I've been asked many times what and how I eat; what do I put in my body that helps me maintain the benefits I've reaped from each rep and drop of sweat. While this is a completely valid question, and one that shows me someone is at the stage where they are contemplating their health, I can't help but feel it's a divining rod to help them steer around the tough answer they know is right on the surface. I think they are looking for that some buried secret that is going to put them on a private jet to the island of eternal health and fitness. It's a tough reality, but everyone on that island has had to get out their oars and row to get there.
The question they should really be asking is, "How do you shop?"
Before we can decide what we're putting in your bodies, we need to decide what we're putting in our shopping carts and, ultimately, our homes. Convenience has a lot to do with the way we eat. If we're out at a restaurant, it's easy to make a bad choice. Maybe it's a special occasion and we use apathy as our defense. Maybe we figure we're paying a considerable amount for the convenience of having it brought to us piping hot with no pots to clean up later, so we should be entitled to the alfredo drenched pasta and another helping of bread. Whatever the reason, I understand that feeling; I have it every time I go out. But, it's the voice in my head I have trained over the years that stays my tongue and empowers me to order something healthier. Sometimes I have bad luck and there's a pool of butter at the bottom of my meal. That frustrates me, but I eat it and just make sure to exercise a bit more. Now, one bad meal isn't going to make a huge difference in my physiological or physical being, but it does hit me psychologically, so I need to make that positive adjustment to keep me on track.
At home, it's so easy to open the pantry or fridge and grab what's easy. The trick is to stock easy foods that are also good for us. The fact that we crave the convenience is what will have us eating the banana instead of going to the store for a bag of chips. We have to make it a chore to eat poorly. If it's available, we'll probably eat it. So we have to make it unavailable; at least as far as it's inconvenient to obtain at the moment we're peckish.
So, how do I shop? Upon entering the store, I head directly to the produce section. This is the best place to start because you can take up a good amount of real estate in that rolling food cage. The more space you fill with the good stuff, the less space you have for the bad. Here's my cart from earlier today. I hadn't even gotten to the lean meats, eggs, and frozen veggies yet.
Everyone says you shouldn't go to the store on an empty stomach. "Don't shop hungry", they spout. I say, "Shop hungry!" If you're hungry and bee-line it to the produce section, all those vibrant colors are going to look tremendously tantalizing. Not only will this have you hoarding the healthy harvest, but it will also begin to train your brain to shop like that all the time.
Once out of the greatest place on earth, I roll on out to the meats where I stock up on all manner of poultry and the occasional red muscled mammal. From there, eggs and frozen veggies have a special place in my cart. When picking the frozen veggies, I make sure they don't have any sauces added; otherwise, it's back on the wire shelf where they can get freezer burn for all I care. Lastly, I will grab a few things from the center aisles if needed. Rice, pasta, quinoa, and barley are all great choices here. Yes, I do buy bread (a simple carb), but usually only a multi-grain with no high fructose corn syrup added.
By this point, my cart is almost full and I can see the bill adding up in my head (also a great way to avoid buying the bad stuff). Do I stop for a dessert for the myself and the family? Usually, unless I have time to make something at home. When I do buy it though, it's normally from the bakery and I read the labels. This is one of the keys to buying the right things: Shop by label. The fewer ingredients, the better. Now, that doesn't give you permission to buy a container of lard and sit in the corner with a giant spoon. Some sense has to be brought to this table when making the right choices. You'll notice veggies, fruits, and meat don't have ingredient lists. This is a good thing. As I'm writing this, a tiny voice came from downstairs that exclaimed, "Yay! Daddy bought apples!" And that would be my 7 and 3/4 (we're told not to forget the 3/4) year old looking for a mid-afternoon snack. Proud parents presiding.
So, if you're one of those souls with a divining rod, endlessly searching the land for that golden nugget, I challenge you to walk the same fluorescent lit path as roughly outlined above. It may be difficult, but what you find at the end of it may be more priceless than any buried treasure.