Health-Promoting Eating: Simple, Powerful Steps and Rules to Actually Do It

This is my ass, at the produce market, or farmers market.


Why am I posting this?

As simple as this may seem, this is a very very important post. It’s true.

If you would really like to eat more healthy food but struggle to actually do it, this is precisely for you. If you live in a “healthy food deserts”, this is also for you.

It will also help anyone seeking to be:
– eating food that leaves animals alone and off the plate
– eating health-promoting food
– any allergy or intolerance to certain foods (low-sodium, gluten-intolerance, wheat allergy, …)

Below, a “health-promoting diet” is interchangeable with a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet.

My story living in food deserts

Three/four years years ago, I lived in a real food desert. It was a high-density neighbourhood with very few even tasty options, let alone healthy…and I didn’t cook. In that country, if you want to eat out all the time, it’s affordable, cheaper than making it yourself, and that’s what *apparently* everybody did. Except for breakfast, I ate only from restaurants and take-aways most of the food I was having. Sort of tried to make the food less harmful asking: “less oil”, “no MSG”, “less syrup”, “less sugar”…but still…but how much less harmful can you make a fried rice? of deep fried banana fritters? or any of the overly oily, salty, sweetened, animal-product-containing foods restaurants make in big batches for the day, when that’s the only options you have in front of you?

So, how to do? How to deal with the situation of wanting to eat a certain way and the reality that almost nowhere convenient/affordable provides that sort of food? It’s a very common complaint, but I (and other people) go on for years, sometimes decades yearning for healthy food, while not actually eating it yet.
Unfortunately, our health and body cares little about how good our intentions are. Restaurants are businesses, their mission #1 is sustainable profit. What are sure-fire ways to do that? Oil/salt/sugar, other processed foods, animals products. Precisely the worst thing for health. Your mission is very different from theirs, it’s sustainable health.

Good news: There are just a few simple but incredibly powerful things to know and practice if you want to actually eat exactly what it is you would like to be eating “ideally”.
There are two approaches:
1) Learning about everything that’s bad, and avoiding bad things. I call it the “negative restriction” approach. It feels like the list of things you can’t have is endless.
2) Learn about getting what is right, and do just that. I call it the positive saturation approach. It feels like the list of healthy things you can have is infinite.

#2 is by far the easiest. Just saturate the terrain with what is right, this leaves no space for anything else.

I break it down in a few key points:

0) What to eat: whole-food, low fat, vegan (notably: no salt, no oil, no sugar) is where best health is. How to actually do it?:
1) Get your ass veggie-shopping
2) Get your ass in the kitchen
3) Outsmart the lazy eating monster that’s in you:
A) No crap in the Temple
B) Think ahead to feed the beast within you, or it will kill you
C) Veggie-shop on a full stomach
D) Eat before joining friends in restaurants
E) Always leave the house with packed food if you’re out over meal time.

1) Get your ass veggie-shopping

What I buy I eat, what I don’t buy stays away from my plate and stomach. As simple as powerful. Many (farmers or produce) markets have a regular weekly schedule. In all cases, make it a habit to grocery shop once a week. And when shopping for dried foods (cereals, grains, legumes, wholemeal pasta, etc..) don’t be shy to buy in bulk and get enough for half a year or several months if you are able to store that conveniently. It won’t go bad and the less frequently you have you “fuel your tank”, the less likely you are to run out of food in your house. Because what happens when the pantry or fridge is empty? We make poor decisions, like ordering a pizza, or driving like mad to our favourite restaurant that will serve us “ethnic-flavoured fat, sugar and salt” to quote the lovely Dr. Klaper.
What we do for fresh produce is buy all the fruit and veggies that we most often use (tomatoes, potatoes, herbs, etc…) + the special ones needed for some meals we already know we want to make. If after that we think of making a certain dish but a few ingredients are missing, we quickly hop by the supermarket to get them.
In our experience, 1 week = 3~4 sessions of batch cooking, it can be fully planned if you wanted to.

2) Get your ass in the kitchen, merrily

What I cook, I have (mostly) full control over what goes in it. But what I buy that is already cooked – like when I eat out – other people made the decisions and I choose from there: poor choice, no control what goes in and how it’s made…
Ahead of time, have an idea what food want to eat. Write it down. Get the recipes.
Prepare food in large batches. From one batch to another, variation can be created by adding various raw foods: raw veggies, salads and fruits, bakes veggies/potatoes take no time to put together. You can also freeze surplus, right after cooking/cooling, not after 6 days in the fridge and you can’t take it any more. Use it when you feel like having something new or for busy/lazy days.
Make it a habit to spend 30 min to 1 hour in the kitchen several times a week.
Make it enjoyable: If you ever feel it’s painful, it’s supposed to be fun/enjoyable and it eventually will become so. Meanwhile, if you feel that time is long, consider these while preparing food: play music, play podcasts, if you have a TV turn on the documentary channel or a fun series, phone someone, request for your partner’s company. Whatever keeps it fun for you and makes time fly while your hands are busy.
Take turns with your flatmates or partner. We do two weeks each.


Tip: For couples that include at least one (pre-menopausal) female, we’d recommend taking turns based on menstrual cycles when possible. This way, whoever is not feeling their best (PMRollercoaster/periods) is off-duty and gets to take a break, while the other one is in a mode to take care of things and people.

For those who feel time-poor, chefs like Chef AJ specialize in recipes that batch cook in less than 30 minuts. Many meals are appealing, it’s not 100% home-made or always sophisticated but it surely works for health, no doubt.

 

3) Outsmart the lazy eating-monster that’s in you (and in me)

A) Out of sight out of mouth
No junk foods in my temples: house, office, wherever I spend time. Because I am like you, if I am hungry (or not), in front of chips or chocolate, I will experience temptation. But what is sitting in the junk food isle of the supermarket is away from sight, away from tempting anyone.
I also saturated a corner of the kitchen with fresh fruits, dried fruits, and an oat bag. It’s the hottest spot in the house, we pass by it all the time. Guess what my snacks are whenever I feel hungry between meals? What you see is what you eat.

Below is the busiest corner in the house. More details on Instagram (click on the picture to see).

B) Always have food ready
Aim to always, and I mean ALWAYS have food that you prepared, ready to be eaten, in the fridge or in the freezer, or some sort of box at reach. The fridge/kitchen/lunchbox is the lazy place, that’s where food comes from. If there’s no food you prepared in it, you’ll either cook while hungry (not fun at all!) or more likely: order a pizza, or eat out somewhere unhealthy or with unsuitable ingredients for the tenth time this month. When you cook, cook in batches, and cook again another batch before you run out. Find yourself one or two 5L (5 liters) pots at second-hand shops if you don’t have any.

Basically, think of ready-to-eat / health-promoting food as you would petrol in your car:

  • There’s always supposed to be some,
  • always more than you need,
  • the more the better.

Below is a pot of 5l of Moroccan-style tabouli, that will last us quite some time! More details on Instagram (click on the picture to see).

C) Make grocery shopping enjoyable
Shop only right after a nice filling meal, life is so much more pleasant when you’re not feeling hangry, you’ll make healthier and more rational purchases too.
Look for ways that condition your shopping trips to be either short, or fun, by any means possible. When you need only key items go with the written list you’ve accumulated on your fridge post-it. On days when it feels like a chore to me, I just ask my partner to come with me. She’s not required for the grocery shopping, but it turns a pain for one person into a nice chatting/bonding moment for two people. Companionship makes everything better.
If you can shop at a place that has only healthy foods, like fresh produce markets, or farmers markets, that’s even better. It’s far more charming and social than supermarkets, and you won’t be as tempted by junk food if that’s an issue for you.

D) Eat before joining friends/colleagues/family in restaurants
Restaurants are no health-food temples. Here are a few things I’ve done in the past that worked for me:

  • Join your friends on a full stomach and order nothing. Depending on the context and people, this might put an unwanted spotlight on you, and might send a “starvation” vibe about the lifestyle you’d love everyone to adopt.
    Just say you had a large snack earlier and you’re still quite full and remind that you’re here to hang out/catch up.
  • On a full stomach, you will get by with the pinch of calories in that “ridiculous salad” that might be the only plant-based item in the menu. At least you’d be eating something, which is more socially acceptable.
  • If you’re expected to eat or want to eat a substantial meal with them, call the restaurant in advance (ideally 24h+ same-day reminder). This way the long process of checking the chef’s skills around healthy cooking and communicating your detailed needs can be done over the phone as opposed to in the restaurant.
  • Feel free to find a restaurant that will cater for your needs, suggest that instead to your mates.

I learned this the hard way. Trying persistently to get healthy food at a random pub/restaurants will most often do two things: 1) predictably drain you while offering bizarre show to your hungry friends or 2) the food you’ll get won’t be as health-promoting as you’d like it to be

E) Always leave the house with packed food and snacks if you’re out over meal times
It’s ridiculously easy to make poor dietary decisions in a healthy food desert. If you’re not sure how long you’re out for, make sure to always have a meal’s worth of food just in case you might feel like staying out. Worst case scenario you’ll eat that when you come back home.
Cold food is something easier to get used to than we may initially think. I find the easiest food to fill up your stomach when out occasionally is muesli and fruit, because it’s super easy to prepare, dry, and only needs water to become edible. Of course if you’re eating out of the house often (i.e. at work) you’ll have to pack proper varied meals.

Below is an example of food we pack with us when going to the movie theatre. More details on Instagram (click on the picture to see). We also use a tiny chilly bin that we load with proper meals, bowls and cutlery.

I hope this was helpful.

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