Who among us does not need or want to eat a healthier diet?
It should be simple.
Buy more fruits and veggies. Ignore the center aisles. Ditch the packaged stuff.
But it’s not.
We live in the land of hidden sugars, refined carbohydrates, and highly processed convenience “food” scientifically designed to be irresistible.
After you quit drinking alcohol, it is easy to get trapped in a cycle of unhealthy eating. Most of us do it! But good nutrition in sobriety is incredibly important, and at some point, deserves your full attention.
Let’s talk briefly about sugar for a minute…
Like really, really bad.
And we consume way too much of it.
The average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar every 24 hours. That’s 70 pounds per year! (We’re not supposed to eat more than 9 teaspoons – roughly the contents of one can of soda.)
Most of us know that too much sugar is bad for our teeth, skin, and waistlines, but it’s actually much more severe than that.
According to an article in Women’s Health, consuming too much sugar for a sustained period of time can lead to, “diabetes and obesity, and also Alzheimer’s disease and breast, endometrial, and colon cancers. One new study found that normal-weight people who loaded up on sugar doubled their risk of dying from heart disease. Other research pinpoints excess sugar as a major cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to liver failure.”
It certainly doesn’t help that it’s hidden inside of everything.
On top of that, it’s highly addictive, and incredibly smart people in the food industry know this. The end result is a standard American diet that is filled with nutrient-deficient (albeit yummy) “food” that makes us increasingly sick, overweight, and exhausted.
We’re left with a diet that consists of way too much meat, refined carbohydrates (think white bread and pasta), and potatoes – primarily of the french fried variety.
Related Post: Why You Need to be Careful About Sugar in Early Sobriety
How can we eat more nutrient-dense, high-quality foods?
Fun fact: only 1 in 10 Americans eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Here’s an even MORE fun fact: newer studies show we should actually be eating closer to ten servings per day.
The question then becomes, “How?”
How do sugar-addicted, processed-food-loving people like ourselves increase our fruit and veggie intake and fill some of those key nutrient gaps in our diet?
Through tricks (and habits) of course!
1. Make a very detailed plan for increasing your fruit and veggies intake.
Well, duh! Just buy them at the grocery store and eat them.
Yes! But what tends to happen is we head to the produce aisle with the best of intentions and then come home to face the reality of our bad habits and busy lives.
The end result is a lot of wasted, spoiled produce.
If changing your eating habits were so easy everyone would do it and there wouldn’t be an entire weight loss industry bringing in $72 billion dollars annually.
Yes, that’s billions with a ‘b’.
You have to be incredibly specific. “Tomorrow I am going to eat one apple at breakfast. At lunch, I will get the salad bowl instead of the wrap. I’m going to fill half of my plate with roasted broccoli for dinner.”
And then hold yourself accountable.
2. Start small. Be strategic.
You are not going to go from Honeybuns to salads overnight. Even if you were totally game for it, your taste buds might not be.
And your normal hunger cues are all oriented towards the bad stuff.
You have to teach yourself to be someone who, when hungry, says, “I can’t wait to eat this salad for lunch.”
If you eat only one serving of fruit per day, determine that for the next week you will have two. When will you eat the second serving? Are you going to swap your midafternoon snack for a banana? Maybe toss a cup of berries into your oatmeal?
Be very strategic about how you’ll integrate an extra serving of fruit and veggies into your routine and then build from there.
Related Post: 7 Healthy Habit Tips Anyone Can Use To Make Habits Stick
3. Find some easy wins.
In my opinion, the easiest way to get extra fruit and veggies into your day is via the humble smoothie.
You can easily get 3-4 servings of fruits in veggies in one smoothie. On top of that, they taste delicious and you might actually feel something resembling energized after drinking one.
If you are like me and do not particularly care for the taste of leafy greens in most preparations, you can hide two servings of them inside your smoothies and never taste them.
What is a fruit or vegetable that you actually love eating?
It is surprisingly easy to forget that kind of stuff when you’re constantly surrounded by packaged food and snacks.
Oh, actually I really like how celery sticks in red pepper hummus taste! I could do this instead of a bag of chips in the break room.
4. Be sneaky.
I hide veggies from myself all…the…time.
Again, smoothies are the great hider of green things for many people, myself included. You can also toss them in pasta, casseroles, and other dishes where something like a handful of spinach can go in without drastically altering the taste.
Hell, you can hide them in muffins!
5. Don’t try to be a purist.
Yes, bottled salad dressings are full of weird ingredients and not exactly the healthiest, but if it gets you to eat a large bowl of green things and veggies that would have otherwise been a reheated burrito, it’s a net positive.
Get into the mindset of adding, rather than subtracting.
Here’s what I mean –
Instead of focusing on all the things you need to take out of your diet, put that energy towards finding ways to put more of the healthier stuff in.
Are you going to be someone who eats a bowl of salad greens with a little olive oil and lemon juice over night? Doubtful! It’s okay if that doesn’t taste good to you.
Throw some chicken in there with a little bit of honey mustard dressing and congratulate yourself for getting more leafy greens into your diet.
The all-or-nothing mindset around food, exercise, and even drinking, can be so defeating. You don’t have to do that to yourself.
6. Try a Meal Kit Delivery Service
Access, time, and cooking ability are three barriers to healthier eating that prevent many people from getting the appropriate amount of nutrients in their diet.
Personally, I go grocery shopping with the best of intentions and end up wasting too much food. It spoils before I can get to it or I end up making more than we can eat in time. Meal kit delivery services (of which there are a bazillion these days) are an excellent solution.
Sure, if I were to go out and buy the ingredients myself, I could probably cook these meals per serving at a much lower rate.
However, I find that meal kit delivery services end up being more affordable for my family because it eliminates food waste, so I end up spending less. I don’t have to purchase a huge bundle of parsley that I will only use a quarter of or an enormous head of cabbage when I only need a cup’s worth.
With meal kits, you get exactly the amount you need for the dish at a price that’s still significantly less than ordering out.
Personally, I love HelloFresh, but there are a lot of good options for a variety of dietary needs and budgets out there.
Most offer introductory discounts so you can test them out affordably.
Prioritize Healthier Foods, But Don’t Try to do Too Much at Once
One of the biggest struggles I’ve encountered along my own sober journey is feeling like I have to change everything at once.
I wasted years of my life to drinking and once I stopped, I had a compulsive desire to catch up to the person I could’ve been had I not abused alcohol during my “good” years.
Unsurprisingly, that kind of pressure only made my bad eating habits worse.
We live in a media environment that makes things like quitting processed foods and dropping 20 pounds seem easily achievable in a short period of time and that’s just not the case.
All lasting change starts with tiny steps done consistently over an extended period of time. The way we eat is no different.
Find an easy win for this week and build from there. I promise you will start to feel better.