Waving The White Flag at Perfection – Focusing On The Big Picture

I want to apologize in advance for over-use of quotes. When I talk about an eating plan, I often quote stuff because it’s all heresy.

This week starts my “focus on nutrients from foods” week. Forget about eating “perfect” since there’s really no “perfect” diet. The one thing all the “good” or “successful” diets seem to have in common is focusing on eating fruits and veggies. Sure, there are some diets that say to avoid fruits or starchy vegetables because of the sugar. But most just say, “Don’t just eat potatoes and bananas, and you’ll be fine.” All of these diets can’t be wrong. There’s a reason that’s what we always go back to fruits and vegetables. They’re nutrient-dense. They’re satisfying. Fruits can cut your sweet cravings. Vegetables are filling. You’re getting vitamins and minerals and fiber and improved internal functions. And there are so many to choose from.

So, it’s the end of an era. The era of perfection. The era of, “This perfect diet is what I need.” I’m entering a new era. An era of, “Perfect isn’t working – it’s too time-consuming.” I’m moving on to “eat like you’d feed your kids.” Or, “Focus on the positive, not the negative.” When we feed our children, we focus on making sure they eat nutritiously most meals. We give them fruits and vegetables. But we don’t often do the same for ourselves. I once read that the majority of dog owners feed their dogs better than they feed themselves. I think it’s easier to see what everyone else needs, but easy to put our own needs aside. Our health is a priority, too. And once we’re past a certain age, our moms don’t force us to stay at the table or withhold dessert until we’ve finished our vegetables. We’re adults. We should do this for ourselves. 

Childhood – Motivated Nutrition, Forced Nutrition 

Remember how when you were a kid your parents would say you could have dessert if you ate dinner? Or you had to eat your vegetables before you could have another roll? There were occasions where my mom wouldn’t let me leave the table until I ate that cooked carrot. Some people say this is how eating disorders develop. Using food as a reward, using food as a punishment, using food for whatever. But the bottom line is, we HAVE to eat. And eating is how we get what we need to survive, to thrive. We need vitamins and minerals. We need energy. We need nourishment.

Our parents weren’t intending to make dessert a bribe or a reward, although that’s what it was. But food is also used to celebrate and to mourn. We have elaborate meals for holidays and funerals. We have pizza after t-ball season ends. We have juice and snacks after each game. We get candy at Halloween and Easter. And cookies at Christmas. People show their love with food. And we accept love by appreciating the food. There are emotions attached to food, and there is probably no way to extract one from the other. Rather than demonizing it, I have accepted it. And accepted that it’s OK to enjoy Christmas candy and Thanksgiving stuffing. And to have beer at a wedding, and to show compassion for a loss with a home-cooked meal. In the end, all our parents wanted was for us to eat something nutritious. Despite the pizza and the Lick-em-Aid, and the Clearly Canadian, they wanted us to at least get something healthy. They knew we’d want crap, they were resigned to it. But they didn’t want us to fill up on ONLY crap.

My mom was famous for having homemade cookies as an after school snack. She said she’d be home and miss us and want something for us to eat so we’d talk to her about our day. We’d take the cookies and eat them and talk about whatever drama was going on that day. She used it to show she was thinking about us, and we used it as an opportunity to connect with her. She’d ground us if we were getting irrational, but mostly she’d listen. And we’d eat the cookies. But she’d also cut up fruit for breakfast, sometimes even squeezing grapefruit after she’d cut out the pieces. She’d always have vegetables with dinner. Always. And she figured out a way to make things like strawberries as much of a reward as ice cream. And my mom’s a level-headed, big picture, long-term thinker. Everything she does is with thought. She’s also a nurse. And values health over image. She’s a smart lady.

What’s my goal?

Nine cups of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables per day. This is essentially stage one of the Wahls Diet.

As an aside, I have no intention of adopting the other stages. But I used this diet’s approach as my motivation since she’s seen improvement in autoimmune diseases with her diet – and mostly talks about how she moved from supplements (something we all probably get too much of), to a food-based program to get the things she was supplementing for. I don’t have MS, but I do have some autoimmune stuff that’s mostly cosmetic. But I’m a firm believer nothing is just happening on the outside. It’s coming from the inside. And I want to support my body, but I don’t think I need to be as extreme as giving up all gluten, soy and dairy.

Based on her suggestions, I am aiming for greens (kale, collard greens, spinach), sulfur-rich (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), and color-rich (bright colors, colored all the way through, not just peels) fruits and veggies at every single meal. These veggies won’t all be starchy. They won’t all be one color. Or white in the center. But some will. The point is to up my nutrient intake through food. And as for the rest of my diet? Anything goes (minus eggs, which I am allergic to), although I will still be aiming to cook MOST of my meals. I’m going to step back from the intricate preparation methods I’d been using. When I’d batch cook for the week, it would take ALL day Sunday. Then I’d end up with something I only sort of liked, so I’d make excuses to not eat it. Now I’m going to find meals I love, and either add veggies to the meals, or eat them along side it. Why does it have to be as complicated as I was making it?

In a perfect world, I batch cook a week’s meals on Sundays. This frees up my nights for workouts, cleaning, social stuff, my sports chiropractor appointments, etc. The past six or eight weeks, I’d spent so much time planning and preparing “perfect” meals, I would “waste” the whole Sunday cooking. And I’d still be cleaning up the kitchen around the time I should have been getting into bed. So I’d either be late to bed, and start my week off tired, or I’d leave the kitchen a mess and start the week off stressed.

Applying To The Real World

Yesterday I cooked/prepared a whole week’s worth of meals in four hours. Four and a half by the time the kitchen was cleaned. Instead of focusing on the “perfect” meals, I focused on how I’d get my nine cups of fruits and vegetables. I made two dishes I love that are simple (beef enchiladas and a sancho-style casserole). I added about two-three cups of chopped kale to each dish (which made five servings each). I am switching back to breakfast smoothies for a quick cup of fruits and veggies, and having a mid-morning snack. This week I’m having a tuna-avocado-spinach “salad” with some crackers for my AM snack. And in the afternoon I’m having raw veggies with a quick veggie dip. I’m also adding back peanut butter toast with some type of fruit if I get hungry before a workout or for a post-workout snack. All of these snacks were off-limits before because I didn’t allow myself crackers or bread or any type of veggie dip. I also used to do really well with cheese and crackers for snacks. Or even peanuts and fruit. Such simple nearly no-prep snacks, but I’d cut them out for little reasons. I’d also limited stuff like enchiladas in an attempt to avoid GMOs (in the sauce, in the tortillas, etc.). And bread or tortillas because of gluten. I also felt guilty eating any type of dairy other than organic from grass-fed cows, which isn’t impossible to get, but it’s also not convenient.

Feedback On Meals

Are there more “bad” foods in this week’s meals than I’ve been having? Yes. But will I avoid eating these meals? I doubt it. Plus, there are a lot more fruits and veggies in this week’s meals than I’ve had in a long time. I was so concerned about the little pieces of my meals that I’d spend hours doing things like making my own corn tortillas with non-GMO masa harina. Or I’d churn my own buttermilk from better quality whole milk (And end up with butter! YAY! But maybe not a batch cooking project.). Or I’d avoid putting four small tortillas in an entire casserole because of the gluten, so then the casserole really wasn’t that good, and I wouldn’t eat it. Or I’d make vegetable soup without corn and dread eating it. Or I’d really want a peanut butter sandwich with it. So, again, it sits untouched. Or chili minus beans. Or I’d make chili with beans, but I’d spend so much time pre-soaking and cooking the beans, I’d avoid the meal. Or it would take five hours of prep work when I could have saved myself some grief and used one can of beans. It’s not like I eat beans daily. I generally eat them with chili. And that’s it.

Anyway, that’s a lot of talk to say I’ve switched up my sort of flailing food plan. And now my focus is on getting vitamins and minerals through food. I’ll still eat local pork and grass-fed beef when I can. But if I can’t, I won’t avoid making a meal I really enjoy. I won’t stumble my way around using ketchup in a marinade or braising sauce. Especially when I don’t even eat the sauce when the dish is done! I won’t worry about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce in a marinade. Or a teaspoon of sugar in a salad dressing.

The Bigger Picture

In the scheme of things, I was worrying about the weeds when I could have been appreciating the entire landscape. Health and nutrition are often about making big changes. For example, it’s more important that I get a workout in than that I worry about whether I’m working all of my muscle groups equally, or exactly how fast I’m walking or how far or fast I’m running. In the days I worried more about the bigger picture, I made better progress than the times I’ve been concerned about working my back more (or less), getting exactly perfect form on squats, or making sure my running time or distance was improving (or good enough). Instead, I just picked a workout, any workout, and did it. I’d run for the fun of it, and I’d do it on days I didn’t have access to or want to worry about equipment. I didn’t care if I ran exactly 2 times a week, no more or no less. I’d just run when I wanted or lift when I wanted or do a video when I wanted.

I’ve gotten way too obsessed with the details, and am missing out on the overall bigger picture progress.

Just like I don’t want to lose weight with a workout plan that’s not sustainable, or starving myself (also not sustainable). I don’t know why I didn’t realize I also can’t have a cooking plan that’s not sustainable. I guess I’d told myself it’s sustainable if I want it enough. That this is the only way. But that’s no different from saying I want it enough to starve myself forever, or workout twice a day forever. I know many women who tell themselves that despite knowing it’s not true. I was doing the same thing, but fashioning myself a martyr. I’m not a martyr. I don’t have time to cook for twelve hours on a Sunday. I want to live LIFE, not let my diet and workout plan control me.

So, here I am. Admitting a perfectionist approach isn’t working. I’m relaxing a little. Walking every day. Eating foods my orthorexic self tries to whisper at me about. Lifting weights to stay strong (and get stronger!). Working with my body to get back to running. And only aiming for one thing in my diet: nine cups of fruits and vegetables.





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