Saturday, November 14, 2009

What "healthy" means to me

I realize I've used the word "healthy" a lot in my blog posts, yet I haven't really described what I mean when I use it. "Healthy" can mean different things to different people, especially as it pertains to food.

My own interpretation of the word has changed a lot over the years. In my teenage years and early 20's, "healthy" meant fat-free; I considered healthy foods to be plain bagels with jelly, pretzels, Saltine crackers, pasta with marinara, salad with fat-free dressing, and Twizzlers.

When I went to college, I was determined to avoid gaining the "Freshmen 15," and as a preventive measure I stuck to the high carb/low fat diet that was all the rage at the time. I ate virtually no fruits and vegetables, and considered Coca-Cola a health food since it didn't have any fat. And guess what - I gained at least 15 pounds during this period of so-called "healthy" eating.

After I caught on to the scam of the high-carb/low-fat diet craze, I redefined "healthy" to be synonymous with deprivation. Eating healthy meant constant vigilance regarding your diet: banning sauces and salad dressings to "the side;" starving yourself for a day because you overindulged the day before; always turning down dessert. Since healthy eating in those terms didn't really appeal to me, I chose to eat what I wanted and exercise to make up for my bad eating habits. I figured that my margaritas, burritos, and pizza wouldn't catch up to me as long as I was hiking and yoga-ing with regularity. It worked...but those things do tend to work when you're 25 years old.

Now I define healthy foods as whole foods (ie: foods in their natural form, that haven't been processed, dyed, bleached, etc.). I don't worry much about fats unless they're trans fats, and I don't count calories. Basically, if I eat a meal that contains components of at least three food groups, and it doesn't contain preservatives, artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, or chemicals, I feel good about it.

But I also have a life that doesn't always allow for the meals I wish I could eat. In a perfect world, I would have a personal chef who would steam artichokes and broccoli for me, and cook me delicious meals of seasonal, local foods. Since I don't live in a perfect world, I start many days off with good intentions (I think I'll make grilled Tilapia and sauteed asparagus for dinner tonight) and end them with yet another frozen pizza.

Taking care of two little ones and trying to constantly cook fresh, nutritious meals around the clock just doesn't really go hand in hand. Even before I had kids, I found it nearly impossible to find the time and energy to grocery shop and cook the way I wanted to.

Therefore, I've come to view "healthy" as an attitude as much as a diet regimen. To me, healthy means trying your best to eat well, but not beating yourself up if you can't. It means eating a burger and fries from In-N-Out for lunch without feeling guilty, but then eating fruits and veggies later to compensate. It means cooking "from scratch" pancakes for breakfast one morning, and throwing a handful of dry Cheerios in a bowl the next. And it means only eating foods that you enjoy, but trying hard to find ways to enjoy foods you know are really good for you.

1 comment:

  1. I went to the local food and wine festival this weekend and even though I didn't eat the healthiest, it was all freshly cooked food that wasn't heavily processed, so I didn't feel as bad as I would have had I pigged out at McDonald's.