Thursday, May 20, 2010

So, I haven't been doing a good job.

I noticed my last post was on March 31. And now, reader, you know why. I have been cheating! Yes, I have been eating foods with artificial ingredients. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, sometimes on accident, sometimes on purpose.

Rather than wave the white napkin and call this project a failure, I'd like to assess the damage and rise above the current predicament.

In the 6 months since I began this commitment, I've made many changes for the better.

Change for the Better #1: I have said au revoir to aspartame and its minions. From sophomore year of undergrad until last year, I consumed anywhere from 20 to 120 oz of Diet Coke or Diet Dr. Pepper each day. Now I drink a nice cup of black coffee in the morning and water after that. I don't miss diet soda. Sometimes I drink carbonated water because I like the gentle texture of the carbonation.

Change for the Better #2: Less 'fake food' enters my home. I no longer buy some products I used to consider healthy, such as fat-free foods, sugar-free foods or TV dinners. Now I habitually read the ingredients list before the nutrition facts. I've also found I can typically pass over all the middle aisles in a grocery store and 'shop around the perimter' in the produce, meat, dairy, and frozen foods section.

Change for the Better #3: I have winnowed my understanding of a healthy animal product. A healthy meat or dairy product contains no artificial preservatives and ideally comes from an animal that has been raised in natural conditions. For example, I'd prefer eggs from a free-roaming chicken rather than one living cooped up, or beef and milk from a cow that eats grass outdoors rather than one eating grain and waste in a stall.

Not only are there health benefits to choosing these types of animal products, I've also found them more satisfying. I used to blow through a pint of sugar-free, fat-free yogurt and still feel hungry. Now I'm pleasantly satisfied with a spoonful of strawberry jelly stirred into a cup of Greek yogurt.

Change for the Better #4: I eat a healthier ratio of carbohydrates to fruits & vegetables. The principal reason for this shift is that many carbohydrates (crackers, chips, breads) contain artificial ingredients. To satisfy that desire for a crunch I'll snack on carrots or apple chips. If I'm craving something sweet I'll eat dried fruit or satisfy my sweet tooth with a sweet potato. Since I usually crave something sweet after dinner, I've followed the Victorian tradition of eating an orange for dessert.

Unfortunately I still crave sugar in large quantities and this has been the most difficult side effect of removing staple sweets from my diet, which leads me to believe I was probably on track for developing adult onset diabetes in a few decades. These cravings were getting better until I started cheating.

Change for the Better #5: I've developed a greater appreciation for cooking from scratch. The ding and whir of a microwave as it cooks a frozen burrito doesn't compare to the crack and sizzle of an egg in a pan, or the rising scent of onion from a chopping board. My five senses and I enjoy picking out a fresh tomato. As I sift and slice and sautee I feel I'm something of a primordial artist.

Hm...perhaps I should change the title of this blog entry. I have been doing a good job. But there have been some pitfalls as well.

Pitfall #1: Almost everything in American grocery stores that isn't straight from the earth contains artificial ingredients. Between a disorganized FDA and the avaricious advertising industry, there's no one to speak for the dignity of a food product. Labels are misleading. Food products may be marketed as natural or healthy and aren't. And woefully, many tasty indulgences are truly as good for the body as gnawing on a rubber tire. Even the fresh sushi at Kroger contains aspartame! And forget restaurants. Something tells me that people who market meals on an industrial scale aren't concerned with the quality of invisible ingredients. Unfortunately, on days when I'm tired

Pitfall #2: Foods containing artificial ingredients are at my fingertips all the time, and for free. Breakfast muffins in the teacher's lounge. Basalmic vinegar containing caramel-coloring at the salad bar. Thursday Chik-fil-A biscuits, which students and teachers alike sometimes purchase for me. Tiny toothpicked samples at Costco.

Pitfall #3: Artificially-flavored foods taste good. One of the stipulations of this project has always been that my all-natural preferences aren't burdensome when I'm eating dinner with others. I never want to resemble the holier-than-thou vegan that loudly discerns her food preferences and refuses the generosity of others like a martyr to her cause. No. But often times good people who don't abide by the natural food standard, and for understandable reasons (See Pitfall #1), offer me delicious food that I, well could politely refuse. Would I like some chocolate cake? Yes, yes I would. I'll worry about the vanillin in it later. I can't see that right now. I am beckoned by the delicious, chocolatey...

Pitfall #4: It's possible to eat an all-natural diet and still have terrible eating habits. Did you know there's a whole line of fantastic all-natural potato chips with many flavorings? Did you know Whole Foods devotes half an aisle to all-natural chocolate products? Do you know the ice cream companies have industriously produced all natural lines of ice cream, such as the Five brand? I did. A lot.

The fruits of this project thus far outweigh the pitfalls. In their own way, the pitfalls are also helpful realizations. However, the reality is that I've been unable to sustain all-natural eating habits. One question remains. Do I continue with this project? I'd like to. I'm fueled by the memory of the intense energy, focus, and relaxation I felt at the beginning of this project.

So if you, reader, will forgive me, I'll forgive myself and begin again this May 20.

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