My love affair with sugar began when I was six weeks old. So yummy, so wonderful, so exciting! All through my adolescence and well into my thirties, I lived on cereal, pasta, bread, cookies, candy…well, you get the picture. By the time my second son was born, all that junk had taken its toll and I could barely function. I picked up every infection. I couldn’t exercise, sleep, work, deal with my kids or my husband due to mood swings, and none of my clothes fit (I had to wear my husband’s jeans!) On top of all that, my hair was falling out and my skin was terrible.
All the generic blood tests came back “fine.” When I finally went to a nutritionist and got a complete nutritional makeover, I understood the damage I had unwittingly done to my body with those fun, “exciting” foods. The lifestyle changes were so profound that I went back to school at age 40 and got my master’s in clinical nutrition so I could help others heal the way I healed. Right? Not quite.
WHERE IS THE BALANCE?
Twenty years later, I am still grappling with balance. How do I eat the healthy, BORING foods forever? When do I choose my first love—sugar? I, and so many others, use food as entertainment. In my practice, I talk about it all day with clients, research food and nutrition studies, watch the Food Network on TV, plan my grocery shopping trips, Google restaurant menus online, and daydream about my next sweet treat. After dinner, I think about what I will have for breakfast. Before I finish breakfast, I am planning lunch, and at lunch the conversation with my husband is about what we’ll do for dinner.
Food is the centerpiece of all my happy occasions—I live for it in every respect. It comes as a reward after a workout, a stressful day, or at the end of a long work week. And it’s not only entertainment; as an emotional eater, food is also a friend when I am feeling bored, sad, or anxious.
What to do? The answer is to make food less of a focus. Can I focus on the event, the feelings, and the people—not the food? Even when the food IS the main attraction, I focus on how to keep it under control. Boy, is that hard and BORING.
IS EATING BORING OKAY?
Most of the time, yes, eating BORING is not only okay, it’s a good practice. Every moment of our lives isn’t exciting and the same goes for our food choices. Food’s purpose is to provide the nutrients our bodies need to function their best. Eating’s purpose is to fuel our activities during the day. For some, this is intuitive. But for me, trying to balance healthy eating, emotional eating, and exciting eating is a hard pill to swallow.
When I am truly hungry, I will happily eat the yogurt with berries for breakfast (instead of Froot Loops) or the salad with grilled chicken for lunch (instead of the bagel with cream cheese). The real challenge comes when I’m NOT hungry but “just want a little something,” or when emotions take hold and I want to stuff them down with food. Or when I’m bored. Or tired. Or procrastinating.
I try to use the same technique that we use when training a puppy—distraction. The puppy wants to chew on your brand-new shoe. Throw a ball to distract him and he’ll forget all about the shoe. The same works for me—what kind of shiny new objects can I dangle in front of myself when I’m not hungry but want to eat?
I always make sure I have one or two good books, or a handful of magazines and catalogs, to read. I love to shoe shop online even if I don’t buy anything. I give myself manicures and pedicures because it takes time and practice and you can’t get into the chips with wet fingernails. I always have a sewing pile, a crafting pile, and things to be organized—like every closet in the house. I am even taking a painting class! These things keep me busy and distracted so I’m not constantly thinking about food and snacking mindlessly when I’m not hungry.
Still, food can’t always just be fuel. And eating the same thing for every meal is BORING. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing chore. The solution for me was to start cooking. For 30 years, my husband did all the cooking. Last year, at 56, I finally started. I scoured websites, experimented with changing ingredients, tried new herbs and spices, bought fun kitchen tools like the Spiralizer. Look how it can whip up zucchini noodles: http://loryngalardi.com/zoooooodles/. I began taking pictures of my creations to put on my website. Spaghetti and meatballs morphed into lighter, healthier versions using the zoodles and ground turkey with marinara. Here’s the recipe: http://loryngalardi.com/turkey-meatballs-and-marinara-sauce/ Fried rice now uses riced cauliflower and is amazing http://loryngalardi.com/cauliflower-fried-rice/
Eating can and should be fun, but food choices must also be mindful. Eating the leftover PB&J crusts from your child’s plate while rushing out the door is not making a mindful food choice. Neither is grabbing a handful of M&Ms or popcorn because they happen to be there. A meal at a favorite restaurant, a slice of birthday cake, a dinner party—these are appropriate times to choose an exciting, fun, or different food. But at lunchtime on a Tuesday, grab a salad with clean protein. Just another Thursday? Choose veggies and hummus for a snack. Monday night at home and want a sweet treat after dinner? Berries are the best choice.
Boring is boring, but it got me where I needed to be: Healthy, even-keeled, fitting into my own clothes, sleeping well, and with good hair and skin. I always aim for mindful, healthy choices—which are boring—but know there will be a cookie in my future soon!