I have been approached a lot lately by friends and readers who want to know how they can get started on a healthy lifestyle. And depending on the person and what I can gather about her goals, I give a different answer. But really, I wish I could give the same answer across the board. If I could, it would be: START BY DEFINING ‘HEALTHY’.
Really, though, the people who are asking me this question are interested in becoming healthy in a general sense. They want to feel better. They know that how they are living is not healthy but aren’t sure where to go for answers. And I am afraid for these people because where they start depends on who they ask—and not everyone is going to give what I feel is a good answer. I am so tempted to make this another “prioritize your health and don’t fall for fads” post. But I am going to resist this time. Chances are, you’ve read enough of my blog to know my opinions on the matter.
Bandwagons are bad, mmmkay?
So. If you ask me where to start, I will first ask you to define your goals, priorities, and beliefs. But let’s assume that you want to know how you can get away from processed foods, you want to be good to your body by maintaining a balanced nutritional intake, and you want to contribute to your local economy…but you have no idea where to start and it all looks too overwhelming. In THAT case, here’s what I would suggest:
Don’t try to save the world in a day! I have a friend who donated or threw away all of her packaged foods and started fresh with a refrigerator full of fruits and veggies. While that is amazing and I admire her total commitment, it’s not practical for someone on a budget. If you can do it, go for it. Otherwise, start with a long-term goal and several short term goals leading up to it. Here is a rough sketch:
Draw the line at fast food. There is no argument in its favor! Figure out how to cook, pack meals ahead, and have food ready in place of your go-to fast food meal. Spend this week tracking those moments when you would normally eat fast food, and find alternatives. If you eat a lot of fast food, this may be a two week venture.
add more fruits, nuts, and veggies to your meals
stop buying foods that come in boxes, bags, or tins
as you increase your vegetable and fruit consumption, slowly use up what you have left in your pantry, while decreasing your dependence on it. Believe it or not, making your own pasta, broths, and tortillas is super easy and inexpensive.
Get acqainted with your kitchen; spend this time cooking and learning about how to shop and prepare meals.
Start focusing on the fruits and veggies that are in season (what? No tomatoes in December?! ). I don’t mean to suggest that you give up anything not in season. Yet (hehe). But you’ll feel a connection to nature that is important to this experience.
When you can, buy them from a farmers market or better yet, join a CSA! Start branching out and learning about new foods like beans and grains, especially the ones with the highest protein content (hint: quinoa and lentils!). This will prepare you for the next month…
Turn your attention to your meat. Where are you getting it? How much are you eating? Reduce your consumption of hormone-treated, mass-produced meat. Reduce your consumption or reconsider your priority. Hormone-free chicken is much more expensive…but don’t give up. Do you really NEED to eat half a pound per serving, three meals a day? There are other ways to get protein. Maybe this is not a priority for you, but at least give it some thought.
(Hopefully, you reach this month right around springtime…if not, it might be month ten for you like it was for me…)
Start thinking about next winter. There will be no farmers market, and in-season produce is limited. If you eat a lot of tomatoes like I do, buy the hell out of them and learn how to can them! This isn’t a good step one move, and maybe you won’t quite be ready by month four. Maybe it will take one year, five years, or ten years; maybe you will decide that being entirely dependent on local produce is not your priority. Totally fine. But it’s ok to be a work in progress—long-term goals keep us healthy!