Baby Step 5: It’s Time For A Plan

By now I suspect you’re getting a little weary of legwork.  You’ve experimented with a swap, you’ve kept a food journal, and you’ve investigated your pantry, and you’ve thought for a bit about how to get those with whom you eat the most on board with the idea of a new approach to food.  You didn’t realize you’d already done so much, did you?  Didn’t do it all?  That’s okay.  Jump in here, go back to the beginning and start there – whatever.  There is no timeline.

The only due date I’d like to suggest is that you do something today.  No, don’t wait until January…  Waiting until January means losing a month of taking baby steps down the road.  Yes, there are more holidays coming, and you can decide how to deal with them, but they aren’t TODAY.  There’s no reason you can’t get a little ahead of the game and celebrate whatever season it is for you with a glow of better health and the satisfaction of knowing that in addition to anything you’re doing for others, you’re also taking care of yourself.  Convinced?  Yay!  It’s time to make a plan….

Gather your stuff.  Get that food journal.  Open that pantry door.  Peek in the refrigerator.  Your mission is to make a list of foods that you’d like to baby step out of your diet.  No, you don’t need to come up with a specific number.  And yes, we will help you figure out which ones to start with if you’re not sure.  Let’s see if we can’t make some progress with a few simple questions.

  1. As you look at your food journal, is there something that you know is unhealthy and that you eat regularly for the sake of convenience or to treat yourself?  Perhaps you have a soda habit or a frappucino addiction.  These are perfect places to start – a food that is not a meal, it’s offering no nutrition, and it’s loaded with sugar.  Am I telling you to ditch them altogether? You know me better than that. Cut them out, cut them down, wean yourself, swap them out for something healthier.  Whatever a baby step is to you… do that.
  2. As you consider your food choices, does carry out or fast food play a major role in your lunch or dinner meal planning?  Set a goal for eating one more home cooked meal or one more brown bagged lunch per week than whatever your current total is.
  3. As you examine that pantry you’ve already peeped in, take notice of the number of packaged snacks.  This is an excellent place to experiment with some snack swaps or learning to make a homemade snack.
  4. As you peek in the fridge, take notice of the beverages that are available.  How many of them are sweet?  How many of them are juice or juice-like?  Another excellent place to get started.  Remember, you don’t have to throw it out (unless you want to, and I’m certainly not going to stop you).  Cut the amount, cut the frequency, mix it with water, swap it for something healthier.
  5. Still not sure where to get started?  Some basic categories you should consider: foods with a lot of sugar or corn syrup, foods that contain excessive fat (especially hydrogenated fats), foods that contain excessive sodium (in all its forms), and highly processed foods (like those that stay good for a REALLY long time).
  6. Still at a loss?  I’m going to point you toward Michael Pollin’s food rules – eat food, real food, mostly vegetables.

Overwhelmed.  Don’t be.  Now is when you take all those answers and thinking and make a list of foods or food categories that you want to work to eliminate from your diet.  It could look something like this:

  • sugary cereals
  • soda
  • chips
  • carry out

My current list looks like this

  • caffeine (UGH)
  • salt on the plate
  • afternoon sweet

So am I going to do all of these at once?  Maybe, but I won’t cut them all out.  For my caffeine problem, I’m switching from two large mugs of my beloved coffee to one of coffee and one of black tea.  The next step will be to switch the black tea out for green tea.  Then black tea in the a.m., green tea in the afternoon… you get the picture.  I have reduced caffeine before and in addition to the headache, I’ve found that being abrupt on this one makes me miserable and inflicts some level of misery on those around me….  so I’m going to step it down, achieve my goal at a pace that allows me to make adjustments, allows me to tame my body’s addiction over time without being a horrible grouch for the holidays.

Once you’ve got a list of things you’d like to cut/limit/wean yourself off of, choose a starting place.  Pick one of them and consider how you want to proceed.  Limit the quantity?  Swap it out? Cut it altogether?  Your answer will be different from my answer – what is a baby step to you may seem like a huge leap to me.  This is YOUR plan, not a test of your character, but  series of decisions you get to make for yourself.

Finally, write down the steps you’re going to follow to get started on that change.  If you’re going to limit your quantity, write down how that’s going to work – what’s the new limit and what are you going to do to replace that item?  If you’re cutting a sweet treat in the middle of your work day, what are you going to either eat or do to replace that ritual?  Write it down.  Write down your start date (today) and then give yourself a goal date for reaching whatever your desired change is on that item.

If you want to ditch chewy granola bars, write down when you’re going to start (today), write down what you’re going to do instead (there could be a few steps here), and write down the date by which you hope to be done changing this food habit.  Does that mean you’ll never eat one again?  Maybe, but probably not.

Remember what Big Sis said – the key to healthy eating is making healthful decisions as often as you can.  Establish a new pattern so that the chewy granola bar (or soda, or candy or drive through) is an exception rather than the rule. Open the door to improved nutrition and prepare to be wowed as your taste buds come back to life and you discover new satisfaction in eating for your health.

And just in case you’re wondering, this isn’t all about what we cut out… we have plenty of suggestions about what to cut in. A little delish, morning, noon, and night comin’ up.
If you need help with some swaps, read this step.  No suggestion that works for you there?  Ask us!  We’ll answer, and probably some others will too.  You don’t have to figure it all out yourself… and if you don’t like your plan a week from now, know what you get to do?  Change it.  It’s YOUR plan.

Baby Step #3 – Pantry Perusal

Even a baby step moves you forward.  Look down and gaze at those lovely toes of yours and see how they are inching down the road to better health.  Even a little healthier is better than no healthier… and it’s a whole lot better than less healthy.

There are many reasons, both sensible and reprehensible, why the American diet is full of chemicals and other substances that seem to wreak havoc on our bodies.  Whatever the reasons, however, the result is the same – vastly increased rates of obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease and hypertension.  So what are we going to do about it?  Make the change towards real food one step at a time.  If you are new to this journey, you might want to skip back in the blog to Baby Step #1 and catch up, but you are welcome to ease on down the road with us from any junction.

Baby Step #2 suggested you make note of what you are eating so that you can become more aware of what you are eating.  Of course you know what you are putting into your mouth, but when you think a little bit more about it, there might be time for planning to make a change.

If a healthful meal happens one more time a week than it used to, then you are making progress.  I certainly couldn’t change the way I feed my family dinner every night of the week in one swell foop!  (What the heck IS a foop, anyhow?)  Baby Step #3 takes you into your pantry (or cupboard, fridge, freezer) for some more observations.

Baby Step #3: Pantry Perusal

Pantry perusal is taking a good look at what you keep on hand.  Little Sis and I both have a short list of items that we try to always have in the pantry because they are ‘go to’ items.  They are items that help us on the nights when there is no time, or there was no planning, or when the alternative is overpaying for some food that is bad for us.  Here’s a peek at a corner of my pantry.

Okay, I confess, this is one of the neater corners of my pantry…

Make a list of what’s in your pantry and give those items a little thought.

- What’s IN what’s in your pantry?

- Are the items in your pantry INGREDIENTS or are they things you need to warm up or simply unwrap to eat?

- Are you buying foods that you know you shouldn’t eat but can’t resist eating if they are in your house?

- Are you buying foods you would like to limit for your children?

- Are you buying convenience foods that are not really good, but “who has time to make that from scratch?”  (We’re going to help you with this one… I promise!)

Perhaps your pantry perusal brings you back to Baby Step #1 where you decided to switch something out. Maybe you’re ready to make another switch like brown rice in place of instant potatoes or stuffing.  Maybe you’re going to switch out dried fruit and nuts for candy.  Maybe you’re going to acquire some new grains like quinoa that are healthy and quick.

Little Sis and I are going to share our lists for what the ‘go to’ items are in our pantries and provide you with links to ideas for easy healthy meals using those items in a few days.  For now, just take that Baby Step towards being more aware of what kind of food is consistently present in your house.

Again, Baby Steps 2 & 3 are prep work.  You are preparing to be enlightened (in more ways than one, know what I’m saying?).  You are going to become more conscious of, and thoughtful about, your food choices.  Because they are choices.  They are often difficult choices, especially in light of the speed of our culture and the incredible advertising machine that profits the Prepared Foods industry at the cost of our health.  But you set yourself up for better choices if the stuff of better choices is readily available.

The wonderful thing about choices regarding food is that you get another chance at the food choices at least 3 times a day.  We’re right there with you making choices every day, so respond with questions or comments and come back in a few days for a peek inside my Sister’s pantry.  No, my Sister’s pantry.  No, my Sister’s pantry.  My Sister’s pantry.  Mom!  She’s bugging me!

This post was shared on Wildcrafting Wednesday.

Baby Step 2: Be Fearless. Be Honest.

The Sis sisters want you to feel good, to eat well, and to enjoy your food.  We do not want you to go on a diet.  There are so many diets out there, so many plans that will tell you exactly what you will eat and will give you a variety of ways of measuring, quantifying, and analyzing your food so that you can be sure you’re staying on plan.  This is not what we’re about.

Baby Steps to Better Health is a way to learn how to eat real food, healthful food; to learn how to change your relationship with food and to move from a place of deprivation to a place of healthful and satisfying abundance.  So the first step asked you to make a switch, to find one unhealthy item in your diet and switch it out for something healthier.  Didn’t do it yet?  Didn’t go so well?  Went great?  It’s all good.  You can jump in where we are, start from the first step, whatever you like.  Any step you take towards healthier eating is a good one.  Today, we’re going to get started on Step 2: Be Fearless. Be Honest. Huh?

I used to teach and one of the things my colleagues and I constantly reminded ourselves was that you have to teach where the student is.  You have to figure out what they know if you want to teach them something new.  The same is true for any habit or change that we are trying to make, isn’t it?  If I want to build a table, I need to get real honest with myself about my carpentry skills; I have to see if I have the materials required; I (this is certainly true for me) would have to learn some very specific skills; then I would be ready to start building successfully, rather than making the kind of table I would make if I just started banging away with hammer and nails(and believe me I speak from experience here as I am a long-time bang away at the unknown kind of gal).

The next few baby steps are prep work, getting honest with ourselves about what we eat, investigating the materials we have on hand, and learning some new skills.  Rather than thrashing about and banging away at our food, our self-esteem, our bodies, and our nerves, it seems wise to take some time to gather our resources and suss out exactly where this road starts so we can get on with making it go somewhere healthy and delicious.

What I’m going to suggest here may put some of you off, and perhaps that’s why I’ve been jabbering (stalling) here.  I want to suggest that you keep a food journal… NONONONONO don’t click away.  I’m not talking about THAT kind of food journal.  I don’t want you to measure your stuff and write down how many calories are in things.  I don’t want you to assign numbers to your food.  I don’t want you to categorize your food and check things off.  I don’t want you to freak out about writing these things down.

I just want to suggest that you make a note of what you’re eating (including snacks).  Why?  So we can post them and judge each other?  I’m hoping you know us better than that, but in case you’re concerned, no, there will be no judging.  The Sis sisters both know from experience that a lot of eating is driven by habit and convenience.  A great deal of our munching is not really considered, it may be reflex, it may be habit, it may be a lot of things, but getting it on a piece of paper makes it really easy to look at our choices and find some places to begin, to set some goals for ourselves, to identify good candidates for the kinds of switches that we’ve suggested in Baby Step 1.

Be Fearless. Be Honest. Write It Down. 

A few months ago I realized that I was putting on a little weight and was feeling a bit lethargic, weighed down, a little slow and unmotivated.  I began to pay attention to, and to write down, what I was eating.  I realized that every day while I was making dinner, there was quite a bit of snacking going on.  The exact contents varied, but more often than not a fair amount of salt and fat worked their way in there.  Some days I nibbled so much that I wasn’t even hungry for the delicious, healthful meal I had prepared for my family.  It took my attention to identify that habit, to realize that I was letting myself get too hungry at that hour and to be sure to listen to the call of the wild stomach before I became a ravening beast.  I needed to see it to make the change.  Once I saw it, it was very easy to identify some changes that I could make.  I didn’t need anybody to tell me what to cut first – I knew it.  I could see it right there on the page.

Be Fearless. Be Honest. Write It Down.

So what should this food journal look like?  You know what I’m going to say, right?  I don’t care what it looks like.  I don’t care what you write it on.  I don’t care if you use shorthand.  I don’t care if you write it with a crayon with your toes.  My only recommendation is that you put it together in such a way that you will be able to look at a whole week or so without a lot of effort – so writing each day on the back of a receipt that is in your wallet full of receipts from the last 4 months (is this just me?) is probably not the way to go.  Beyond that knock yourself out.  Write it wherever, however, this is YOUR exercise.  You are finding the real starting point for YOUR road to healthier eating.  No numbers, no measuring, just a log of what you are doing.  No judgment, no fear, no recrimination.  You can do this.  Just take a step, with a pen (or a crayon) and a piece of paper.  We’ll take it with you.  We can be fearless and honest together.  Okay, GO!