When people ask me for diet advice, I get a little twitchy.
Despite being a fitness professional and a competitive athlete, here’s a list of the things I don’t do: count calories, track macros, adhere to strict Paleo, Zone, Weight Watcher’s, keto, intermittent fasting, South Beach, IIFYM, or [insert additional diet trend of the moment here].
Let me be clear: these are all fantastic ways to improve body composition and see results, and if they’ve worked for you, gurrrrrrrrrrl (or boi), keep on truckin’. But on a personal level, I believe these contrived ways of eating are unsustainable over the long term. Rigid diet standards work for a while, but we’re human - eventually you’re going to want to chuck that food scale out the window, delete the MyFitnessPal app, and (gasp!) ingest a migrogram or two of gluten. If you’ve been living in a prison of black-and-white eating choices, you’re faced with the question: NOW WHAT?
Here’s what I do believe is sustainable: cooking delicious meals, made from whole, minimally processed, high-quality foods, prepared in your own kitchen with your own two hands. If you want specifics, let’s say the goal is that out of 21 or so meals in a week, you’ve prepared 15-18 of them yo’self. With love.
And here’s why: the nutritional values of almost ANY food that you prepare yourself (again, using whole, minimally processed, high-quality ingredients … in other words, microwaving a frozen burrito doesn’t count) are going to be superior to the equivalent that comes out of a commercial restaurant kitchen or worse, an industrial food processing factory.
Here’s the thing that makes this “diet” work for me: I freaking love food, AND I freaking love to cook.
I’m lucky in that way, but I realize not everyone is. I know from chatting to our members that a lot of people simply can’t / won’t / don’t cook. But guess what? When you looked at the whiteboard with today’s workout, you also thought you weren’t going to run those 800m intervals outside in the 40C heat, and I THINK I just saw you strut proudly back in the door, glistening with sweat and a grudging sense of satisfaction once it was over.
So, here’s my tips to LOVE cooking, stop stressing, and eat your own gosh-darn healthy food -
- Begin with the Basics. If you are clueless, THAT’S OKAY - you just have to start. When I moved out of my parent’s house I literally did not know how to boil water. Seek basic resources - my mom kicked me out of the nest with Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” and I credit that bible with the first triumphal time I cooked a chicken breast and didn’t die. Find basic recipes online or in cookbooks - the majority of recipes I cook come from Ina Garten, Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart, Pioneer Woman, America’s Test Kitchen, Smitten Kitchen, or The Food Network. These guys are professionals, they won’t lead you astray and they certainly won’t make something more complicated than it needs to be. Don’t know what something means? We live in the Information Age! There’s YouTube tutorials for every cooking term you’ll come across. Don’t be afraid. The worst that can happen is you’ll stuff up the meal on your first try and end up eating the same shitty takeaway you would have had anyhow - but you won’t make the same mistake next time!
- Routine & Ritual. One grocery shop a week. Ideally on a weekend afternoon, with a full list of the main meals you’ll cook that week, so rote & routine that you don’t have to think about what you’re buying. I have about 15-20 meals that comprise the bulk of what I cook, and I cycle through each of them every couple weeks. What you buy every week should look almost identical: lots of produce, some meat, some dairy, any top-up items you need for the pantry. This doesn’t mean you’re eating the same thing all the time. I leave the grocery store every week with chicken, fresh coriander, onions, and capsicums - one week those ingredients might become a Thai curry and the next they might mean Mexican fajitas, but the building blocks stay the same. Automate your shopping and you’ll have less excuse not to do it.
- Shut Up & Prep. We all live busy lives, no one cares. You gotta set yourself up for success: a couple hours of one weekend afternoon / evening MUST be devoted to food prep. This doesn’t have to suck: make yourself a cup of tea, turn on a good podcast, light a candle. Think about the 4-5 dinners you’ll make that week, the ingredients they’ll require, and the things you WON’T want to do when you get home from work at night, cranky and hungry. Chop onions, veggies, potatoes, and herbs and keep them in sealed Zip-Locs. Grill a couple chicken breasts. Pre-cook that beef for your taco salad. Grate a little parmesan. Slice some fruits, portion them out in Tupperwares with plain yogurt or cottage cheese and sprinkle some nuts over top for a quick breakfast on the go. Win the food prep, win the week.
- Tupp Lyfe. If you’re gonna eat your own delicious food and you’re not a shut-in, sometimes (in fact, most of the time) you gotta take it with you. This is more manageable than people realize. Buy an insulated tote bag, a couple ice packs, and more Tupperware than you think you need. Breakfast at your desk as you catch up on email doesn’t make you a pariah. Your colleagues won’t think you’re crazy if you bring a big salad to lunch in the break room while they’re eating their Subway sandwiches. Digging around your tote bag for some dates & almonds or baby carrots & hummus at 3 PM is way easier than finding change for the vending machine. If you’ve got an office microwave, learn the art of reheating your dinners for lunch - a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil or fresh ground sea salt does wonders to perk a hot meal up, and you can easily hide these items in the office pantry next to Susie from Accounting’s Splenda. The worst that can happen is you cultivate a reputation as a slight eccentric, with your colleagues admiring but also slightly fearing your eating habits. Embrace this.
Go forth into the world, cook, and eat!