You know how some dogs will keep eating and eating until they die, as long as there is food in front of them?
That is me with junk food.
There is no switch in my brain that says “Alrighty, I think you’ve had enough, dear.” No. I will eat every french fry in my basket, no matter what. And I will eat any french fry I can then steal. I usually have the presence of mind not to lunge at the waiter when he takes away plates with fries still on them (Oh, the humanity!) but not always.
I have a problem.
Thank God I've figured out ways to keep myself healthy. Obviously, I'm not an expert. I've mostly just educated myself through the health sections of Cosmo. I'm also not crazy. I don't spout the ideals of whey protein and Omega 3 or scoff at breadsticks. (Mmmmmmmmm...breaaaaadsticcccccks) I'm just an American with a lot of daily temptations and a scary family history to keep myself in check.
That's why I'd like to share some basic thoughts with you, in case you are like me and have a little trouble going the Nancy Reagan route and just saying no. However, if you are one of those people who can eat one Reese's cup and then leave well enough alone, A) screw you and B) this might not be your bag.
Here we go. Ready?
1. Chocolate can be your friend.
Last week I was given a baggie of assorted chocolate. I have one word to describe that afternoon: massacre. I don’t know what it is about chocolate; sometimes it feels like the only way to properly end a meal. I could have apple pie, shortcake and a sugar cookie, but until I get an M&M, the meal is incomplete. I have three ways to combat this:
a. Brushing my teeth. I know a few girls who do this, and they always seem a bit like a crazy person, brushing their teeth in the middle of the day. But it works. Nothing like a little toothpaste to keep you from shoving more stuff into your gob. And when that’s not an option…
b. Chewing mint gum. Not quite as effective, but helpful.
c. Dark chocolate: “Oh really, Emily? You combat chocolate by eating chocolate?” Why yes. YES I DO. This was one of those tricks that I read that actually works: since dark chocolate is so much richer, it takes a lot less to satisfy me. So a quick bite of dark and I feel finished and ready to move on, only a few calories deeper.
2. Choke down that carrot.
You know you’re supposed to eat vegetables. But they’re gross. I mean, but really, veggies are gross. And anyone who says otherwise is either being snobby or lying to herself. They’re gross. Accept it.
The annoying thing is, you still have to eat them. You can’t just say, “I don’t like vegetables” and then not eat them. That’s like saying, “I don’t like brushing my teeth” and stopping that, too. You do it because it’s good for you and it will make you feel better.
So figure out which vegetables you like better than others, figure out how you like to eat them, and suck it up. If you hate cooked carrots, but you like them raw? Ain’t nobody forcing you to cook those things. Have a few next to your sandwich instead of chips. If you like green beans slightly crunchy? Make them slightly crunchy. Stir some vegetables into your marinara sauce (like mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, or onions) and you'll never know they're there.
And experiment. Two of my “favorite” vegetables are asparagus and Brussels sprouts. I’d never eaten either until I had graduated college because I was terrified of them. Turns out, if you cook them in a little olive oil and sprinkle them with salt instead of boiling all the green out of them and shellacking them onto a plate, they're fine.
Another nice thing about veggies is that they make a good palate cleanser. Eat a few bites every once in a while, and it’s like coming back to a whole new hot dog.
If you aren’t used to eating very many vegetables, first try to get at least one serving into every dinner. Then see if you can manage one in your lunch, too. Once you’re more used to finding, cooking, and thinking about veggies, it’ll get easier.
Oh, and they say corn and potatoes don’t really count as vegetables because corn is sugary and potatoes are more of a starch, so...sorry kid. They're better than tons of other things, but you probably shouldn't count them as your veggie.
3. Keep It Lean
Don’t eat your meat fried all the time. Fried meat should be a treat, not a given. Look for words like “crispy” “crusted” and “breaded.” These are just tricky ways to make "fried" sound more appealing. Don't let Applebee's trick you like that.
When you buy ground beef at the store, look for the ones that say “96/4” or “90/10.” That’s the ratio of meat/fat and the more meat, the better. It won’t break up as nicely or be as tasty, true. But if you’re only going for what’s tastiest, just buy a deep dish pizza and call it a night. Eating healthier takes sacrifice.
Why not try ground turkey or ground chicken as a substitute? Hmm? Why not? Scared?
4. Don’t listen to what experts say about fruit. They’re idiots.
There are people that will tell you fruit is full of sugar or that it’s blah blah blah BLAH. I don’t want to hear it. Fruit is good for you. Eat as much as you want. I want to meet someone who says they’re overweight because they eat too much fruit. Worry about the heavy cream and the Italian sausage first.
5. Realize the things you binge on. And don’t buy them.
Crackers. Chips. Ice cream. Peanut butter. Gouda. When I pass these things in the grocery store, I lean wistfully toward them, a single tear rolling down my cheek. But I don’t buy. Why not? Because I have zero control. Some people can grab a handful of Wheat Thins and leave well enough alone. I, on the other hand, can eat peanut butter by the spoonful. And I have. So if you’re like me and your serving size of Doritos is “all the Doritos,” leave them at the store. Quit buying them. Force yourself to find something else to eat.
6. Find the substitutions that work for you.
I hate fat free cream cheese. I think it tastes like watery powder. It probably is. Low fat cream cheese is okay, but you can’t use them to make cheese balls. Laughing Cow wedges are great for snacking. And whipped cream cheese is great because it’s half air. You know how I know all these things? Because I experimented. I tried out my options until I found what worked best for me. You have to do the same, because those little changes matter. Why?...
7. One small thing won’t kill you. But all of them together might.
No, eating a white bun instead of a whole wheat one is not going to send you to the hospital. But eating a burger on a white bun with cheese, mayo, ketchup and bacon with a side of fries and cole slaw will. Switch out a few of those. This is the kind of thing you’ll realize if you track what you eat when you…
8. Keep a food journal for a few weeks.
There are a bazillion websites and apps that help you calculate your calories (including restaurant food and workouts.) Ultimately, food journaling drives me crazy because I eat too many potlucks and I have no way to document those meals properly. Sadly, "a few scoops of whatever I could fit on my plate" is not an option. But keeping track for a few days is super helpful for three reasons:
a. You can see just how much food = 2000 calories (And you can calculate how many calories you need a day. Hint: it's probably not exactly 2000.)
b. It keeps you from mindless snacking. When you have to enter every single pretzel you ate, you’re less likely to sit back and let them fall into your face. It really brings all your eating habits to light and puts them in check.
c. It makes you realize how detrimental a few drinks (and certainly binge drinking) is to your diet. Stupid internet and your knowledge. Why don’t you mind your own damn business?
9. Go to restaurants with a plan.
Yes. That is actually how many calories are in Cheesecake Factory's chicken salad sandwich. YOWZA. Like...is it actually made of BUTTER? How? Why? What is WRONG with you, CF? (I didn't mean that. Don't leave, baby. Come back. I love you. I HATE YOU! No. No. Shhh. I love you.)
What I'm trying to say here is: if you're going to a restaurant that has a menu on their website, especially one with a nutrition list, figure out what you'll get before you go. When you see that the bacon & tortilla salad has over 1000 calories but the roast beef sandwich (no mayo) has 350, guess what? Everyone wins, because you get to eat a roast beef sandwich with no guilt.
10. You don’t have to run a marathon, but you have to move.
The great part about burning calories is that it motivates you to eat better, too. When you know how hard you had to work to burn 300 calories, suddenly putting it back on with a tiny brownie hardly seems worth it. Here are a few non-crazy workout thoughts:
a. If you work out at a gym, the best advice I ever read was “Just go.”
See, sometimes you don’t want to go to the gym. You aren’t busy, you aren’t too tired, you just really REALLY don’t want to go. So the advice was: JUST GO. And once you’re in the door, if you still don’t want to work out, turn around and walk back home. I use this logic on myself ALL THE TIME. And there has only been one time where I walked in, worked out for a second and just went home. Usually once you’re there and you see other people working their asses off, it doesn’t seem like the horrible injustice it did when you were on your couch. But it’s a good reminder that...
b. No one is forcing you to do something you hate.
Working out is not junior high gym class. You’re a grown ass person and you get to decide your own health. If you hate the treadmill? Get the hell off it. Take a step aerobics’ class. Go power walking with your friend or family member or dog (life goal: own a cat that will go on walks with me. I have little hope for Regina Phalange.) Basically, find something that doesn’t make you feel like you’re in hell and go do it.
c. During cardio, watch TV or read an exciting book.
No one ever said that to burn calories you have to be aware that you’re doing it. If you have a machine at home, point it toward your TV and work out during your favorite shows. The thing that gets me to the gym is usually a certain show I can watch at the gym (which works because we have TVs on every machine. But if you don’t, you can always ask the gym workers to change a channel.) So I know that I HAVE to get to the gym by a certain time or I’ll miss whatever prank Jim is going to play on Dwight. Books and magazines can work, too. Anything that takes your mind as far away from your body as possible. I used to read Harry Potter on the elliptical. Yes, it looked ridiculous because it was an 800-page hardcover. But it got the job done.
d. Save something to eat when you are done working out.
Figure out your post-workout food before you start your routine. A handful of pretzels, a slice of bread...or save your dessert until after working out. Whatever. Just make sure you have a plan. Because when you’re done, your body is going to be all, “Um, you just made me burn calories and I WANT THEM BACK, THIEF!!” And your willpower will be hovering around zero because you just forced it to do a bunch of crap it doesn’t want to do. So you’ll get to the fridge and be like, “Giant slice of cake? Don’t mind if I do and don’t mind if I DO.” And you’ll gain back allllll the lovely little calories you just worked so hard to get rid of. So have a plan.
And those are my main points. Of course I have about a billion other tricks I've figured out over time. But I think those are the biggest; those are what I'd tell someone having trouble getting off the couch for anything but cake (and who DOESN'T have trouble with that at least once a week?) In the end, everyone's preferences are different, and everyone needs to decide how to keep themselves healthy, because no one else is going to do it for you.
So tell me, what have I missed? What other tricks do you have to stay healthy? Substitutions? Avoidance food? Food you know you shouldn't have but you keep around anyway for the sake of your sanity?