One of the easiest ways to change how you feel is to change the way you eat. We all know that, right? Eat healthier=feel better. Sounds simple.
Anyone who has tried to change the way they eat knows that this is way easier said than done. I eat a mostly vegan diet, but shy away from using that title because of the strong feelings it evokes from both vegan purists and veg-haters. I think we can all agree that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables that limits processed foods is probably what we should be eating. I'll leave the meat conversation out of it for now.
So, if you've only ever learned to cook one way and struggle with throwing out every go-to recipe in the back of your head, how do you start making the shift to a cleaner diet?
1. Learn what's in your food
Growing up, my sister had many food allergies, so from a young age what was in our food was always part of the conversation. Before making judgements about weather you should try gluten-free, or vegetarian, or high protein, or whatever, start paying attention to what you eat. Things like wheat (and therefore gluten), corn, dairy, eggs, soy, etc. show up in plenty of surprising foods on our grocery store shelves. Part of learning what is in your food is reading labels. Easy rule: if you can't pronounce it, reconsider eating it. The other part is doing a little research. You may be surprised by how much protein you're getting from legumes and whole grains, or by how much calcium is in your veggies. If you're buying packaged foods, reading labels will help with this, but if you're buying produce, you may have to dig a little.
Try keeping a food journal for a week on a free app or website that helps to calculate what nutritional values you're getting. I despise the obsession over calorie counting, and before I tried it, I thought keeping track of everything I ate would be a pointless, tedious exercise. In the end, I was surprised at how easy it was and impressed with the visual breakdowns. I used "My Plate" by Livestrong, and liked that I could access it online from any device. It has a huge database of packaged foods and produce, so you're not doing much manual entry; and it doesn't spam up your email with advertisements. Another bonus: once you add one of the meals you cook as a "recipe," you don't have to enter all of the ingredients one by one again, just select that recipe!
The hardest part was being completely honest and including that chocolate bar or second glass of wine.
2. Change Your Shopping Habits
You're hungry, but it's not quite dinner time. You would rather not take the time to cook a full meal yet, so what do you grab for a snack? It's moments like these that define the overall picture of our diets. It's not one giant choice to eat well and then you're done. Everyday we are faced with many small, snap decisions about what we put in our bodies, and when you're hungry, often times "mindful eating" goes out the window. The easiest way to ensure you make the right choice more often than the wrong one is to limit the ease of access to foods that are the wrong choice.
This means not grocery shopping hungry. It means keeping foods in the house that you feel good about eating. It means switching out chips as the go-to snack for baby carrots, sliced cucumber, or raw almonds. Try to do most of your shopping in the produce section. If you need something from the middle isles, go grab it, but don't wander up and down every isle just to see what looks appetizing. Once you've stocked up your pantry and fridge with heathy foods, making healthy choices is a given. You can't reach for that frozen lasagna, or box of cookies if they're not in your house. In order to succeed in eating better at home, make success as easy as possible and failure difficult.
3. Rethink Cooking Methods and Substitutions
Now you know what's in your food and you just stocked your kitchen full of healthy ingredients, what next? It's time to rethink the way you cook. It may take some time to adopt new recipes into your into your routine, but there a few simple tricks to get started. Think about how you prepare your meals. Cooking methods can completely alter a recipe. Reduce the amount of oil you use by starting a sauté with a tablespoon of vegetable broth. If you tend to rely on cheese or butter to complete a dish, think about experimenting with other spices. Incorporate smoked paprika, turmeric, cumin, and other spices into your cooking and you won't miss the cheesy, oily dishes of your past. Utilize your oven! Roasted vegetables require very little oil and are full of flavor. Did you know you can reduce the amount of sugar in your baking and possibly substitute the eggs by using apple sauce instead? PETA has a great list of vegan baking substitutions on their website.
If you need more guidance changing your cooking methods, I'll be sharing plenty of clean, healthy recipes here on Leaps and Bounds. I can guarantee that they'll leave you feeling refreshed, energetic, and healthy.