Those who preach healthy lifestyles always tell you to “eat healthy”, but I often feel like they could be more specific. Nutrition is a pretty inaccurate science, and there are loads of myths and trends going around. This is my attempt at explaining what I know, and how I do it, and I’ll try to be as concrete as possible, so that it’s easy to measure whether you’re “healthy” or not. Without measurable goals, it can be hard to stay motivated. Some people don’t want to gain or lose weight (which is measurable), just change their lifestyle. At the core of my philosophy is the idea that being healthy should be enjoyable, and that you get much further by being your own friend.
Why should you eat healthy? To avoid diabetes, to manage your weight, to reduce risk of cancer, your mood improves, you get more energy, you can save money, you’ve heard it all before. My addition to the list is that it will open up the world of food to you, which I might say, is a wonderful world.
Let’s define “healthy”. Being raised by a dietary (clinical) nutritionist, my standards are the national standards (of Norway) . I like those because our government only claim things they are 99% sure is correct, they don’t try to sell something, and they are aimed at most people so they are reasonable. And most of all, they are very concrete:
1. Eat at least two 100g portions of fruit and three 100g portions of vegetables every day. The portions should be different vegetables and fruit, so eating two bananas and three carrots doesn’t count. This makes up your five a day, I’m sure you’ve heard of it before somewhere.
2. Don’t eat more that 500g of red meat in a week. I know, I know, this site is American and what I just wrote is probably blasphemy over there, but these are the guidelines. Excessive consumption of red meat increases the risk of bowel cancer . What is red meat? Beef, pig, game meats, etc. Yes, pig is red meat, get over it. Look at the bright side, 500g means you can have 250g of steak for dinner twice a week, given your economy allows it.
3. You should have fish for dinner twice a week. The only excuse not to eat fish is that you’re allergic. Shell fish doesn’t count.
4. Limit your sugar intake. In Norway this is usually understood as “No cakes or candy etc. any other time than Saturday evening”. This is a rule of thumb of course. It just gives you an idea of how often you should eat sugary treats.
5. Make your food from scratch.
6. Dinner, or the biggest meal of the day, should consist of 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbs, 1/3 vegetables. (This is for average people with average activity levels, keep your high protein diet in you pants).
These are our goals, and everything we do from here will be in service to reach these goals.
7. Most important of all though, is this: Eat varied. This trumps all. No one thing will magically make you healthy (none of them, fuck soylent or whatever), but by eating different types of food every day, week and month you will automatically become healthier. This must of course be interpreted as different ingredients, you can’t do twenty different varieties of deep fried chicken and claim your diet is varied.
Now that we know why and what, we can get to the how. I will assume that you know almost nothing, just to make is easy for myself.
In almost every RPG you are given a weapon that you rely heavily on. In the kitchen, this weapon is the knife, and it is extremely important. You will not have a good time chopping vegetables if you do not have a good weapon. A knife can be almost anything, but it should be “kitchen knife” size, look like a knife, and be of some quality. A good beginner’s knife can be the standard one from Ikea. Were this a game, you would get the awesome huge ass weapon later, but in the beginning, be happy with your cheap Swedish knife. Unfortunately for you, real life does damage to your weapon, so to make sure it stays sharp, buy a sharpener. Do not cheap out on this, it is crucial to your victory. I like the “slide-through” ones, they are simple to use and cheap (see: Ikea). You can get the stone or whatever later in life.
Rules of the knife:
1. Don’t put it in the dishwasher, the soap is too harsh and will dull the blade.
2. Don’t cut other things than food with it, and use a proper cutting board. No whittling or shit like that.
3. Keep it in a drawer section or stand where it doesn’t rub against other objects.
Ultimately what drives your actions is your habits, and habits are hard to make and ever harder to break. In reality our goal is to reshape our habits so that one day you don’t have to think, you just do. You have to work constantly over a long time, but eventually, when the buying of vegetables and resistance of sugar comes naturally, you will know you have made it.
Stick it to the man: Make your own food
The easiest way to eat healthy is to make your food yourself. To get from wherever you are to your goal we apply a simple method: Small increments. If you eat out every day, start by challenging yourself to eat home once a week. When you have that down, to it twice a week, and so on and so on. This might take months. Give yourself the time you need, but never stop moving forward.
Some examples of complete dinners:
Chicken wings with rice and coleslaw
Steak with mashed potatoes and broccoli
Baked salmon with potatoes and green beans
Pasta with tomato sauce with mince meat
Quiche (dough, eggs, with onion and spinach as filling)
For the vegetables part of it, do exactly the same as mentioned before. Challenge yourself to eat more and more vegetables until one day you have reach the goal. One quite simple way to do this, if you cook your own food, is to simply buy vegetables and then figure out what to do with them later. This requires that you don’t throw them out or let them go bad. If you buy one vegetable every day, and you eat everything that’s in your fridge, obviously, you will on average eat one vegetable per day. To get the right mentality, start asking: “How can I add a vegetable to this?”
Make it easy for yourself: 1 carrot is 100g ish, one tomato is 100g ish. You don’t have to use a scale. And don’t give me that bullshit about how a tomato is a fruit, because it all depends on definitions and this is for nutritional purposes, so fuck you, tomato is a vegetable, deal with it. Also, potato is NOT a vegetable, and neither is corn. In this world, they are carbs. Cry me a river.
Changing your habits can be hard, and some days you will fail. There will be camping trips, and birthdays and Christmases and just generally shitty days when the will to fight might not be there. That’s ok. When you play a game, and you lose a life or get a Game Over, has that ever stopped you from keeping playing the game?
The best advice I have for avoiding sugars is to not buy it. It’s much easier to avoid eating it if you don’t have it readily available. My mother told me once that to resist the temptation of buying something sweet I should try to visualize walking past the candy aisle without minding the candy. Visualize yourself, before going into the store, that you manage to walk past it all and not buy a single sugary thing. Do this until you feel like you can handle it.
Inspiration and staying motivated
To keep yourself motivated and inspired, look up new recipes. I recommend finding one or ten websites you like (one of my personal favorites is www.bbcgoodfood.com) and check them out if you’re stuck. I also highly suggest watching cooking shows. I love to watch Gordon Ramsay’s YouTube Channel, and Heston Blumethal and Alton Brown have great TV-shows you can procure through you favorite supplier.
Another way to stay motivated is to truly master a few recipes. Make them again and again and again, until you can make them in your sleep. Gather your personal favorites like they were pokemon, and evolve them. This will give you a feeling of mastery, and gives you easy fallbacks for when you probably would have been too tired to make proper food.
I love having methods in my belt, to be as efficient in the kitchen as possible. FindtThe best way to cut an onion, cook chicken breasts, sauté vegetables. Explore not only recipes, but also simply how to prepare different types of food. Know how long you should boil potatoes or rice, or how long baked vegetables needs to be in the oven. We don’t have unlimited time, it’s important to feel and be efficient, so that we don’t get bored from the cooking.
Thanks to LakrisalLover for the awesome post! 🙂