On clean eating, detox plans, and real nutrition

20130225-191249.jpgYes, I know. It’s a poorly lighted, badly cropped, and annoyingly small iPhone picture. The photographer within me is screaming, but I was too lazy to charge my camera battery, so bear with me here. It does get better. This quality photograph is my guilt-free ice cream dessert, made with only one ingredient.

I’m sure you’ve heard of this before. The miracle delicious soft-serve that is the product of a frozen banana in a food processor? Yes, well, this is my second attempt at banana ice cream. In the first, I added some cocoa powder and chocolate chips, assuming that they would somehow mask the flavor of banana. Wrong. I don’t mind banana, but not in my chocolate ice cream, and I ended up throwing most of it out. When I tried it again tonight, I decided to embrace rather than obscure the banana flavor (because we all know it’s impossible), so I added some vanilla and handful of rainbow sprinkles. I’m pleased to say that is was actually pretty good! I’m sure there are many other variations of this ice cream out there on the internet, but if you can’t stand banana, this is probably not the dessert for you.

This whole concept of “clean eating” is relatively new to me. Up until the past year or so, I ate whatever I wanted; I thought that just because I was skinny, I had nothing to worry about. This is a major flaw in our  society. We glorify thinness so much that many people see a low number on the scale as the only goal, when it is in fact hardly relevant. The more I learned about biology and nutrition, the more of an interest I took in my own health. I realized I was filling my body with processed foods galore, an abundance of sodium, and way too many carbs–basically, crap. About a year ago I started branching out in my tastes, filling up on more fruit and meat than cookies and lemonade. But we all slip up sometimes, and these past few weeks, especially over vacation, I gave up all pretense of healthy eating and let the cravings take over. Not that the food I was eating was particularly junk food, but I really hadn’t been getting the vitamins, minerals, and proteins I need, and it was starting to show. I started breaking out, became sluggish, and my depression took a turn for the worse.

I’d been hearing about “cleanses” for some time–flash diets that remove toxins from the system. While many of them sounded dangerous or maddening (such as the all-fruit cleanse or the liquids-only detox), others sounded reasonable, even doable for a slightly picky eater like myself. I found this great, pretty inclusive one-week cleanse and decided I would give it a shot. Why not break the sugar addiction and make myself feel clean and healthy? I sketched up a meal plan, down to the snacks and the times I would eat. This morning, I had some grapefruit and oatmeal (without sugar!) for breakfast at 6 AM, and a peanut butter apple around 9 AM which eradicated hunger until nearly 1 o’clock. I munched on some cucumber salad near 2, and after my Chamber Choir rehearsal, went home. Sitting on the counter were piles of fresh-baked cookies. Chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, double chocolate… I couldn’t resist. I broke the cleanse and had a cookie. It was kind of pathetic, but I’d say it was worth it. My mother bakes probably the world’s most delicious cookies.

I’ve carried on with my cleanse since then (okay, I had a piece of lasagna for dinner, but hey, who can turn down fresh lasagna?), although I think I’ve already ruined the whole point of it. I’m supposed to be breaking my sugar addiction, getting rid of toxins and all that, but I couldn’t even go one day without excess sweets. I did notice, however, the surprising energy levels I’ve had all day. Maybe I’m not being “cleansed,” but attempting this definitely made me remember how good eating healthy can feel. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys salads and quinoa and walnuts, or the sort of person who could ever go vegan or vegetarian. I like my brownies and burgers, but just because I enjoy food of the less-healthy variety doesn’t mean I can’t incorporate them into a largely healthy diet.

I think I’m going to carry on with my oatmeal and grapefruit and apples-with-peanut-butter, but I don’t see the need to continue an official “cleanse” when I’ve already spoiled the whole thing. For me, this was a rewarding conscious effort to control my health and lifestyle, and a great reminder of why I bother taking care of myself at all when eating pop-tarts on the couch is so much easier. Have you tried a cleanse or detox? If so, how did you feel throughout the process–were you pleased with the results? I’m curious to know how other people approach sensible eating!

 

On healthy eating

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Everyone’s always telling you to “eat healthy.” The FDA guidelines suggest impossible servings of vegetables and whole grains to be consumed within a day. That source says eat mainly fruit and vegetables, the other says fruit is too full of sugar and you should eat protein bars, another says whole, real food is the way to go. My consensus is that no one really knows exactly what they’re talking about, so I’ve taken it all into account, added my own knowledge of biology and human metabolic processes, and made my own spin on healthy eating. My basic approach: eat a lot of fruit, avoid all processed foods as much as humanly possible, make healthier substitutions where possible, and never skip a meal.

My breakfast, pictured above, consists of steel-cut oatmeal with coffee cake topping, inspired by this post,  and half a grapefruit. Who says healthy can’t be delicious, right?

On the other hand, sometimes healthy isn’t that tasty. Guys, I confess, no matter how much I try to like salad, I just don’t. I can’t get over the taste and texture of the lettuce, spinach, or whatever other greens they’ve thrown in there. So today I tried a green smoothie, in the hopes it would be more bearable. Spoiler alert: it isn’t. This layered green apple smoothie recipe tasted like tart vanilla yogurt with pieces of spinach in it. But hey, it looked awesome in this beaker, right?

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How does nutrition impact your life?

Answer: in every possible way.

I’ve always been fascinated by nutrition, especially in more recent years. It amazes me how big a difference our daily choices make on our overall well-being, whether immediate or fifty years into the future. When you look at how the human body works on a molecular and cellular scale, it’s really no wonder our diet directs our lives so completely, but I won’t get all science-geeky on you. Basically, nutrition matters. A lot.

There are a hell of a lot of medications in today’s world for the plethora of problems that are springing up in greater numbers year after year. As incredible as those scientific achievements are, and as necessary as they can be for some individuals, the truth stands that most people probably wouldn’t need half the pills they take every morning if they altered their lifestyle. Doctors are quick to put patients on anti-depressants and acne medication and metabolic stimulators and steroids and all their other miracle pills, and their patients see results. Yes, the drugs work. But why do you “need” them in the first place?

Take me, for example. Over the summer I spent a lot of time outdoors, taking walks and hiking, snacked on fresh fruit, and prepared for myself balanced meals in the comfort of my home. Cue the start of junior year: suddenly my nose is pouring, I have a splitting headache, my stomach is on-and-off nauseous, I’m breaking out left and right, and I just can’t stay awake. Is this a sudden bout of sickness brought on by the germ-infested school? Should I take a tylenol and bring a pocket-pack of tissues in my backpack? Or is there a simpler answer?

In fact, there is. Due to my hectic school schedule (and the fat-saturated cafeteria food), on most days I would bring myself a little bag of cheerios, maybe a muffin, and some water. I’d wolf down a sorry Eggo waffle for breakfast if I even had the time, munch on a small handful of carbs throughout the day, return home to a sweet snack and maybe eat a little bit of chicken for dinner. What’s wrong with this picture? On the fourth day of my sickness, the second week of school, I realized. The next morning, I got up a little earlier, poured myself a small glass of orange juice (note: you’re only meant to drink about 3 oz of juice at a time. Please, for the love of god, don’t pour yourself a 12 oz glass of juice in the morning. You wouldn’t eat twenty oranges at once, so don’t drink that much juice. Your body can’t process it, which is why it turns to fat.), made a bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal, and sat down to eat it. Though my in-school diet wasn’t much better, I made up for it with a super-food snack of apples and peanut butter when I got home, and made sure I had a balanced dinner. The next day, after a good night’s sleep, my ailments nearly disappeared, and after another day of mindful eating I was back on track.

Why is nutrition so important? Why can’t we just take diet supplements and eat as much junk as we want? If we exercise, can’t we cheat a little bit in the food department? Well, I won’t get too in-depth about the biology behind it, but your body is meant to intake whole, unprocessed food directly from nature. That’s why fast foods, desserts, and diet pills hit your body with a wave of energy and then quickly diminish, leaving only fat behind: your body is not meant to intake that many nutrients that quickly. Whole wheats are complex carbohydrates, enormous polysaccharide chains, and your body will break down those slowly, giving you energy over a long period of time and leaving little left over to be stored as fat. The same concept is true for meat on the bone, fresh fruit in its natural form (such as whole oranges), and raw vegetables. When at all possible, eat food as it is found in nature, because whole food, real food, is the only type of food your body is designed to make the most of.

Nutrition greatly impacts all portions of your life, so it is absolutely vital to be mindful of what you put in your mouth. You’ll find that it isn’t nearly as hard as you would think to start eating a healthier diet; most typical meals can be made more nutritious with a quick fix. Like with exercise and most other things in life, small steps amount to big results, and every bit matters. I’ll probably start posting meal ideas and some delicious, healthy recipes on the blog soon, seeing as this is something I’m so passionate about. Until then, I hope you find the courage to break out of the Kraft mac-and-cheese and pop-tart cycle and fuel your body the right way!

(Not to say that Kraft mac-and-cheese isn’t delicious. Because it is. Especially when shaped like Perry the Platypus.)