Nah. I already know that there’s no magic pill that can whittle my waistline. New Year’s resolutions are great for selling gym memberships, but I’m skeptical of anybody who says they can stay on a grapefruit diet ’til Groundhog Day.
So do we just give up and surrender to cellulite? Not yet. I mean, if you don’t fight flab yourself there’s nobody else who will do it for you. So I recommend you resolve to take an intentional approach to healthier eating. It’s all about making one smart choice at a time and developing a relationship with food that you can live with over the long haul. Or at least past February.
When it comes to food, my motto is from Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan’s famous directive is just seven words of distilled wisdom, easy to memorize and universally applicable: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” If you’ve never heard that before, it probably seems oversimplified and stupid. Of course you eat food! But Pollan is making a clear distinction that I feel is the key to eating better. He’s distinguishing between food and products.
Food is something you eat that’s still close to its origin. An apple versus a Hostess Apple Filled Pie, for example. An apple provides about 65 calories, no fat, no sodium and about 13 grams of naturally occurring sugar.
A Hostess Apple Pie, on the other hand, has 470 calories, 20 grams of fat (about a third of the limit of fat you should eat in a whole day), 440 milligrams of sodium and 40 grams of sugar. If it’s food versus product, food wins. Add in the environmental impact of the compostable apple core versus the pie wrapper and food totally kicks product ass.
Breakfast smackdown! Should we nuke that Applewood Bacon, Egg and Cheese Hot Pocket? Let’s say you only eat one of the two that are in the package — that’s 127 grams of product, 220 calories. Or you could peel a hard-boiled egg! Assuming you boiled a few ahead of time, there’s no nuking needed. In 50 grams of this nutrient-dense food, there are just 78 calories. Ten grams of fat in the Pocket, five in the egg. Adding the fact that Hot Pockets cost about $3 for two and eggs cost about $3 for 12 and, again, it’s food for the win.
Food versus products. Once you get the hang of it, it’s simple. Eat the orange instead of drinking the frozen, reconstituted orange juice or — worse yet — “juice drink.” Roast a chicken and eat it — and its tasty leftovers — in multiple healthy meals instead of nuking a chicken and cheese enchilada. Throw a potato — or a sweet potato — in the oven and bake it. Simple nutrition. And it comes in its own edible package.
So once you’ve resolved to eat food instead of products, you get to the other two factors in the equation — “not too much” and “mostly plants.” Portion control is the hardest thing in the world for me and for most people I know. The mental trick of using a small plate does help, as you can “clean your plate” without stuffing yourself. And plants are generally bulkier than meat. A plate full of braised broccoli seasoned with just a little bit of pancetta has a lot fewer calories than a plate full of ham with a spear of broccoli on the side.
If you’re not a home cook, Pollan’s advice is harder to follow. There are plenty of restaurants that serve products: factory-prepped, fat filled, giant portions. I hate to name names, but hey, if you’re eating at a Cheesecake Factory, you’re not kidding anybody. Cheese. Cake. Factory. Whoa. Men’s Health called it “the worst restaurant in America.”
Better choices? Top of my lunch list is Total Juice Plus (631 Vine St., Dowtown), where the juice is fresh-squeezed and the wraps don’t rely on meat for taste. Melt (4165 Hamilton Ave., Northside) has lots of healthy options — it’s easy to get almost anything there customized vegan-style. The café at Park + Vine (1202 Main St., Over-the-Rhine) has vegan and vegetarian fare that doesn’t feel like you’re “giving up” anything.
And that’s another key. Don’t think of intentional good eating as giving up stuff you like. It’s adding new tastes to your palate and smarter, more sustainable choices to your healthy future. You can still have a burger — remember, Pollan said “mostly” plants. Just make it a delicious burger from a pasture-raised cow, not a product from a drive-in window.
Here’s to smarter food choices we can live with in 2012. ©