Excuses, Excuses

by | Aug 11, 2008

Thanks to everyone who took part in my first poll: What is your favorite excuse for not eating healthy?

It seems that the vast majority of you are willing but not always able to eat healthfully, with the most common problems being lack of time or unforeseen forces that prevent you from getting the best meal as often as you would like. Hopefully some of you have found ways to eat healthy most of the time, but nearly everyone could benefit from a few tricks that can help streamline healthy eating so that you come up against these kinds of obstacles less frequently.

The way I see it, the impact of both insufficient time and world obstacles can be diminished with better planning. First, for busy people there are parts of your day that you just need to automate and perform without question. Eat breakfast. Shop on weekends. Cook in large batches (plan for leftovers). Subscribe to a CSA. Stock frozen vegetables. Always have onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs in the house. Carry healthy snacks. Always have cans of soup at home. If you do these things automatically, your ability to quickly prepare a healthy meal will vastly improve.

Likewise, if you are prepared in advance when something unforeseen prevents you from acquiring your usual healthy meal, you can quickly turn to your plan B without worry or hesitation. For example, I always carry almonds with me in my gym bag. Just 5-10 of them and I can survive a few extra hours at work and make it home safe without pouncing on the first taqueria that crosses my path.

But certainly there are other reasons the world could be against you. One reader suggested I should have actually had an alternative answer: “Unhealthy foods taste good!” I replied that this counts as “the world is against me”, but her comment brings up an important difference that should be addressed. Neglecting to eat healthy because you don’t have time is very different from usually eating healthy but sometimes eating “unhealthy” foods because you like them. I never, ever recommend that anyone sacrifice quality of life for the sake of nutritional ideology.

Good health and healthy eating should improve your quality of life. The occasional indulgence is nothing to be ashamed of so long as it is something you partake in knowingly and with purpose. What I discourage is what you could call “wasting” an indulgence on something insignificant and of low quality simply because you did not have time or were too tired to cook dinner. Butter croissants and gelato are sublime foods that should be treated as such. And if they are made of real ingredients from scratch they aren’t even that bad for you on occasion. The same cannot be said for a Big Mac, which is neither exquisite nor even comes close to approximating real, healthy food.

Another reader suggested that two of the answer choices should be lumped together: “Can’t cook” and “Don’t like vegetables.” I absolutely agree that these two items are related. Proper cooking can make entrails taste delicious. But I have certainly encountered soggy, low-quality, over-cooked vegetables that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy (if I had one). I highly recommend working on your cooking skills and learning to cook vegetables the way you like them. Start with good ingredients and you’re half way there. Personally I have nearly conquered all my former food aversions. Please ask if you are interested in specific recipes or cooking recommendations.

Finally, I am happy that not many of you find eating healthy is too expensive (but I know this is a legitimate concern for many people). I admit, the price of food has gone up significantly and healthier food is undoubtedly more expensive than unhealthy food. For this I offer a few philosophical arguments.

My first proposition is to eat better food, but eat less of it. I realize people don’t like to hear this, but it has been shown that people tend to eat more of the cheapest (highly refined, processed) foods because they are much less satisfying. Also, there are very few people (mainly people with wasting diseases or anorexia nervosa) who would not benefit from eating fewer calories. Calorie reduction is the single most effective way to live longer and prevent diseases like cancer. The only caveat is that nutritional needs must be met. Fortunately this can be done with higher quality foods.

Another consideration is that although food is more expensive now, most Americans are spending far less (%) on food today than they did 50 years ago (and way more on health care!). This is certainly because the market has been flooded with cheap, government subsidized, refined calories (corn, soybeans). Why is this? As Michael Pollan writes in his new book In Defense of Food, “For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority.” How much did your T.V. or cell phone bill cost last month? Think about this before denouncing fresh fruit as the root of your financial woes.

My argument is that healthy eating is a delicious way to elevate quality of life now and in the future and actually reduce long-term health costs.

Any concluding thoughts on how to make health eating easier?

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