Food is tough. It’s at the center of most of our celebrations and holidays. We share recipes we love while we find new favorites and old standbys to garnish our plates. We eat every day and we have different dishes representing a plethora of cultures to choose from. It’s also a way we pass time and to cheer ourselves up. We binge on it while we binge on T.V. and there are other ways we use food to be sure. But for most of us food is always in the back of our minds.
I usually start out the week with the best of intentions. Those are to cook lots of different meals for a quick lunch or dinner during the week so I won’t have to stand in front of the fridge or cabinets wondering what I’ll be eating for dinner that night. But it inevitably happens. My days off come around and something’s come up or I don’t have the energy to muster the ambitious meal plan I have in mind. So I default to something easy while the food I bought for the recipes I chose slowly waste away in the fridge or on the counter tops.
This happens more often than I’d like to admit. I know I’m not alone and I feel bad tossing a bunch of produce that’s turned. Not only do I feel bad about the waste but also because meals are so important to our self-care and how we feel about, view and fuel our bodies. The more we take care with the foods that we prepare for ourselves, the more respect we pay to ourselves. And in turn the better we will feel about ourselves. And not to mention the voice that beats us up for the habits we’ve been taught along the way.
My habits were pretty unhealthy. In my teens and early twenties, I ate a lot of takeout while drinking four to five beers a night. I had always been overweight until fairly recently and ate the fattiest, most unhealthy takeout foods. One of my weakness was for pork pot stickers with general Goa’s chicken and chow foon right behind them. I would probably eat my daily caloric intake in one meal if I got Chinese for take-out!
But my habit for takeout started when I was a teenager. I would spend my paper-route money at a sub-shop down the street. Since my mother was always at work she didn’t have time to make dinner for us every night. So I defaulted to greasy subs and pizzas while loading up on chips and whatever I could find at the convenience store.
It wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve been taking a more mindful look at the ways I’ve related to food in the past. And I’ve set some goals for how I want my diet to look and feel going forward for the future.
My recent food journey began when a friend of mine asked me to go to the Boston Vegfest with her about five years ago. She also gave me a book titled, “The China Study” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Vegfest was an incredible experience. There were speakers like Dr. Michael Greger author and founder of the website, Nutritional Facts. He mostly focused on the nutritional benefits and values of eating vegan or vegetarian. Dr. Campbell’s book is also about the long term health benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet on weight loss as well as nutritional values. But there were also venders with loads of tasty treats and samples to try were there as well.
So naturally I jumped in with both feet and became vegan right away. I didn’t try incorporating tofu and more greens into my diet and then slowly fade out the meat. Having dairy only on occasion. Nope, I went right for it. Over time my diet has come to resemble something more of a vegetarian diet, where I mostly still cook vegan for myself and will sometimes eat vegetarian while I’m out. Because it’s not always easy finding vegan restaurants or restaurants that cater to vegan cuisine. But I haven’t nor will I ever eat meat again. For me it has a lot to do with environmental impact and the health benefits. But I also understand and respect that it’s not a lifestyle for everybody. Vegan’s have gotten a bad rap for being pushy about their beliefs and I don’t want to rest in that camp.
But what is more important for me than the “right” ways to eat or the health benefits (which are important) was that I needed to set healthier boundaries with the food I was eating in general. I was drinking close to half my calories for the day in beer alone. And eating probably my full calories at dinner if I went out to eat! And that was just in one meal! The rest of the day wasn’t stellar either. All said, I’d probably eat 4.5k calories in a day with a very sedentary lifestyle. So long story short, I had zero boundaries when it came to food.
For me when I started eating vegan it was for weight loss. The health benefits were appealing but as I’ve said in my post “Search for a Blog“, my family’s values were definitely based in image centric beliefs. My mom would often call me a human garbage disposal with regards to my eating habits. And being overweight pretty much my whole life, I never felt like I belonged to my family. Not that my family were models of healthy eating habits. But I wanted to belong and I wanted to do it by looking good naked.
I still want to look good. I feel like a large part of self care is about liking who we are in that we enjoy our self projected image. But it’s sometimes difficult to draw the line on what’s healthy versus what’s unhealthy self image. Thanks largely to advertising and cultural tendencies and trends. But that’s another post for another time, maybe for somebody with a masters or doctorate in social anthropology or psychology 😀
So when I started eating vegan I found that I had to make a lot of sacrifices and find new ways and habits of eating that would allow me to achieve my desired relationship with food. Protein and iron were now on my radar as I searched food caloric nutritional values. Also scanning for proper ratios of carbs to fats to proteins. It wasn’t easy at first but I found loads of recipes on different sites that were helpful. A big shout out to The Minimalist Baker for helping me get started with vegan friendly recipes (also with nutritional breakdowns of her recipes). Otherwise I would have been eating lots of stir-fried tofu and veggies which probably would have gotten old before long.
But there are so many resources online now that it is super easy to find recipes and inspiration. Like I said above, Minimalist Baker is a good site, as well as This Rawesome Vegan Life. But you could find yourself in the same trap if you make and eat whatever you feel like eating. I was headed in that direction. By not watching my portion sizes and making a lot of sweets and and other high fat, low nutritionally dense recipes. My eating habits turned into something that resembled what I was doing before going vegan. Only I replaced meat and dairy with more nuts and seeds, loads of chocolate and sweeteners. They were all natural for the most part but I was consuming without regard to how much and eating for big flavor instead of nutritional value.
One of the reasons for going vegan was because I read somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where and please don’t quote me on this information, that if you eat a vegan, plant based diet your body naturally maintains a low ratio of body fat to muscle. But this only pertains to a healthy plant based diet high in whole, nutrient dense foods and low in sweeteners and highly fatty processed foods. This was something I was disregarding.
My health goals now are to get to a certain body fat percentage. Mostly because I want to see if I’m able but with my lifestyle changes being so drastically different from the ways I used to be, not only my eating habits but also running and yoga, I think it’d be nice. For at least once in my lifetime to see the best version of myself in regards to fitness levels and a healthy diet.
I’m sure some of my drive to achieve my health goals stems from being called a human garbage disposal when I was young. But regardless of the past I believe there’s a part in all of us that wants to see the best versions of ourselves. This brings me to the other side of the boundaries coin, the need to achieve beyond what might be healthy.
I was married once to a woman who told me that I became obsessed with things. Hobbies or ideas that I would find interesting. And she was right. I would follow my interests almost to the point of obsession. If I started brewing beer, I had to grow my own hops, brew three batches at a time and know as much as I could about every aspect of the process. If corralled this could be a useful trait. But left unchecked it can become, well unhealthy obsession.
This could be dangerous when applied to food or exercize, and detrimental to health as well. If we set our boundaries too rigidly then something like cutting calories can lead to malnutrition. Things such as loss of bone density and lower immune system function can happen in drastic cases . Exercise done to the point of exhaustion can lead to injury. And if our habit is to push ourselves to persist through minor injuries we run the risk of doing serious damage to our bodies.
So regardless of our health goals it’s important to not only reign in over consumption, but to check aggressive fitness goals as well. Because finding the right balance of how you take care of yourself and your personal needs and how you respond to your body’s limits is important. As well as your expectations and how you get there are so important for the intentions we set on how we want to live our lives and be the healthiest versions of ourselves. And as a good friend of mine says, Jay Foss, host of a weekly radio show on North Shore 104.9 fm, Raising your Inner Voice, “being the best version of myself helps you to be the best version of yourself”.
I hope you find this perspective useful to some degree. Like I said in the beginning of this post, food is tough and know that you are not alone. And remember you don’t have to be so hard on yourself :] Be well, and thanks for reading.
Image Credits: Adam Sergott, Haymarket, Boston, MA