I hated that saying. I would gladly put in an extra hour working out each day if it meant I could eat whatever I wanted. As much as I wanted to ignore this advice, I had to admit that, anecdotally, I found it to be extremely true. While I've managed to get in better shape through various workout routines over the years, the quickest improvements to my health have always been tied to changes in my diet.
The first significant improvement came when I finished college and moved out of my fraternity house. Don't get me wrong, I loved our house chef, and her meals were delicious, but she was from the south and butter was the main ingredient in most dishes. When I moved into a townhouse for grad school and started cooking on my own the pounds seemed to melt off.
The second, more recent, occurrence was when I stopped buying lunch at my works cafeteria, and started cooking enough when I made dinner to have leftovers for lunch throughout the week. While my cooking is probably a little healthier than the cafeteria's, I think the main difference was regaining control over my portion sizes. It was too easy to eat whatever our cafeteria deemed a meal without stopping to think how much food it really was.
Transitioning to cooking for myself has been challenging at times, but it has definitely been worth it. I want to share some of the tips and tricks that have helped me make the shift, and then in later blog posts I'll share my experience with some specific recipes. If you want a preview of what's to come, check out my Instagram account, which is full of pictures of my home cooking. This post will focus on two tips: cooking in bulk and healthy substitutions.
As much as I enjoy cooking, it can be a bit frustrating to spend an hour prepping a meal only to sit down to eat it alone, finish in ten minutes, and then have to go clean the kitchen. That's why I try to find recipes that are easy to scale up, cook in bulk, and have easily microwaveable meals for the next few days. This especially comes in handy now that I'm bringing my own lunches to work.
Some weeks I can get away with only cooking one or two nights, as long as the food is tasty enough that I don't mind the repetition throughout the week. This helps make the process more bearable, and I'm also more willing to try out new recipes that may be a little more involved (plus anything takes longer to make the first time as you learn the recipe). This in turn reduces the temptation to eat out or, even worse, grabbing fast food on the way home.
It's important to keep in mind that not all home cooked meals are created equal. You still need to pay attention to what you're making and how healthy it is. A lot of the meals I'll share follow a fairly simple blue print - pick a lean protein, add two sides (a vegetable and a healthy starch, or better yet two vegetables), and if that doesn't look like enough, throw in a salad.
The second piece of advice helps when you want to break that pattern but the recipe you've found isn't as healthy as you'd like. I call it "healthy substitutions". The basic idea is you take a recipe, identify some of the less healthy ingredients, and find healthier options that you can use instead. There are lots of articles offering specific substitutions out there (just search on Google or Pinterest), but here's one of my favorites to get you started. Bonus tip: when grocery shopping stick to the perimeter of the store as much as possible. That's where the healthiest food is. Instead of venturing down one of the isles, stop and think if you can use a healthy substitution instead.
Both of these tips are all about enjoying your healthy eating. Cooking in bulk means you don't have to dread cooking and cleaning for every meal, and using healthy substitutions lets you cook a wider variety of recipes. That's because I'm I firm believer that the best way to improve how you eat is through small sustainable changes to your diet. None of these tips are about going on an actual diet. While there are some great diets out there, if you can't stick with it, they won't help. Powering through a short term diet that you don't enjoy won't lead to sustainable improvements in your health in the long run.
Feel free to share any other tips that have helped you start eating healthier in the comments, and stay tuned for my next healthy eating blog post where I'll tell y'all all about the zucchini lasagna I made last week (spoiler: it uses both tips shared above!).