Life is hectic. Like many of you, I’m always on the go. I travel for work and some days in the operating room, I don’t get a break for 12 hours. After 12 hours I could literally eat anything…I mean anything…and trying to eat healthy is a battle.
But one thing I found during my cancer battle is that we truly are what we eat. Food is fuel. If you fill your gas tank with shit, your car is going to run like shit. Our bodies work the same way.
You may not notice this immediately. If you eat a Big Mac, your body isn’t going to instantly fail or melt or anything. But over time, you’ll notice that you’re not your best self.
Maybe you start to feel tired or sluggish every day. Or your immune system weakens and you get sick more often. Maybe your memory gets foggy and you aren’t putting your best foot forward at work or failing to meet deadlines.
I my case, my immune system failed to fight off cancer and it had begun to spread. While I was going through treatment, I was determined to improve the odds and help my immune system fight. One of the best ways to do this is through a healthy diet.
I started juicing. Vegetables were my main source of food. I went all organic and grass fed, and I cut out wheat and sugar.
I’m not going to lie – it was REALLY difficult. There were nights when I would make 2 dinners – one for my husband and one for me. I was constantly in the kitchen trying new things and a lot of the things I made tasted AWFUL.
But I kept at it and kept trying new recipes until I found meals that I liked.
And you know what? I felt great. After I was through with treatment, I had a ton of energy.
Now, a year and a half later and back to work, I struggle to keep my diet as healthy as it once was. Juicing and staying wheat-free are practically impossible on the road. Being militant about food is not how I want to live the rest of my life.
So I allow myself much more wiggle room to eat what I want – within reason. I always try to abide by these two simple rules to make sure I don’t totally fall off the wagon.
1 – Always have a fruit or a vegetable at EVERY meal
My golden rule. ALWAYS have a fruit or a veg with a meal.
Here are a few examples:
Breakfast is the hardest meal for me to make this change, but with a little thought and creativity, it’s now the norm. For example, I’ll add in spinach or mushrooms to my scrambled eggs. I add fruit (blueberries or strawberries) to my cottage cheese. I’ll often add spinach or salsa to my avocado toast (because I’m a little obsessed with avocado toast).
For lunch, I substitute carrots instead of chips. Or I have a side of coleslaw instead of pasta salad. (Cabbage is a GREAT cancer fighter BTW!) I LOVE having salad for lunch because it’s fast, easy, and it doesn’t give me the 3 o’clock sleepy feel.
For dinner, adding in veggies is easy. I always try to have 2 different veggies instead of a veg and a starch. We occasionally do rice or corn but I try to avoid potatoes. Its such a simple swap, and I never to go bed feeling heavy.
This rule not only helps me eat healthier, but it makes me think about what I’m going to put in my body. It helps me stay mindful that my everyday decisions make a difference.
It also helps me to separate food from emotion – something that my Italian family instilled in me and I’m still trying to break that cycle. Since I was young, food was a sign of love and emotion. This food journey has taught me that the meaning of food is what you make it to be, but the outcome is still the same.
What the heck does that mean?? I mean our mealtime decisions are largely based on our emotions. If we’re sad we have emotional food choices that are different than if we were happy.
For example, eating a bag of Doritos is emotional eating. But what if I switched that bag to a bowl of fruit? If I do this enough times, my emotional connection to that bag of Doritos changes and I start to reach for the bowl of fruit instead. I still get that warm-and-fuzzy feeling of calming my mental state but without the nutritional turmoil.
This has slowly helped me to re-frame mealtime emotions and the meaning of food. Food is now fuel rather than my emotional state at the time.
Do I slip up and break the fruit/veg rule some days? Absolutely.
But I always try and get back on the wagon at the next opportunity. Which brings me to rule #2.
2 – the 80/20 rule
We’re all human. We all mess up. When I’m traveling, I’m oftentimes surrounded by not-so-healthy choices.
Or maybe I really am just CRAVING that burger and fries. (I AM human, you know 🙂 )
So have the burger and fries!! Gosh, I’m by no means a super zealot when it comes to downright hardcore cravings.
I allow myself the leeway to break rule #1 with rule #2. I eat healthy 80% of the time and allow myself to cheat 20% of the time.
So why do I even make this a rule? Because it’s so easy to fall off the wagon and stay there. As I mentioned earlier, food is a very emotional thing for us humans. If we fall victim to our cravings, we’ll often pass the buck to the next meal. And then the next meal. And before you know it, we have a steady diet of junk and we feel helpless.
It happens all the time. For example, let’s say someone starts a new diet for a week or so. Everything is going great until they forget to grab their pre-made breakfast to eat on their drive to work. When they get to the office, they grab a Snickers bar because they’re in a rush and hungry. Then at lunchtime they think, well heck, my whole day is shot now because of that candy bar – I might as well have pizza for lunch.
And so the spiral begins.
But this is all emotion. When a kid falls off their bike, do they immediately say “I’m a failure and I’m never going to ride my bike again”? If you do a crappy job parallel parking your car, do you say to yourself “I’m never going to drive again”? If you burn dinner, do you think to yourself “I’m never going to cook again?”
NO, NO and NO. But food is such an emotional thing to us that we immediately label the day as a failure if we don’t adhere to the rules.
So I worked this fail-safe into the system. Cheating is actually ADHERING to my rules. I never feel bad about having that meal where I eat junk, because I’m actually following rule #2. No guilt and no emotional whipping involved.
And I know that the next meal I will be back to rule #1.
I find that these two tips help me to eat healthy. What do YOU do to stay on track? Let me know in the comments below!