Ok, so I usually don't write about this. I previously had a blog about clean eating and then writing there fell off the escalator of priorities in my life. But recently I had a "well woman" exam, a.k.a.- a papsmear, mammogram and fasting blood work. At 43, five feet eleven inches tall and in the 160 lb range, I'm a tall woman who most people would say is "thin". So when my doctor called to tell me the results of my blood work I was surprised to hear that I fall into the "pre-diabetic" levels on one of my tests (Hemaglobin A1C). As a RN I see everyday the casualties of the diabetes epidemic in America. My test results woke me up to the reality that I could end up being one of the patients I care for everyday if I don't take my health more seriously.
I grew up not knowing a thing about healthy eating, and not caring to be honest. I lived for a Reece's peanut butter cup or a Whatchamakalit bar. I was a tall, lanky figure and didn't have a problem with weight gain so I ate whatever I wanted. When I met and married my husband at 19 I was introduced for the first time to the fitness, weight-lifting, healthy-diet world. Since then I've mostly been a fairly health-conscious girl. Not being overly concerned about my weight, I have rotated in and out of consistent exercise and healthy eating. Two child-births and 24 years later, my body has started packing on the inches around my waist and arms. Still, being tall, I can get away with looking "thin" but in my own skin I've started feeling uncomfortable with this extra padding. More importantly I've begun feeling tired of feeling tired. But when that phone call came from my doctor's office the other day I drew a line in the sand. No more of a month or two of "clean" eating followed by months of pizza, Chic-Fil-A and donuts.
In years past I have cleaned up my eating habits strictly for a month or two so I could feel better, so I'm familiar with all the fad diets out there and the healthier options like the Paleo diet, or the Whole30, etc. I've also seen the benefits of supplements like Advocare and juicing. But this time I wanted to throw out the mentality that I am going to do 30 days of clean eating so I can feel better. As soon as I hung up that phone with my doctor I wanted to do something from that moment on that I could live with, without any special recipes or supplements. And so I'd like to share ten simple things I started doing right away, and you too can do to help you start eating healthy from now on!
1. Eat cold chicken breast. I'm serious. It's actually really good and chances are you might have some frozen chicken breasts in your fridge right now. If you don't, a quick stop at the store will fix that. Chicken is the least expensive meat you can buy and it actually tastes good cold. Just pop some breasts (or tenders) on a baking sheet with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Cook them for 10 minutes at 400 degrees in your oven or until they're cooked through. Let 'em cool, put them in a freezer bag and store in your fridge. Now when you're hungry and it's not lunch time and it's not dinner time or you have to run, grab a cold piece of chicken and eat it. Tastes good dipped in hummus too!
2. Eat hard boiled eggs. Boil 10 eggs and store in the fridge. Grab one for a quick breakfast on the go with an apple. Grab one for a quick lunch on the go with a piece of fruit. Grab one for a snack between meals. Simple. Cheap. And it really does taste good. If you're used to mayo and dressings and such, at first you may find it odd to eat anything without a dressing. But pretty soon you'll actually start tasting the food, not the dressing, and it'll taste good.
3. Eat lots of apples. Apples are full of fiber and their sweet. Pick your favorite apple and buy a basketful. If you're hungry. Eat one. Slowly.
4. Drink a kombucha as a treat. Have you had one of these? They're all over the place now. I know people make it from scratch and stuff, but we're looking for simple, easy access here. Kombucha is a natural fermented drink that has live probiotic cultures which are great for gut health. A particular favorite of mine is Kevita- Sparkling Probiotic Pinapple Coconut. No added sugar (look for that, cause some of these do have cane sugar. And just because it says cane sugar on a brown label doesn't make it healthy. Sugar is sugar). There's not a lot of calories in these treats. Just 30 calories for a 450 ml bottle. I'm not a big soda drinker, but for soda drinkers, this is good replacement. It has fizz. And it's sweet.
5. Eat more fish. Make a simple baked cod at least once a week. You can buy a big bag of frozen cod at the bulk stores, and in smaller bags at any regular grocery store. It's very simple to make. Just place it frozen in a casserole dish with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake it at 400 for about 30 minutes or until flakes when poked. Wala, you've got a very healthy main dish.
6. Eat veggies with every meal. Think about what you make yourself, or somebody else makes you, for each meal. If you looked at it, is it all white, or brown or some shade thereof? If so you need veggies. My go-to veggies are spinach with my eggs at breakfast or a frittata (which are loaded with veggies and I make ahead... see number 8), carrot sticks or tomatoes with cucumbers at lunch and some steamed green veggie (broccoli, green beans, zuccini, etc) with dinner.
7. Eat sweet potatoes. So if I had to sum it up in two words, clean eating for me is no sugar and no bread. Those are the two most addictive foods for me (and for most of the American population. See Diabetes statistics.) and those are also the two foods I enjoy eating the most. Sweet potatoes kill the bread and sugar craving for me. To keep it simple I microwave a couple sweet potatoes every few days and keep them in the fridge. Then if I want toast with breakfast, I cut a half potato into cubes or slices, and sautee with salt, pepper and olive oil until a little crispy. If I don't have time to sauté I'll just reheat, grab a hard boiled egg and wala- breakfast with no bread. You can do the same at lunch, dinner or for a snack if you want.
8. Eat frittatas. Ok, this is not complicated. I promise. And if you don't cook and you think it is too complicated, just cut up a bunch of veggies (tomatoes, mushrooms, sweet onion, zucchini, broccoli, green beans, peppers, etc.) and sauté. Scramble some eggs and throw your veggies on top. But if you like to cook, make a frittata at least once a week. You can store it in the fridge and eat a slice for breakfast with an apple. Or for lunch or dinner. Be sure to put lots and lots of veggies in there and don't add cheese. You really won't need it. It's delicious.
9. Drink hot or iced herbal tea. There are lots of great herbal teas that have supplemental benefits, taste delicious, have no sugars and help occupy you when, like me, you like to snack while reading or writing or studying. Sipping on a hot cup of peach tea, or chamomile and lemon helps keep me from unnecessary eating.
10. Eat popcorn. Last but not least keep popcorn around. Not the movie-theatre, loaded-with-artificial-butter-flavoring stuff, but just some natural popcorn that you can salt or even sprinkle with a tablespoon of real melted butter if you want. When everyone around you is eating cupcakes, donuts, brownies, ice cream and candy (this happened to me the other day), pop a bag of popcorn and slowly eat it until the sugar temptations around you disappear. Even if you eat a whole bag of natural popcorn, you're not going to even come close in eating the simple-toxic carbohydrates or sugars in all those aforementioned deserts.
I could add much more than 10 things. Things we all know, like drink more water, don't eat right before you go to bed and go for a walk or exercise when you're hungry or munchie. But those 10 things listed really help me eat a realistic, healthy diet that my body can live with.
But what about "cheat" days for pizza, donuts, ice-cream and Dutch Bros. you ask? Yeah, I could have "cheat" days like I've heard many people say you should have. For me, it's a downward spiral. If I "cheat" one day, I don't feel so bad about cheating multiple days and before you know it I'm just eating like the rest of the western world, which is currently being drowned in the expenses and damage of the diabetes tsunami that has overtaken our health and healthcare system. So for me I am choosing not to cheat. I'm choosing to choose to eat something I like and my body can live healthily with.
Whether you're tall and thin or obviously overweight, you can start eating these 10 simple things right now and it won't require any special diet plan, recipe or supplement. Just making these simple choices will be a proactive step in a healthy direction. I hope this post is practical and helpful for you.