Confession: I’m 22 years old, and just recently cooked a meal for myself for the first time. Embarrassing but true. I’ve never had any interest in cooking, and spent four years eating at the dining hall at college. I started graduate school in the fall, and moved into my own apartment. I spent last semester eating frozen food, not working out, and wallowing in stress and anxiety as I adjusted to life on my own and an increased, difficult workload. One day, it just hit me that I wasn’t in college-land anymore: my real life had begun, and the habits I was creating would stick with me for life. Was I really comfortable with the degree to which I was taking care of my body, mind and spirit? I realized that I was not, and made the decision to change. I was going to make my health, both physical and mental, a priority.
This began with eating fresh, healthy, organic food whenever possible. Having little actual knowledge of nutrition, and zero knowledge about cooking, I started with some research. I had flirted with vegetarianism for a long time, as I’ve never been a huge meat eater. To be completely honest, I am notoriously squeamish and the thought of having to handle raw meat freaked me out. This embarrassing trait is what made me decide to focus my new healthy culinary efforts on vegetarian meals where I could get protein from non-meat sources. I was shocked to see how easy and nutritious this was. (No judgment if you’re a meat eater, this is just what works for me!) I started going on Pinterest and pinning recipes that were plant based and healthy, and also seemed to have a low difficulty level. (You have to start somewhere!) My very first meal was a vegan lo mein that I made while craving Chinese food. It was delicious, healthy, and easy. I had satisfied my craving AND fed my body the nutrients it desperately needed. I was proud of myself to an almost embarrassing degree. I had finally taken my first successful step in my new healthy-living journey.
My journey had a definite learning curve. When I first began to really cook my own food, I was surprised at how much it actually costs to cook a meal. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that fresh, healthy, nutritious, organic food costs more than McDonald’s. Think about it this way- isn’t fueling your body super important? Isn’t it worth it to make sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs for you to be healthy and successful? For me, a huge solution has been going to farmers’ markets. You can get fresh produce, usually more cheaply than in a store. You’re also supporting local farmers, which is so important. Also, shopping around at an open-air market is just a nice day out!
The fact is, it’s not always easy to make healthy choices. However, it is definitely easier than you think. I have spent so much of my life perusing the “burger” section of menus that I hadn’t noticed that nearly every restaurant I frequent has some kind of veggie-based no-meat option. I try to pack lunch every day, but that doesn’t always happen, in which case I’m at the mercy of my university’s cafeteria. To me, the number one key is to not be starving- when you’re really hungry, it’s easy to make a bad choice. I’ve learned to always have a green juice or some kale chips I can eat when I start getting hungry, so when it’s time to sit down for an actual meal I don’t rush to eat something bad. I also learned to slow down. When I first walk into the cafeteria, I force myself to do a lap and look at all of the options available to me. This helps to make a healthy choice: it’s the worst when you barrel in, grab the first thing you see, and then realize later there was some great healthy choice that you missed.
All of my healthy eating has had enormous benefits, most of which can’t be quantified. I’ve been on many a fad diet and they ALWAYS lead to failure. I have found that focusing on health, rather than having the perfect body or getting to a certain number, is the solution. Rather than counting calories or excluding certain food groups, I just make it my goal to make a healthy choice at every meal. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being good to yourself. Adopting this healthy lifestyle has made me healthier, happier, and more confident is every area of my life.
Kelly is a graduate student in the US, who loves reading, yoga, swimming in the ocean, cooking (healthy!) food with friends and trying to make each day better than the last 🙂