I'm so thrilled that this post is part of the Mindful Habits Blog Tour, a virtual “tour” where 13 women post on 14 different days about the power of habit for running a business, being healthy, and getting creative. The Tour is run by Sarah Hawkins of True North Business Management. Check out the full lineup of women posting as part of the tour here.
Everyone eats. But not everyone eats food. Less than 25% of Americans get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet but the annual sales of dietary supplements exceeds $36+ billion. Perhaps worse, recent studies claim that over 60% of the food we eat is highly processed crap, and that only 2.7% of Americans follow the four pillars of healthful living - eating healthy food, getting enough exercise, maintaining a normal weight and not smoking. TWO POINT SEVEN PERCENT.
Yet, despite our dismal behavioral choices, we are a culture obsessed with quick fixes, shiny packages, flashy logos, and gimmicky tag lines. We are hard wired for novelty and have become obsessed with instant results, rather than long-term health. As a result, we are constantly searching for the next diet miracle, ever distracted by the immediacy of now. And in a quest for instantaneous perfection and promised immortality, we have completely diluted our diet of food – real food.
With cruel irony, we have become obsessed with the prophesies of healthful eating, despite that fact that more often than not, we rarely stick to any particular fad long term. The average diet lasts five-weeks-two-days-and-43-minutes, before we begin to stray. And with the advent of 3-7 day juice cleanses and detoxes, that average is rapidly declining. Once the diet is over, we go back to our old eating habits. We blow it. We become retoxified, decleansed, contaminated, and the weight comes back. Along with the uncertainty and trepidation.
And, inevitably, the story changes. Coffee’s in, chocolate’s out. Or was it the other way around? Each flip-flop making us question the choices in our food truths, perhaps even inciting anger and frustration. Are green smoothies really the secret weight loss trick? Will lemon water actually detox my liver? How dare someone suggest that eggs are unhealthy! Do I need a vitamin?
Tragically, less than 30% of the food we eat is actually minimally processed or not-processed at all – meat, fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, pasta. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, it gets worse. Only 13% of Americans eat one to two cups of fruit each day, and even more alarming, only 9% eat the recommended two cups of vegetables.
You may think this sounds a bit hyperbolic, but take a second and think back on the food you’ve eaten throughout your life. I hopped on the “Eat-More-Kale” bus in my mid-20’s, but before that I ate terribly, and I had no idea how bad the food really was. My mother worked hard to cook dinner every night, and we were a pretty standard meat-and-potatoes kind of family. But that’s pretty much where the real food ended. Every morning, my sister and I would fight over who got to read the back of the box as we shoveled down marshmallow laden cereal and slurped on pink, blue and green milk. For lunch, we had peanut-butter-and-jelly or ham-and-cheese on white bread, hold the crust, with chocolate milk and a pudding cup. On Friday we had giant greasy squares of pepperoni pizza, fries and a syrup-drenched fruit cup. We grabbed snacks of chips or candy from the school store on the way out to the bus. Dinner was typically a bit better, meat (chicken or steak), starch (rice or potatoes) and vegetable, with milk. Or, sometimes we had spaghetti and meatballs, or tacos, or Hamburger Helper. Rarely did we have salad.
So, how do we overcome the lure of shiny labels and right-now headlines? Especially when that nurturing and temptation starts in our early childhood? How do the Worried Well truly stay well?
This is where the mindfulness part comes in. And I'm not talking about contemplating the wrinkles in a raison kind of mindfulness. I'm talking about setting yourself up throughout the week so you can actually be a little mind-less. Because, while it would be awesome if you had time while you're on a conference call on a Wednesday at 12:30 pm to be chewing your perfectly portioned bento box 100 times per bite, it's just not reality. Instead, put a little thought into your food early on so you're not caught in a proverbial pickle as you make your way through your frantic days.
MINDFUL HABITS, people.
Now, these aren't easy, but here are three simple tips to get you started:
- Plan Ahead - Listen, this whole business of cooking a literal feast on the weekend so you can pack away (previously mentioned) perfectly portioned bento boxes all week completely escapes me. I can't do it, and frankly, I don't want to eat 5 day old salad in a mason jar. BUT, you can make a healthy 3-5 day meal plan, buy the ingredients in one single trip to the grocery store, and set yourself up for success throughout the week. And, if you're really clever, you can make a little extra healthy dinner to pack for your lunch the next day. One way to make that happen is to portion out your lunch before you serve yourself supper. In this way, you not only have a real food meal for a mid-day meal the next day (instead of a bar you had in the bottom of your bag and some crackers you found in the break room), but you also keep your portions and calories in check at dinner.
- Don't Buy Crap - If it's not in your kitchen (or desk drawer), you won't eat it. Instead, put a bowl of fruit on your counter. Research says that women who had a fruit bowl visible weighed about 13 pounds less than neighbors who didn’t and that normal-weight women were more likely to have a designated cupboard for snack items (and less likely to buy food in large-sized packages) than those who are obese. So, just don't buy it. But if you do, buy a treat in a small package and put it away in a place with a door to keep it out of sight.
- Avoid Packages - Food that comes in packages is way less healthy than food that does not. It's really that simple. An apple is better than a protein bar, and is equally as portable. In fact, most fruit comes with its own wrapper (unless you shop at Whole Foods and they peel an orange for you and sell it in a plastic container...wtf...). Add in some nuts and intact fish and meat (not fish sticks or cold cuts). From there, go to one ingredient containers - rice in a bag, quinoa in a box, and beans or tuna in a can. Then sprinkle in some multi-ingredient food as needed - pasta, hummus, yogurt, cheese.
And, that's it. It's that simple.
It's funny, I teach a course on nutrition and wellbeing at the Harvard Extension school, and every year, the students leave feedback that run the gamut from, "Life altering..." to "...all we did was talk about eating healthy" and they always make me laugh. Because, THIS IS SIMPLE STUFF! It is just so effing hard to make happen.
Remember, there are no tricks, or diets, or made-up super-foods that can save us. But, we can do this. We must simply #EatRealFood.
- If you’d like to continue the conversation on getting real food on your plate please join me and the other Tour Guides in the private Facebook community.
- Learn more about Tour, and meet the 12 other Mindful Habits Tour Guides here.