Food is Fuel

Food is Fuel

When we first married, I cooked elaborate meals for my new husband. After living on my own for a few years, I was excited to have someone to cook for.  Jim loved this new arrangement, as he was a single guy for a few years before marrying me.

I fell into my new role with enthusiasm, watching Food Network most Saturday mornings (I currently own all the Pioneer Woman cookbooks) and carefully crafting our meals for the week to go along with my extensive grocery list.

Here are some of the meals I prepared for my new hubs:

  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Broccoli Cheddar Soup (broccoli makes it healthy?)
  • Orange Chicken with Fried Rice (did bake the chicken, but still…)
  • Lasagna
  • Swedish Meatballs
  • Shrimp Alfredo pasta
  • Spinach Artichoke Pasta (spinach, so again, it’s healthy? Right?)
  • Homemade Bread(s)
  • Pasta with tomato cream sauce (you can tell we love our pasta)
  • French Onion Soup

Needless to say, we gained weight our first year married.

Now, we didn’t completely eat like prisoners on execution day.  We did eat grilled chicken salads, quinoa, baked chicken and roasted vegetables.  In the summer, we grilled our veggies and chicken. We were obsessed with grilled sweet potatoes (we still are). We also went for walks after dinner. When the colder seasons came upon us, so did the heavier meal options.  However, I rarely tried to make those meals healthy.  I grew up with the unofficial motto of “food is love” and I brought this thinking into my marriage.

Fast Forward Four Years

Last year, we saw a dietitian through my husband’s work. I was interested in going, but part of me wondered if I needed to see a dietitian because I knew what I needed to do- eat fruits and veggies, drink water, shop on the outside perimeter of the grocery store and for the love of Pete, put down the carbs!

Oh, but it was so much more! She taught us how to read food labels, gave easy food swap suggestions (use Greek yogurt for just about anything) and gave us pep talks every 2 weeks. I still use her suggestion of putting flaxseed in my meatloaf. She also reminded us of something very important: don’t beat yourself up when it comes to eating right and working out. If you don’t go to the gym one day, don’t feel defeated and stay away. Be patient with ourselves, be kind to ourselves. Also, if we wanted a piece of pizza, she told us to eat the damn pizza! She taught us the enjoyment of eating a smaller portion of a food so that we didn’t feel deprived.

Seeing her was very beneficial but she couldn’t help me with all my food related issues. This is where my therapist came into play. She taught me to lean on my positive coping skills (writing, music, working out, being outside) to deal with my anxiety. I’m also slowing learning that I deserve to be healthy. I’m a work in progress!

Where Do I Go from Here?

I recently read an article where actress Eva Mendes discussed her eating habits. For breakfast, she sticks to eggs, which helps start her day with the right amount of protein for energy. For lunch and dinner, she eats the same thing. It’s usually salmon with rice or quinoa with a salad. She views food as fuel.

So, I’ve decided to try the same thing by not giving myself too many options for meals.

I’ve been starting my day off with eggs, sliced tomatoes and a whole wheat English Muffin, overnight oats with berries or Cheerios.  Whatever I don’t eat for breakfast, I’ll have for lunch (or I’ll make a salad). If I’m teaching, I’ll do peanut butter and jelly with fruit and cut up veggies.

For dinner, I’ve been making healthier versions of classic dishes.

For pasta, I only buy whole wheat and I’ll add grated carrots to my pasta sauce for a veggie boost.  I also check labels and watch for the sugar content in pasta sauces. Some of them are pretty high!

Skinless chicken thighs or breasts baked in the oven with lemons and a vegetable (whatever was on sale that week) or a frozen veggie are the main go to options.

I’ll occasionally do a pot roast with carrots, celery and onions. For the left-over pot roast, I’ll make sweet potato nachos with guacamole. (Baked sweet potato slices are AMAZING).

We are trying to limit our red meat intake, but we will enjoy taco salads with lots of romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes and avocados. I’m currently working on different recipes featuring avocado- stay tuned!  ?

This past winter, the only soups I made were broth based. Chicken soup with orzo or vegetable soup were the choices. I did make a kale and chorizo soup, but that’s a rare treat since we are trying to limit sausage.

I’ve been doing this new way of viewing food the past few weeks and it’s working out great so far. Jim and I sit down to plan our meals each week.  We don’t spend too much time on the planning with our concise list of meal options and the grocery bill is much less when the main ingredients are fruits, vegetables and lean meat.  Growing up, my parents made sure my siblings and I had a protein, a fruit and a vegetable on our plates, which is also what the dietitian suggested to do. She even gave us the appropriate serving sizes of each food group based on our individual needs. I now make sure our plates meet these requirements!

On Sunday nights, I prep the food so that it’s easy to pack lunches and grab a quick snack. Carrots are so much more appealing in the middle of the week when they are already cut up.

Food prepping is a beautiful thing

I’ve also been focusing on how my body feels after eating healthy foods verses the not so healthy kind. A few months ago, we went to a wonderful local Italian restaurant where everything was homemade. I had waaaay too many refined carbs (including wine) and I felt horrible- bloated and sluggish. My mind felt foggy and “itchy”.  I immediately regretted the decision before we even left the restaurant.  I make myself remember this horrible feeling each time we go out to eat and it helps to make better choices.

While it is still a struggle (Food Network is always playing at the gym where I work out), we are trying to switch our thinking to “food is fuel.”  Food is needed for survival purposes. It’s not to help cope with a crappy job, a rough childhood or a horrible relationship.

With every workout and every food choice, I decide that I am worth living a healthy life. It’s a day by day choice to be healthy. It took years to put the weight on and it’s not going to just come off right away. However, with each new day I’m faced with a new opportunity to fuel my body properly. I’m learning not to beat myself up over a bad day.

I also live with my new motto: every day is a new day to make great choices.


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