By Sara O’Byrne
A few months ago I sat down at a bar and ordered some food while watching a basketball game. The couple next to me and I struck up a conversation and they were surprised to learn I’m an acupuncturist – because I was eating bar food.
I don’t make bar food a habit, it’s really something I only do during the playoffs, but it really got me thinking about how there is an idea that to be healthy you need to be extreme in your diet. The media would have us believe that healthy people sustain themselves on kale chips, goji berries and powdered shakes – and would never be caught eating anything out of a bar. But like with anything healthy nutrition needs healthy balance.
There are extreme cases, like people who have a serious allergy to a certain food, or people who are so overweight they need to go on an medically assisted extreme diet. But for most of us a healthy diet is about practicing moderation while still enjoying the occasional less than healthy food.
I am an acupuncturist but I am also an amateur runner and triathlete. I love endurance sports so my nutritional needs are a bit different than someone who is not athletic. However eating well for an athlete is not that much different from eating well for being a non-athlete. Depending where I am at in my training schedule I just tend to eat a lot more quantity of food, but not different food. I don’t do a lot of bars, or sports drinks either. I do drink electrolytes and take gels on long training (over 2 hours) sessions. But those things are supplements to intense hours long training sessions. Not a replacement for good balanced daily nutrition. The same goes for non-athletes. No amount of supplements can replace a healthy balanced diet.
What I learned about nutrition in my medical training is simple, and I like to keep it simple. Eat real foods. Cook at home (it’s better for you and better on your wallet.) Eat lots of different things of different colors (fruits and veggies). I’m really on board with what the writer Michael Pollan says about food. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But also honor the fact that food is social. Food is deeply tied with family traditions, social gatherings and our identity. I like to watch basketball with friends so I’ll eat some bar food every now and then when we get together. There is nothing wrong with that.
In my house I buy things that have ingredients I can pronounce or foods that do not come with an ingredient list! (Like fresh produce.) I don’t eat microwaved meals or pre-cooked meals from a box. They are generally expensive and are full of sugar, sodium and additives I don’t want to eat.
But honestly, I try not to think about what I eat too much. By that I mean I’m not counting calories, I’m not tracking every gram of carbs or protein I’m eating. Some people need that, especially those who are trying to lose weight. For me I try to eat to feel energized and maintain my current healthy weight. And everyone metabolizes food differently, but in general eating a diet of mostly whole foods is good advice for anyone.
So what do I do?
- I eat mostly whole foods (foods that do not come from a package or are processed)
- Make 90% of my food at home
- Eat a variety of vegetables and fruit
- I eat some meat
- I eat some dairy
- I eat some gluten
I mostly avoid:
Alcohol – I will drink on special occasions or when when watching basketball (Go Trail Blazers!) but alcohol is not a part of my lifestyle.
This is exactly what I ate on Tuesday last week and what most weekdays look like for me. Breakfast hardly ever changes and we’ll rotate through a variety of casserole and stir fry recipes throughout the week. Weekends I usually eat a lot more because I have much longer training sessions.
Pre-training (what I eat before I go train before breakfast)
- 12oz coffee (1tsp raw sugar, soy milk, not because I avoid dairy but because I like the taste of soy milk in coffee)
- 1 banana
- 16oz plain water
- Potatoes, eggs, veggie mix.
I make my own hash browns, it doesn’t take long to cut up a few potatoes and cook them in the pan. I generally eat three eggs scrambled with butter and saute a zucchini, spinach and tomato together for a breakfast vegetable.
- Ham and brie cheese with mustard on baguette
- 1 Green apple
Trail mix consistent of nuts, a few bits of chocolate, raisins, dried fruit
Olives. I love oil cured olives!
Veggie Hot pot casserole – (onion, black beans, great northern beans, zucchini, red pepper, yellow pepper, carrot, celery, potato, tomato paste, cheese)
This is a casserole I make frequently. Here’s a link to a similar recipe. I mix up what veggies I put in it depending on what’s around.
2 baked chicken legs – just baked chicken with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper.
Big bowl of frozen blueberries and raspberries
In an entire day I drink about 60oz of water.
So to sum up my basic nutrition advice:
– Cooking your own food saves a lot of money and is better for you because you know what you are eating.
– Many people struggle with not having enough time to cook. I share cooking, meal preparation and clean up with my boyfriend. Cooking dinner together is one way we spend quality time together, but it also doesn’t take that much time to cook most of our favorite recipes.
– Learn to cook! When you rely on pre-made foods you end up spending a lot of money. Cooking is a lot of fun and experiment with new recipes.
– Keep ingredients simple. Usually these simple foods are found around the periphery of the grocery store, produce, dairy, meat and bread. The stuff in the center of the store is generally boxed, processed food that is loaded with salt and sugar.
-Bottom line, eat real food and cook your own food! By doing that you’ll be eating well and feel satisfied and energized, but eating “not healthy food” is fine every now and then!