Anyway, after a major gut check (pun intended) TWO DAYS into my freshman engineering courses, I switched my major to Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (best decision ever). My perspective towards nutrition and cooking then was MUCH different back then: For one, I had very few cooking skills thanks to an amazing grandma who cooked us delicious meals most nights AND packed my lunch everyday (Can you say spoiled? Yea, she loves us :) Second, my idea of dietary balance was to include a source of protein, carb and veggies with each meal... and little more. My go-to healthy meal was boiled chicken breast, a baked sweet potato with cinnamon, and steamed broccoli. It's no wonder Jordan (then friend/boyfriend) always picked my roommate's cooking over my own (she was an amazing cook!) and I was constantly dissatisfied with what I was eating.
I'm not saying that you need to be a great cook to savor the flavor of eating right. That's not my goal here! I am simply trying to point out that I used to view "eating right" as something that required consuming boring, straight-forward meals, that I perhaps limited the types of foods that I was willing to eat for the sake of "eating healthy, and that I generally lacked the perspective that eating right involves SO MUCH more.
One of the central messages of "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right" is to develop a mindful eating pattern that includes nutritious and flavorful foods, while also taking the time to enjoy everything that a healthful and tasty meal brings with it. That's the best way to savor the flavor of eating right!
Fast forward to today: now a dietitian, wife, endurance athlete, friend and generally busy person simply trying to balance the multitude of responsibilities that come with adulthood (including a budget, let's not forget money for food does NOT grow on trees!) As a dietitian, I am well versed in what's "good" and "bad" for me, but I don't feel the need to follow any sort of strict diet or menu plan. I find this interesting because I thrive on regime and structure in most areas of my life, but too much structure in my diet just makes me rebellious! I understand the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight, but have made the conscious choice to not stress about the calories I consume in a given day or my specific macros. Instead, I have found a more sustainable approach in eating well across all the different food groups while balancing my intake of both nutrient-dense and calorie-dense foods, being mindful in listening to my appetite and trusting that my body will respond accordingly. Sure I aim to include quality carbs, protein, fat and fiber at each meal and plan my meals ahead where possible, but that doesn't always happen because we're all human here!
For me, it was when I dropped the perfectionist viewpoint towards nutrition and adopted a more open, relaxed mindset, my overall enjoyment of eating and general dietary quality naturally improved and my weight stabilized (Consequently, I also noticed the same trend in regards to my training: when I dropped the pressure to get it "perfectly right" my overall enjoyment and consistency improved dramatically :). In many ways, people think dietitians follow restrictive diets and avoid foods that are "bad" for us, or better yet, judge the dietary choices of others, but I simply don't see things that way! Instead, my educational background has provided me with a much deeper appreciation of the powerful and healing effects of a quality, thoughtful nutrition plan. I don't think so much about the foods I should be avoiding (where's the fun in that??), but instead focus on all that I am GAINING by emphasizing quality ingredients in my day to day choices. Furthermore, I've come to appreciate that eating is not just about attaining calories, nutrients and macros, but something we do to be social, as an expression of emotion, or simply a source of pleasure in our lives (chocolate, please!)
Adopting on a big-picture approach to nutrition has helped me to truly savor and make the most of each meal, especially in realizing that one meal or snack or food does not make or break my long-term efforts. All that being said, here are five thoughts on how you too can work towards adopting a healthier diet, maintain a positive relationship with food and savor the flavor of eating right:
1. Focus on quality foods to add or emphasize in your daily eating, rather than that which you are "restricting."
Better yet, get rid of the calorie-tracking app or "dieting" mindset all together. Why? Because statistics show that dieting just does not work: 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years ! I much prefer the positive-minded approach to improving dietary quality: crowd out the bad stuff with quality foods by focusing on what healthy foods you want to ADD to your diet, not subtract. Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy staples to set up your environment for successful eating day in, day out. Follow the MyPlate model with meals, aiming to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies, a fourth with a source of lean protein and a fourth with a source of quality whole grains. Nutrition simplified!
2. Add interest and take the stress out of menu planning by getting creative with your combination of ingredients and use of herbs and spices.
You don't have to be a culinary artist to put a high-quality nutritious meal on the table. When we make things over-complicated, we tend to just not want to do it at all. Instead, establish a routine with your daily menu while varying the specific ingredients you include each week (i.e. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, new recipe on Wednesday, pizza on Friday nights, etc). Utilize your spice rack to add flavor rather than loading up on sodium. Step outside your comfort zone with a little trial-and-error in the kitchen. Sure I've had my fair share of meals that have flopped, but I've also discovered so many new tastes that have expanded my palate and overall enjoyment of eating.
3. Explore new recipes: pick one new recipe per week to try with the goal of improving upon your cooking skills and expanding your palate of foods, tastes or ingredients.
Similar to above, expanding your taste buds doesn't have to involve pricey cooking lessons or fancy recipes, just the willingness to experiment a little in the kitchen. Trying multiple new recipes in a week is often overbearing, so instead pick one new dish to trial perhaps on your least busy day. Looking for some recipe inspiration? Check out my Pinterest boards or Healthy Aperture, a unique image-based recipe discovery platform moderated by registered dietitians and solely focused on healthy food blogs.
4. Remember that the how, when, why and where we eat are just as important as what we eat.
Making sure to enjoy the sight, sounds, memories and interactions associated with eating are essential to developing an overall healthy eating plan and healthy relationship with food. Stop, slow down and aim to sit down at the table for at least one meal per day. Put distractions away and take the time to mindfully enjoy each aspect of your meal. Better yet, share that meal with friends or family and talk about what you enjoy most in regards to the flavor, color, aroma, etc! And don't forget that we don't always eat for "nutrition" and that's OK! We eat because we are happy, sad, to celebrate or just for pleasure. That's just a normal part of life, however being mindful of the "why" behind your eating habits is a great way to change overall trends in the long run.
5. Invest in your long-term health by taking a cooking course, participating in a grocery store tour or meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist to better understand your personal dietary needs.
Sometimes we need a little help to get started and build momentum in behavior change. A cooking course can inspire new skills in the kitchen, while a grocery store tour can help you to pick the best ingredients for your money at the grocery store. And if you're wanting a better understanding of your personalized dietary needs with menu ideas to meet them, a Registered Dietitian can help!
“There is a difference between dining and eating. Dining is an art. When you eat to get most out of your meal, to please the palate, just as well as to satiate the appetite, that,my friend, is dining.”
― Yuan Mei
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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