Monday, November 25, 2013

Hunt for a healthier lifestyle: The new normal

A year ago I embarked on a mission to create healthier eating habits, and (as I am the chief cook and shopper in our house) boy came along for the ride. I posted each month, for a couple of months, keeping you up to date with our progress, and then haven't posted again since.

The reason for my radio silence on the subject is that we reached, what I now call, our 'new normal'. We are by no means fanatical about our new lifestyle, and will happily break our usual 'rules' when we go out or on special occasions. However, we do have a new baseline for the foods we consume in our house on a daily basis.

The New Normal:

  • Most of my grocery cart/basket is now full of fresh food. If it is packaged, I generally aim for no sugar and no numbers on the ingredients list, usually with five ingredients or less. However, I haven't tried hard enough to find a suitable replacement for my soy milk, so that is one of the items I cheat with consistently.
  • We have reduced the amount of refined sugar we eat enormously. I now make our own cereal, sweetened with honey/maple syrup, so that I know exactly what goes into the mix. I generally try not to buy groceries with sugar in them, and I've switched my milk chocolate habit for 70% or more dark chocolate.
  • I do make sweet things from time to time, but it is a rare treat, and I've found I can reduce the amount of sugar in a lot of recipes by 25-50% (depending on what it is), or sometimes replace sugar with honey/maple syrup.
  • I bake our bread. I got sick of seeing all the unnecessary extras (i.e. sugar) in the ingredients list on the supermarket loaves, and decided to start making it myself. At the same time, I wanted to decrease the amount of 'white' food I was eating, so thought I'd experiment with spelt (which is super expensive if you want to buy it as bread). For someone like me, who has trouble digesting wholemeal/wholegrain products (the joy of not having a large intestine!), spelt is a great replacement as it is easier to digest. [Ironically, the pictured dough is non-spelt!]
  • Again, we'll happily break the 'rules' and buy bakery bread if I've had a big week and don't have the energy to bake.

  • There has been a change in our palate and our tastebuds are now heightened to sugar. If we've had a couple of weeks of eating most of our food at home, and are then presented with a sugary lolly, the taste is too 'fake', and it's not worth eating. This has been a huge eye-opener for me, as I used to be a lolly-monster.
  • We're also more snobby about other food we eat out, too. Fast food and lots of takeaway food is no longer worth getting because we don't enjoy it. I now prefer running home, cutting up potatoes, throwing them in the oven and waiting 40 minutes for wedges, rather than buying hot chips from the local store. I realise that sounds insane!
  • One instance of 'breaking the rules' every now and then doesn't undo any of the good work we've done. Three or more days of constantly breaking the rules does! I'll then find myself sangry (sugar-angry) as I retrain my body not to crave the sweet hit after each meal.
  • My comfort eating has decreased. The foods that once offered solace, I no longer crave, so I'm less likely to eat emotionally anymore. This became clear one day in May, when on the way home from work I wanted to treat myself for a job well done. After considering, and not being interested in, all the usual suspects, the only food I could come up with to reward my tastebuds was a juicy, sweet apple. It was a beautiful, in season apple from the local orchard, but still ridiculous from the point of view of an after-work treat!
  • I no longer have huge swings in my digestive health (Crohn's disease), and I'm generally healthier as a result. 


  • If you are going to give your consumption of sugar/preservatives an overhaul, I suggest starting with breakfast. I found that having the taste of sugar in my mouth first thing in the morning, thanks to a sugary cereal and yogurt, set me up for craving it all day. 
  • The other items that are easy to remove/change are snacks. By making them, rather than buying them, it means that I really have to want it if I have to make it before consuming! Luckily, snacks like hummus (pictured) can be made in about 5 minutes flat.
  • Do what you can, and don't be a slave to rules you give yourself. We're not perfect with our execution, and are not trying to be, and I think that's why we've succeeded with our 'new normal'. 

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Amanda@ChewTown said...

This is an impressive outcome Mary! It makes me seriously think about my own lifestyle. I'm loving that you are making your own cereal and think I might need to give that a try too. I'm a regularly morning cereal eater mid week.

Mary said...

Thanks! Yeah - I was surprised at the way my palate changed, and had the changes not been so pronounced, I don't know if we would have stuck it out.

My Kitchen Stories said...

Good on you girl. Thats impressive. I try very hard to eat the right things. Most of our food is made at home. I never really do takeaway except if you include what comes out of the bottle shop!

Fiona Bris-Vegas! said...

I finally got to read your post & am so glad I did! What a great post Mary. I liked the way you talked about how you made gradual changes and re-trained you palate and body. A lot more inspirational that that silly 'no fructose' diet and a lot more achievable. I hope one day to have the time to bake bread on a regular basis. I don't eat a whole lot of it but like you, think the amount of ingredients in it are ridiculous. Thanks again!

Mary said...

Thank you so much for your kind words, Fiona! It's comments like yours that keep me blogging through the 'blergh, can't be bothered' blog days. :)