Food: Right, not Light

miveDu2I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions, but I’m planning one for this year: Eat Right.

This is not a weight loss resolution.  A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight, and kept almost all of it off without too much trouble for a couple of years.  I’m concerned that it’s creeping back on – the last six months have been stressful, and bad old habits have reared their heads – but focusing on that hasn’t been helpful.

True, my bras no longer fit, but it’s really time to get some new ones anyway.  My husband loves me no matter what I look like.  (That’s what he tells me, and, given that I was many pounds overweight when he met me, I see no reason to disbelieve him.)

Most importantly, it’s the bad habits, and not the weight, that are the problem.  I’m not the slender thing I was at my wedding two years ago, but I’m not overweight right now either.  The problem is that I’m overeating and not exercising.  I’ll deal with the exercise later, but for now, I’m focusing on my attitude toward food.

I love food.  I love to cook, and I love eating in restaurants, and I love grocery shopping, and I love reading cookbooks as though they were novels.  Losing weight was actually fun, because I got to focus on a whole new aspect of food that I’d never given much thought: making things delicious AND low in calories.  The bloom has faded from that rose, because the truth is, if the calories are all that matters, your options are limited and often involve things like fat-free whipped topping.  (Don’t worry: NO fat-free whipped topping was consumed in the course of my weight loss.  Ugh.)

What never grows old is making food that’s delicious and also good for you.  Of course, every six weeks or so, someone comes out with a study that says that something we thought was good for us is bad for us.  Is coconut oil good or bad?  What about whole grains?  Wheat is evil!  No it’s not!

I can’t be bothered to keep track of all this stuff.  What I CAN get my head around is that brown rice is better than white, vegetables are better than fast-food hamburgers, and a tablespoon of olive oil never hurt anyone.

To that end, I’m planning some new regulations for the New Year, and I’ll work up to them over the holiday season.  (There’s only so much a girl can do at Christmas.)

1. Breakfast Must Be Filling

While I was losing weight, I ate the same breakfast pretty much every day for a year: 3/4 cup of wholegrain cereal flakes, 1/4 cup of a sweet and crunchy high-protein cereal, 3/4 cup low-fat soy milk, and sometimes a handful of berries.  It was a surprisingly tasty breakfast, and it kept me full from my 5:30 a.m. schoolday rise until lunchtime (which, granted, was usually around 10:30 a.m. on those earlybird days.)

I’m heartily sick of that breakfast now.

I’ve tried mixing it up, choosing other healthy options: a slice of wholegrain toast with almond butter and a bit of jam; yogourt topped with berries and the aforementioned high-protein cereal; smoothies; oatmeal.  None of them filled me up properly.  I was ravenous halfway through my first class.

On days when I’m working at home, being full is less crucial.  On school days, however, I need to be sure I’ll be ok, so I’m investigating other avenues.  One is eggs.  Another is homemade granola (light on the sugar and fat) instead of commercial cereals.  Another is breakfast bars.  The priority is that they be stick-to-my-ribs filling and tasty; a lesser concern is that they not be astronomically high in calories.  Suggestions welcome; please leave them in the comments.

2. Salad Means a Lot of Different Things

My favourite lunch  is a pile of greens and other veg, lightly dressed, with a piece of fish on top.  Preferably salmon or tuna.

Unfortunately, there’s no good fish market near my new home.  The butcher shop down the street sells a delicious salmon sausage, but it’s incredibly salty and always leaves me feeling dehydrated and a bit off for the rest of the day – a lot of sulfates or sulfites or something?  And I’m tired of dumping half a can of tuna on top of a pile of baby arugula.

I’ve lately discovered the delights of farro, and am particularly fond of a salad of farro, chickpeas, feta and herbs.  Not low-calorie, but how could it be wrong?  I also bought some fishcakes from the fruiterie up the street yesterday.  Perhaps not the most virtuous meal, but I love fishcakes.  I’ve been eating a couple with greens on the side and following with a cup of black tea + milk and sugar for dessert.

I’m looking to experiment with sprouting (my wheat berries are coming along nicely) and to broaden my repertoire of bean and grain salads.

If you have a favourite lunch that makes you feel satisfied AND properly cared for, please share it in the comments.

3. Eat Dinner When You Need Dinner

Because I eat breakfast very early, the rest of my eating schedule is a mess.  The worst is the period between when I get home from school (usually around 3) and when my husband gets home from work (usually 6 or later).  I’m ready for dinner by 4.  By the time we can eat together, I’ve made good progress on eating everything in the house.

We don’t have proper sit-down dinners anyway, as we don’t have a dining room at the moment.  We eat on the couch, so it’s not like dinner together is an important family ritual – we can just as easily discuss our day and watch the news while he eats and I don’t.  So there’s no good reason I can’t make dinner when I get home, eat it when I’m hungry, and keep his warm until he arrives.  I sometimes do this when I’m desperate, but I’m going to make it a regular thing.  We can still dessert together, which brings me to my next point.

4. Dessert Should Really Mean One (Small) Thing

And that small thing is a bit of dark chocolate.

Which is what it usually does mean in our household.  We go through chocolate too quickly, though – 2 squares is wont to turn into 3 or 4.  This is not necessary.

Another problem is that I love to bake.  Then I’m left with a dozen banana cupcakes or a pie, and there’s only two of us.  I like cupcakes and pie just fine, but I rarely crave them.  I need to channel my baking energy elsewhere.

An exception is bread pudding, which is necessary occasionally because the freezer is filling up with odds and ends of our homemade bread.  If made properly, bread pudding can provide one dessert and then a week’s worth of breakfasts, at least if it’s a week when I don’t need to be out of the house too much (see “Breakfast Must Be Filling,” above.)

5. Avoid Junk (mostly)

Salty snacks are my Waterloo.  It’s astonishing how quickly I can be rendered helpless by a bag of cheez puffs.  When I’m stressed, tired or sad, I find myself running to the dep minutes before closing time because I can’t make it through the night without chips.

Of course, I CAN make it through the night  without chips.  I have in the past, for months  at a time.  However, flatly denying myself this sort of indulgence will backfire badly.  So I’m making a rule: once a week – maybe on Saturday or Sunday evening – I’m allowed to have a small bag of something, if I’m home in front of the TV or a book and really want it.

Otherwise, I have a very helpful and delicious substitute: my go-to not-junk-food crunchy snack: pop a couple of tablespoons of popcorn in a brown paper bag in the microwave.  Pour on a tablespoon of melted butter or warmed oil, perhaps with a dash of truffle oil in.  Sprinkle with salt and nutritional yeast.  Full of fibre, and cheesy, and totally takes the edge off.

6. Just Relax About It, Would You?

These days, when I’m home all day, marking a few papers and then puttering around doing fun things like making risotto and buying seeds, it’s easy to feel that life is totally great and there’s nothing to worry about and who cares if I’ve put on seven pounds? (Or maybe ten?  I’ve been avoiding the scale for a while.)

It’s tougher during the school year, when I’m tired all the time and people are looking straight at me for 2-4 hours every day and I feel like if I could just fit into that little pink sweater again I’d be a better teacher and a happier person.  This leads to a downward spiral in which I have no energy to get off the sofa and I end up snapping at my students because they don’t have the self-discipline to show up to class on the hour.  Who’s projecting?

The fact is, food is one of the greatest sources of enjoyment in my life, and I’m going to enjoy it.  Before the winter vacation is over, I’ll spend a few straight days cooking up soups and stews for the freezer.  When March rolls around, I’ll start seedlings that will later go into the garden and (if I’m lucky) become vegetables.  I’ll continue to curl up in the armchair in the library with cookbooks, and I’ll go to a cafe and eat a chocolatine with a latte if it’s the only way I can convince myself to grade papers.

Hell, every woman needs new bras from time to time.

Image by Ariel da Silva Perreira

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2 thoughts on “Food: Right, not Light

  1. Hi! I found your blog through the Classroom blog. This is really neat and I love to cook and teach, too! Though I stay at home now… I have been focusing on my food blog “Whisk Together”. I do have some healthy things on there… somewhere… ;-) It is hard and I agree. I lost a bunch of baby weight a couple years ago and if I stay on real food while doing my Jillian Michaels videos, then the weight stays off pretty easily.

    • “Real food” is the key, I think – I find myself craving things that are filling something that is not hunger! Since writing this post I’ve been a lot more inspired, though – maybe reporting to the Interweb is making me feel more responsible?

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