Don't want to eat all of the things anymore.
July 29, 2011 7:54 AM   Subscribe

I eat like crap. I'm now 30. Still young, I know, but I'm pushing it with the eating like a teenager. Can you help set me up with a system for better, healthier eating?

Please don't snark me out, but I'm one of "those" people who have always had a high metabolism and have pretty much been able to eat whatever. I also walk a whole lot, so I'm in pretty good shape.

However, I eat like a growing teenage boy. Yesterday, I ate a mess of Ethiopian steak for lunch and about 14 pizza bagels for dinner. Gross, right? This can't be a sustainable diet for a healthy adult moving out of their twenties.

The thing is, I don't know how to eat better. For example, this week I told my coworker that I was "going to grab something healthy for lunch." I came back with a giant bowl of pasta salad that, in hindsight, was dripping with oil and carbs and Parmesan—but had one piece of broccoli in it. She laughed at me.

Another contributing factor is my lifestyle: I'm a busy single lady in NYC. The kind that works a lot and has a fairly busy social life. I generally either "grab it and go" or have long dinners with friends at a nice restaurant. Cooking at home doesn't work, as the mess and time spent just aren't worth it. (Not that I would know what to cook anyway.)

So, the questions-

1. What does a day of healthy eating look like? A week?

2. A hypothetical: if you're in a nice restaurant, do you choose the "Roast Chicken and Buttered Green Beans" or "Linguine with Shrimp and Zucchini in a Wine Sauce?" (If both of those are "bad," that's an acceptable answer too.)

3. How do you control the impulse to EAT ALL OF THE PIZZAS ALL OF THE TIME? Sheer willpower? Or do you have some sort of mantra?

4. If the answer is basically, "Salads. Forever." How do you deal with the feeling that you're still hungry after?

Any other advise greatly appreciated. I clearly don't know what I'm talking about.
posted by functionequalsform to Food & Drink (53 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
> 1. What does a day of healthy eating look like? A week?

Diet is much like religion; you're going to get very different answers about what composes a "healthy" diet here. That said, my belief is that a diet without artificial ingredients, comprised of things you can hunt, fish, or grow, is healthy. You cannot -- outright -- do this with a "grab and go" lifestyle. You need to learn to cook your own food to eat well, and you'd do well to read up a bit on nutrition rather than reaching for random advice, as you just won't have the context for evaluating how your body processes food otherwise.

That said, here's an example of yesterday's diet; note that I follow a roughly paleo-centric approach:

Breakfast: 1 scrambled egg with tomato, spinach, mushrooms, small amount of cheese; water; black coffee; smoked salmon

Lunch: lettuce wrap with turkey, banana, small bowl of mixed nuts; water

Dinner: grilled chicken, side salad, watermelon for dessert; water and/or red wine (1 glass)
posted by ellF at 8:02 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

Be prepared to be overwhelmed with information.

I like Michael Pollan's rules - Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not Too Much. Good rules of thumb that I like are that if it looks like it came out of the ground via a kitchen, that's good. If it looks like it came out of a factory, that's not so good. You want combinations of things - carbohydrates, fruits and veggies, and proteins. So that huge bowl of pasta is lacking (I'm guilty of that too). A decent workaround to this rule is, you want a multicolored meal. White food doesn't have a whole lot going for you.

Salads, forever? Protein makes you feel full. Add a hardboiled egg, or some tuna, or whatever protein you enjoy.

You're busy and on the go. So am I. I like busy, on the go foods. For me, this means that I take a bit of time to make a couple things on the weekend (hummus, black beans), which I can easily turn into fast meals. Veggies and hummus is good. Black beans go into a burrito with baby spinach, cheese, and salsa. I'll turn a pot of pasta into a meal with baby spinach, tomato, and mozzarella.
posted by entropone at 8:04 AM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think healthy eating is a spectrum, and doesn't mean that everything you eat is health food perfection. is free and allows you to keep track of what you eat, and can estimate how many calories, carbs, protein etc. you're getting. You may find it useful/enlightening at the start.

1) I eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast; a monumental salad with some lean meat (chicken, turkey, ham) on it. Never any dressing (but only cause I don't particularly care for it). For dinner, pretty much whatever I want, though that's more along the homemade pasta/rice and beans axis than junk food. I can't think of the last time I had a frozen dinner. Three years? I either eat out or cook. Often the key to cooking is cook a lot, freeze most of it. Reheat as necessary. I don't eat enough fruit and I don't drink enough water. However, I never snack.

2) I tend to think that if I'm eating out, I'll eat whatever I want. Again, this doesn't tend to lie on the deep fried pizza spectrum, but it's not twigs and berries. You're paying to eat out; enjoy it.

3) I want pizza all the time. McDonald's often. A cigarette almost every day. I get pizza once a month or so. McD's maybe three or four times a year. Cigarettes less. You get used to not having what you want all the time.

4) I eat huge salads. They take me all afternoon to eat. If you are hungry, you are not eating enough (volume or protein, maybe). I had an AskMe a year or two ago about getting the most bang for your buck at the salad bar; you may find it useful.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:07 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're going to get lots of answers, many of which are really complex. You wat some simple advice, a one-thought rule that you can apply to eat healthier?

Here you go: only eat what you could HUNT or GATHER. It's called paleo and it helps you manage your hunger really well: have a rich meaty/cheesy/eggy breakfast, a fruit/vegetable/legume lunch and a light dinner for flavour. Also has the benefit of not having refined carbohydrates in it.

It's a huge change from what you're doing now, sure. But it's a simple, simple rule. And very healthy especially from a metabolic POV.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:07 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Two things I have discovered: I have to eat foods I like, and over time the foods I like will change.

I gave up sugared sodas when I moved in with a diabetic years ago and I don't even miss them now. Right now my emphasis is on eating more fruits so I'm taking advantage of summer peaches and berries and cherries to get in the habit. Fruit also fills me up, so I want less of other stuff.

Oh, also smaller portions. You can eat less-healthy stuff, just less of it. It takes a while but your stomach gets used to less food if you do it over time. Also you can have less of the "bad stuff" and still eat healthy stuff enough to fill your stomach.

Sustainable changes happen over time; that's the key for me. Figure out what your priority is (add fruit? add veggies? cut carbs?) make that change, get used to it, then make another when that habit is solid. You're building for a lifetime of healthy eating. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a healthy set of eating habits.

(I use Health Month to help with habit-building and would encourage you to check it out when you decide what you want to change first.)
posted by immlass at 8:12 AM on July 29, 2011

Have at least two fruits or vegetables with every meal.

Or, you can have 5 fruits and vegetables all in one meal, if it's a huge salad kind of situation. But you need your 5 fruits a day. They can't all be the same fruit, either, they have to be 5 different ones, ideally all in different colours. They can't all be in juice or smoothie form, because you're only allowed 1 juice a day (high sugar concentration). They can't all be dried fruit; you're allowed only 1 dried fruit a day (also high sugar concentration).

For really small fruits, like cherry tomatoes, obviously 1 isn't enough so count 5 or 6 as a serving.

For small dried fruits, a serving is 2: 2 dried apricots, 2 prunes, etc. For stuff like raisins, a serving is a handful.

For huge fruits, like pineapples or watermelons, a serving would be a big ol' substantial wedge.

Rice and potatoes don't count as vegetables; nutritionally, they are starches.

Only drink water. I looooooove soda, which is basically poison. However, I do find that sparkling water makes me not miss soda, because it has the same texture. If you are detoxing from soda, try mixing your fruit juice with sparkling water. This has the added bonus of somehow neutralizing the acid which would otherwise attack your tooth enamel. Never drink diet soda, it's f'ing poison.

Your pasta salad doesn't sound unhealthy, as such... just kinda gross and rather lacking in salad. Don't eat food that seems gross to you, for a start.

Do not touch diet foods. They are gross, and usually ersatz. Do not touch low-fat foods. They are gross, and usually loaded with sugar to compensate.

Read the ingredient list on whatever you are going to eat. If it contains lots of things that sound like they belong in a lab and not in a kitchen, don't eat them. Try to avoid lab-sounding ingredients altogether, but if you are going crazy because you literally can't find anything, pick the thing on the shelf that has the fewest lab-sounding ingredients in the list. (Food ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount used.) For example, your shredded wheat should contain one ingredient: wheat. Compare several boxes of shredded wheat to see what I'm getting at here.

Do not eat and run. It takes your brain a few minutes (maybe as long as 20 minutes) to register that you've eaten, so eating slowly will give your brain more time to keep up. If you eat fast you eat more, if you eat slowly you eat less.

Eating in company is good, because if you eat with others you eat slower. Try not to eat while distracted, like watching TV or working. I know it's hard but try to carve out 30-45 minutes for lunch every day instead of saying "lunch is for wimps" or eating while you work. It's usually recommended to eat with cow-orkers, but I'm an introvert and can't stand the effort, so YMMV.

Eat breakfast sometime between getting up and starting work (if you can't face it when you've just woken up, leave it for a bit). Eat lunch at lunch time. Eat dinner at dinner time. In between, do not eat. Only eat between meals if you are seriously seriously ravenous; otherwise, do not eat between meals.

If you are at a fancy restaurant and you have two choices of dish, order the one that sounds good to you at that moment. The exception is red meats, which you should only be eating once every week or two weeks. (Nutritionally, pork counts as a red meat even though it has been marketed as "the other white meat".)

Were you exaggerating when you say you ate 14 pizza bagels for dinner? Are those like minipizzas or something? Or are they actual bagel-sized things? For the record, a normal serving would be, at most, one bagel-sized bagel.

Eat foods that have a lot of flavor. Put only whole milk or, better still, cream in your coffee so you get the benefit of it. Drink only percolated or pressed coffee, not instant. Do not fanny around trying to eliminate food groups like carbs or whatever; instead, try to eliminate nonfood items from your diet.
posted by tel3path at 8:12 AM on July 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

I just try to eat "real food" and ignore all this calorie-counting, salad-every-day, eliminate-whatever diet crap. By real food I mean fruit, vegetables, meat, grains, etc. - the outside of the grocery store, not the stuff in the aisles. I cook most of my meals - you don't have to be a master chef or anything - I would look up Mark Bittman's column or blog and look at his recipes. He is all about taking a few, fresh ingredients and making something very simple. If you are totally clueless in the kitchen think of something you'd like to know more about and watch Alton Brown's episode for it on Youtube.
posted by bradbane at 8:16 AM on July 29, 2011

Pro tip: When I was a busy (married) grab-and-go-getter in NYC, I swore by the mixed salad counters at the midtown delis. It's very easy to get a high-veggie, high-protein, minimally-processed reasonably healthy salad there; it's readily available, and it's delicious if you choose delicious ingredients.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's really hard to eat healthy, for me. But it's easier to NOT eat unhealthy. Meaning, I cut out the bad stuff. No soda, no candy, no foods with a billion ingredients, half of which are creepy chemicals. That being said, i still have a lot of work to do incorporating good stuff into my diet. But at least the bad stuff is out!

I"m also a busy single lady in nyc! it's tough! I dont even have time to go grocery shopping, let alone chop things and broil things and download recipes and what not. The thing is... you gotta make time. If you can just cook once or twice a week, that's once or twice a week that you're eating healthy! Better than nothing!

ALSO. I try to introduce one healthy thing into my diet every couple of weeks. Like....ok from now on I only eat whole grain bread. And next week, from now on I only eat natural yogurt. And recently I decided now I only eat whole grain pasta (BLECH. Still struggling with that one).
posted by silverstatue at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been at both ends of the eating spectrum, eating lots of things like frozen pizza bagels to a very spartan diet. The key is I've realized that eating processed foods makes me feel like crap, it tastes so good, I know it does. However, now when I eat something loaded with fat, sugar, and salt I feel like I'm hungover. This makes it easier to avoid.

1. A day of healthy eating for me is something like. Spinach, eggwhite and feta scramble for breakfast. Homemade bean, vegetable, and barley soup for both lunch and dinner. (I don't spice my soup of much when I make it, so each time I eat some I add something like Italian herbs, or a little sesame oil, of chinese five spice, to give it a different feeling.) Then, a couple of apples and maybe a banana through the day or after dinner. Sometimes when I get a craving I'll eat something like sunchips at my desk around 3, but I try to eat oatmeal around then instead.

That is boring, I know. However, it is satisfying and keeps me fueled. I eat like most days of the week. So a week of healthy eating looks likes this then maybe a stir fry with brown rice for dinner if I am bored of the soup, plus maybe some kind of more fancy meal on the weekend. The trick for me is accepting that food is to fuel the body and you treats are just that, you shouldn't eat them everyday.

2. Both of those are fine for a once or twice a week resteraunt meal. If I had to choose, it'd be the chicken and green beans. Linguine is yummy, yummy, but its a refined product that will, for me at least, give me a sedated, bloated, feeling.

3. I'm not around PIZZA ALL THE TIME. If it was around, I would probably eat it. Right now in my fridge there is an outrageous amount of the aforementioned soup. (I make it once a week, chopping takes five minutes, then it boils for a couple of hours, its easy.) Cabbage, zuchini, squash, tomatoes, garlic, and apples. That's it. I won't like, sometimes I walk to the fridge and really wish there was something really awesome like a cookie hidden there, but there is not, because where there is one cookie, their is a pan or package of cookies.

4. If you are still hungry, you aren't doing something right. There will be a time if you radically shift your diet where you might be feel hungry or you might just be craving something. Eat lots of fiber, eat slowly, but most importantly know. You don't have eat salads all the time. I am really not into cold food. It doesn't fill me up and I just don't find it satisfying in the same way. I challenge you to get over the it takes too long/it makes a mess idea of the kitchen. It takes less time and cost a whole lot less just to prepare most of your meals at home. If you try to make really fancy stuff, sure it can take a while, but stirfrys and stuff really don't take long at all.
posted by stormygrey at 8:22 AM on July 29, 2011

Were you exaggerating when you say you ate 14 pizza bagels for dinner? Are those like minipizzas or something? Or are they actual bagel-sized things?

Pizza Bagels.

Thanks, guys. This is actually helpful. I love the Paleo advice, even if it sounds a little scary to keep up with. However, cooking at home really is a no-go.
posted by functionequalsform at 8:22 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

FYI, pizza bagels are generally the size of mini/baby bagels, a little less than 2" in diameter.

The key to satiety is dietary fats, especially ones that are naturally occurring, like avocados and olive oil.

I avoid calorie-counting and related tracking stress by eating foods that have low/no carbs and plenty of protein and fats. For snacks, think cheese (mozzarella made with whole milk, string cheese, etc), pepperoni, etc. Bacon, eggs, fish, and other proteins form the backbone of my breakfasts and dinners, and I use the frozen vegetable steam-in-microwave bags so I don't ruin a lot of good produce. Then, I slather those veggies in butter and maybe some curry or other spice (yum).
posted by bookdragoness at 8:22 AM on July 29, 2011

First and foremost- don't try to change everything at once. Learning how to eat well takes time because it's kind of a lot to know. The best thing to do is read the labels on every thing you eat. Personally, I don't eat pre-made food that doesn't come with a label (sounds harder than it is, if i don't know what is in it by sight i just don't buy it).

the easiest rule is this- Processed food is not good. it is NEVER better than something less processed.

what does eating well look like? I go with the pie-chart food plate deal. At least half of my plate should be vegetables, ideally raw. a quarter of it should be a protein and a quarter of it some sort of grains.

color is a big deal. Reds, oranges, greens, pinks, purples- rainbow veggies make things more fun and healthier. Variety is AWESOME. the only color to avoid is that golden-brown of frying.

today my food looks like this:

Breakfast: a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter, an egg and salsa.
Snack: apple pear
Lunch: salad with greens, beans, and whatever veg is in the fridge.
Snack: strawberries
Dinner: Summer rolls with tofu, greens, beansprouts and other random veg. Steamed asparagus.

I prepped all of it in the morning in about an hour and a half- sounds like a lot but really i don't have to cook the rest of the day. I always try to have cut vegetables in the fridge to add to meals so I don't have to think about how I am going to add plants to meals.
posted by Blisterlips at 8:23 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, MeMail me if you'd like any microwave-friendly advice or have questions - that's the kitchen equipment my husband is proficient with, so I have a lot of practice with no/low prep foods.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:23 AM on July 29, 2011

I suggest you try to get Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian cookbook, which combines a simple no-nonsense approach to Mediterranean cooking, benevolent rants about eating culture and good menu suggestions. It is not, no surprise here, low-carb, nor low-calorie, but if you observe her veggie and salad department carefully, you'll be fine. If you hate cooking after recipes, just read the rants, they're very inspiring.
In my opinion, not much else is needed. Perhaps some good stir-fry compendium, if you like that style.

[Otherwise seconding the use real-food advice. Processed, packaged stuff with a brand tag is almost always nonsense: someone is earning money on the product, not its ingredients. Like canned pasta sauce: it is ridiculously easy to make that using real ingredients, and it is a crime that people have convinced a whole generation that it is somehow more convenient to buy their crap instead.]
posted by Namlit at 8:25 AM on July 29, 2011

Actually, yeah. I can "cook" if cooking means very, very fast. I meant that real cooking is a no-go.

Sorry to threadsit. I'll be on my way.
posted by functionequalsform at 8:27 AM on July 29, 2011

Adding fruits & veggies to your diet can be a great place to start. You don't have to cook an apple, banana or carrot; just eat 'em! You might also start with breakfast- you do eat breakfast, I hope? Find a good whole grain cereal to start your day off with a good amount of fiber. Me, I eat 1/3 cup Fiber One Original with 1/3 cup of Craisins (bought in bulk at Costco). You might also add a small handful of nuts for fat; this will keep you from feeling hungry. Have a glass of milk and/or a small glass of juice and/or coffee/tea, and you will be well set up for the day!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:33 AM on July 29, 2011

4. If the answer is basically, "Salads. Forever." How do you deal with the feeling that you're still hungry after?

salads Forever? you make that sound so darn bad.

salads are like THE most variable things ever. last week we had watermelon-feta salad. This week we're planning artichoke hearts and spinach with chickpeas and fresh basil. the best thing is none of these are time consuming and none require actual cooking! it's like five min of chopping, throw it in a plastic bin and go!
posted by Blisterlips at 8:35 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

My recommendation (single, 30s, NYC) is to just start out by throwing vegetables onto everything you usually eat. Make a salad to go with the pasta bagels, and throw some broccoli or peppers on top of them. I love that fresh packaged tortellini, but instead of having it with tomato sauce, I saute a bunch of vegetables while the tortellini is boiling and then throw it all together. I also reduce the tortellini to a half serving -- this way, I'm still getting the packaged cheesy pasta- thing I love, but am mostly filling up on the vegetables.

The paleo and egg white fritatta stuff is all great, but it sounds like you're not there yet.
posted by sweetkid at 8:36 AM on July 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

If you are the type of person who likes crunching data and/or leveling up in video games, I can't recommend enough. If you spend a couple of weeks meticulously entering in everything you eat (I recommend carrying a little notebook around with you, to keep track), then you will get a picture of how many calories you are eating and how much fat/carbs/protein those calories are made up of. Even after I stopped using the site, this knowledge changed my eating habits for the better.

In your case specifically, it would also be a good way to strategize your eating- so, for example, you'd know that if you ate pasta in oil for lunch (fat and carbs but little protein), you need to eat some lean protein for dinner, so you'd choose a lean fish dish when you went out to eat that night. Or, say you know you'll be having pizza for lunch- have low-fat yogurt with fruit for breakfast. Once you have a vague idea of how many calories and macronutrients are in what, this becomes totally intuitive.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:37 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Vegetables. Eat them.

There are a lot of different ideas out there about what healthy eating is, plus cultural preferences, individual taste and medical restrictions, etc. But I think many of the different ideas floating around there will agree that eating more vegetables is a Good Thing. If you follow the "make half your plate vegetables" advice above then there is less room on the plate for pizza bagels, but you can still enjoy them in moderation.

If you do not want to get involved in cooking, look for ways to easily get more vegetables. Delis with salad bars is a good one if the variety is good. Sometimes fancy-ish grocery stores have salad bars or hot and cold buffet lines with prepared vegetable or vegetable dishes. If you live in NYC you can probably get a grocery delivery service and order things like salad greens, cherry tomatoes, maybe even pre-sliced or pre-washed vegetables of different kinds that you can add to a salad, or steam in a microwave with minimal effort. Or you can get frozen vegetables, which are nutritionally almost as good as fresh and easily prepared (just avoid the kind that have added salt or added butter flavor, etc.).

If you really can't be bothered with cooking, you could also look in to some kind of meal delivery service, there are some out there that are healthier than your average takeout Chinese and will show you the recipes or nutritional info online. Obviously you pay for the convenience factor, but if it is worth it to you you might consider it. Or, if you know someone who you trust and who is a good cook, or who hits up the farmers market regularly, you might consider paying them to cook or prepare you a week's worth of food and bringing it to you in storage containers. One of the cooking bloggers I read did this for a while with one of her co-workers. The co-worker didn't have the time, and the blogger was able to earn a little extra money just by preparing extra servings of the food she was going to cook for herself anyway.
posted by bbq_ribs at 8:43 AM on July 29, 2011

Tim Ferriss can be a deal (he says so himself) and comes off like an infomercial type. All that granted. But. The 4 Hour Body turns out to be right on body-hacking stuff. His recommenadation: Eat meats and vegetables, beans, and that's about all. Maybe some eggs. Go crazy on salts and spices. Have a cheat day one a week.

It's an oddly sustainable diet, and it works like crazy. Just learn to go into food settings—grocery stores, restaurants and so on—and look at all the non-food foods with indifference.

He's right about kettlebell swings, by the way. That and the diet changed a lot of things for me.
posted by argybarg at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2011

Tim Ferriss can be a deal? Damn auto-correct. I meant "freak."
posted by argybarg at 8:57 AM on July 29, 2011

2. A hypothetical: if you're in a nice restaurant, do you choose the "Roast Chicken and Buttered Green Beans" or "Linguine with Shrimp and Zucchini in a Wine Sauce?" (If both of those are "bad," that's an acceptable answer too.)

Neither is ideal, but my Rule #1a of healthy eating is: when eating out, avoid anything with a sauce. In most restaurants, "sauce" is code for "lots and lots and lots of fat, usually butter."

Rule 1a is in fact a corollary of Rule #1: restaurant food tastes good because they use a shit ton of butter and salt on everything. So those buttered green beans aren't just going to have a light glaze, they are going to be slathered in it. And the linguine will probably have several tablespoons of butter in it to add a yummy glaze to the dish. The roast chicken is least likely to be coated in butter, though it may have a bit on it anyway depending on the place.
posted by googly at 8:58 AM on July 29, 2011

I was totally like you. First I looked objectively at what I was willing to change. Turns out it was my breakfasts. Instead of grabbing a delicious, delicious bagel on the way to my desk, I tried out a bunch of flavors of oatmeal. My work had hot water available so I could make instant oatmeal every day. Filled me up and immediately cut out a bunch of calories.

I felt like I didn’t have time to make salads every day so I just bought bagged salads in those flavor varieties I actually liked. I’d eat it right out of the bag and then I’d have the other half the next day. If I wanted to go out with my coworkers or whatever, I’d make sure I ate my salad and then get a roll and soup at lunch. Sometimes those soups were creamy and high cal but small steps… small steps.

Pizza. My downfall. I had to make an agreement with myself – if I was craving pizza for convenience, step 1 would be making a small amount of pasta and drowning it in parmesan. If that didn’t sate my need for cheesy, yummy pizza, the next day I’d make myself an English muffin pizza (portion control) or I’d get one of those lean cuisine pizza things. If that didn’t work, the 3rd day I’d let myself get a slice but I had to get a SLICE.. and I forced down a side salad with it.

For other dinners I would eat in for, I’d do like many of the other posters and find something I liked that was easy to make. For example, I made lots of egg sandwhiches for dinner because it took no time for me to pour some egg white stuff out of a carton, fry it, throw some cheese on an English muffin and maybe a tomato, turkey bacon or slice of cheese on top of that. Overall, not too unhappy. I forced myself to eat veggies even if I didn’t want it. Either minestrone soup or I’d microwave frozen veggies. Nothing took long to make. I was super lazy. Oh yeah.. I ate lots and lots of boca burgers, too. Microwaveable.. lots of flavors.

I buy prepared foods much less now than I did when I was slowly changing my eating habits but really "healthy eating" is a continuum. Small changes are worth it.
posted by adorap0621 at 8:58 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Returning to note that "paleo" is pretty light on the cooking. I can do everything I do with one skillet: eggs, ground beef, fish, steak, whatever, & the microwave is good too. Eating right doesn't necessitate a lot of complex prep and stirring and stuff. In fact, with paleo it means you don't do that at all: slice some stuff up, maybe heat some of it, throwing things together and eat it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:59 AM on July 29, 2011

Another Paleo voice in the crowd. I think it's great, it has been working for me, I stick to it, and conceptually it's so simple it's kinda hard to fuck up (accidentally anyway).

Some other things I do:

- I buy meat from an organic farm. I bought a half a cow, it sounds crazy yes, I know, but I HAVE SO MUCH FUCKING MEAT IN MY FREEZER! I never have to worry about meat when i'm grocery shopping. I stock my freezer with healthy protein so that I always have it available and resist the urge to cool pasta because it's the only thing in the cabinet.

- I signed up for a CSA. Pay up front, get fresh veggies all summer long! More than I can eat, so they freeze and support me all winter long.

Having a never ending supply of meat and veggies in my house keeps me from ordering out... I feel bad if I waste it.


- I stay to the outside of the grocery store (I think someone else said this) This means, fruits vegetables, meats, eggs, dairy, seafood. I don't even go down the isles because it's really just super processed highly preserved foods are just aren't "real" for a lack of a better word.

- I look at ingredients, if I don't know what something is, don't eat it.

- When I go out, I try to get something that is primarily meat and vegetable based. This means, the chicken or fish over the pasta. This means, asking for my burger with no bun and a side of salad instead of fries.

Just stick to it and you get used to it.
posted by LZel at 9:03 AM on July 29, 2011

Honey, if you can do it without larding out your ass, you can have pizza bagels for dinner. But you can look at a plate of pizza bagels and KNOW that is not a well-balanced meal. Please add a salad. If you want a really basic guide to what well balanced meals look like, here's one.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:07 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

My philosophy in life is now keep it simple. Start out each meal by stopping 1st and asking yourself how or what you can do to improve this meal even slightly. Instead of the 12" sub I really could get the 6" and be alright. Or work yourself into diet drinks. I would go that route.. small steps.
posted by kmurray24 at 9:08 AM on July 29, 2011

Its a lot easier to eat healthy if you cook, but as that doesn't seem to be something that fits in your lifestyle. Some ideas that might work for you are

- Look into salad bars at local delis or supermarkets. You can get great lunches there, and salad doesn't have to be boring I love to toss meat into my salads to make them more filling, just use your common sense avoid too many bacon bits and creamy dressings. Try a nice vinaigrette dressing or something, or even no dressing. You can have a different salad every day, its really hard to get bored with salads. Psychologically I like to have a fat bread or something with mine and roll the salad in the pita to make a sort of sandwich. In winter look for nice veggie soups, or minestrones things like that. You can sneak a lot of veggies into a soup and not feel like you are eating "healthy".

- When eating out watch for added butter, restaurants add it to a lot of dishes because it makes the sauces nice and smooth and its an easy way to make a dish taste good. BTW Wine sauce probably has butter in to thicken it so I'd have said neither of your choices where great but probably would have gone the chicken as less carbs. You can always ask for sauces on the side.

- Pizzas are not super bad they are just a "sometimes" food. My husband used to eat a lot of junk food, but when he got married pizza became a sometime food for him and funnily enough he's said he enjoys it more when its a movie night treat instead of just fuel because he couldn't think what to eat.
posted by wwax at 9:21 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was you. The metabolism WILL change on you at some point. Trust me.

But you're in luck, because you will not balloon up TOO much. However, you will need start to pay more attention to what you eat -- but not as obsessively as you think you will. You don't have to worry TOO much about "oh mercy how much oil or fat or carbs does this have" or whatever, because you actually need all of that stuff. Your mistake isn't in the fact that you're eating carbs -- your mistake is that in you're eating ONLY carbs.

A balanced, healthy diet is about exactly that -- balance. You need some carbs, but you also need some vegetables to balance them out. So "a life with nothing but salads" isn't the right idea either. That pasta salad that you got wasn't bad in theory -- the only problem was that it just didn't have any vegetables in it. If you'd had some more vegetables in there, you would have been right on the money. Worrying about carbs and how much olive oil did that have and all that crap is just going to drive you nuts.

When it comes to salads: I kind of hate salads too, but only the "green leafy" kind (for some reason, I dislike the act of making myself a green salad because it feels like too much work and it's boring). However, there are a TON of other things that you can call "salad" -- today, I have a "salad" that I made by mixing a can of beans and some cooked-for-about-a-minute vegetables in a bowl, with some lemon juice. Took me three seconds, it's a good balance, and it tastes good.

A cold soup like gazpacho may be another thing you want to try -- you'll need 3 tomatoes, a cucumber, a stick of celery, a bell pepper, a small jalepeno, and a 12-ounce can of V-8. Throw the vegetables in the food processor, chop it all up, then dump that into a bowl and pour in the V-8. Slug that into your fridge, and presto, you've got a cold soup that is so healthy you will actually feel the vitamins entering your bloodstream.

Find some simple vegetable soups and side dishes like that, and add those TO the pizza bagels and what-not, and that's a very good place to start. Or, who says you need to cook the vegetables -- crudites work too.

And when it comes to keeping things healthy at home when you don't have much time -- okay, I too can get too tired to cook and feel like falling back on eating an entire box of Cheezits and calling it dinner. But I know I get like that, and that's why I pick a couple afternoons out of the month and make up some healthy stuff -- cold soups, some funky salads -- to keep in the fridge for just that purpose. It's easier to stay healthy when you come home exhausted, but still only have to pull something out of the fridge to eat.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:23 AM on July 29, 2011

One thing that might help is changing your definition of "cooking". Is throwing together some pre-chopped lettuce and veggies and throwing some olive oil and vinegar on it "cooking"? Is making a sandwich to bring to work "cooking"? Is opening a can of black beans or tuna "cooking"?

I am totally sympathetic to not having time to cook, but i bet you have time to assemble a few more foods at home because it's impossible to stay healthy on processed pre-made foods forever.
posted by serazin at 9:41 AM on July 29, 2011

Let me preface this by saying I *hate* cooking. HATE HATE HATE. However, my husband was gone for a few nights this week and here's what I did. It's probably not perfect but it's a damn sight better than bagel pizzas and just about as cheap and fast.

Less than 2 minutes:
Dump canned chicken* in bowl. Dump can of mandarin oranges in bowl. Dump a handful of walnuts in bowl. Dump a handful of dried cranberries in bowl. Dump a handful of raw spinach in bowl. Add some dressing if you want. Stir. Eat.

About 5 minutes: Spray frying pan with cooking spray. Dump canned chicken in frying pan. Add some salt and pepper and whatever. Saute.** Put it in a bowl or something. Put a tortilla in the frying pan. Dump the bowl of chicken on the tortilla. Sprinkle some cheese on it. Wait for cheese to melt. Put tortilla on plate. Roll it up. Put some salsa, guacamole, and/or sour cream on it. Eat.

Seriously if I can do this stuff, anyone can.

* This is probably not the best stuff ever for you (sodium) but it's EASY and it's already cooked.
**Saute means "stir every so often until it looks good to eat"

posted by desjardins at 9:44 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Adding myself to the "more fruit and vegetables, less (ideally no) processed 'foods'" school.

I just wanted to say that you don't have to cook if you don't like to, especially in New York. It's more expensive, but other than that there's nothing wrong with getting everything either prepared from supermarkets or grabbing salad bar meals or take out. I used to eat lots of steamed chicken and broccoli from the Chinese place around the corner, and salads, and fruit smoothies. This is different for me, because I'm fat and you're not, but you can order pasta with fresh tomato sauce, or sandwiches as long as they're not covered in nasty mayo or dressings or whatever. Heck, you can have muffins, just get them from a bakery that makes them with actual butter and flour and sugar, not preservatives and fake crap. I feel like if you go straight from what you eat now to some strict paleo thing, you'll be miserable.

And actually, now that I don't live in a paradise of good take-out and delis that will custom make me salads on every corner, I still don't cook much. I find it kind of boring and a waste of time to cook just for me. I eat healthy things, I just eat them separately. You can have yogurt and fruit and vegetables and grains and various kinds of protein without combining them with 27 other ingredients and paying lots of attention to them while you prepare them.

Oh, and one other thing, you can probably find or make healthier versions of the things you're eating now, like the pizza bagels. By healthier, if it's not clear, I just mean less processed. If you don't need to lose weight and carbs don't put you to sleep, there's nothing wrong with bagels or cheese or tomato sauce, as long as they're not made of fake processed crap.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:54 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dump canned chicken* in bowl.

A homemade alternative to the canned chicken: Whenever chicken breasts are on sale at my local grocery, I'll buy like fifteen pounds of them, seal them in ziploc bags, and throw 'em in the freezer. Then, for the next month or two, I've got chicken on hand, ready to be thawed and used whenever. Here's how I cook it:

1. cut two or three chicken breasts into slices
2. throw into big pan
3. add: oil (any kind of lipid, really, animal or vegetable based, about 2 Tbsp), 1 Tbsp black pepper, 1 Tbsp salt, 1 Tbps oregano, maybe half a cup of hot sauce, maybe half a cup of lemon juice. Mix these things right in the pan. Add any other spices if you're feeling feisty.
4. cook down, stirring, until dry.

You now have a big-ass bowl of sliced seasoned chicken that took maybe fifteen minutes to make and will last in the fridge for several days, ready for a variety of dishes. Instant lean protein, and delicious! You can throw it on salads, on pasta, or in my own Special Recipe: standing in front of the fridge after returning home from work, wearing a bovine expression, dipping pieces of it in ranch dressing or hummus while the cats look up at you and meow.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:03 AM on July 29, 2011 [10 favorites]

I used to think I had no time for cooking. But if you can cook something in under 10 minutes, there's really no excuse. Also, if you find something that tastes great and is good for you, make that your default go-to food. The book or smartphone app How To Cook Everything is well-written and explains techniques and ingredients in a friendly, succinct way for beginners. I recommend it.

My main dinner thing is so quick and so tasty and I'm always surprised at how few calories it has. I usually buy organic chicken breast from the local deli shop (costs a bit more but is much higher quality than the Tyson stuff at the supermarket. I'll buy that too sometimes.) Somtimes I'll buy the pre-marinated stuff, sometimes I won't. I have a bunch of these in my freezer, and I'll thaw one in the refrigerator the night before. Then I just chop that up, saute it in a pan with 1 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil. Chop up onions and green peppers and throw them in. 7-10 minutes and it's done. Then add that to a big pile of greens (fresh spinach leaves, arugula, whatever). This fills me up for dinner, the chicken is tasty as hell, and it's barely 400 calories. I just spice it up in different ways, add different veggies and ingredients. I don't know if this even qualifies as cooking, it's so basic, but it's satisfying in a way most processed carb packages can't touch.
posted by naju at 10:10 AM on July 29, 2011

I try to follow one simple rule - no "empty calories". If I can't identify what benefit foods are giving me, then I don't eat them, particularly if they are high in calories. Also, I try to minimize processed foods, so I guess that's two rules.

Of course sometimes I just need some ice cream or buffalo wings (not together, of course), but that's a once a month or every few months indulgence, and I keep the portion small.
posted by jshort at 10:23 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fresh Direct also has 400 calorie meals that are microwaveable and pretty tasty. It can get expensive to load up on them for every meal, so sometimes when I don't feel like cooking I'll split one between lunch and dinner and add -- you guessed it --vegetables to round out the meal.
posted by sweetkid at 10:26 AM on July 29, 2011

1. Redefine what you think of as "cooking." Assembling quick meals counts as cooking. Throwing one of those grilled chicken breasts from the deli on top of some lettuce counts as cooking. Tossing rice in the rice cooker and some veg in the microwave while you read a book counts as cooking.

2. Get a rice cooker. Try lots of different grains- farro, quinoa, kamut. You throw grains and water in and it cooks without you. Magic!

3. Play the game of trying to eat as many different fruits and vegetables in a day as you can. How can I fit fruit into breakfast? How can I put more veggies on my sandwich? Would zucchini taste good in this jar of pasta sauce? When you tally at the end of the day and realize you've eaten about 12 different fruit and veg, you'll feel really good.

4. Canned tuna is your friend. Instant protein. Put it on salad. I throw it into jarred pasta sauce with some frozen peas over whole wheat noodles. Carb, veg, protein, bam!

And for examples' sake, here is my healthy day (yesterday's menu):

Breakfast: Yogurt with honey, muesli and raspberries, cup of coffee. Sometimes a piece of whole grain toast and a fried egg.

Lunch: Quinoa, corn, black bean salad made with the dump method outlined above. I made the dressing, but buying a tasty jar of vinegar based dressing is a great way to cut some time on that front.

Snack: peanuts, raisins, and chocolate chips. I'm sort of still in trail mode from backpacking, I would probably prefer a granola bar.

Dinner: Tomato, basil, mozzarella sandwich on crusty french bread. Ideally I'd also have a big salad with this, but I was lazy.
posted by Polyhymnia at 10:29 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ok. So. Update. Just went and got lunch at our office's cafe.

They had pasta with vodka sauce, fried rice balls, and fried mozzarella sticks.


I love mozzarella sticks.


I didn't get the pasta. I got a salad with spinach, chick peas, feta, grilled chicken, and bell peppers. And I also got 2 mozzarella sticks. Cough.

Middle ground? Did I do good?
posted by functionequalsform at 10:32 AM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think you did awesome! Also, FWIW, this thread inspired me to get a salad for lunch today too. I had chicken, lettuce, chick peas and then threw in some bowtie pasta salad! Because I love pasta!
posted by sweetkid at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2011

Sounds good to me.

If you really want to have more of a yardstick for "how much of THIS vs. how much of THAT" -- a rule of thumb I heard for the proper size of a "serving" of meat is that it should be about the size of a deck of cards. If that salad had more spinach than chicken, then you're right on the money. If it was two huge slabs of chicken and a couple spinach leaves, maybe not.

But the 2 mozzarella sticks aren't going to kill you. In fact - there are some who say that if you let yourself have a LITTLE of the "treats" like that -- a little bit of cake, a couple mozzarella sticks, whatever -- now and then, it'll help you stick to your healthy eating plan better, because it'll keep you from feeling all deprived and miserable and then finally snapping and eating an entire Entemann's fudge cake at one sitting.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Frozen veggies are tasty and easy and quite nutritious, and offer variety from salad. I like the frozen peas myself. Can be heated in the microwave.

I agree with those coutuoningnyou against trying to change your whole diet, all at once. Pick one or two dead simple, fast, healthy meals and prepare them once or twice a week until they don't require any mental energy for you. Then add another thing. Etc.
posted by wyzewoman at 10:51 AM on July 29, 2011

Building on what EmpressCallipygos said.. head to a library and look at this book. I love eating. This book helped me eat more.. but it was healthier. It put lots in perspective for me.
posted by adorap0621 at 11:00 AM on July 29, 2011

Ehm: coutuoningnyou -> cautioning you.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:20 AM on July 29, 2011

I don't much like cooking and mostly use one pot and a toaster oven. Pot= hard boiled eggs, oatmeal, green beans/other greens. Toaster oven = chicken leg (extra tasty when toaster ovened- I don't know why), toast.

I like salads, so I break it up with salads that have goat cheese, hard boiled eggs, avocados and tomatos.

Otherwise I eat a lot of those greek yoghurts and I add sliced almonds and strawberries, & Cheerios, also with lots of strawberries.

For snacks I eat whatever fruit looks best at the corner market.

So far so good.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:42 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You did perfect.

BTW, please put away the idea that mozzarella is bad because it contains fat. You have been conditioned to think that you need to give up fat, carbs, dairy, meat, caffeine, and alcohol forever. You don't. You just need to give up "foods" that are industrially concocted out of styrofoam, radium, and phlogistons.

Anecdata: I bought a Duncan Hines red velvet cake mix for my birthday. Why did I do this? Why? As soon as I added the liquid the mix turned blood red. Everything in the kitchen was covered in red spatters. It looked like the aftermath of a slasher film in there. I thought to myself "it won't look red when it's baked" but no. The slices of bundt cake looked like a tray of raw lamb chops. FUUUUUUU...

p.s. It's a good idea to conclude your lunch with a little hunk of cheese, a square of dark (70% or more cocoa) chocolate, and an espresso. Try it and you will see what I mean.
posted by tel3path at 2:31 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nothing wrong with cheese. Even fried cheese, mm. But it's about quantities and balance - nothing wrong with a pizza bagel or three either in my opinion. Some folks are really dedicated to 'eating healthy' but you don't have to give up your life to it - and you don't have to give up everything you love either.

Wait, let me fix that sentence: you don't have to give up anything you love. You just have to eat other things too. My basic theory is that vegetables are the key (from culling together all the theories I could find and noticing that the one thing they had in common was 'cut out the big part of your diet that isn't vegetables'). This conveniently agrees with the latest US govt guidelines to make half your plate veggies.

A lot of people recommend salad because that's the quick and convenient way to get vegetables - easy meaning they can be raw. I think cooked veggies are underappreciated here in the US because there are a lot of people who don't know how to cook vegetables so they're delicious on their own, but only steamed or boiled as a side dish to some main meat-or-carb course. So I look at cuisines with a lot of vegetarians. My favorite thing is a good stir-fried veggie dish. Is it covered in oil and salt? Yes. Is it better for you than pizza or pasta or general tso's chicken? Yes. And it's delicious, so my boyfriend will eat it (and asks me to cook it) rather than roll his eyes at me and make Spaghetti-O's. Similarly, I'll go out for Indian and get a dry veggie dish (like an okra dish or the like) rather than a heavy curry.

Also - I'd go for the chicken and green beans, less white carbs and probably greater volume of vegetables. And the idea of "Salads. Forever." would probably make me cry.
posted by Lady Li at 8:12 PM on July 29, 2011

I was you once. I've since gotten my diet in better shape for two reasons:

1) My workout program. I realized that I was doing a lot of exercise and not seeing any kinds of results. Changed my diet and WHAM - things started happening.

2) My cholesterol. You really oughta have it checked. It's not something you can feel or measure in the mirror, but it makes a difference in your health. I had a friend who had to have bypass surgery at the age of 36.

I have developed an unholy relationship with my rice cooker. It was $15 at the grocery store and I eat vast quantities of brown rice. The other thing I hold dear is my Foreman grill, which I use for fish, veggies, most red meat.

Never a portion larger than a fist and a half or two.

It has done wonders for me both with exercise and my general attitude. I just function better when I eat better.

Great advice on food choices upthread. Hope this works out for you.
posted by Thistledown at 8:21 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also think we're saying salads because it's summer in NYC, and damn it's hot.
posted by sweetkid at 8:21 PM on July 29, 2011

You'll find the Eat This, Not That books helpful. They tell you which packaged and restaurant foods are especially bad and give suggested substitutions.
posted by massysett at 2:42 AM on July 30, 2011

if you seriously cannot bring yourself to cook like at all, but still want to eat fairly unprocessed main components and have the money to burn, you could always go this route and start making a routine of picking up the rotissiere roasted (not fried or breaded) whole chickens or turkey breasts at the grocery deli. yes, roasting one yourself is wiser, but it could be a's instant food and you can do various things with it--eat a leg or thigh straight with other veggies, or teae it up to top salads or make sandwiches with. you can keep the bones for stock too, if you start feeling ambitious. it is straight up instant unboxed food you can use as a building block for lunches along with veggies good raw or unfutzed with (romaine hearts, cherry tomatoes, maybe some nuts or fruit, and dressing, bam). tuna or other tinned fish is another fairly unprocessed instant component.

as everyone said, everyone's specific meal plan examples may differ wildly. but i do agree with getting the general notion of what's right in your head as general guidelines--things like "have 2 servings of veggies for both lunch and dinner, and fruit for breakfast or a snack every day" to get those 5 in daily, "make sure there's a strong shot of protein every meal, it should take precedence over empty carbs like rolls or potatoes" etc. one thing that helped me when i started was using stuff like and a food diary (i liked the kind you download that sits on your desktop, i'm blanking on its name right now though, alas, but there's sparkpeople or livestrong too) to figure out what i was chronically missing nutrient wise and what mattered, finding foods on nutritiondata that would fit the bill that were affordale and available and palatable to me, and having lists of those foods i could look on next time i was getting tired of the same old thing or seasons changed or whatever. i even broke it down by which ingredients/veggies/etc. i'd want for which kind of meal (breakfast, dinner) so i could be like "it's lunchtime, what would be wise to ea" and look and see and go from there. a possiile approach.

as for cooking and time, lots of healthy options are marinate or assemble and let sit in the fridge, maybe you could do those and just grab from the fridge then. mollie katzen is good about having recipes like that (her marinated tofu salad is yummy), and i know there are askme threads with tons of recipes for that sort of thing (look for make ahead, lunch, or salad tags).

and yeah, as mentioned above, perfect is the enemy of good here. just set limits for often you eat junk, or make it an occasional treat or whatever, and focus on improvement but don't beat yourself up over not having it 100% together instantly. even knocking out one habit at a time helps (like the classic don't drink soda) then do it if it's easier than rehaul. etc.
posted by ifjuly at 8:11 AM on July 31, 2011

It sounds like you've tried to eat 'healthy' before and ended up feeling hungry soon thereafter. Make sure your meal has enough protein and fat, as that is what will leave you feeling full. So if you have a salad, make sure it has something like chicken or beans or tofu (for protein) and some olive oil (for fats).

And one tip on the things like pizza bagels and mozzerella sticks: I've found that when eating really rich/sugary/cheesy things, if I really, actually pay attention to every bite I'm eating I need far less of it to feel satisfied. Note: this is really hard to do when eating with other people.
posted by squasher at 1:57 PM on August 3, 2011

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