I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not an expert. I’ve read some books that taught me a lot: Real Food, The New Way to Cook Light, The Runners World Cookbook, In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto, The Drop 10 Diet, Bean Cuisine.
Food happens every day, and things that happen every day add up over time. The Maldive islands are created from the slow and steady build up of parrotfish poop; they chomp down the coral, let it pass, and create island chains. I’ve figured out what my body demands in order to do all the climbing and running that I demand out of it. These are the rules I live by:
#1 TEST IT
Approach your diet with a scientific mind. Evaluate: How’d this make me feel? Kiwis or cooked zucchini (with tomatoes, cheese and oregano) and I’m energized to rock. How’d this hit my wallet? Salmon = delicious, nutritious, but ouch. How much time did it take to prepare? Sushi takes at least an hour to cut up and prep everything, plus cook the rice and let it cool. Oh, and that giant bowl of pasta? Night-ender. But am I running tomorrow? Make a note of what worked and what didn’t. I looove sweet potatoes, but now I never eat them before a run or I’ll be dry heaving 10 miles in (same with eggs and apples). Other runners swear up and down that they are great, and at most aid stations I find canned potatoes that you are supposed to dip in salt and enjoy. But I have chucked my guts in enough ditches to know they don’t work for me. Note your choices; learn from the data. We are all very different.
#2 MAKE LISTS
The thing I liked about The Drop 10 Diet was the master list of superfoods and how to eat them. If you don’t know what you should put into your body, you’ll have a hard time adapting them into routine and ultimately your style of cooking. If you know you need to eat more cherries, then buy a frozen bag of cherries. Pretty soon you can add them to your morning smoothie or nighttime frozen yogurt. If you’re not buying the right things, you’re not eating the right things. This is how I learned to love acorn squash, know what different onions taste like, quinoa. Just buy it. Then try it. Somethings are easy (try Kefir), and some are more challenging (pineapples, spaghetti squash).
#3 ZIPLOCK THE WORLD
If you work during the week, like me, meal prep is THE roadblock to healthy eating. And, if so, the morning is, for the most part, your time to run/lift/workout before work. That typically means two meals a day pre-planned and packed. It also means coming home, tired and hungry, without a ton of time to make a fantastic and healthy meal or lunch for the next day. I solve this issue by dividing up my snacks and foods immediately and portioning them out.
Buy a box of blueberries? Ziplock them into fourths. Buy hummus. Quarter it into four, portion-appropriate tupperware and be done for the week. I made chicken soup this week; the extra carrots and celery were immediately ziploc-ed for a hummusy mid-morning break.
Got another afternoon snack? Wonderful. Portion it, seal it, and enjoy it each day. Don’t over-think.
And, when in doubt, throw it into chili or onto a salad (if you think salads are lettuce, carrots, cucumber, and ranch, you’re missing the salad train): add avocado, corn, tortilla chips, shredded marinated chicken, raw or sautéed onions, kalamata olives, bleu cheese, grape tomatoes, hard boiled egg, salsa, etc).
#4 KEEP IT WHOLE.
Eat snap peas. Eat pecans. Be happy. Don’t agonize over decisions like this. Buy what you need, eat what you want, and then relax. It’s ok to buy ice cream or order a latte; just know your norm and also know your deviation. Chalk it up with #1 and keep it scientific. As much as possible, date and hang with people who also value their diet. It’s a lot harder to eat quinoa when everyone wants to order pizza.
#5 PLAN FOR THE WEEK
If you buy a box of strawberries or a bunch of bananas, that’s what you’ll eat this week. If you cook a cup of rice, you’ll be eating it every day. If you think you can have a diverse diet and live alone on a budget, then no. I cook curry on Monday and eat it until Thursday. So plan on a weekly menu, not a daily one. I focus on what kind of salads I want for lunches From the remainder I make dinners.
Dinner is easy. Google it. Cooking is truly not a challenge. Just use some resources and know that it’s ok to eat the same things a few days in a row. Some things you can make and freeze (lasagna, chili, burgers) and others you just need get creative with your leftovers. Buy some good pans, good baking trays, silicone sheets and cooking spray. Most meals can be made in one big pan. Don’t be afraid to invest a little to get started (garlic powder, a decent pepper grinder, chili powder, cumin, thyme, etc). It’ll be worth it.