Eating delicious food is one of life’s great pleasures. We should do more of it.
Yes, I know. It’s February and I’m supposed to be haranguing you about sticking to your New Year’s resolutions. Keeping on track for austerity, self-deprivation, no-pain-no-gain and all that. Well, forget it. Austerity is boring, unpleasant and doesn’t work. Let’s talk instead about eating well.
The fact is that most of us don’t eat well. We eat quickly, we eat what’s easy, and when we become worried about our weight we try to eat less. We deprive ourselves of what we like, eating smaller portions, feeling miserable, and eventually falling off the wagon. Then we tell ourselves that we just need more willpower and we start the cycle all over again.
Whatever your age or body type, it’s never too late to break that cycle, and a cleanse is a great place to start. As I’ve written before, a well-designed cleanse does not deprive your body of good food – it’s not about starving yourself or eating only wheat grass for weeks on end. A real cleanse is about getting rid of toxins and, perhaps even more important, breaking the bad habits and addictive cycles you may fallen into. Once you’ve cleaned out your system and are no longer living from one insulin high to the next, then you’ll be in a position to start your new healthy habits and improve your quality of life.
The key to making these habits lasting ones is to focus on eating better rather than on eating less. Americans spend almost 90% of their food budget on processed foods. Some of that is the burger-and-fries variety, but the greater part is ready-made dinners. While certainly a frozen vegetarian meal or a can of wholesome chicken soup is better than a Big Mac, even “healthy” processed foods can accelerate weight gain and other health issues.
Processed foods generally have very low nutrient density – the ratio of nutrients to calories – compared with fresh food. That diet frozen dinner may indeed have only 300 calories, but its ingredients have been dehydrated, reconstituted and chemically altered to the point that there isn’t much nutrition left. The more nutrient-poor Styrofoam you eat, the more your body will scream out for food. You’re setting yourself up for failure.
Processed foods are also full of additives. Even so-called healthy processed meals tend to have way too much sodium, and most have various forms of trans-fatty acids and simple sugars (I’ve counted over 40 different names for sugar, but a good rule of thumb is that if the word ends in “ol” or “ose,” or is a “syrup,” then it’s sugar). Many other additives such as colorants, “flavors” or flavor enhancers are suspected of causing a variety of health problems, including insulin resistance, and yet are permitted even in processed “diet” foods. For example, the ingredients of the “Butternut Squash Ravioli” dish from a well-known diet brand contains, among other things, sugar, maltodextrin, brown sugar, “mushroom flavor” and something called “salted milkfat blend.” None of that will kill you, but really, salted milkfat blend?
Food awareness is crucial, but even better than reading food labels is avoiding them. The items in your shopping cart shouldn’t have lists of ingredients, they should be ingredients, ingredients whose names you can pronounce and spell. When you stop eating calcium pantothenate and start eating real food, your body will react with fewer cravings and more energy to get out there and exercise. It’s not quick, cooking real food rather than pulling it out of the freezer, but the extra time spent is more than worth it. Your food will taste better and you’ll need less of it.
If you want 2016 to be a great year, then the best thing you can possibly do is to get clean, stay clean and eat well.