It is near midnight. The house is quiet, and it’s officially “lights out.” Then, suddenly you are alarmed by a loud and mysterious rumbling that begins to echo to every corner of your bedroom. You turn over and reposition your lethargic body on its side; hoping it was all just a part of a dream. A few minutes pass and the same resounding rumble begins to grow even more violent. You can no longer ignore the internal calling we all dread to acknowledge a quarter past midnight. No longer can its origins be disguised for anything other than the dark deep abyss of your hollow stomach.
Translation: You’ve got the serious case of the late-night munchies.
At this point, you have a decision to make. You try to talk yourself out of dragging your sluggish legs into the kitchen to satisfy your appetite, but the internal debate of “to eat or not to eat” is waking more neurons in your brain, making it nearly impossible to fall back asleep. Feeling restless and still hungry, you head to the kitchen and look for anything that doesn’t require any actual effort beyond pouring yourself a bowl of cereal.
Like many of us, we have all experienced a similar internal dialogue when deciding between making healthier choices over the not-so-healthy-ones. We are confronted daily with choosing between the salad or fast food, the workout before your 8 am meeting or hitting the snooze button for the fifth time. Unfortunately, we are often faced with the guilt and only momentary satisfaction when self-control is less effective on those days your supervisor decides to leave a free-for-all box of hot-and-ready-to-eat donuts in the conference room. Then there are those seasons of pure discipline when it’s strict dieting, no sugar, skip the happy hour, and the “I’ll just have a spinach kale salad with vinegar and oil on the side.” Unfortunately, we are often faced with short-lived results only to return to the same habits as before.
So, if we are what we eat, what’s the secret in actually doing it well?
Food is Fuel
Let’s put some things in perspective – our relationship with food has gotten a negative rap throughout the existence of American mass media. It is either introduced as being the enemy or the solution to our overall well-being. It is either quick-fast and not nutritionally dense “meals” we have easy access to at your nearest fast food chain, or it’s posed as an almost militarized form of consumption, aka steamed veggies and grilled chicken Monday through Friday.
This duality of “good and bad” types of eating sends many of us on an emotional roller-coaster when making day-to-day healthy choices. I carry the firm belief that our relationship to food is tarnished when used for reward or punishment. If we bring it back to basics, when we were first developing as a species, food was medicine, and a resource to aiding our bodies to function and fuel itself for our day-to-day activities. We have commercialized the food industry so much, that we as consumers feel trapped and often disempowered when making instinctual decisions about what our body’s actual need!
The fact that every single day we get to decide when and what we eat is nothing short of a privilege; especially when we consider people who geographically, socially, and economically don’t have the same luxury. So, when we take a step back and see the purpose behind why we eat, we might be able to lessen the pressure of making those healthier choices.
You might be thinking, does that mean I have to drop the cookies and grab the carrot sticks instead? Well…not exactly.
Food is Fun!
Looking back, I can attest that every great childhood memory, every birthday and celebration has good food somewhere in the picture. I’m talking about that feel-good-straight-out-of-Grandma’s-oven home cooking or recalling the greatly anticipated pizza parties when your class scored highest in the school’s spelling bee. There were no counting macros or guilt-tripping myself into burning extra calories on the treadmill at the gym the next day. Food was something to be enjoyed in those moments, and they still should be!
Navigating healthy-living through food shouldn’t feel like a death sentence to enjoying quality time with friends and family. Rather, it is acknowledging that food and these impressionable moments in life often go hand in hand, and we can find ways of empowering ourselves by setting ourselves up for success. For example, try introducing newer ways of enjoying more vegetable side dishes at the next family potluck, or adding more fruits and veggies in school lunches for the kids over fruit snacks.
When we surround ourselves with healthier options we are more likely to incorporate them in our lifestyle with greater ease than the polarizing feeling we often feel when we are under-prepared and just down-right hungry.
A person who knows a lot about eliminating the stress and pressure around food while still enjoying healthier choices is former White House Chef to the Obamas and Food Policy Advisor, Sam Kass.
Kass knows a thing or two about ways you and your family can feel more empowered on making better choices without the fuss! His newly released cookbook, Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World, is based on the philosophy that there is no “right way” but there is always a better way we can approach diet and nutrition to support our households and the planet. His approach to changing our relationship with food is approachable for anyone wanting to take a more proactive step towards optimal health, minus the excess will-power. Think “small changes that collectively make a bigger impact in the long run!
“Eat one vegetable a day. Just one. Eat whole grains and beans once more a week. When this becomes your new normal–in two weeks, ten weeks, or a year–you raise the bar again.”
If there is one food trend I think we have all been neglecting it is that food is our friend when we allow it. It is the fuel and the fun in our lives that collectively make for a better, more enjoyable living. You were made to enjoy the fruit of your labor (literally!) So if that means working your butt off and enjoying that ice-cream with the kids on the weekend so be it. If it means learning new ways to cut out processed sugar and introduce fresh and dried fruits to curb an unhealthy habit, that’s great too.
Making better choices for you and your family ultimately comes down to meeting the needs that are going to support the lifestyle and results you envision having. For me, my “better” means throwing out fad-diets and picking up healthier ways to live for the long run. Call me crazy, but I’m a firm believer that you can live a healthy life and still have that cake and eat it too!
- Kass, Sam, and Aubrie Pick. “Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World.” Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2018.