Diet Resolutions Stink: Healthy Eating Tips

A food writer's take on fad diets and silly diet resolutions that will never work. Because I've tried them all. Here are some more realistic answers

Everywhere around me, folks are vowing to give up sugar, gluten, white flour, coffee, meat…and the list goes on, as their New Year’s Resolutions. I feel absolutely terrible for them, because it won’t work. When you go on a diet that takes away things you love, or delicious foods that modern humans eat, it simply isn’t sustainable.

Now that I’ve burst that bubble for you, let me say that my resolution (actually I prefer “intention” but that’s just semantics) is to take care of my body and soul. That means eating what I love, but in reasonable amounts. It means walking, doing yoga, getting my heart rate up a couple times a day, and not over-indulging on a frequent basis.

I’m not skinny, or perfect but I’m happy with who I am after losing 40 pounds the hard way and I’d like to keep it that way. So after 2.5 years of weight management here’s what I’ve learned and some intentions I think anyone can stick to.

No, they’re not revolutionary, but they’re what works for me. (Also, these are just my personal recommendations based on trial and error. I am not officially endorsing, nor have I been paid to endorse any specific product).

Homemade tofu curd that I made by my very own self.
Homemade tofu curd that I made by my very own self.

Eating at least one vegan meal a week, and focusing more on plant-based foods: For me, this is more about experimentation and learning (ie: how to cook a decent pot of beans and making my own tofu for fun) than punishment. I recently substituted diced cauliflower for white rice in a dish of baked peanut tofu, and it was delicious! Action Item: Here’s the recipe. I also love Mark Bittman’s cookbooks for vegan cooking.

Making Red Meat a Treat: A few weeks ago, I promised my family I’d make steaks. I’d never cooked a steak in my life. I bought two small grain-fed rib eyes that cost a small fortune, carefully seared and then baked them in cast iron, and divided them among four people. They were the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. If you’re going to eat beef, my intention is to make it special, and as local as possible. Action Item: SoCo Meat Co. or Victorian Farmstead are two choices I like, but Oliver’s and Pacific market also have excellent selections. 

Learning portion control: I received a nice Amazon gift card this Christmas that I promptly spent on the 21 Day Fix. Hey, easy come, easy go. I’m not saying you should buy any specific weight control program, but I liked the idea of putting my portions in little containers — which is what the “fix” is about. (Here are just the portion containers) It’s shocking how little a reasonable portion is, and its also shocking to see how out of proportion my carbohydrate intake is. I also happen to really like the workouts with it. I’m not really planning to use the diet as anything but a suggestion. We’ll see how it works. Action Item: Here are some goofy portion control gadgets. Make it fun. I also think Weight Watchers is a good way to learn portion control.

Noticing my gluten and sugar intake: When you start looking at labels, it is scary how much food includes lots of sugar. In fact, its hard to eat a meal without hidden sugars somewhere. I’m noticing, and trying to make adaptations when I can, and really watching my candy intake. I’m also looking at ways to use white flour and gluten alternatives when I can. Once you really start paying attention, it’s easier to slowly make changes that are sustainable and good. If you want to eat a baguette, eat a freaking baguette. Don’t make food your enemy. Action Item: Try some alternative flours for fun. I LOVE Bob’s Red Mill and they have some great options that aren’t too expensive.

Eating What I Love, Not Eating What I Don’t Love: As a restaurant writer, I’m confronted with fattening, delicious food on an almost daily basis. Guess what? I eat it. When its really, really good, I eat it all. When it’s just okay, I only eat a bite or two. When it’s not worth it, I don’t eat it. When I’m not eating for work, I try to (“try” is the key word) eat as healthy as possible. That means after a huge feast of 8-courses of meat and pasta one night, I may fast for a day, or just eat very healthy, cleansing foods. I also try to just eat a few bites of each dish and savor them rather than mindlessly eating. It’s a give and take that works for me. Action Item: I really enjoyed this article about Mindful Eating.

Stop Snacking: Donuts at work, candy in a co-worker’s drawer, chips in the pantry are all my kyptonite. I’m learning to walk by, or try to eat some veggies instead. This is the time for real self-control, and reminding myself that the calories just aren’t worth it. As hard as it is, tell yourself how good you’ll feel later without that jelly donut gurgling in your gut. It really does feel good to be able to walk away. When I just can’t, I try hard to take a little longer walk later. Action Item: Journal what you eat. I’ve tried a lot of different ways, and I like MyFitnessPal.

Lunches at home (or packed): I’m fortunate to live near my work, so I go home for lunch most days and walk my dog. I eat very little, and spend the time walking. Lunch is a killer, and a waste of calories and money if you’re just buying a sandwich or fast food because you’re too lazy to do anything else. Action Item: Get a really fun bento box to make your lunch pretty.

Be Kind and Forgiving to Me: Stop beating yourself up about what you eat. I’ve learned that all the guilt and pain of overeating just made me want to eat more to drown my sorrows. Have you ever done the “I’m gonna pig out now and I’ll start my diet tomorrow” thing? Me too. When I pig out on something totally not worth it (I ate an entire box of Snackwell Devil’s Food Cookies the other day), I tell myself I’ll do better tomorrow. I make a plan to drink more water, and try to write down how I’ll nourish myself with love. I don’t just starve myself for no reason. When you want to pig out, think about what’s really bugging you, and try to do something to actually make yourself feel better (call a friend, take a walk, listen to a really cool book on tape). Inspire yourself. Failing is okay, but success feels so much better. Action Item: Forgive yourself and spend some time with Michael Pollan.

What are you resolutions?