Nutrition Lesson One – A Broad Overview

Don’t run off and get a pastrami sandwich or something, that’d be bad. Cheeseburger, bad. Fries, bad. Shakes, bad. Coca-Cola: woops, I said it! – Tony Horton, during the P90X Plyo workout


Unless you’re a five year old reading this, then you’re probably at an age where you’ve aligned yourself with one of the following lifestyles or approaches to nutrition:

I. Eat healthy, work out a lot. No ‘cheat days’ allowed

II. I should probably eat healthy, and work out a lot… starting tomorrow

III. Eat healthy and work out most days. Cheat every once and a while as a reward

IV. I’m happy with who I am, and I’m just doing to do whatever I feel like doing

You might read the fourth one and think that it’s the laziest option, but if you’re not already deeply entrenched in the first option, I’d like to explain why I believe doing what you feel like doing is the smartest way to go about being a foodie who can eat whatever, whenever. 

It's hard being healthy all the time
It’s hard being healthy all the time

Homeostasis: aka balance. It’s the first thing that you learn about as a nutrition student at the University of Texas. In theory, subtract the calories that you expend during the day from the calories you put into your body, and that’s how much you either gain or lose in a day. But what is the best approach for doing this? Sure, you can use a special program or a calculator to figure out exactly how many calories your chicken and waffles has, and then estimate how much you burned from walking, running, and just being alive throughout the day. For me, that’s way too much work. My philosophy has always been to eat well and stay healthy without having to stress myself out about it. Easier said then done, but I’ve found that stressing myself only slows down my progress.

Hot chocolate from the Cheesecake Factory
Hot chocolate from the Cheesecake Factory

A hot chocolate from the Cheesecake Factory? You better believe there’s at least 500 calories in that chocolatey, whipped cream topped goodness. 

You’ve all probably experienced these types of stress activators: limiting yourself to only one chocolate bar, skipping dessert, or ordering something healthy in order to compensate for something unhealthy you ate before. For me, these things are great short term goals, but that’s it. I once went a whole week eating only salads. The result? I started snacking a lot more in between, and when I gave myself a cheat day, I ended up eating a lot more, knowing that I would go back to depriving my body again the next day. Then, I’d start allowing myself more cheat days, and before long, it spiraled out of control and my diet was worse off than it was before. Sure, I could have disciplined myself better, but I have come up with an alternative by integrating what I learned both as a nutrition student and just from experimentation that keep me relatively healthy without making me miserable.

Salad at Peace on Braker and Lamar.
Salad at Peace on Braker and Lamar.

Sorry hunger signals in my brain, it’s salad night again

Step 1. Be active. You don’t have to shoot for the stars here. You’re not training for Ninja Warrior. In fact, if you go all out and you don’t see results in the first month, it’s probably going to deflate you. But do something rather than nothing. Starting is half the battle, and once you get past that point, the rest is so much easier.

– Take it slow. Do what you can at first, and slowly work your way up, whether that’s just a few pushups, a walk around the park, or going to the gym.

– Find what motivates you. I like writing sticky notes with motivational messages along the lines of “work out, you’re not getting sexier by sitting there” and attaching them to the back of my phone. That way, every time I reach for it, I see the message. Want to impress your crush with your new physique? Want to beat someone in basketball? Maybe increase your endurance in other areas of your life? (You know exactly what I mean) No reason is too silly if it gets you motivated.

Lastly, do something every day, no matter how small. In the spirit of “doing whatever you want”, make it fun by going on a bike ride, taking a hike, or playing a sport against your friends. Once you hop off the activity train, it takes so much work to get back on.

Step 2. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT EVER limit yourself. One day of binging is not going to kill you. If someone offers you ice cream, and you want to eat it? Then eat it! (Unless you’re severely lactose intolerant). Restricting yourself is only going to make you want to compensate more for it later. Just don’t go too crazy; if you start feeling full, stop forcing yourself to eat more. You can avoid this by limiting your portion sizes. Get the pint ice cream instead of the half gallon. Take out a few Oreos instead of leaving the entire 30 pack lying open in front of you. Keep a few healthy snacks around so that you can binge on those instead if you get desperate. Eat more during your main meals so that you’re less likely to start craving snacks in the first place.

Oreos Pre
8:20PM
8:30PM
8:30PM

Sometimes, I still have extraordinary moments of weakness 😦

Step 3. Try balancing your diet as much as you can. If you had a heavy lunch, go a little easier on dinner, and vise versa. Don’t eat 1000 carrots hoping to balance your diet that way. Try to integrate fruits and vegetables into at least one of your meals a day, eat a nice, full breakfast, and diversify. If the only vegetable you eat is lettuce, there is something fundamentally wrong with how you buy groceries. Spice up your life with some green beans, eggplant, cauliflower, corn, and legumes. The more differences in color, the better. Note: French fries are NOT a vegetable. By that same logic, I hope you also understand that potatoes in general are not a vegetable. The golden rule is that too much of anything is a bad thing, even if it’s something healthy, and especially if it’s alcohol.

Irish coffee
A dozen Irish coffees split between two people? Bad idea

Step 4. Find fun ways to make healthy foods enjoyable. I can’t tell you how many times my mom used to trick me into eating healthy foods when I was a kid by dressing them up in interesting ways. A good example is ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins) and sloppy joes made with leaner meat and vegetables incorporated into the mix. You should also find fruits and vegetables that you love to eat – there’s got to be a few. My personal favorites are tangerines, pineapple, cherries, cauliflower, and mushrooms. If you don’t like eating them independently, then Google ways to use them in different dishes.

With a little fruit and imagination, even plain yogurt can taste amazing
With a little fruit and imagination, even plain yogurt can taste amazing

Step 5. Cook smaller portions and serve yourself using smaller plates. I don’t use this method often, but you’d be surprised by how effective this is. When you see the same proportion of food on a small plate as opposed to a big plate, your mind plays weird tricks on you and makes you think you’re eating more than you really are.

The bottom line

I want to wrap things up by making this important point: Do whatever you want to do! If juicing for 1 week, a low carb diet, or exercising twice a day works for you, and you get safe, healthy results that make you happy, then power to you. Keep it up! If you’re a couch potato like I was, then following this guide or an adaptation of it is a great starting point. Being a foodie is all about living a sustainable lifestyle; after all, you don’t want your food adventures to be cut short by a preventable heart condition at a young age. That being said, my steps are only a suggestion, guided by what I’ve learned over four years of school and what works best for me. I love the way I think about my diet and health, and I am going to continue to embrace this thinking as long as it makes me happy. So I challenge you to do the same and find what makes you happiest.

For more pictures and posts about food that you love, make sure to keep your eyes on ATXFoodies

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