You’ve changed your definition of food and you want to reprogram your microbiome by eating real food (Part 1) but simple doesn’t mean easy.
I have to eat out.
I can’t afford to eat real food.
I have no time.
Everyone else is eating junk, it is hard to resist.
I don’t want to destroy my social life.
I don’t know how!
I know. I have heard the same few excuses, offered up hundreds of ways, since before my own journey to health started years ago. Before I ever actually considered changing the way I eat, I used to say those things, too.
Depending on your personality type and your skill at developing habits, it can be hard to go against culture.
For like a poisonous breath over the fields, like a mass of locusts over Egypt, so the swarm of excuses is a general plaque, a ruinous infection among men, that eats off the sprouts of the Eternal.-Soren Kierkegaard
Overcoming a natural propensity to follow the crowd or laziness is your battle, just like it was mine, but let’s look at the logistics of eating real food in a culture that doesn’t.
Now before you think I live in a trendy neighborhood with a vegan deli and a farm to table pub down the street, let me explain. My shift to clean and real food started right before we moved to the rural Deep (fried) South in the US. If you have never lived here, the stereotypes about food are pretty accurate. It is mostly meat and dairy based and the primary mode of cooking is frying. To be fair, it is actually much better than it used to be, even five years ago when we arrived. As demand for real food increases the market is responding. But I have faced this challenge when it seemed no one else was and the options were slim. We couldn’t find clean produce, the Local Harvest page for the area was empty and the nearest grocer with a decent selection was more than 80 miles away. It was…disappointing. So we started a CSA. (That is a normal response, right?) Five years later, we no longer have to do a CSA program because there are others in the area, there is a booming local, producer-only farmers’ market and a thriving real food movement. Even our local grocer has remodeled and seriously improved their offerings as a result of the increase in demand.
If you are middle class in the US the only excuse you have for not eating healthy is that you don’t want to.
But the majority of consumers are still having a hard time making the shift from a highly processed diet of faux food and food-like products to a clean diet made of actual food.
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.-The Walt Disney Company
Here is what I have learned about eating real food despite prevailing culture:
You probably aren’t alone.
I really thought I was alone. And I was in a new place that wasn’t super excited about new people so it was hard to make connections. I found people who were like minded and you will too but you need to network and you need to research online. Look for CSA’s, you-pick farms, farm stands and farmers’ markets. Once you find them, actually go and talk to the growers. Ask them how to prepare things and ask them about their favorites. Then go home and make them THAT DAY if at all possible. Find a class about cooking, growing, canning, anything food related and go. There will be people there. For more on support and community, read this. There is strength in numbers. It is much harder to eat real food if you are the only person you know who does.
If you are scared to be different, you need to get over yourself.
I KNOW what it is like to be different. And it can be very hard for some personalities. Food has such strong cultural connotations. First, remember you don’t owe people explanations for your food choices. You can smile, you can offer excuses, you can just say you aren’t in the mood. If you are concerned, seriously consider having some things to say prepared so you don’t feel like you have to react in the moment when someone starts grilling you about why you skipped the main course at the church social. Blame your health, be vague, say you are just really in the mood for salad, whatever you are comfortable pulling out. You can handle this. Second, know you can still be polite in awkward food situations, even when other people aren’t being nice. Some people are offended by someone being different. They think you are judging them. Don’t be that way with yourself. It isn’t rude to have a strict definition of food. It is rude to lecture people or give too much information. A smile and a kind tone can make things much less awkward. Third, never forget why you eat differently. Blending in socially doesn’t trump your reasons for eating real food. Remember that.
If there is a grocery store, you have options.
Instead of going to a restaurant or fast food place, go into a grocer. There are fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and minimally processed convenience foods that you can grab in a matter of minutes that are great for eating on the run and you’ll feel fantastic afterwards. If you do find yourself at a restaurant don’t order until you have actually read the ingredient list. The least you can do for yourself is be informed so you make a better choice next time. Some places even offer plain fruit you can put on an undressed salad or oatmeal that is pretty clean and fairly real.
It isn’t a big deal to postpone a meal.
At a conference with one of those horrible tables of cookies and plastic wrapped, made this year muffins? Know that just because it is a certain time of day, there is food around, you are bored or your tummy is empty that junk doesn’t become food, right? “What?!?” I hear your cry. You think you are hungry when your food has left your stomach and is moving through your intestines. That isn’t real hunger. That is rich, spoiled people stuff. If you are middle class in western culture, you know you have another meal coming and probably soon. This is another time to suck it up, Buttercup. It is actually really good to give your digestive system a break. Can’t handle that? Move on to…
Carry food with you. Always.
It isn’t just moms who should be carrying food everywhere. Everyone should be prepared for being hungry in a culture that eats garbage by planning ahead and making a habit of carrying food with them. We keep raw nuts in the car, carry clean water in travel bottles, grab fruit or smoothies on our way out the door and send the kids with real food based granola bars wherever they go. I even keep a (very dark and fair trade) chocolate bar in my briefcase when the weather permits. Fruit and veggies are very portable and very filling.
If you can afford junk, you can afford real food. It is largely a matter of priorities.
Whether people want to admit it or not, you are paying as much or more for the garbage. For example, organic romaine lettuce costs the same as conventional in our area. The problem isn’t the cost of the lettuce, it is that people choose a fried sandwich.
Yes, there are some items that cost a lot more organic but ask yourself two things: “Do I need it?” and, ” Why is the cheap stuff so cheap?” Most of the time the answers are “No.” and “EWWW.”
My kids can get a piece of organic fruit and a bag of pre-washed organic veggies from the grocer for less than half what it would take to feed them at the local chicken joint. A banana, a bag of raw nuts and a bag of organic carrots is portable, easy, filling, guilt free and less than a fast food meal. Oh, and it is all actual food.
Think outside the fast food paradigm.
Everyone tells you to cook at home but the fact is most people are not suddenly going to make the time for that. For the home, there are easy prep foods you can throw together, just like you throw together convenience meals of unidentifiable additives. Bagged, frozen veggies are cheap, raw cheese or made at home nut cheese are fast and add texture and flavor.
There are sales on organics like there are conventional canned and bagged foods so stock up when those happen. It takes planning but it is worth it.
If you eat meat, watch for sales on the good stuff. You don’t want to eat something that was living sick. Find a local butcher and ask them where to get pastured meat. The Amish and Mennonite communities often raise meat in a respectable manner and sell it for less than the grocer. Investigate. The market is exploding, if you seek, you will soon find. Use your freezer so you can stock up.
If you are not a meat eater, or making the transition to meat-free, change how you format meals. ANYTHING is a main dish. Don’t substitute junk vegan fare, full of soy and other non-food for a meat just to make your plate look the same as it used to. The same goes for fake cheese. Lots of it is full of garbage. Focus on whole plants.
Learn to eat local.
Find out what is in season in your area and focus on that. Most of your purchases should be in season and as local as possible. Do you really need that piece of fruit from Peru? You see it as one piece of expensive organic fruit so you may justify the splurge but it only take a couple of those at the register to really jack up your bill. I want cucumbers in my smoothie year round but they cost twice as much out of season. They are cheapest at the farmers’ market and even cheaper out of my garden. So I find in season stuff for winter smoothies or use what I have thrown in my freezer. Do you love berries? Find out when they are in season in your area, go pick them yourself and fill your freezer. Our grocer sells blackberries for $3 per half pint or I can just spend a few days in the month of June picking free or almost free ones around here and have them in my freezer when I want them. When tomatoes are ripe, I eat more than you can probably imagine. That is normal. Make yourself tired of whatever is in season. When it comes back around, you’ll be happy to see it again.
I’m talking to myself here, a lot. I don’t really dig eating dead animals and I draw the line at land animals but I will sometimes eat seafood if it makes my social life less awkward. My gut says to grow up but I’m sometimes a coward. I have been known to use supporting a local baker as an excuse to eat sugar (my drug of choice) and I love the local sushi joint, even though I’m sure my veggies are the lowest quality and there is soybean oil in the sauce.
We learned how to eat like we do. You can learn another way.
If you keep thinking the way you used to think, you’re going to do what you used to do.-Andy Stanley
Most bad decisions are made spur of the moment so decide ahead of time that you are only going to put real food in your mouth and come up with a plan for those times you know that will be hard.
Are you going out to eat with friends? Get the menu ahead of time (usually available online) and decide what to eat ahead of time so you don’t have to sit and be tempted on the spot or feel silly asking a million questions of a server who likely doesn’t know the answers anyway.
Do you have no time to cook after work? Figure out what you can make ahead of time at home or to pack.
Are you going to be on the road and tempted to go through a drive through? Pack food or know where there is a grocer.
Are you going to a potluck full of gooey temptation? Eat ahead of time and don’t let yourself take anything until you finish a plate of salad or something real.
We will talk about eating on the road next time.
Are you going to change every encounter you have with eating overnight? That depends on your personality. For most of us the answer is no but here is the key: people are successfully switching to a real food diet everyday and they are no more special or well equipped than you. Their lives are, by and large, not easier.
You’ve got this.
Chew on this
For reading on cultivating new and beneficial habits, Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before is a helpful read.
The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.-Jordan Belfort
Happy eating, Katy