Monday, January 14, 2013

Baby Steps

That's my "baby", who is now three, eating an apple in the middle of an orchard in Willcox, Arizona.

I am nearly finished with a two week "no sugar challenge" (that post is forthcoming), and as much as I thought I knew about checking labels, I had absolutely no idea how many products out there contain sugar, even when there is seemingly no reason they should. As a result of this, I have had to search a lot longer and harder for products I can use during the challenge. Which is probably why so many people lose weight on these challenges: they're not easy to commit to, let alone navigate.

When it comes to eating, I am not a dyed in the wool, well... anything. I don't eat only a vegan diet, or gluten free, or paleo, or raw, or (until recently) sugar free, or even a clean diet all the time. I do, however, tend to gravitate toward foods and recipes that fall into these categories. That being said, I do purchase and consume some packaged and canned, and yes, even some "processed" products. I try my very best to be as selective as possible with those products, but from time to time, I do eat something that a lot of those who write the blogs I follow might faint over. For instance, Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano Cookies. No, I don't want to learn how to make a healthier or clean version of them. They are perfect. And I love them. It's pretty rare now for me to buy or eat them, but what I am trying to convey here is that I will never outlaw them entirely from my life. Just like I don't believe I will ever outlaw all meat or animal by-products, or all cooked food, or carbs, or gluten, etc. I am fortunate enough not to have any food allergies, so I don't have to commit to an anything-free eating plan. But I also don't judge or question those who do. Different strokes for different folks.

It's been my experience that often, people looking to make healthy changes in their lives feel a need to go really extreme, rather than start with some small changes and build on them. When this happens, I believe people are almost always setting themselves up to fail. I've had people tell me they are starting the paleo diet, or two days of a juice fast followed by only protein and veggies for six weeks, when these same people have been eating mainly fast/junk food for years. Suddenly, a person who rarely consumes vegetables and lean protein is going to live on grilled fish and leafy greens and succeed? I think not. The same goes for all the people who make New Year's resolutions to run two miles every day, or rush out and buy P90X, even though they may never have committed to any kind of exercise routine before. I think some of this tendency toward the extreme comes from a desire for instant results, and some of it may come from a desire to prove to themselves and other people that "I'm really doing something".

I try (usually in vain) to tell people that creating a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their families doesn't have to be an "all in" thing at the beginning. Instead, my philosophy is, make a few small changes, "baby steps", especially to your diet in the beginning. Then make a few more. And then a few more. Think of it as building a house, brick by brick. And when I say small, I mean small. Decide to eat one serving of vegetables every day. Just one. A handful of baby carrots. And then find a few more vegetables that you like, and add one more serving of those vegetables to just two days every week. And so on. Until eating vegetables every day just becomes part of your routine. Commit yourself to walking your dog, even once a week. Then make it two days a week, and so on. Then start running for 30 seconds and walking for four minutes, running for 30 seconds, walking another four minutes. Whatever you can do. Just keep building on it.

Another suggestion is to swap one or two of the products you really like or regularly consume every month with a similar one that's better for you. Below is a list of "switcheroos" that I have incorporated into the way I eat over the last two years:

Swap soy sauce for Bragg Liquid Aminos. You can find Bragg's products at most health food stores including Sprouts, Sunflower, and Whole Foods. Liquid Aminos taste just like soy sauce, but they contain no preservatives, no alcohol, and they are gluten free. Plus they contain 16 Amino Acids and they are made with certified non-GMO soybeans. Oh yeah, and they have ZERO CALORIES.

Swap your regular hot sauce for Frank's Red Hot sauce. Frank's is made with only five, natural ingredients. Most other hot sauces contain weird chemicals that aren't necessary or good for you. Frank's also has ZERO CALORIES. Put it on air popped popcorn. Or dip celery sticks in it. Put it on scrambled eggs. The possibilities are endless.

Swap spicy mustard for mayonnaise as a mix-in for tuna. Tuna is an excellent, low in fat source of protein that many people start eating regularly when they decide to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A pitfall here, however, is that canned tuna doesn't taste very good dry. At all. So people want to mix it with something and most commonly that something is mayonnaise. But mayonnaise is high in fat, so many people then go out and buy "low fat" mayonnaise. Instead, if you use spicy mustard, you avoid all the fat AND all the calories. And you avoid all of the chemicals typically found in low fat versions of mayonnaise.

Swap egg whites for whole eggs. I don't suggest this for all of the eggs you eat, because the egg yolk does contain all of the nutrients an egg has to offer. But if you already like to eat omelets, try using 2 egg whites and one whole egg instead. Or if you like to eat hardboiled eggs like I do, eat the whites and give the dog the yolk. An egg white has only 17 calories, zero fat, zero carbs, and 3.5 grams of protein.

Swap almond milk for cow's milk. This is my preference. You may prefer to swap soy milk for cow's milk, or maybe rice milk, coconut milk, even hemp milk. They are all options but almond milk and soy milk are the most accessible, available at nearly every grocery store and Walmart. I like the taste and texture of almond milk the best, and typically buy the unsweetened vanilla flavor. One cup of almond milk comes in 30 calories, versus even skim milk which contains 80 calories per cup. For me, that's the main advantage. But I also like it because I try to minimize my intake of dairy in general. I find the less dairy I consume, the less sluggish I feel. But I don't think I could ever live a life of never having a little low fat cottage cheese or greek yogurt. And speaking of....

Swap greek yogurt for regular yogurt. Greek yogurt has tons more protein. Adding more protein to your diet leaves you feeling fuller, longer, which can lead to you eating less (if that's one of your goals). I also find I like the tangier taste of greek yogurt better than regular yogurt. I buy plain, non-fat greek yogurt every week and use it in smoothies, sauces, parfaits, and tons of other recipes.

Swap apple sauce for oil in baked recipes like cakes and muffins. It works! And drastically lowers the fat content. You can easily find ratios for how to make this swap online (it's not typically cup for cup).

And finally, and I realize this may be a big, rather than my promised "small" change for people, but... swap honey, agave nectar, or Stevia for refined sugar. I fully realize there are recipes where this just doesn't work. But it does work in so many recipes. And making this swap can be as simple as switching from sugar to honey in your tea. Or mixing some agave instead of brown sugar with your oatmeal. And here's something awesome: Stevia comes in flavored liquid form, and is available in this form at most health food stores. Something I like to do if I am craving a soda is mix about ten drops of root beer flavored stevia with plain seltzer water. It's not the same thing, but it has enough of the essence I am looking for to satisfy my craving. You can also get the vanilla flavor and use it in your morning coffee instead of flavored creamer. And best of all, these two naturally flavored drink options have, you guessed it, ZERO CALORIES.

So there it is, a list of eight options for small changes you can make now, if you are starting a journey to healthier living. You don't have to go all hardcore right out of the gate. In fact, in my opinion, you shouldn't. Just try a few small changes at a time. Build habits and routines, and find your own eating style, whatever it is. But please, in the beginning, don't set yourself up to fail by biting off more than you can chew (so to speak).

1 comment:

  1. Love almond milk and Greek yogurt!

    Great tips!