I received an e-mail the other day that called me “a beast” at this healthy living thing. That tickled me – partially because I think of a picture of me hulk smashing some carrots and broccoli when I hear that phrase – but it also humbled me because I remember when I truly thought I was going hard [in the paint], but it was only the beginning.
I used to do some hilarious stuff, man. Seriously. I used to go out to eat, get something to take home, eat it right before bed, wake up, pull out last night’s to-go and get to munching. I specifically remember this 7-layer nacho dip that I used to tear up… and be proud of it, too! I mean, it was good! I was slaughtering that dip at 8 in the morning. Never mind the fact that I’d be sluggish for the rest of the day.. that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was feeding that craving, and that food fulfillment was making me happy.
Then, I evolved a little. I wasn’t creeping out to that restaurant and getting that dip… I’d just buy some “guacamole” from the grocery…and eat that for breakfast. At least I wasn’t eating 7-layer nacho dip anymore, right? I actually remember talking to one of my fit guy friends one morning, and he heard me banging around in the kitchen.
“What are you doing over there?”
“Looking for the rest of my chips!”
“Chips? At 9 in the morning?”
“Yeah! I’ve got to finish up my breakfast?”
“Wait — what are you eating?”
“Guacamole! It’s goooooood, too!”
Dead silence. I’m not sure if he knew what to say, but I do remember finding my chips and not being able to bite into any of them. I thought I was doing good! I was eating stuff at home instead of ordering out! This made sense! But his silence left me with another confusing proposition.. actually thinking about what I was eating at home.
I won’t lie… I was kinda pissed. I have to think about that too? I was still looking for a shortcut. Some kind of default understanding that would give me some kind of foundation… so that I wouldn’t have to think so much. I eventually found it, but I had to struggle a bit to get it. You might be wondering why I didn’t just ask him for what he does and eats, and I don’t mind telling you – I didn’t want to just copy what someone else was doing. I needed to find what worked for me, so that I’d know for a fact that I’d actually enjoy myself.
So, I created a list of things that I knew I couldn’t have anymore. Soft drinks? No. Bright, eerily colorful cereals? No. Chemical-laden foods? No. I knew what I needed to avoid and I knew why I needed to avoid it. And, I was off.
So… I had my boundaries that I couldn’t break. But dang, that felt like my everything! It felt like everything was off limits! It felt as if everything I was into, I had to let go. I was really distraught! The more I learned about eating and how food was meant for my body, the more I realized: I wasn’t limiting myself… I was freeing myself.
I get it – that sounds corny – but let me explain. My options were only as limited as my access, my cooking ability and my creativity. I’m no longer limited to horrible sugary crap in a box for breakfast. I can buy a pound of oatmeal for $1.30, buy my own maple syrup and my own brown sugar (both of which I keep on hand for baking, anyway) and make my own maple and cinnamon oatmeal. And because my ingredients are so much more flavorful, I use less of them – a flavorful enough maple syrup and the right cinnamon? I’m set.
I don’t even have to eat grains for breakfast if I don’t want them. I can eat – get this – fruit. Or vegetables. I don’t even have to drink milk if I choose. I can have an omelette. I can have biscuits and apple butter. I don’t have to short change myself and limit myself to what’s in a box… or feel like I should skip breakfast altogether just because I can’t sit down and cook something. Cooking “from the aisles” (which, really, isn’t cooking at all) was far more limiting than anything else I could come up with on my own.
Having said that… it’s obviously about being a half-full or half-empty type. My experience with food turned me into a half-full type.. because for my health, I couldn’t afford to see my kitchen as “half-empty.” Looking at the situation from a negative standpoint pretty much ensured that I’d spend the rest of my life unhealthy and overweight… and that simply was not an option. Was it difficult to give up what I loved? You’re damn right it was, but was my desires and cravings more important to me than my own person? My desire to drink a soft drink outweighed my desire to be healthy? Um, no. Never that. Especially when I can eat natural foods, eat less and enjoy them just-as-much-if-not-more? C’mon, there’s no contest, here.
Sure, you might see “Oh, so I can have an omelette or some oatmeal for breakfast.. but that’s only two options.” Not if you’re creative with your ingredients. I can add peppers, chili powder, coriander and a sausage and pow. Mexican omelette. Cheese, mushroom, tomato.. boom. French omelette. Chilies, onion, sausage? Pow.
Easing into clean eating is first and foremost about reframing the situation – you are not limiting yourself… you are giving yourself more options than you’ve ever had before. You are not depriving yourself, you are using your time to explore other possibilities. You aren’t unhappy about giving up your old favorites… you are nervous about finding new ones, but still willing to try. Willing to try because, well, our health depends on it.
Do you have any tips for someone who needs help easing into clean eating?