Eating well takes effort, mindfulness and action. Are you up for the annual challenge of National Nutrition Month in March? You can’t see me, but I’m grinning without smiling. I call it a stress smile, which means I’m doing my best to be optimistic about a set of difficult circumstances, although my heart and mind have yet to fully connect and engage. Yet, I know it must be done.
Each year, although I think about it all year, all month, and all week long, March is a definitive opportunity to refocus, recharge and remind myself and anyone else who will listen, we are what we eat! Right now, after a stress-induced huff while standing at the refrigerator thinking I don’t have time to make the arugula salad I’d prefer, there’s leftover pizza. So, I am pizza. But later, I’ll be that salad when I get hungry again and ready to admit the pizza failed to energize or satisfy me.
I’ve noticed myself slowly drifting back to my lazy ways, meaning I’m slightly overcome by effortlessness, mindlessness and stagnation as opposed to my aforementioned trifecta of nutrition rules. When even one of these components is neglected, there is potential for making poor choices, which presents the possibilities of stuffing yourself full of empty calories you have to work hard to burn later. So the effort comes in when it comes to your choices. In other words, grabbing the leftover pizza is an exhibition of effortlessness. The mindfulness could have come in to save me from that pizza if I thought for a moment beyond satisfying my hunger. If I had fast-forwarded to the last gulp of pizza and about 15 minutes later when I feel droopy and uninspired. Oh, and don’t forget disappointment. I know better!
But, alas! I am only human. So I ask myself, why is food such a tough addiction to heal from? Because our culture tells us we must eat, we must eat often and we must eat what’s available. It’s like the TV commercials that come on to suggest you might be craving something absolutely terrible and unnecessary to eat.
And that leads to my next question: Why are we so addicted to sugar and carbs? For the same reason we indulge in alcoholic activity and consume too much of a variety of empty calories. We are trying so desperately to fill a void, to reverse depression, assuming food equals happiness. We are tending to anxiety on a minute-by-minute basis that can come and go in the blink of an eye and doesn’t always afford the time for mindfulness or healthy antidotes to our mania, mood disorders, and physical illnesses.
Each week at the grocery store I’m challenged by my better judgment. Of course, I want to feed myself and my family with food that cures like natural medicine rather than processed food whose affect is more akin to synthetic drugs. But I’m challenged in every way from lack of forethought to money to time to being anxious about the whole thing.
Sometimes the words of a friend from my past echo in my mind. We were talking about nutrition and the fact that she was vegan because she couldn’t afford meat. We laughed at the irony of how the lack of money could actually be a benefit. Then she said something brilliant and I committed it to memory. “Whenever I’m full from eating too much, especially if it was unhealthy food, and I feel sick, I think about cutting. Overeating is like cutting! It’s just eating to replace bad feelings with different bad feelings.”
Imagine if all we had were fresh vegetables, fruit trees, and whatever wildlife we could hunt. That would certainly remove the chicken nuggets, pizza and Chinese take-out from the equation. Since that’s not the case, here are a few things I’ve resolved to do to avoid the grocery store stupor that leads to nearly lethal snack attacks and dinnertime disasters.
- Make a meal plan for the week BEFORE going shopping. From that plan, make a shopping list in the notes on your phone. Tip: Paper lists are more likely to get lost and left home.
- Prepare snacks and package them in Tupperware and sandwich bags pre-hunger attacks, so you have a better chance of grabbing the veggie sticks (carrot, celery, cucumbers, snap peas, etc.) instead of the pizza slice.
- When you’re in the mood to cook, make more than one thing to give yourself a prepping reprieve. Sometimes if I’m feeling extra mindful about eating well, I start making dinner right after breakfast. For instance, a pot of lentils and veggies put on the boil at 10 a.m. will be ready for the after-school rush, and will also save for dinner.
- In anticipation of a sweet tooth that needs filling, have healthy desserts prepared rather than going for ice cream or cracking open a sleeve of Oreos. For instance, I make healthy banana bread (no added sugar) to have on hand, and keep chia seed pudding in the fridge just waiting for that moment when I need that special pick-me-up snack or after-dinner treat.
- If you slip up, especially in the month of March, and overeat or make bad choices, remember there’s another meal just around the corner. You know you can do better. So do it!