I consider myself to be a flexitarian, meaning I eat a lot of plant-based foods, but I do consume meat and dairy as well, in moderation. I embrace variety in my diet and I am always open to trying new foods. This wasn’t always the case though. Throughout the years I’ve gone on a lot of diets- high protein and low carb, high carb/high fiber, vegetarian, the raw food only diet and gluten- free to name a few. It’s hard for me to stick to diets like these because I’m generally a free-spirited person and as soon I feel restricted I want to binge out. Also, completely cutting out meat has never worked for me; I always wind up feeling lethargic, even if I’m getting enough protein from plant sources. So now, I do my best to listen to my body and give it what it needs on every level. This approach seems to be working for me, as my energy and general feeling of well-being is gradually increasing. I’m learning to prepare new dishes at home and in the process I am forming a healthier relationship with food; I’m no longer stressing about what to eat, but I am aware of the signs my body gives me that something isn’t right for me. I’m not saying that my way of eating is the right or only way, but it works for me for where I’m at right now. If you’re struggling with your diet or would just like to learn more about my food journey to see if what I’m doing might work for you, read on!
I view meat as a seasoning rather than a main course
I used to plan meals by deciding what kind of protein I was going to have and then figuring out what to pair with it. But unless you’re a body builder or on a vegan/ vegetarian diet (without adding necessary meat substitutions), the majority of us are getting enough protein in our diets- it’s fresh produce and complex carbs that we all tend to lack. So now I focus more on what type of salad or veggies I’m going to have as well as whole grains such as cous-cous and wild rice and then decide on a protein. i try to make sure that half of my plate is covered with veggies, and the remaining half is protein and carbs, with meat being the smallest portion. I also incorporate plant- based proteins such as beans and seafood into meals instead of just beef or chicken.
I limit processed/packaged foods
Most packaged foods, even if they’re labeled “organic”, or “natural”, are loaded with sodium, sugar and preservatives. Also, the way most of these foods are designed contributes to overeating. Think about it- you open a package of cookies or crackers and start eating. You aren’t likely using a plate or cutlery, you’re eating it straight out of the bag with your hands and before you know it, you’ve eaten way more than you thought. If I really want a cookie or muffin, making it myself allows me to control the amount of sugar in it as well as making healthier substitutions (ei, substituting vegetable oil for coconut oil or using a “flax seed egg” instead of real eggs).
I also try to steer clear of prepackaged salads, cut veggies, fruit salads, etc. First of all, they’re always way more expensive than if you just made the thing yourself, and there is a higher risk of contamination and food-borne illnesses as packaged items have been handled more than, say, a whole head of lettuce would be. I’d be lying if I said I never go for pre-made veggie platters or salads from the deli, but I try my best to take the time to prepare these foods myself from scratch. Doing so is not only healthier, but I find that preparing my own food has helped me to form a relationship with food that I didn’t have before. Touching it, washing it, cutting it, and mixing it as opposed to just eating it helps me feel more connected to the food that is on my plate.
I avoid MSG like the plague
I try not to completely restrict any food from my diet, but MSG is one exception to that rule. It may make food taste great, but it always gives me a stomach ache and indigestion, sometimes to the point where my tummy doesn’t feel quite right for days. It can be a tricky thing to avoid completely because it’s in a lot of packaged foods and can show up under different names, such as Glutamic Acid or Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein. The best way to avoid MSG completely is to cook from scratch.
Water is my drink of choice
I love coffee, but I stick to one a day, and I take it with a little bit of steamed milk rather than cream or sugar. Aside from that, I prefer not to drink my calories. Even herbal teas, if you add a lot of honey or milk, can end up packing extra calories. I used to drink a lot of green smoothies, but now I mostly eat salads. I found that I was adding a lot of fruit and juice to my smoothies for flavour, which ends up adding extra calories I don’t need. Besides, chewing your food has a lot of benefits. It stimulates saliva and gets the digestive juices flowing. This is certainly not to say that drinking smoothies or juice or other beverages is harmful, but personally I like to keep water as my main source of hydration. I don’t drink bottled water or use any fancy purification systems, just plain filtered tap water is good enough for me 💦 .
I try to make veggies a part of every meal. A typical breakfast for me would be a veggie omelet with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and peppers and whole wheat toast, or a breakfast sandwich with eggs and fresh veggies. I make my own oil and vinegar dressing, and try always have leafy greens in my fridge for quick salads that I can add to any meal. When I’m cooking at home, I like to incorporate minced garlic and sauteed veggies to just about everything from pasta sauce to tacos and even sandwiches. When I’m out, I go for things like wraps and Buddha bowls and even ask to add extra veggies. However, even these healthier options can contain a lot of sodium, so I try to stick with homemade as often as possible.
I embrace healthy fats
Another benefit of cooking at home is that you can control the type of oils you cook with. My go to is coconut oil and and organic butter for cooking, and olive oil for drizzling on salads. My favorite salad dressing is a simple 50-50 blend of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with a pinch of black pepper, Dijon mustard and Manuka honey for extra flavor. I blend it all up for a few seconds just to get it all mixed together. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated and lasts a long time.
Oh, and, avocados! There’s nothing better than finding the perfect avocado! These little guys are packed with monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals. I believe that an avocado a day can keep the doctor away.
I limit refined carbohydrates
This one can be challenging, as I love refined pasta dishes, lasagnas and breads- true to my Latina background. It’s not going to kill you once in a while, but these “white” carbs, including white potatoes, spike your blood sugar more than complex carbs do. I always find that after I eat a meal filled with refined carbs that I crash afterwards. Sticking to complex carbs like quinoa, chia seeds, buckwheat, brown and wild rices, and even whole grain breads and pastas will provide more sustained energy and more nutrients as well.
People may think of saying grace as a religious thing. Some people give thanks when eating meat, to honor the animal that gave its life. The truth is that everything we consume, including fruits and vegetables, has an impact on someone or something. So I try to at least be mindful and feel grateful for whatever I eat- I don’t see a need to say a prayer or make big fuss about it. I believe that taking those few seconds to feel gratitude and be in the present moment can actually help aid in digestion, rather than just scarfing my food down.
Barriers to eating well
Many people think its hard to eat well. They may be pressed for time or financially have limited means. I struggle with some of these limitations too, and I know it can be a lot easier at times to throw up your hands and just grab a slice of pizza rather than taking the time to make a healthy balanced meal. But on the plus side, the more I eat well, the more energy I seem to have, which helps me to do things like grocery shopping and meal planning. Also, eating well doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy things in bulk and watch for sales. I bought a piece of salmon the other day for $10, and I already had rice at home. I picked up some green beans for $3, so I basically made a meal for 3 people for under $15. You can’t even eat at McDonald’s for that amount of money! Also, if my budget is tight, I opt for cheaper proteins like beans, which can be bought dried in bulk for next to nothing. Add some rice, lettuce, and salsa and you have an inexpensive taco bowl. The options are endless once you commit to eating well. At the end of the day, my body is my temple and my health is the most important form of abundance in my life. By taking care of myself well, I can show up better for those in my life and will hopefully avoid being a burden on those I love by being in poor health later in life. In this way, I view eating well, as well as exercising moderately, as not just self-care but an act of self-love and love for those in my world. Looking at it from this perspective helps me to make the time I need to eat well. And I’m able to let that intention go. I refuse to be so obsessed about my health or diet that I can never enjoy a piece of cake or a meal simply because it tastes good. It’s all about balance ❤