Yesterday’s post about orthorexia nervosa got me thinking more about healthy eating, so I thought I would share some more about how we overhauled our diet. A few years ago, I rarely bought fresh produce because I would just forget about it and it would go bad. I lived alone, I worked two jobs, and I didn’t have the time or inclination to cook, so I gravitated towards foods that could be prepared in the microwave. I ate lots of frozen dinners and macaroni and cheese. Sometimes I even had cereal for dinner. A friend once remarked that whenever she came to visit, my fridge always contained salsa and pudding.
The one fruit I regularly bought was fresh blueberries, which I ate every morning in my yogurt. I ate this breakfast at my desk at work, invariably prompting my coworkers to comment on how “healthy” I was. But my meals deteriorated as the day went on. Lunch was usually a ham and cheese sandwich with some chips. Dinner was fast food, a frozen dinner, or mac & cheese. I always had dessert: cookies or ice cream or those individually sized microwavable chocolate cakes.
Then this guy I was dating showed me a web site about green smoothies. The reasoning behind them made sense to me: raw foods are living foods, full of nutrients and enzymes. The frozen foods and chips and other stuff I was eating was dead and doing nothing for me. Several years prior, I had regularly made fruit smoothies for breakfast, so it wasn’t hard to get back into the habit. This time, I just started adding spinach. Experimenting with the smoothies motivated me to start eating produce at other meals as well, and soon I was eating more salads and fresh foods for lunch and dinner also.
Today, my diet is about 75% raw plant foods, and that guy is my husband. We have practically eliminated processed foods, grains and baked goods from our diet and our home. I haven’t had a frozen dinner, or mac & cheese, in months. There is still salsa in my fridge, but the pudding has been replaced by avocado chocolate mousse. I eat very little dairy. And I still don’t really have the time or inclination to cook, which is fine because I don’t have to very often.
It’s important to make these changes gradually. Trying to go straight from the standard American diet to a plant-based diet will just cause feelings of deprivation. I missed cooked foods at first. I had to recommit to my primarily raw diet many times. Now, I can go several days eating just salads and smoothies without feeling deprived. But it takes time.
And here’s the secret: once you start getting used to eating healthier foods, your tastes change. I may have missed pizza and pasta and Taco Bell in the beginning, but not anymore. Now, I crave salads. Every once in a while I will allow myself to indulge in a “forbidden” food. Sometimes they are heavenly — like when I had freshly baked bread and lasagna at Bravo for lunch with a friend last Saturday. More often, they aren’t as good as I remember. Pizza has almost completely lost its appeal.
This is what my diet typically consists of now:
Breakfast: Green smoothie. I use one banana, almond milk, frozen blueberries, one carrot, a splash of coconut oil, and some peanut butter for protein. Then I add a few handfuls of spinach and whatever other greens I have on hand.
Lunch: Usually a salad. I use different greens, either romaine or mixed baby greens, plus onion, bell pepper, tomato, avocado, and slivered almonds. I always tear up a few pieces of deli turkey, because I know I’ll get shaky without the protein. I use the cleanest dressing I can find — look for a short list of natural ingredients (no scary-sounding chemicals) and a low sugar content. I love ranch, so here’s where a little bit of dairy may sneak into my diet. I’ll try to make my salads in the evening so that they’re ready to take to work the next day.
Afternoon snack: Either an apple or some baby carrots with peanut butter.
Dinner: May be a small portion of meat and a larger portion of vegetables. We keep pre-seasoned frozen fish and frozen natural turkey burgers on hand for easy meals during the week, since everyone is busy with activities: Ryan has jiu jitsu, B has tae kwon do, and I am often at yoga. If Ryan isn’t around to cook up some meat (I don’t like to mess with the stuff), I’ll stick some fish in the oven and throw some vegetables in the steamer. (Zucchini is my current obsession.) Or heat up some frozen pre-cooked shrimp with some asparagus — super easy. On the weekends, we may get more creative and make a giant stir-fry with chicken and lots of veggies, or cook some seafood and veggie cabobs on the grill. Sometimes I like to make a taco salad with free-range organic ground beef and a small amount of cheese, so I can put that salsa to use.
Dessert: I still won’t go without my dessert, but now it’s fresh berries and a small chunk of the darkest chocolate we can find. And I don’t even miss my ice cream or microwavable cakes.
You’ll notice none of this includes starches or baked goods of any kind, including bread. The only time we really eat these foods is when we have dinner at Ryan’s parents’ house. (Click here to read why Mark Sisson believes grains aren’t the healthy food we all think they are.) Bread was harder for Ryan to give up, but after reading Sisson’s book, Primal Blueprint, he really wanted to give it a try. It takes greater quantities of fresh foods for him to feel full, so he’ll usually end up eating lots of fruit and nuts. He also usually makes eggs for breakfast and drinks his smoothies in the evening after working out.
Oh, and one last point: thought it wasn’t my goal, making these changes in my diet has caused me to drop two pants sizes. Those of you who know me in real life are probably cursing me right now; no, I’ve never had a problem with my weight, but I’ve gone from a size 6 to a size 2 without even trying or without “dieting.” And my primary form of exercise is yoga, two to three times a week. It’s hardly a punishing exercise routine.
If I can do it, anyone can do it. Probably 85 percent of my shopping occurs in the produce aisle now. The only reason I even hit the aisles in the middle of the store is for a few select items like peanut butter and salad dressing. And the only time I use my microwave is to heat water for tea. A plant-based diet may take some time to get used to, but it’s well worth it to know you’re not filling your body with chemicals, preservatives, and unhealthy additives. Give it a try … you just may be surprised.