As I start to make lists of ideas and resolutions for the upcoming New Year, I can’t help but look back at all of the efforts and habits I worked to implement in 2016. One of my primary focuses was to better understand and eat with my health and wellness in mind.
Reflecting on what I actually wanted this habit to look like, I couldn’t help but think about what my eating habits looked like up until this point. I had a pretty healthy relationship with vegetables and have always loved fruit. I consumed soup like it was going out of style, and had enjoyed a pretty wide variety of taste up until that point. Thanks to great advice from my high school cross country coach, I had switched my drink of choice to water and eliminated soda at 15, and haven’t looked back since. Finally, I had never really enjoyed meat, and as a college student strapped for cash, I went through school without eating meat almost altogether.
With the help of many excellent reads, podcasts, and hours of Netflix health documentaries, I began to understand just how important the role is between what we consume and how we feel can be. This is also around the time that I started investing in cookbooks and meal planning as I began to cook for myself every day.
Initially, I thought this journey would be long, full of sacrifices, and complicated choices and what I found was the very opposite. Eating healthy actually requires simplifying our diets, not the other way around. It’s doing more with a smaller selection of quality food groups, and leaving out the rest- virtually all of the isles in the traditional grocery store. I started cooking plant-based, reading the labels, and asking questions about what the benefits of putting things in my body were. I eliminated meat and most dairy outside of social situations as a personal choice. What my husband and I found is that we felt better about what we were buying and how we felt afterwards. We enjoyed cooking, and started a garden and composting.
Knowing my childhood, my choice to eliminate meat may come as a surprise. Growing up, Opening Day– not Thanksgiving– was the start of a long holiday (and hunting) season filled with family, friends, and lots of venison meat during the good years.
I effectively “failed” my hunter’s safety training by missing a day of class to attend my high school’s homecoming bonfire (I would hope any high school girl would understand the predicament I was in). I grew up within the hunting culture, but never really subscribed to it.
While hunter’s orange isn’t my color, I’m both thankful and convinced that these experiences in my childhood played a huge part in why I eat the way I do today. Everything we ate was homemade, homegrown, or hunted. My parents raised us in a house full of ingredients rather than boxes of instant recipes and we watched them make everything from scratch almost daily. While I’m impressed by my parent’s efforts now, I can’t imagine how many times they had to remind their three teenage children that in order to eat, we’d have to actually cook something. Pasta shells were the closest we got to an instant meal, and I dreamt of the day I could have my own kitchen full of Kool-Aid and Kraft Mac & Cheese. Turns out, I’ve carried my parent’s way of cooking into adulthood. We learned early on that all things that taste good require time, good ingredients, and a little patience. Not to mention, we understood that everything we eat comes from somewhere — ours just happened to be the backyard most of the time.
You now might be thinking, “Right — Ashley became a hippie. Not for me.” But what you find is you can’t eat healthy and not have it start to have positive influences on every other aspect of your life. It’s important to note that in our experience; it never felt like we were giving something up like a traditional diet. We were just changing our ingredients and what we chose to eat. Overtime, our taste preferences have changed and made it an easy choice to choose between a fresh option and the opposite.
We live in an era full of quick fixes, diets and empty answers for questions we’ve been asking since the invention of the microwave. While some think “2016, what a time to be alive!” it’s important to note that these pills, shakes, and potions have none but expedited the rate in which we our country tirelessly runs towards quick solutions all but unrecognizable as traditional nutrition and farther from the very simple and accessible solutions found in our grocery stores and gardens. Their formula isn’t working, either. I’ve worked in marketing long enough to understand that you can make just about any product or idea successful with great marketing, and the very people selling us these “solutions” have plenty of money to do it. The people who don’t have marketing teams but deserve our attention and dollars are the farmers, community gardens, and grocery stores that promote wholesome and lasting health. While I can’t guarantee that a diet heavy in fruits, vegetable, legumes, and whole grains will lose you 5 pounds in 7 days like the latest fads profess, I can promise you that overtime you will see your mood, skin, body, and energy all improve just by focusing on the very fuel you put in your body.
It’s important to note that this is a lifestyle and mindset shift — not a diet or a 30-day detox; this is investing the time and energy into knowing your body and your life and what to do to fuel and nourish it to its highest potential. Education is the greatest catalyst and assistant to change — you will have a hard time consuming, or at the very least, not moderating, foods you know are harmful or warrant no benefit.
Like my parents always said “good things take time”—maybe we should start investing our time into understanding our health, cooking wholesome meals that reflect a garden more than a paper box, and putting in the miles or reps in our exercise routines and see what lasting results we find and feel afterwards — guilt-free and without spending our life savings filling our stomachs with empty promises.
My experience is in no way meant to paint me as holier-than-thou, what it is meant to do is make you think about your own habits. And if you decide you’d like to keep your habits of Kraft Mac & Cheese and the like, by all means be my guest. You’re living my childhood dream.
If you’re interested, here are some of the resources that I have found helpful:
- My Fitness Pal: On a good day, this is where I track everything I eat to make sure I get enough iron, fiber, protein, calcium, etc.
- Healthy Living: Scan or search items to get a list of concerning ingredients and a score of benefits or risks.
- Rich Roll Podcast: This is a mid-life crisis lawyer turned ultra-marathoner who interviews a wide variety of doctors, scientists, athletes, and ordinary people about health and wellness. I always enjoy hearing the insights they share each week.
- Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
- The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
- How Not to Die by Michael Greger