After reading Balancing Act: Part 1, we recognize that everyone has a different frame of reference about work—and that work-life balance requires mindfulness about the food on your plate, as well as the food of life... Let’s talk food!
FOOD RULES. Don’t worry. If you’re a rule breaker (like me), you’ll cut yourself slack when you fall off the wagon. After all, overly obsessing about what you eat is almost as unhealthy as a drive-through trip to Burger King. Instead, think of these food "rules” as suggestions for making small changes that add up. Start with one and observe. Take pause. Then take two. Step by step, you’ll notice a deeper awareness of and connection to what works, ultimately embracing your own nourishing traditions, finding balance and enjoying the results.
DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST. For many, breakfast is the meal that’s most inconsistent. It may be eaten, but often on the run, at your desk, or in front of the TV. All too often, it is skipped. Yet, it really is the most important meal. It sets the tone. It feeds your body and mind. And, if the right foods are eaten, it provides lasting energy, boosting your ability to power through your agenda like a superstar. I know—you just don’t have the time. Really? How long does it take to…
* Top plain yogurt with fruit and/or nuts, lightly drizzle with honey, maple syrup (or stevia), and dust with cinnamon...
* Toast hearty whole grain, sprouted grain or gluten-free bread and give it a schmear of nut butter + sliced banana if that's your jam; or mashed avocado, solo or with tomato...
* Hard boil a few eggs to have handy for a few days and enjoy various ways...
* Drink your breakfast! Make a wholesome smoothie in minutes...
CUT THE CRAP. Clearing clutter from your diet is like clearing clutter from your desk—when everything's in place, it’s easier to breeze through work like a champ. Likewise, when processed foods (really food?) and crappy additives overload our bodies, we slow down physically and mentally. We experience a rollercoaster of energy highs and lows, avoidable mood swings, mind fog, etc. To start clearing the clutter:* Take a sec to read ingredient labels before deciding to buy.
* Reduce added sugar or avoid it altogether. Eat more fresh fruit—natural sugar is better metabolized. Berries are the lowest in sugar (red raspberries, just a smidge more than tomatoes).
* Whenever possible, opt for organic. Pesticides aren't good for anyone.
* Stay hydrated (pure spring water) and just say no to soda, gross energy drinks, etc. And, be mindful that even pure, yummy fruit juices are loaded with sugar, but without the fiber benefit.
* Avoid or limit bleached white flour products, rolls, pastry, doughnuts and bagels.
* Amp up the veggies! And, eat a variety of colors for a variety of nutrients.
* Eat 2-3 servings of fruit a day to “crowd out” cravings for naughty sweets.
* Eat beans—a complex carb and a nutrient-dense protein source.
* Swap white rice for brown, red or black (yum), or try quinoa, millet or kasha (buckwheat).
* When eating bread, choose multigrain or whole grain as opposed to wheat or white, and limit portions. Unless, of course, you're in
* Let pasta be a special treat—sometimes there's nothing like Nonna's pasta, but more often, choose spaghetti squash, spiraled veggies or keep it to 1X week.
WATCH PROTEIN. It has its hands in every critical function of the body, yet the average adult only requires 10-20% protein (this varies if you’re pregnant, nursing or running marathons). Many folks eat too much protein, and some eat too little (specifically vegetarians and vegans). For carnivores, protein usually plays a starring role at mealtime, but is better served as supporting cast. If you don’t eat animal protein, include beans and/or bean products, such as tofu and tempeh, which are usually minimally processed.* If you choose to eat meat, be selective. Opt for omega-rich wild-caught fish, pastured poultry, and less or little red meat, preferably grass-fed. Also, eat portions no bigger than the palm of your hand.
* Go out of your way to find ethical and responsible farming, learn about labeling, and say no to processed proteins, such as mystery sausage, hot dogs and most cold cuts.
* Eat more beans—from soups to salads, they’re cheap and easy to incorporate.
* Eat more whole grains, especially quinoa (actually a seed), which has all 8 essential amino acids and more protein than any true grain.
* Dairy has protein, too, but don’t over-do. It’s an inflammatory food (and mucous-producing—yuck).
SNACK BETWEEN MEALS. Contrary to popular belief, snacking is good for you as long as you choose whole foods that contain complex carbs for energy. Think plant food. Raw veggies, fruit, unsweetened dried fruit, nuts, pepitas or sunflower seeds… And if that’s not doing it for you…* Top brown rice cakes with hummus, a little cheese, avocado, nut butter or...
* Eat any citrus fruit, the best “traveling” option that doesn’t get bruised or smushed in your bag. Apples and bananas run a close second as jetsetters.
* There are many healthy crackers on the market these days. I'm addicted to Mary’s Gone Crackers; they're nutrient-dense, gluten-free, super tasty, and stand up to whatever you pile on them.
* If you’re working on weight loss, drink a tall glass of water, which fills you up and quells cravings. It also prevents water retention (your body holds water if you don't drink enough).
THE SKINNY ON SALAD. I am always reminded of Elaine from Seinfeld when I think about a “big salad” for lunch or dinner. She had a point. Eat your vegetables! That said, my tips for salads are simple. Choose your favorite leafy greens and crunchy ingredients, being mindful of rounding it out with other nutrients:* Toss in as many colors as possible for a wide range of vitamins and antioxidants, as well as great texture and flavor; add fruit for contrast and extra fiber.
* Include protein: chickpeas, edamame, leftover salmon or chicken, hard-boiled egg, sunflower seeds, pepitas, almonds, walnuts (you get the picture).
* Be careful of bottled dressings; extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar and/or lemon juice is always a good option if you aren’t sure what’s in the dressing (beware of sugar).
* Enjoy a BIG salad, unless you’re pairing it with soup or a sammy.
BETWEEN THE BREAD. There are so many ways to build a healthy sandwich, just keep a few things in mind when you begin fantasizing the ultimate Dagwood:* Whole grain or sprouted grain are the best choices, but a good focaccia or sour dough won’t kill you on occasion! Check ingredients for added sugar and other unnecessary additives. The shorter the list, the better, unless it has a zillion types of grains and seeds—then you’ve hit the jackpot!
* Try to combine a protein source with veggies and/or fruit, such as grilled chicken or fish, sliced fresh turkey breast, smoked salmon, egg or tuna salad, hummus or another bean spread, grilled veggies… Then add salad to the sammy! Think sweet and savory—sliced cheese, thinly sliced apple or pear, olives, capers, roasted peppers—or the humble-but-always-welcome lettuce and tomato.
* Dressing—less is more, and check ingredients when using prepared dressings or condiments. Go with a schmear, as opposed to globs.
SOUP’S ON! Make one of your favorites on Sunday and enjoy it throughout the week. Freeze some, too. If you commute to work, small frozen soup containers keep your salad or sandwich chilled when a fridge is not available.
DON’T DESERT DESSERT. Finish lunch and dinner with fruit, dried or fresh, or a small piece of quality dark chocolate, a couple of healthy cookies... Sometimes, just a little sweetie will satiate your cravings for a big, naughty dessert, and quell your hunger until it’s time for a light healthy snack when energy tends to wane.
RESTAURANTS & TAKE-OUT. By now you have a pretty good idea of what to eat, but sometimes we find ourselves in situations where the menu may not offer exactly what we’re in the mood for, or what we would like to eat in order to stay aligned with our mission to be the crusader of our individual balancing act.* Take a moment of pause before reading the menu—remind yourself of your good intentions, stay focused on what’s good for you, in addition to what tastes good.
* If you see it on the menu, but it’s not included with your first choice, ask the server if you can adjust or exchange (she/he is there to serve YOU).
* If bread is served, think about what you’ve ordered and if you really need to eat it as a starter; perhaps you save it for your soup or salad, or skip it altogether.
FIVE MORE TIPS FOR CONSCIOUS EATING
- Recognize true hunger. We often eat for reasons that often have little to do with real hunger, such as pacifying emotions or overcoming boredom. Eat only when you experience physical hunger pangs.
- Relax before eating. Hunger experienced when stressed is mentally induced to provide an outlet for tension. Take pause, breathe, express gratitude, and recognize your body’s signals about how much to eat.
- Eat in a pleasant atmosphere. Candles and flowers may not be happening in your office, but you can create a chill space by setting a clean, uncluttered “table.” At the very least, invite yourself to sit down, rather than eat standing or on the run.
- Chew well. Being mindful of chewing helps you to process your food, making it more bioavailable for optimal nourishment, as well as the most satisfaction. Take your time to rest and digest.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes we eat too much, too little, too quickly, or absentmindedly. Don’t make it a big deal—respond with humor and understanding, using lapses as learning to help you move forward.
Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Some of these suggestions may already be part of your routine, so a bit of tweaking may do the trick. But, for many, this is a new way of looking at the food on your plate and may seem overwhelming. Take a deep breath and take one step at a time.
Jocelyn Krasner is a copywriter, yoga teacher, and healthy food enthusiast who lives in Hoboken, NJ, where her personal balancing act is a continued work in progress.
(Footer photos, David Plakke)