I’ve had a request to write about transition diets (and households with multiple eating styles, but we’ll save that for later). I haven’t been sure what to say. But, in thinking about it I realized that for one thing I need a lot of time to mull over new information before I decide to move on it. So my diet has been changing gradually for the last 10 years or so. For instance, I may know the direction I want to take, but not make too many changes until I’ve read a lot of recipes or blog posts giving examples. I’ve just started (you know – the last 6 months or so, lol) to think about incorporating green smoothies into my diet, and I’ve tried one out. So, sometime next year I could let you know how that’s working for me.
For instance, once upon a time I did cook meat. I just started to use less and less of it. I cooked it less often, once or twice a week, then only in the winter a few times a week, and finally not at all (so happy about that 🙂 ). One of my friends still cooks meat fairly regularly, but has greatly reduced the amount she uses. Say one chicken breast in the meal to feed a family of 6. Obviously she’s including a lot of veggies to get the needed bulk for a family of that size 🙂 .
When I decided to give up sugar I also did that gradually (as I’ve mentioned in a previous post). And rather than giving up desserts first, which I loved, I made sure it was out of all my main dishes first. I still think this was a great first step for me, it kept me from feeling too deprived initially and later when I started messing around with lowering the sugar in my desserts and fruit centered dessert I didn’t need to worry about sugar in the main course, I’d already learned to eliminate that.
One exception to the long term change plan for me has been dairy. That ended suddenly when pain motivated me to stop eating it, and I finally connected the discomfort I’d had periodically for years with dairy. I had known it would be healthier to give it up, long before I was pushed into that choice. But for me transitioning to dairy free cooking was challenging, I had been mostly vegetarian for years and relying on cheese as a dietary mainstay. Interestingly though, I started to enjoy food more than I had in years once cheese was largely out of the picture. I was forced to pay more attention to the seasonings and the flavors just got better and better.
I still eat junk occasionally, but it doesn’t define my diet. Stress and availability trigger unhealthy eating for me. If I am stressed and salty, sugary foods are there, I tend to eat them.
My point is, that even though there can be a sense of urgency to change your diet once you realize what the healthier option is, the direction you are moving in is more important than where you are. And if you take a few steps backwards, over a holiday or due to a stressful time in your life, don’t get hung up on it. What matters is that rather than feeling like you’ve failed and giving up, you just start moving in the right direction again.
I think even when medical conditions indicate an immediate dietary change is necessary it’s important to remember that slipping up is not failure, it’s just a temporary step in the wrong direction. Getting back on track again as soon as possible will have a better impact on your health than beating yourself up about mistakes and continuing to eat badly due to discouragement about it.
It’s easy to list all of the foods that need to be eliminated, but that can leave a void in your diet making eating a challenge until you learn to fill it properly. It is more helpful to add in positive foods until they help to crowd out your old unhealthy eating habits. Sometimes using certain marginal foods as a crutch can be helpful until you come up with satisfactory replacements in your diet. For instance artificial sweeteners are certainly not a good habit to get into, and cause health problems of their own, but I’ve known people to successfully use them sparingly while getting over sugar cravings and then cut out artificial sweeteners all together. As far as meat replacements, mushrooms including portabellos would be one of the healthiest options, as would tempeh. However, there are numerous meat substitutes available commercially. Most of them tend to fall into the same category as artificial sweeteners due to their ingredients, but if they help in the short term they could be useful. Tofurky is one brand I feel is superior to some of the others out there, their lunchmeat at least does not contain soy protein isolate (a highly processed form of soy), although it does contain gluten and tofu. As previously mentioned by Melissa a good cheese substitute can be hard to come by. Recently I’ve been impressed with the Diaya brand, they’ve come up with a really passable cheese substitute which is now available in retail stores. It’s made with pea protein rather than soy or rice, actually melts, and tastes good. It is of course expensive – comparable to all cheese substitutes in price – and a bit processed, but better than a lot of other options out there and certainly it’s not dairy :-).
For me trying new recipes is not generally the challenge, it’s cooking with new ingredients. I’ve had fennel in my fridge for over a week and finally got around to using it yesterday, and it’s delicious! We are loving it, and now I can’t wait to get more and try out even more options for its preparation. I would say, pick one new food to try at a time. Try it unadorned at first, so you know if you really like or dislike it for itself or the preparation method. Then experiment with different recipes and the same new item. Once you are comfortable with the new food (or have decided you’re never eating it again), move on to something new. It’s been interesting because I’ve always felt I ate more vegetables than the average consumer, but there are still so many varieties I have yet to try. When people say things like, “what do you eat then?”, I immediately think about how there are so many options out there that most people never even taste. This year I’ve tried a new method for seasoning asparagus (which is my new favorite), kabocha squash (neutral on this), and fennel (again – it was delicious!). And in recent years I’ve tried out lovage (a celery flavored herb), and french sorrel (delicious and tangy herb). Focusing on the positive additions to your diet instead of all the things you are “missing out on” can really help your attitude and chances of succeeding in making a lasting change.