Don’t Worry About the Starving Kids In Africa

Today’s Lesson: Throwing food out is not a crime.

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Almond milk, it turns out, is not Nicole’s favorite addition to a latte. She tried one today, and drank about half of it.

She debated over throwing it out because it didn’t taste great but it was not a cheap cup of coffee either.

I understood. I often finish meals because I don’t want something to go to waste (especially if it was expensive). If you think about it, though, it is probably better (for most of us) to throw away an unfinished meal than it is to try and stuff ourselves (assuming for some reason we can not take home leftovers), in an attempt to get our money’s worth.

I would rather pay six dollars not to eat an additional 450 calories than to force myself to eat an extra 450 calories I will never burn off. I would rather lose a few bucks instead of trying to lose a few inches.

Nicole tossed the latte and we headed to the beach. Good trade off.

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How to Listen to Your Body

How do you know if you should eat one more bite of that pie or push yourself for one more rep with the barbells?

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Many of us struggle with knowing when too much is too much, whether it is with our eating habits, exercise habits, or even sexual habits. I think for many of us it is easy to go wrong because we are completely out of tune with our body.

Think about it. How often do you check in with your body each day? How often are you bombarded with media, food, and marketing each day telling you what is good or bad for your body?

As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, you see the brand name on your phone or alarm clock. You know you are supposed to start your day tired and have a cup of coffee to get going because your whole life there have been commercials telling you so. You choose a healthy sounding cereal because the box says it has “9 essential vitamins and minerals!”. You can rest assured it is health food because the name on the box contains “Wheat” or “Flax” or “Bran” or “Healthy”. It probably also has more sugar than you need in a week but forget about that because there is a famous athlete on the box and he sure seems happy! If a famous athlete would eat it, then it must be good, right? The milk you choose must be healthy because there are pictures of happy cows on it and the box says it is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. You have no idea if you are deficient in either of these, but that’s okay because Happy Farm milk has you covered.

This is just the first few minutes of your day. How much is the rest of your day manipulated by tradition, media, flashing signs, billboards, and bad habits? How does the world screaming at you all the time affect your ability to listen to your own needs?

This is not only about food. Think of the last time your father or grandfather threw out his back because he was trying to lift more than his body was willing to allow. Think of your exercise fanatic friend who tore her hamstring by not listening to her body telling her how much of a stretch is too much. And, yes, think of the American struggle with sugar and obesity because we have a hard time discerning when (or what) to stop eating.

Sometimes we make bad decisions because we have no idea what our body wants or needs. We are not trained to listen to ourselves. We seem to be trained more and more to listen to anything but our own bodies and minds.

Always being on the right side of listening to my body is definitely not a skill I would say I have mastered yet, but I am becoming better at listening to my self. Here is what works for me (most of the time):

     1. Meditation. Quiet solitude to hear my thoughts or turn down the volume of the world is an essential part of my week. I try to meditate daily. Just 10 minutes of silent breathing, I find, centers my emotions, helps me think better, and gives me a small boost of energy!

     2. Stopping at “satisfaction” instead of “excess”. This is a work in progress for me, especially around food. I grew up, like many Americans my age, being taught to “clean my plate” and warned there are “starving children in Africa” so I should eat everything I am served. With restaurant food portions (and prices) out of control, that becomes an increasingly difficult challenge. When there is not enough food to box up and take home but enough to make me feel like I am wasting money by leaving it, I would normally tend to just eat what is left. Now, I am trying to stop when my belly is satisfied instead of stuffing myself. Sure, food is delicious and I want to enjoy it but the penalty for leaving some on my plate is far less damaging to my wallet than it is to my health.

     3. Being “consciously wasteful”. It has taken me a long time to be okay with leaving food on my plate, but now it is almost a game when I am at a restaurant. I know the food portions are far above what my body needs so I try to eat enough to be sure I am satisfied and box up enough for a second meal. If there is not enough for a second meal, then I am okay letting it go to waste. It goes against everything I was taught as a kid, but It is a lot better to throw a little food out than to live with diabetes or low self-esteem. Also, leaving a little food behind is a great way for me to practice self-discipline. When my stomach says it has had enough (there are no more pangs of hunger), then I know it is time to stop and everything else is simply excess.

Of course, I apply the same principles beyond food. Stopping at satisfaction when I exercise makes it more enjoyable and I am likely to return for more. Being “consciously wasteful” by giving away or throwing out anything I have not used, noticed, or missed in the last year helps me live a cleaner, more spacious life (in less space!) and frees me up to enjoy more time doing other things.

It all centers around the same principle: staying in touch with my body. My body feels the clutter and depression when my apartment is untidy or filled with trinkets that no longer serve a purpose. My mind feels both the physical and emotional weight when I do not like the belly I see in the mirror. My feet ache not from being on them too much, but from not taking care of them when I am, by not stretching them and exercising them properly, which brings us back to exercise. The circle continues and at the core is meditation, a simple moment of breathing and not thinking about anything other than breathing for at least a few minutes a day.

Today’s lesson: When I listen to my body, I hear less noise in the world and more of what is actually important around me.

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The 5-Ingredient Meal

Use this trick to simplify your at-home meals…

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I enjoy thinking of new ways to embrace minimalism and live a simpler yet more robust life. Something Nicole and I have been trying lately and having some success with is 5-Ingredient meals.

I like to cook but I do not have much patience for the prep work and clean-up. Because I like eating more than I like cooking, I tend to favor eating out and skipping all the leg work of making a meal. I think eating out is a great way to add more diversity to your diet (unless you eat the same meal at the same place every time) but the food is highly processed, usually over-salted for flavor, and often cheap high-carbs and starches to fill you up at less cost and more profit to the restaurant.

In other words, it is good to prepare your own meals more often than not. Since I practice being minimalist and look for ways to simplify, Nicole and I have added a simple rule to our cooking. Our meals can have no more than 5 ingredients (spices not included, but also no more than 5 spices). To clarify, each dish has no more than 5 ingredients and each meal has no more than 5 components (including drinks).

Since a lot of our cooking centers on Mediterranean and Asian food, we have made one notable exception: we count garlic and onion as one ingredient! If they are both chopped fresh, sometimes we will count them separately. We play it pretty loose with those two.

Here is an example of what a simple meal looks like for us…

Tofu Scramble:
1. Smashed tofu (I love squeezing the water out of it with my bare hands and then crumbling it into the pan)
2. Spinach
3. Mushrooms
4. Onion and Garlic
5. Fresh tomatoes (right at the end)

Seasonings: Turmeric (to make the tofu yellow), Cumin, Salt, Pepper, Nutritional Yeast

Salad:
1. Spinach
2. Tomatoes
3. Cucumber
4. Chick Peas
5. Onion

Seasoning / Dressing: Olive oil, Mint, Salt, Pepper, Lemon juice

Normally, a salad and tofu scramble would have about 10 more items added between them, more spices, and definitely longer cooking time and preparation. The funny thing is, since we have started this little experiment, I have found limiting ingredients has actually expanded flavors. Now I notice the individual constituents of each meal and can savor each bite, identifying each flavor within it.

Today’s lesson: Eating can be super simple and simply delicious! Set limits on ingredients, focus on flavor, and enjoy more time eating and less time chopping, washing, soaking, and waiting…

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Eating Out Versus Eating In

I have learned many times that when you are single or a couple, there is not much difference in cost between eating out every night or staying in and making your own meals.

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Eating out is expensive, especially for families. For single people and couples, however, it is sometimes the lesser of two evils.

The problem is, for single people and couples, buying bulk does not provide a great advantage to leverage savings. There is not much point (or freezer room) to buy a 4-pound bag of frozen broccoli, for example, when there are only two people eating it. They will likely not eat it in a reasonable amount of time (before the broccoli suffers freezer burn) and they would not go through it fast enough to keep from running out of room in the freezer or refrigerator if they always bought the family size or bulk items.

What happens instead is couples buy enough for two. Even in doing so, in my experience, Nicole and I end up throwing out a lot of fresh food if we do not get through it in time. It can be frustrating to watch the food you paid for go in the trash, untouched, still in its package. Fresh spinach, for example, only stays fresh a week or so if we are careful to buy the furthest out expiration date. Because we live busy lives, we might plan to use it in 2 or 3 dishes, but end up only using a handful of it once due to Nicole or I running too late to cook a full meal that night. If we do not eat it, there are no kids or transient guests who might, which would at least make it seem like it did not go to waste.

Instead, we end up paying top dollar for smaller amounts of groceries and still eat out a couple of times of week due to unplanned scheduling hiccups, or personal energy that day (too tired to cook), or plain convenience (we could spend 2 hours prepping, cooking, and cleaning, or just head over to Stella’s for amazing nachos).

I do not mind paying for good local food prepared well by ethically run, vegan-friendly restaurants. A decent meal at one of our favorite local spots might cost $30-$40 for both of us and often there is enough food to have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day, making the actual cost $15-$20 for two meals for two people. Not bad and not far off from what we would spend on groceries over the same period.

The other nice thing about eating out is the diversity of food offered. When we buy groceries and prepare meals at home, they will basically be variations on the same 10 or so ingredients for the week. Visiting our local restaurants, though, exposes us to ingredients we do not normally come across and a wide range of dishes we have neither the time nor the inclination to make (but love to eat!).

I am not defending restaurant-eating as a lifestyle. It has problems, too. The food is usually of poorer quality than what we would make at home. It is produced in large quantities (which can mean lower quality), often loaded with sodium or just over-salted to make up for lack of flavor, and even the cleanest restaurant is a breeding ground for vermin and other unwelcome food visitors.

Still, when you are single or there is only 2 of you, family style-cooking is not always the best way to go and you are unlikely to prepare yourself a five-course meal.
Today’s lesson: Use eating out as a strategy for when it makes sense. When the trade-off is worth the expense and convenience, enjoy a night out, but also avoid the big-box restaurants that are not offering a diverse menu of local goodies and food you would not otherwise make at home.

 

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Today’s Lesson: Running On Empty [140913]

When you start each morning, you have a finite amount of mental and physical energy to carry you through the day. The amount you have each morning depends on how much you expended the day before and the amount of rest you have had to recharge (both mental and physical rest).

 

Just like your phone or car battery, everything you do–blinking your eyes, deciding where to eat, worrying about tomorrow, remembering yesterday, walking to your car, lifting weights, having a debate, drinking a glass of water, etc.–everything you do depletes some of that energy and some of the things you do give a little energy back (drinking water, eating good food and not eating too much, meditating, taking a nap, walking in nature, etc.). The trick each day is to spend your energy on things that give more back than they take overall.

 

Today, I was so mentally exhausted I did not want to make dinner and I did not even have the energy to decide where to eat. Nicole offered several options but I was so depleted they all sounded equally bland, even my favorite restaurants! I had a headache, I was tired, and I did not know what I wanted and did not really care, either.

 

Finally, though, I picked one and the act of deciding–of choosing a direction in and of itself–was enough to give a little energy back. Once I knew exactly where I wanted to go, I had a little more power and inertia to take myself there.

 

How often do we spend our life or career or relationships in the same dilemma, not knowing what we want and feeling so mentally depleted we don’t even have the energy to care?

 

By the time we reached the restaurant, I was ready to eat and feeling decisive and talkative again, and we had a great meal and evening out.

 

The lesson I learned today is sometimes just deciding on a direction can provide enough momentum to help you reach your destination.

 


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Today’s Lesson: Now We’re Cooking! [140821]

Part of my family is very traditional–the women do the cooking, child-rearing, and cleaning (and they work full-time jobs) while the men sit around and… I don’t know, watch news or yell at each other, mostly.

Anyway, I hate cooking. I’m proficient at it; I can make a good meal; I just don’t like the time investment for the return on that investment. I would rather pay somebody to do it. However, one thing I love to do is prepare a meal with someone else (like Nicole). It is an easy, low stress time to produce something together while socializing, and joking (or flirting) about our respective kitchen talents (or lack thereof) and other topics of choice.

In short, cooking together is fun. Cooking alone… not so much.

Today’s lesson is: find something easy to do together with your loved ones (or friends or kids) and have fun doing it. Don’t let tradition or habit jump in the way of living.

 

P.S. Thanks for sharing my blog. It is a fun challenge to find a lesson in each day and share it with you. It is really humbling and surprising watch the readership grow! I appreciate you guys posting, sharing, liking, +1’ing, and emailing your friends and family. Don’t forget you can subscribe and have each post emailed right to you when it goes live. The link is on the right side of this page!

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The Vegan Alternative

I consider myself a bit of a food adventurer. I love to try new tastes, explore spices, and experiment with recipes. I will travel every niche of a city to find vegan gems (the best restaurants are almost always hidden).

Eating no animal products forces me to find new, delicious foods that, before, I would have overlooked in favor of a burger, steak, or pizza (3 staples from my former lifestyle). Before I was vegan, every restaurant looked the same and so did every meal: variations of steak and potatoes or burger and fries.

When I began my vegan journey a decade ago, there were fake processed substitutes for these foods (veggie burgers, tempeh steaks, rice-based “cheese”, etc.) but they tasted terrible. Really terrible. I mean, they looked like the food they were posing as but they tasted like cardboard cut-outs of the food they were trying to be.

It is disappointing that most vegans will start their adventure with similar garbage food (yes, there is garbage vegan food that is as over-processed and unhealthy as animal-based foods… who knew?). However, as I have found better resources and learned more about being vegan, and as vegan restaurants established by world-class chefs  started popping up on the scene, I have found foods so good it is almost a crime they exist!

Better still, the vegan alternatives to western-diet foods are, if prepared well, indistinguishable from their counterparts (try Daiya cheese, for example).

I get frustrated–really frustrated–knowing there are vegan alternatives that require no pain to create and taste just like our comfort foods. I enjoyed home-made caramel popcorn last night which was made with no caramel and was better than any bagged caramel corn I have ever had.

The question, as I see it, is… if we can create burgers, pizza, steak, cupcakes, barbecued wings, mashed potatoes, bread, and everything else we eat without having to sacrifice the life of another animal or cause any pain, or further damage the earth… then why don’t we?

My challenge to humanity is this:

Will you just move past your fear and give healthy eating, being compassionate, and living a long life a shot?

I swear, it’s really not so bad being healthy and taking care of yourself (as well as the planet and other species)…

 

If you are going vegan or just curious about a few vegan recipes (and if the internet is a crazy, intimidating place for you), then there is one book that needs to reside on your shelf. Start here:

Veganomicon. All (or nearly all) the recipes are easy-to-follow and feature ingredients you should pretty much be able to find at any grocery store. They are real meals made with real food. There are other great vegan cookbooks, too, but Veganomicon is the perfect starting spot.

Just try a couple recipes and see if you like them. The worst that can happen is you will have had a healthy meal.

 

Share your thoughts or let me know how your adventure is going in the comments.

Here’s to your health!

 

 

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