If you asked me a few years ago, what being “healthy” means to me, I wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to answer you. Imagine me 5 years back: I’m chugging Red Bull for a 9 AM class, and courtesy of the microwave, devouring mac & cheese for dinner 3 days a week. Yes, this was my freshman year at New York University, and at that time I knew nothing about the importance of nutrition (gasp!) Flash forward to present day, and I’m working at a private practice in NYC, providing in-home cooking classes, and working as the nutrition guru at Housing Works (more on that in my next post!) Without a doubt, you can bet my definition of what it means to be “healthy” has evolved tremendously over the past few years.
When I first began my studies at NYU, I considered myself fairly healthy. I was a pescatarian, went to the gym regularly, and also never restricted myself from any baked sweets or savory snacks. It wasn’t until my junior year, when I started taking core nutrition courses that I became hyperaware about the foods I ate and the amount of calories I consumed. After a class project where I was required to mimic a patient’s diet by logging the food I ate, the amount, and even using measuring cups to cook, I soon became paranoid about calorie counting. In fact, the time I spent on the treadmill was no longer fueled by enjoyment, but by the amount of calories I knew I had to burn in order to “zero out” part of that day’s calorie intake. Then within that same year, I met Laura Cipullo, a New York City dietitian who was surprisingly not at all a proponent of fad diets. In fact, she was the exact opposite. When I began working with her, I’ll admit it, at first I was skeptical. Does she really do pilates for enjoyment? Spinning? And running?? Does she really preach “all foods in moderation” and follow it too?!
Yet after the first few months of getting to know her on a personal level and working side by side–I discovered that it was all true. The next time I visited the treadmills, I covered up the numbers on the screen and instead focused on how I felt on the inside. And when it came to food, I slowly focused more on the nutritional quality of foods I was eating, rather than calories. From modeling her behavior and learning about the consequences of restricting foods, without even knowing it she motivated me to change the way I viewed food and to develop healthy habits. Although the ability to eat freely and without any guilt takes work, it’s certainly not impossible to get there! Remember that what you choose to eat (or not eat) for one meal or day(s) doesn’t negate all of the healthier choices you’ve made in the past.
As I’ve broadened my knowledge of food and nutrition, I’ve realized that working in the field by no means makes me perfect in the way I eat; but the way I eat is perfect for me. I’m at my happiest and healthiest when I’m able to cook my own meals, which I prefer to do instead of dining out. I love knowing exactly what ingredients are going into my food, which helps me eat healthier and allows me to experiment with new ingredients. When I’m not pretending like I’m a Chopped contestant at home, I’m always running from job to job around the city, and having my packed snacks on hand keeps me energized and happy.
As I said, my definition of healthy has evolved and I’ll begin by telling you what “healthy” is not. Healthy is not about eating only low-fat foods, low-calories, or feeling guilty after enjoying something tasty. Being healthy does not mean you must follow a specific diet (i.e. pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, etc.) Healthy means not feeling hungry, guilty, or deprived. Being healthy does not mean it has to be expensive or always organic. Being “healthy” means eating foods that make us feel good, fitting in physical activities for enjoyment, setting aside time for yourself to de-stress or simply sleep! It’s about nourishing our bodies with wholesome foods— so that we’re not just satisfied, but also energized to live to the fullest today and to another tomorrow—for the people we love, the things we love to do, and most importantly, for ourselves.
Without further ado, I challenge you to take on these 3 Steps Towards a Nourishing Life
1. Farm or Factory - If you’re questioning whether or not a food is healthy, ask yourself “Does this come from a farm or factory?” You can almost guarantee that if a food comes from the factory, it’s probably processed in some way, shape, or form. The healthiest foods are the ones closest to its natural, wholesome form. For instance, if the food you’re questioning came directly from the farm and to the table, like fresh fruits and vegetables, then this is the healthier option. Of course there are some exceptions, such as meat --these you should not eat as often. Instead, eat more plants!
2. Nuts about the 1 Ingredient Rule – I’m obsessed with nut butters… peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, you name it! Unfortunately not all nut butters are created equal, many contain hydrogenated oils and added sugar. Stick to the one ingredient rule and you’re well on your way to more nourishing habits. For example, when reading the ingredient list you should only see “peanuts” for peanut butter and “almonds” for almond butter. Trust me, I grew up on Skippy, Peter Pan and Goober – your taste buds can adjust to this new flavor and you will learn to appreciate the taste of true peanut butter!
3. Wonder Bread – No, not that Wonder Bread. When shopping, you should always wonder if it’s actually what it claims to be on the front label. Many brands claim to be “whole grain,” “multigrain,” and “fiber,” but it doesn’t always mean that it’s a healthy choice. For all you know, you could be getting refined white bread with brown food coloring and a few crunchy seeds sprinkled on top. Yes, food companies can be deceiving! What you need to know is how to read the ingredient list! The bread list should have no more than 5-11 ingredients (really, less is more here), the first 3 ingredients should be a grain, and sugar (if any) should be one of the very last ingredients since ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight. FYI brands I like are Ezekiel, Vermont Whole Wheat, Trader Joe's 100% Whole Wheat bread