I’ve written before about the issues of body image that seem to plague almost all young women (and some men), following them from meal to meal and mirror to mirror like a shroud. Our culture is struggling, slowly and painfully, to move towards a world where women are not objectified, commodified, and quantified by their appearance above all else—before they can even walk.
But in the meantime, women (and men) of strong principles must find a new balance, between the confidence to love our bodies in all their imperfections… and the struggle to live a healthy lifestyle that may not always be fun, and may even require a bit of that body image issue for motivation.
As someone who likes a lot of bad food and hates exercise, plus lives a sedentary lifestyle, I have found myself putting on weight and sinking into my decidedly unhealthy lifestyle like a swamp. Suggestions to change get under my (admittedly lumpy) skin, reeking as they do of our image-obsessed and impossible-perfection-seeking culture. And yet they’re not… wrong.
This week, for whatever reason, something in me switched. It may have been an overpriced patty melt that didn’t sit quite right with me, or a candid picture I saw of myself that made me do a double take (mostly a problem with the angle, I assured myself…). Unconsciously, it sunk in, and when I went to the grocery store, I bought all healthy stuff. And I mean… all. Since Tuesday, I have eaten basically nothing but fresh produce, cooked and prepared in various means—a miracle on two fronts, since I’m used to frozen meals and haven’t actually cooked in ages. I’ve also walked every day!
Knowing me, this won’t last. But I decided, in lieu of a writing blog this week, I’d share the food I’ve been eating—easy to prepare, tasty, and healthy (I think). And pictures, with horrible quality that I apologize for. Recipes and tips under the cut!
First, I made a fruit salsa based on this recipe. I left out the jalapeno and onion, opting for a sweeter taste—strawberries, mango, avocado, cilantro, honey, fresh lime juice, and a pinch of salt. It was delicious, and very filling; I used the little bit of leftovers for a smoothie later in the afternoon, and ended up being so full I didn’t need dinner! That never happens with a Lean Cuisine.
The next day, I made a quinoa salad with tomatoes, cucumber, onion, more cilantro and fresh lime juice, plus a little red wine vinegar and olive oil (basically just cook the quinoa and then throw all the rest in). This is a recipe from Hello Taste, Goodbye Guilt by Mr. Food Test Kitchen, appropriately enough. Overall, I liked it, and it was very filling; if I had to do it over, I’d lighten up on the onion and cilantro, since it left a strong aftertaste. And I’m still a bit ‘meh’ on quinoa, but it’s supposedly super healthy and filling, and I like it enough to make it a part of my diet.
Then I tried an unusual grilled cheese—goat cheese, strawberries, basil leaves, and arugula. This was tasty, but not very filling. I’d make it again, but definitely include a more filling side dish (perhaps a little of the quinoa salad!). This one came from Feel Good Food by Southern Living (if you’re wondering, I get all these cookbooks from the library).
I later made garlic herb sauteed mushrooms based on this recipe, as a snack. I didn’t take a picture because they didn’t brown up quite as nice as the picture on the website, but they were delicious. I was worried my mushrooms may have gone bad, but I’m writing this seven hours later and still alive! Using olive oil instead of butter to saute has to be a bit healthier, right? And the flavor of the fresh garlic was delish!! (I used dried parsley instead of fresh because the grocery store was out when I went and it only needs a teaspoon, but it still tasted good to me.)
Lastly, I made baked parmesan zucchini rounds based on this recipe. Luckily, I read the comments, and found that substituting ordinary parmesan cheese from one of these green canisters doesn’t get the same results, so I got fresh parmesan (over by the deli, already grated) and it melted and crisped wonderfully. I like cooked zucchini, and with a touch of garlic salt and the crispy cheese on top, this was a really good recipe I’ll definitely use again. The cheese might dent its health-food qualifications, but it would make a healthier substitute for cheesy potato dishes.
Now, my real pitfall is in the sweets—my achilles heel. There are very few ways to get “healthy” sweets, short of just eating fruit, but I decided to at least try for healthier sweets. The Special K 100-calorie fudge dipped pretzels have 7g of sugar, which is less than a Fiber One 90 calorie brownie (8g), and much less than a serving of ice cream (which, for now, is my main point)—and they’re yummy; you get enough in each bag to make it feel worthwhile, but it’s portion-controlled to keep from bingeing. The Kashi Chocolate Almond Butter cookies have the same amount of sugar (7g), but also have dietary fiber and whole grains; I took a risk with this one, waiting for it to taste like a granola bar, but it’s good! It sort of has the chewier, grainy texture of an oatmeal raisin cookie, with a subtler sweet taste and bursts of chocolate chips—for a “healthier” alternative to Chips Ahoy or Oreos or Milanos (yum…), I would recommend them.
Overall, my experiment in cooking and healthy eating (for three days, so far, let’s keep that in mind) has gone really well. I think one key with healthy eating is not to go in expecting the exact same deliciousness of whatever your guilty pleasure food is (french fries, ice cream, pasta, etc.)—it can still be really tasty, but you have to manage expectations, and then end up pleasantly surprised! Also, I’ve developed the mentality of making treats and meals out and sugary desserts an occasional plus, while hoping to make fresh produce and salads and home cooking my baseline.
The hardest part of this will be sustainability—both in my interest and tastes, but also in finances. It is expensive to eat fresh like this, and to cook. I imagine once you get into a habit, you may be able to end up buying less (seriously, can they make smaller bunches of cilantro?) or only refill certain parts of the fridge and pantry (I’m pretty much starting from scratch).
Can I keep it up mentally? I don’t know. It’s been fun to find recipes to cook, and to look forward to meals rather than just grabbing whatever frozen crap I have left (especially when I’d fallen into a pattern of the same things over and over again). As I expand my cooking attempts, I may not always be this healthy, but as long as I strike a better balance—and eat more fruits and vegetables—I think I can keep this up. Whether my bank account will support this… remains to be seen (doesn’t it want me to be healthy?).
In the end, this is for me—not the way I look. It felt good emotionally to be eating well, and now if I want to treat myself this weekend with a burger or some ice cream, I don’t have to feel guilty. And while I do still want to work on the “shame complex” that accompanies issues of weight and health, living a healthier lifestyle can only be good for me—inside and out. 🙂
Now I just have to keep it up!