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Monday, February 06, 2012

Recharging Our Eating Plan with Healthy Foods (And Welcoming in the New Year!)

How to Kick-Start a Healthy Eating Plan for the New Year

Can I just say this straight?

Diets don't work.

Diets, or any sense of deprivation - any sense of "I can't have this" or "I can't have as much of this as I'd like" - just doesn't work as a way to live our lives.

May I also say: this is still early February. We are just coming out of hibernation. And like good old bears, we still want to "carb up."

To make things worse, we're being bombarded with magazines showing us images of barely post-pubescent young women; those who have the ultra-firm flat tummies, the carefully sculpted bottoms, and scarcely a half-ounce of extra body fat.

Nuts to that, I say! (In fact, nuts are a really good idea - protein, carbs, fiber ... but okay, that's a different post.)

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Pistachios; Bon Appetit, February, 2008. Recipe by Dan Barber. Photograph by Lisa Hubbard

Right now, we're barely getting out of our caves.

We're a few days post Imholc/Candlemas/Groundhog Day. (Pick your holiday of choice.) There's no question; we are starting to feel a bit better. There's more light in the sky now. The days are just a bit longer. And we're having an early spring. The daffodils are up; the trees show signs of early budding.

But it's still February.

So the big question is: How to recharge our diets and exercise patterns?

The answer is: Gravitate towards that which makes us feel good. So instead of forcing ourselves towards anything - especially anything that is a little stringent or unnatural - we instead invite ourselves - gently and lovingly and with the greatest nurturance and care possible - to do those things that will help us feel better.

This often means cooking our own food, from scratch. Using the best possible natural ingredients that we can find - especially healthy fresh vegetables.

But if you're like me, then breaking off whatever you're doing sometimes just seems like too much work. And cooking up anything when getting home from work seems like way too much effort.

So here's what I'm doing to get myself going; you might want to do the same:

  • Put up good-foods pictures where you'll see them. Right now, I'm looking at a picture of brussels sprouts. Yes, brussels sprouts - with pistachios and lemon. And I'm about to pull this picture out of the magazine, trim the edges neatly, put it into a plastic sleeve holder, and tape that to one of my kitchen cupboards. And I'll do the same with a picture of a fresh salad of mixed greens (when I find one). And similarly with one or two more really invigorating and inspiring recipes. Why? Because we're visual creatures. We respond to stimulation. And at this time of the year, in particular, we crave visual, tactile, and olfactory stimulus. So - we provide ourselves with stimulus and inspiration, and action follows.
  • Pre-process your raw veggies as soon as you get home What can you say to a raw cauliflower? Not much, really. So as I'm unpacking the bags of raw veggies, I try to do what I can to get them ready for later cooking. I take the leaves off the cauliflower, and core out the bottom end. And I try to do other things that make it possible to get meals together just a bit more easily later in the week. The biggest drawback to eating more healthily - that means, more veggies (both cooked and raw) - is that they take more prep time. A whole lot of washing and cutting and fussing. The other thing that seems to work is to take the veggies, a cutting board, and necessary knives and bowls in to watch some TV. This is a sort of "low-energy" task - something to do when a little too tired to do anything really energetic or creative, but not quite completely zoned out. It's a good way to prep veggies for salads, stir-fries, soups, and other uses.
  • Prioritize veggie-intensive food preps for early in the day, when there's still some energy. I try to plan and prep whatever my meals will be as early in the day as possible. At this time of year, this often means a soup or a slow-cooked meal. If I can get this started early - before getting into the other tasks and priorities - then the food is ready later on, when I'm hungry. I may even pre-prep a salad, and put it in the fridge with a cover over the dish. And also even make a little mustard/honey/olive-or-grapeseed oil/balsamic dressing. Always tastes better than the store-bought. I'll make this up and store in the fridge, and this minimizes reaching for the store-bought back-up dressing. (Think about this: You're more likely to purchase quality ingredients when you make your own dressing. And you're more likely to add in little extra heath-giving "extras" when you make it yourself.)

That's it, really. Focus on the feel-good foods; especially the veggies. And make the cream-cheese brownies when you need them; if you have enough in the way of brussels sprouts and salads, everything else takes care of itself.

One final thing: With warmer days, it's time to get outside once again. I'm looking forward to a lengthy walk today; a couple of miles at least. As soon as the sidewalks or streets are ice-free, and the wind is not so chill, it's time to get some fresh air and exercise. And being outside is so much more fun and invigorating than being on a treadmill in a gym!

To your health, happiness, and an overall glorious New Year! - yours - Alay'nya

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