Surprisingly, the general lack of awareness about how to cook baby bok choy is not why the American population is showing a blatant decline in health and a drastic increase in disease risk. Nor can we blame a generation of mothers who taught us to boil brussels sprouts, forever marring their reputation in our memories. (Now we know they are most edible when sautéed with a bit of red onion and bacon.)
It isn’t so much that we don’t know what to eat, but that we continually back ourselves into corners where we can no longer make good choices for ourselves. Those choices might be to skip lunch, which inevitably results in eating a relative buffet of crackers and chips while preparing dinner. Or rushing out of the house without breakfast, sucking down a sugary mocha, then tanking just about the time an office-mate wanders by with a plate of donuts. Or staying up too late to watch Seinfeld reruns. Or the common inability to decline invitations.
There are other opportunities for less-than-helpful choices: When we’re watching TV and we’ve already eaten, everyone knows that sitcoms are funnier with popcorn or ice cream or chocolate covered almonds. When we’re exhausted from a ridiculous day of productivity and cranky bosses or clients, and wine calls us with its sultry promise of relaxation. When we go to parties and some hippie brought hummus and celery sticks, but we’re tolerating a boring conversation because it’s happening right next to the cheese plate.
When we celebrate with food. When we mourn with food. When we avoid our emotions with food. When we medicate and distract with food. When we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to consciously consider what we want that food to do for us.
Our food is supposed to nourish our bodies, and yes, it should also be pleasurable. It should delight our tastebuds and inspire our Instagram photos. It should be aesthetically pleasing (except maybe chili, but a good chili makes up for its appearance with hints of cocoa and complex layers of spice). It should provide us with ample nutrients to fuel our adventures, heal our wounds, and age us gracefully. Often, we don’t even give it the chance.
When we don’t take time to think about what our bodies need or to provide the right care, we prioritize a dirty little word called “convenience.” And you can find a lot of organic convenience in the supermarkets too, but that doesn’t make it healthy.
In order to make healthy food choices, we need to make healthy lifestyle choices. Here are some obvious little helpers that have nothing to do with what you choose to eat, but might just help you crave more vegetables and have more energy to be kind to yourself.
1. Sleep. I bet you’ve read that one a few times in every list ever written about how to improve your health, heart risk, marriage, etc. When we don’t sleep enough, we crave easy energy—sugar, carbs, and caffeine— which makes us crave more of those things, and an ugly cycle of trendy energy drinks follows. And we all suspect those are a gateway drug to meth use. Spare yourself the downward spiral and take a damn nap.
2. Eat some breakfast. Nothing original here either and it’s no magic trick. Your blood sugars are low when you’ve been fasting all night so stabilize them with a couple of eggs, some fruit and oats, or leftovers from last night. Just sneak some protein and fat in there so you last through lunch.
3. Stop doing so much. In my clinic, I hear time and time again, “I don’t have time to cook.” Frozen burritos and packaged foods fill the gaps so people can scroll social media, watch more TV, get up at ridiculous hours to go to the gym, stay up late, and invest an impressive amount of time in personal hygiene rituals, all at the expense of whipping together a salad in ten minutes while some smokies cook on the BBQ. Slow your roll and make yourself a real meal.
4. Make healthy friends. We’ve all heard that we’re the average of the five people we spend most our time with. Take a moment to look at your circle. Do they encourage your healthy lifestyle choices or get you three martinis deep on a Wednesday night? Are they the homemade-hummus-hippies? Spend more time with the people who challenge you to take better care of yourself.
Ammi Midstokke’s “Advice for Anyone on Anything” Column
Check out Ammi’s online-only “Advice for Anyone on Anything” column. Or send her your nutrition, health, outdoor fitness, or other random advice question at firstname.lastname@example.org.