeling full a little bit earlier, but I think this is the most important thing I have worked on for myself. I have made a conscious effort to cut down all my portion sizes and I try very hard not to let other people pile food onto my plate. I know my family comes from the “more food = more love” mindset, so I like to take charge of my own portions at the get go rather than making them watch me put food (or love) back and throw food (or love) away.
Since I want to take care of my family, when I cook for them, I try to show them what healthier eating looks and tastes like. I’ll do this by cooking a healthier option of something that they’d cook themselves or by cooking something that is healthy and has a lot of volume. One blog that I love is Undressed Skeleton. In this blog, she acknowledges the fact that she needs large portions to feel satisfied. Because of this, she makes sure her meals consist of healthy foods that she can eat a lot of. Since appropriate portion sizes are a challenge in my family, I try to make foods that can be piled high.
I hate the idea of dieting and I hate the idea of eliminating foods from your diet. Making something forbidden doesn’t make you want it less. I do like the idea of finding healthier alternatives for the things you want to eat and I am always on the prowl for new things to try. Something I’ve been trying to do is cut down on processed and packaged foods so I can be in better control of what I’m eating. This way, if I’m indulging in a treat, at least I know what I’m indulging in. Some foods have a surprising amount of sugar or sodium added that you can’t even taste. If I’m going to be eating sugar or sodium, I want to be able to taste and enjoy it. I don’t want it to be hiding unnoticed in my food!
High Metabolism = Eating Constantly
Having a high metabolism means that I am constantly hungry. I definitely got this from my parents because they are always hungry. The people in my house are constantly eating something. Sometimes I get self conscious about how often I need to eat regardless of how large my previous meal was, but I’ve started to take it as a sign that my metabolism is still working quickly. Instead of fighting my hunger, I’m trying to feed it with better food.
Something that usually helps me is to look at food as fuel. Since I am always hungry, I try to seek out food that will keep me full for a long time. I also recognize that it won’t be too long until I’m hungry again so when I feel like I need a snack, I don’t necessarily need something large to tide me over until hunger strikes again. Looking at food as fuel helps me to make better food decisions. Let’s use calories as an example. When deciding what to snack on, I think: Do I want to eat something now that is 400 calories when I know I will probably be hungry again in 10 minutes or do I want to eat something that is lower in calories but will keep me full for longer than 10 minutes? Needing to eat constantly is not a bad thing as long as you’re selecting good food.
As I mentioned before, I am a fan of junk food…a “junkie”, if you will. Sorry for the lame joke, haha. I will probably never be able to eliminate it from my life, but I can control how much and how often I eat it. Not keeping things like that in the house helps. Not buying junk food in bulk (I’m looking at you, Costco) makes it easier to eat a little bit and then not have it sitting around and tempting you.
I hope this doesn’t come off as preachy. I am not perfect and I will freely admit that today was a junk food day. It all started with a donut, but that donut was darn delicious. While I try to think about food in a healthy way, it does not always happen. I don’t beat myself up about it because I figure I am still making progress from where I was a few years ago and I feel good about that. I am a work in progress and maybe it will always be that way. There’s not much more I can ask for if I am healthy, happy, and comfortable overall in my own skin 🙂