If you are just starting your real food journey, you might feel overwhelmed. If you are used to eating the Standard American Diet, you might be wondering what to eat or how you can possibly live without Ramen and Wheat Thins. The good news is that most of the food that you are used to eating can actually be made using real food ingredients, it just might not be as fast as you want it to be...but you can make it happen. Have you ever made homemade Mac and Cheese? It's 150% better than the stuff that comes out of a box.
It's also important to remember that you don't have to make all the changes all at once. Making small changes over time will help you achieve bigger things with less struggle (see previous blog post). One of the things I tell almost all of my patients in my practice as an NP is that if they can change nothing else about the way they eat (a lot of them come saying they know they should eat better or make changes), they should add more vegetables. Making this one change takes time, it's hard to eat 5+ servings of vegetables a day, I know, it took me several years to get to the point where I just add random veggies to my meals to hit my veggie goals (#veggiegoals). And the benefit you will gain from working on this small change will be better than any other dietary changes you make (except maybe cutting out sugar, but that's a whole different beast).
Whether you are trying to get on track for the new year, or you've been trying to start making these changes for a while now, here are some tips to help get you started and stay on track:
1. Do your research
This might take some time in the beginning and maybe overwhelm you even more, but it's important to know what is meant by "real food" and why it's important. Remember that this is not a "diet" to help you lose weight quickly, it's a way of life to help you stay healthy for a long time.
2. Change up your fats
This is really important and quite easy. Instead of using canola oil or other vegetable oils, switch to coconut, olive, or avocado oil. You can also use grass-fed butter or ghee. When using olive oil, it's best used at low heats or for things like salad dressing. For higher heat, coconut oil or any source of animal fat is your best option. This can be done with relative ease as it only requires that you replace the oils in your cabinet with better ones.
3. Increase your vegetable intake
As I said in the introduction, I tell almost all of my patients to do this one thing because it's so important. When you can, buy organic. If you can't afford to buy organic, that's ok! Do the best you can. The most important produce to buy organic are the things on the "dirty dozen" list, but even if you can't do that, eating more fruits and veggies is more important than the quality of those items.
4. Read labels
If you buy food in a package...read your labels! You might be surprised at what you find. You want the ingredient list to be short and full of ingredients that you can pronounce. Things like preservatives and other strange sounding chemicals probably don't belong in your food. If you are unsure, a quick google search can often tell you whether something is potentially harmful or not. The goal should also be to reduce the number of packaged foods you are buying. Again, this is a process and takes time. In the meantime, look for better options of the packaged foods you are buying.
5. Get rid of processed food
This can be done slowly. As you run out of products in your house, look for alternatives or simply stop buying them. Depending on how far you want to take this lifestyle, you can actually make almost anything in your pantry from better, cleaner ingredients. I often choose convenience over that option because I don't have time to make my own crackers, however, I don't eat crackers very often and I have a brand that has good ingredients.
6. Make something new every week
Making a new recipe or trying a real food, homemade version of something you usually buy at the store will teach you a lot about what is important to you. Like, if you have to make the cookies, do you really even want to eat them? Even if you are still eating sugar, you are upgrading the ingredients compared to buying processed things in boxes. This can help ease you into the process of eliminating this type of food completely. Making a new recipe each week can also help teach you some new skills in the kitchen without being overwhelmed. It can also teach you a lot about what you do and don't like. Experiment!
7. Allow yourself time to adjust
The transition from a diet reliant on processed foods to one made up of mostly real foods can take awhile. Your body has probably gotten used to the processed food and has tricked your brain into thinking that they actually taste good. Once you get started eating more real foods and learn how to season things in your cooking, your palate will adjust and soon those processed foods will not taste very good. Things that once tasted sweet will taste too sweet. You might also notice that things like fruit satisfies your sweet tooth.
8. Keep a list of ingredient replacements
Make a list of ingredients that you no longer should be buying and what you need to buy instead. For example, switch out your coffee creamer for half and half and a little maple syrup, or even coconut milk. Eventually buying healthier ingredients will not be hard for you, but until it becomes second nature, it's a good idea to keep a handy reference.
9. Perfection is not the goal
It's important to remember that there is no perfect diet. It is also not important for you to be perfect in your diet, not matter what it looks like for you. If you go to a wedding, eat the cake. If you go out for dinner with friends or family, order the burger or dessert. Finding balance and not stressing about what you are eating will ultimately do you more good than eating a perfectly clean diet.
I hope that these tips will help you start (or continue on) your journey towards real food and better health! Leave a comment on this post about what has or has not worked for you on your journey!
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