You want to be healthy. But your fridge is full of midnight snack food. You keep saying you’ll clean up your act, then you head to the kitchen shelves for a mega-bag of dubiously flavored potato chips.
The truth is – it’s easier to be good to yourself when your fridge and shelves are full of good things. Late nights, stress at work, seasonal blues, and unrealized expectations about your own metabolism (“I’ll lose 7.5 lbs by next weekend”) are a recipe for disaster when coupled with a kitchen stuffed with binge foods.
Here’s a suggestion. This weekend, wake up at a reasonable hour, make a large pot of coffee (or tea, if you prefer), have something nourishing for breakfast (eggs, grilled tomatoes, some spinach and a slice of intensely multi-grain toast) and then detox your kitchen.
That way your excellent intentions will be supported by the proper nutrition on hand.
Because it’s time to quit eating over the sink, or mindlessly grazing in front of the television. It’s far kinder to yourself to mull over your day with a real meal, at the table, decent flatware, perhaps even listening to a gripping tale of fantasy and freedom. Or, you know, having a real face-to-face conversation if someone else is around.
What to throw out
Put some brown bags by the fridge door and toss everything in your fridge that’s loaded with sugar – even fake sugar – or carbs that turn to sugar in your body. It’s not just about the empty calories – it’s about the secondary depressant effects of sugar on your mood.
According to the National Cancer Institute, American adults consume about 15 teaspoons of added sugar a day. There are also 50+ names for sugar so you’re not just looking for that word, you’re also going to chuck out anything with glucose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, molasses and everything else that doesn’t nourish you.
Toss out sodas, puddings, white bread, mayonnaise (yes, Miracle Whip counts), white rice, jams/jellies, white pasta and any fast food leftovers. Once the fridge is clear of “danger” foods, which spike your blood sugar level and then leave you crashing by mid-afternoon, move to the kitchen shelves. You want to get rid of cake mixes, mac-n-cheese boxes, instant (anything) and boxes of crunchy snacks (potato chips and the rest). This stuff is high in salt and highly processed. No one of it will help you support a strong immune system.
Now don’t trash the food – you might be getting healthy, but some people are starving and don’t get to make great choices quite yet. Donate the food to a homeless shelter (call ahead first) or halfway house for people returning to life outside the criminal justice system. They could use it. You just don’t need it in your life anymore. But don’t let it go to waste.
What to buy
Research published in the Journal of Nutrition Education Behavior points out that taking time to write out a grocery list (or type it into your smartphone) is associated with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI), especially for people with high-risk disordered eating issues.
You can use our master list (see below) as a baseline of foodstuffs to stock up on. Taking a list to the store – or saving it to do online grocery shopping – means you’ll make healthier choices.
Also, never shop while hungry. You’re just asking to load up on the high fat/high sugar, low nutritional value foods which just happen to be at eye level while waiting at the checkout line.
WebMD suggests making a grocery list by aisle so you can be more efficient (and also avoid temptation). Beware of “gluten free” options which can be highly processed. Try to buy nothing that has over three ingredients on the package. In fact, start reading labels. It’s the quickest way to make healthier choices.
Start to learn what’s in season (it’s also usually cheaper, and often grown locally). Your body is going to re-learn how to eat – and you’ll notice pretty quickly, after detoxing from sugar-filled foodstuffs, that you’ll develop a more natural appetite (salads in summer, soups in winter).
- Fresh vegetables/fruit: leafy greens (kale, spinach), carrots, cabbage, cucumber, butter lettuce, avocados (in season), tomatoes, onions, garlic, mushrooms, apples (in season), bananas, oranges, lemons.
- Kitchen cupboard staples: Oats (whole grain, not instant). Cans of beans and pulses (navy, cannellini, lentils, split peas, chickpeas – go crazy, make your own hummus!). Pasta/rice: Go for “whole wheat” or “whole grain” pasta (hint: it’s going to be brown, not white). Try some of the brown rice versions if you want to cut down on flour. Be adventurous and try quinoa (it’s gluten-free and has all nine essential amino acids). Cans of (plain) tomatoes and tomato paste (for making simple sauces). Jars of pesto (put in fridge once opened). Olive oil – you don’t need to splash out on a fancy brand. Spices: turmeric (great for digestion), curry powder (adds a kick, you don’t want bland food), cinnamon (lowers blood pressure), cardamon (soothing and aromatic added to warm milk before bed). Nuts/seeds: cashews, sunflower seeds, unsalted pecans. Caveat: only buy in small quantities as it’s easy to go through a whole bag of these things. Cans of coconut milk (for quick aromatic Thai curries).
- Bread: Pick something dense with a lot of “food” in it. You’re looking for the words “whole grains” or “whole wheat flour,” and at least four grams of fiber.
- Dairy/non-Dairy alt: If you feel brave, switch to dairy alternative milks like (unsweetened) almond or oat. Otherwise, go for low fat and see if you can do your research on dairy brands with no growth hormone issues. (Plain) yogurt is great. Careful with the cheese – it’s very high in fat. Pick up some firm tofu to swap out meat for another protein-rich food.
- Meat/fish: A plant-based diet is the healthiest option, and good for the planet, but if you’re still eating meat and/or fish, pick poultry (chicken) over red meat if possible, and go for good oily fish like salmon, mackerel or trout.
Tips to try.
- Make a large pitcher of tap water with generous chunks of lemon and keep chilled in the fridge – drink liberally, and often – hydration is key.
- Chop up vegetables (leave raw) and put into glass bowls with lids at eye level in the fridge. When you feel a snack coming on, grab some veggies, dip into hummus (or good Dijon mustard for an extra kick) and enjoy.
- Plain yogurt (dairy, or otherwise) with probiotics is excellent for digestive reasons. Use it to make a cooling side dish, with chopped cucumbers, alongside a warming root vegetable winter curry.
- Learn how to make (deeply comforting) soup. If you have a spare afternoon and want to make it from scratch, go ahead, it’s a rewarding activity and your house will smell amazing. If not, buy (vegetable-based, chicken, or bone) stock, pour olive oil in the bottom of a large pan, chop onion and garlic, add vegetables (a ton of kale or spinach will be great here), spices (turmeric, black pepper, not-too-much-salt), and simmer. Serve in bowls, add in some brown rice or quinoa if you like. Eat slowly. Soup is a nourishing food, full of vitamins.
Above all, be kind to yourself. With all the binge foods out of the house, you’ll find it easier to make better choices. Learn to nourish your body and your life will feel just that bit easier.