I’ve been thinking a lot about diet lately – not the crazy ‘starve yourself’ type diets that never last very long, but a maintainable, balanced, healthy, long-term way of eating. I’ve been reading a lot of different books about nutrition – some of which I agree more with than others – and come to my own conclusions about how I want to be eating. I’m not 100% there yet, but here’s my ideas so far:
Food is not just fuel. It’s not just calories, it’s not just macro-nutrients, it’s not even just the vitamins and nutrients within that. There’s a lot more to it than that. I hate the argument of “why would you put something that’s bad for you into your body?”, because nutrition is just one aspect of food. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, food choices also have social, environmental, ethical, financial, gastronomical and political aspects as well, and these ends don’t always align with each other. I think any maintainable diet has to reflect a balance of the individual’s personal preferences and ideals.
And thus, diet is personal. A set number of calories or particular style of eating is not going to be practical or preferable for everyone.
Food is a joyful thing, for me at least, and a diet which is going to suck that joy out of it is simple not maintainable for me.
It’s difficult, but I’m trying to balance everything whilst making food choices which are as ethical and environmentally friendly as possible – free-range chickens, eggs and pork; grass-fed and finished beef; sustainable options like kangaroo meat. The animals we eat, especially chickens, are kept and slaughtered in horrific and unhealthy conditions. If you’re still under any illusions that it’s still like The Children of Cherry Tree Farm, I suggest you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Even if you don’t give a crap about animal cruelty or the environment, remember that these are animals that are fed an unnatural diet, kept in extremely unhygenic disease-spreading conditions, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and then fed to you. Free-range stuff is pricey and even grass-fed beef is going to contribute to global warming, so I try to eat small portions of meat and have a meatless day once or twice a week.
The less processed, the better. And cheaper. And more versatile for cooking. Anything with weird, artificial sounding ingredients or added Vitamin X is a no.
And therefore: full fat dairy all the way. Have less, but have it in all its full fat glory. And oh is it glorious.
Have fruit and/or vegetables make up at least half of each meal (in terms of volume), with the rest being made up of protein and sometimes carbs. I’ve experimented enough to know which vegetables I like and how to cook them the way I like, so most of the time this isn’t too hard! Fruit usually just plays a role in my breakfasts, where I find it difficult to include veggies.
Reduce grains and sugar as much as possible (so bread, pasta, rice, oats) and stock up on veggies instead. I find this one very very difficult. At the moment I’m doing okay limiting it to just a serve each with lunch and dinner, and I think I’m happy with that for now. I get that grains and sugars are nutritionally a bad deal, but as I mentioned above nutrition is not the only motivation for eating.
Cook at home rather than eating out as much as possible – to save money and have more control over the ingredients and process. I’m trying to eat well at home, and save indulgences for the occasional outing.
Variety is more fun to cook and to eat.
Alcohol is nutritionally bad but I really enjoy it so I’m going to drink it anyway. Just not too much.
Indulge sometimes but consider it carefully. The following indulgences are lame (and also weak points for me) and should be avoided in favour of more awesome ones: muesli bars, potato chips, soft drinks, stale curry puffs, apricot delight, any kind of chain fast food, chocolate bars. Awesome indulgences: homemade sweets, crackers with fancy cheese, BMTs, pizza (homemade or gourmet, I’m too much of a snob for Domino’s), poached eggs on toast, ice-cream, dark chocolate (the expensive, organic kind), wine, white rice, stuff cooked by friends and family at gatherings, nice meals out.
Listen to yourself and your body, because science, and especially media, often make sweeping generalisations and assumptions about all aspects of diet, despite the fact that it’s something which is very difficult to accurately study.
So that’s the ideal for me! I want to emphasise that this approach definitely doesn’t work for everyone. I’m lucky that I have the time and inclination to cook most of my meals from scratch, and that I live in a city where there are lots of food options and fresh local produce most of the year. If I was really gung-ho about losing weight I’d probably cut back more on the indulgences, dairy, alcohol and carbs but honestly at this point I’m not convinced that it’s worth the trade-off. Overall I still feel very healthy and also still derive much joy from food!
What affects your food choices? What would your ideal diet (in a long-term, balanced sense rather than one based on short-term deprivation) be like?