“I have been trying to eat better” she mentions.
As we kept on talking about her ideas towards better nutrition, I noticed the word “diet” was not part of the conversation.
If you are like me, or any of the millions of women born in a part of the world where having to think about your next meal only entails picking a restaurant or opening the pantry, you must have dieted at some point in your life. Or most of your life. Even I, who have never had a weight problem, have been on diets, to achieve that elusive perfection that seems so important, for too long a chunk of our lives. I have a friend who is semi-obsessed about the size of her – very normal – legs. Another who fusses over her belly. Both are very attractive women. I am not judging and I am not condemning. We are victims and culprits of the time we grew up in, where the glorification of thin and perfect has reached its zenith.
Maybe the solution is we all start airbrushing our photos. Isn’t there an app for that?
But I have noticed that, as we get older, and we start to let go of the ambition to ever model for Sports Illustrated, we start having a different type of conversation with ourselves. A much healthier one.
When my dining companion mentioned she wanted to eat better, she wasn’t talking about changing the shape of her body. She just felt a need to be healthier.
Whether sparked by our doctors, menacing looking at our cholesterol and sugar index, or just because we organically come to the realization that ice-cream before bedtime or pizza three times a day doesn’t make us feel good, or our tolerance to certain foods shifts, the conversation is centered not so much on fad diets, but on an eating plan, a strategy we can abide by the rest of our lives.
It is widely accepted that eating a more plant-based diet is good for our bodies and good for our planet, but becoming full on vegans is a tough choice and an impossible proposition for most (unless you live in Los Angeles or Brooklyn where it’s mighty hip). I, for one, at one point in my life vegetarian for 17 straight years, cannot conceive of a life without eggs or prosciutto, and I imagine we all have our guilty “animal” pleasure.
Personally, I found an eating plan that works for my lifestyle and, above all, makes me feel good: I cut down on carbs and sugar, I eat very little meat (maybe once a week and never beef), some fish, and my dinners three or four times a week are nothing more than oatmeal with fruit or a bowl of cereal with almond milk (sofagirl, please stop laughing now). I still enjoy pizza, or pasta or a slice of cake whenever I feel like it but they are not the norm. I wouldn’t peddle my regimen to anyone else but it works for me. I also like to cook so preparing a lot of vegetables or grains to last me for a few days is not a chore.
But, if you are still looking for an alternative to your current staple diet, may I suggest you take a look at Mark Bittman’s latest book, Vegan before 6?
Mark Bittman, for those who don’t know him, writes about food for the New York Times and has a big influence on the food culture in this country. His book “How to Cook Everything” has been my perennial gift to all those who complain they don’t know how to cook or don’t have time. Through his long-running Minimalist column, Mr. Bittman taught millions how to cook delicious meals, using a few ingredients and a minimal time commitment – we don’t all need to be Ferran Adria’ but we all need to start cooking more.
Recently, Mr. Bittman stopped in Los Angeles on his book tour and I had the pleasure of seeing him being interviewed by chef Evan Kleinmann. The genesis of “Vegan before 6” had to do with “the conversation”, in this case the one Mr. Bittman had with his doctor who pointed out the usual cholesterol and sugar values suspects falling towards the wrong side of the scale. Mr. Bittman, believing that a modification in his eating habits could reverse the course of his health, set out to find a plan that would work for him.
His eating strategy (I am loath to call it a diet), is based on consuming exclusively vegan food at breakfast and lunch and then to unleash our inner omnivore for dinner. By following this simple plan, he was able to shed 30 pounds in 12 weeks with not much effort, and to recalibrate his overall health. The book, written in a conversational tone, helps out with dozens of easy and, most likely, delicious recipes.
Diets don’t often work because, even if we have the willpower to follow them for a certain amount of time, we tend to revert, slowly but surely, to our old habits once we let go of them. Establishing an eating routine that can, by and large, be followed for the rest of our lives makes more sense. And that doesn’t mean that, if we decide to be vegan for part of the day, we can’t add a splash of milk to our coffee (there is something about milk fat and coffee together that no nut or grain derived milk can ever aspire to match), or eat a piece of fish at lunch if the restaurant we are in doesn’t offer anything better than steamed vegetables as a vegan alternative.
It all goes back to knowing how food affects our body and finding strategies that work for our health. Strangely enough, a body we are comfortable with most often ensues. If only I had come to that conclusion 20 years ago and spared myself mountains of Special K with non-fat milk. And Sports Illustrated never even called!