As much as I love the holidays and all of the merrymaking that accompanies them, I am looking forward to not having to be on guard against hidden calories every time I put something in my mouth. Don and I have a friend who is an excellent baker and she gave us a basket filled with goodies that we have finally found the bottom of, our stash of chocolate that ‘Santa’ left in our stockings is dwindling, and our roaring schedule of parties, dinners out with friends and celebratory feasts has toned back down to normal. I admit to indulging over the holidays (you show me the person who claims to be able to resist a sugar cookie and I’ll show you a liar), but I was diligent about staying active as much as possible.
There were a several days over the last few weeks where I had perfectly legitimate ‘Get Out of Jail Free Cards’- the gym opened later and closed earlier most days, I had to work longer hours to accommodate for holiday closures, and the weather has been damp and dreary- but I didn’t use them! It would have been so easy to hit snooze and nestle back under my covers for another thirty minutes of sweet, sweet sleep or to use the spare hour I had in between work and a holiday party to blow-dry and accessorize, but I didn’t choose the easy route! Instead, I chose the healthy route; the sometimes-I-had-to-get-up-at-4:30-and-go-running-in-the-dark-with-my-faithful-husband-and-hound route; the I’m-sorry-I-showed-up-to-your-party-with-wet-hair-and-only-one-earring-but-I-managed-to-squeeze-in-30-minutes-of-cardio route, and while I didn’t always feel like I was getting in the best workouts, I was grateful for having even the teeniest bit of exercise to both ward off the Ghosts of Christmas Treats Past and help relieve some of the anxiety that accompanies the holidays for everyone over the age of thirteen (why isn’t the Post Office a 24-hour operation and why can’t I buy tape, wine and mittens at the same store?).
Now that the tree has been dragged to the curb (or, if you are from Vermont, placed in the bed of your pickup to be forgotten about until it is a skeleton shedding rust-colored needles and you need to take it out to make room for a deer carcass)*, it is time to start thinking about your resolutions for the New Year! Probably, since it is the 6th of January, many of you have already pledged yourself to some form of betterment and maybe you have even begun to act on this pledge (if so, you should make a resolution to be an over-achiever because you are well on your way, my friend), but for the rest of us, the time to make a resolution is NOW and what better thing than to resolve to be healthier?
Being healthier means different things to people. Over the last five months, I have made a huge commitment to my health and have been impressed with myself for both finishing the LiveFit program and sticking with my workout routine after the program; a year ago, I would never have gone running in the wee hours of the morning unless I was thrown into some weird sort of Hunger Games scenario and my life depended on it. Even so, there are still things I need to work on and one of the biggest components for good health is a good diet, so I have resolved to eat better. I have been saying that I am trying to eat better for months and months and months, but as a wise Jedi master once advised a young Luke Skywalker “Do, or do not, there is no try.”
We’ve all heard the sayings: ‘You are what you eat’, ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’, ‘abs are built in the kitchen’, ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’, etc. It is a sad situation we have created for ourselves; we have an abundance of food available to us at all times of the year conveniently packaged in cellophane so that it stays fresh pretty much forever, but unfortunately all of that food is crap. It is tasty crap, it is convenient crap, but it is crap just the same. My first order of business was to trade pre-packaged processed fake food for real food whenever possible. Why grab a can of overly salty soup from the store shelf when I own a knife, cutting board and a crockpot and can make my own soup? Why buy a tube of pre-made pizza dough that stays fresh for a suspiciously long time when I can dump flour, water and yeast in a bowl before I leave my house in the morning and have pizza dough waiting for me when I get home at night? Before I grab a package of something with vegetable flavoring from the grocery store shelf, I consider whether I have the skills and time to use the real vegetable instead, and if I lack the time, maybe I can do it tomorrow instead and eat something else tonight? I have been exploring new recipes (especially recipes for kale, if you have any of those, pass them along) so that I don’t get stuck in a boring health food rut.
In order to start eating better, I also had to identify the worst parts of my diet and the best parts of my diet.
The Worsts!: Cheese, bread, sugar
The Bests: kale, fruit, tea/water
What I have going for me in my current diet is that I love fresh fruit, I drink mostly tea and water and never soda, and since Thanksgiving, kale has been abundant in the grocery store so we have been eating it about five nights a week (hence the request for kale recipes, my husband has not uttered one protest about the month-long kale parade but I’m reaching the end of my creativity). My weaknesses are cheese (the stinkier and creamier, the better!), anything made in a bakery but particularly the German Weißbrot that I can get fresh from the oven at my grocery store, and, as always, sweets. My plan, and it is working so far, is to simply reduce the amount of the ‘worsts’ I eat and substitute more of the ‘bests’. When I have a hankering for something sweet and crunchy, instead of reaching for a divine chunk of hazelnut and raisins Ritter Sport, I grab a handful of juicy grapes. I have also been making plans for my meals so that I don’t get caught starving at dinnertime in a grocery store and snacking on a mozzarella ball as I wander the aisles wondering what I am going to make for dinner.
Eating healthier doesn’t have to be a big challenge. It seems like an overwhelming task and one that involves depriving yourself of treats, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m still treating myself to cookies, chocolate, beer and glühwein, I’m just not treating myself to them every day, and I’m keeping in mind what little I know about human biology and evolution. We are an animal that once spent its days wandering in search of food sometimes finding it, sometimes not. We evolved and developed a storage system (hello fat cells) for the food that we did not need at the moment but were able to consume so that we could use it later when we couldn’t find food, and then we evolved some more and developed ways to store food for longer (hello freezers and preservatives) so that there would never be a time when we couldn’t find it. My diet philosophy is this: eat when you are hungry, stop when you are not. If your sweet tooth is calling, see if fruit will satisfy before you reach for the Snickers. Fresh is best, frozen or canned is ok, chemical flavoring is to be avoided whenever possible. Fill your plate with veggies, leave a small space for protein and an even smaller space for carbs. And please, send me your kale recipes!
*I joke about Vermont because I love Vermont. Born and raised on the shores of Lake Champlain, I recognize that there are a multitude of things we Vermonters do well (pretty much everything), but getting rid of things we are finished using is not one of them.