Day Ninety-Eight: The first step to healthier eating? Reduce your barcodes

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Good luck weighing this trolley-load, son.

 

Sometimes people ask me for tips on cleaning up their diet. It’s usually because they’ve watched me pull out a packed lunch of nuts, fruit, and salad (or more likely, because they’ve seen me turn down chocolate and cake at a party). I have no nutritional qualifications, mind you, only a basic grasp of what’s good and what’s not so good. But I noticed something today that I think sums up what a healthier lifestyle is all about.

I was watching the nice lad (yes, I’m 80) at the supermarket scanning my groceries. Or should I say, weighing and entering my groceries.

You see, this poor guy (check-out whizz though he was) only got about 10 easy scans out of the 50 items we bought. The rest he had to stop and locate in his database, and weigh, before handing them over to be bagged. That’s the key difference between our trolley and the ones of most other shoppers: 80 per cent of what we buy is in its original form. And if it has a barcode on it, it’s probably not in its original form.

When my boyfriend and I go shopping, we race down the packaged food aisle (the first one you encounter when you walk into Aldi, in contrast to the immediate fruit and veg onslaught in Coles and Woolworths–different marketing technique?), stopping only for some canned tomatoes, rice milk, and bags of sunflower seeds. The real fun happens in the fruit and veg section. (If you’re wondering, yes we do buy most of our fruit and vegetables from Aldi. Not organic, not all Australian-grown, but one battle at a time, hey? We also hit up the farmers’ markets when we can. But the Aldi stuff is well-priced and tasty, and we modestly-employed youngsters love a delicious bargain.)

We spend the bulk of our shopping trip skipping around the fruit and veg like small children who’ve been given free reign in the confectionery aisle, asking each other with shining eyes if we might get some pears this week. Discovering watermelon on special elicits squeals of excitement. Don’t even ask how many bananas we bought. That should last a few days, we told each other, before grabbing an extra bunch just to be safe.

The point is that healthy eating for beginners can be simplified into this: fill your trolley with 80 per cent barcode- and ingredient list-free products. If it comes in a box or a bag, it’s very likely been processed, pumped full of of excess sugar and preservatives, and too far from its natural state to be any good for you.

 

To break it down, here are food items we buy in packages:

Nuts (raw and unsalted)

Rice milk

Tinned tomatoes (because non-perishables are just so handy)

Rice

Dates

Gluten-free pasta

Gluten-free bread

Tuna (protein-rich lunch on the run)

Meat (this one makes it in here on a technicality, since it is in a packet and does have a barcode)

 

With the exception of the gluten-free bread, which has all sorted of crazy gums and stuff to hold it together in the absence of gluten, even the packaged stuff we buy has only a couple of ingredients.

The downside is that we have to stock up on fresh goodies more than once a week. The upside is happy tummies, clear minds, and an appreciation for how food is supposed to be eaten (i.e. fresh and whole).

I’m no expert, just a girl with hyper-sensitive guts trying to keep her body from rage-quitting–and, hey, it’s working out pretty well so far. To the ones who ask, I’ll tell them it’s all about taking the first step, making changes that are manageable for you, and learning to look at food differently. If I had it my way, we’d live on an acreage, grow our own fruit and vegetables, and start a co-op with like-minded neighbours, but we’re a way off that yet. For now, it’s enough to make better choices in the supermarket (enjoy our patronage while you can, you greedy bastards) and pat ourselves on the back when we crave bananas instead of cake.

 

(Of course, we do enjoy our modified treats too, because resisting chocolate will always be a challenge. Today was caramel slice aka Sweet Happiness.)

TB

 

Related articles:

7 Tips to Help You Make Healthy Choices at the Supermarket (http://dellaterrawellness.com/make-healthy-choices-at-the-supermarket/)

The Benefits of Healthy Whole Foods (http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-benefits-of-healthy-whole-foods)

Why Eat Wholefoods? (http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/nutrition/nutrition+tips/why+eat+wholefoodsr,14993)

Survey: Processed Foods vs Whole Foods (http://www.sarahcalandro.com/thesisblog_2/?p=727)

Day Nine: Peer Pressure (now in adult sizes)

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It’s your first real high school party and you’re really nervous. You’re not exactly cool at school (although you’re not a complete loser either) and you want to make a good impression. You rock up with your friend after having your dad drop you a little way down the road–because it is really not ok for him to be seen with you. You’re wearing an outfit that you saw on a mannequin at Sportsgirl and you feel kind of fashionable for once in your life. You and your friend follow the pulsing beat around the side of the house and into the backyard. Everywhere you look, kids are drinking, smoking, laughing, kissing. The girl who invited you sees you from across the yard and totters over in her riduculous heels (at a backyard party? Seriously?).

“Heyyyyy!” she slurs, grabbing onto you, probably for stability. “Come in, sit down, have some drinks!”

You’re led over to a group of guys and girls and introduced. You lower yourself into a deck chair and smile awkwardly at the people around you. The host comes back moments later with two cups of mystery liquid and pushes one into your hand.

“What is it?” you ask.

“Haha, you’re so cute,” she says, even though you’re deadly serious and actually older than she is. “It’s goon.”

You know what goon is. You’ve seen the aftermath spawled on the footpaths some Friday nights when you’re driving home from dinner with your parents. You understand what drinking this stuff will do to your body. You stare at the clear liquid a moment longer before handing it back to your host.

“I think I’ll pass.”

It’s like the whole party stops. Like that mortifying moment when the music drops out and the word you happen to be yelling over the noise is ‘vagina’. The people in your circle look at you, somewhat puzzled.

“Why aren’t you having any?” one asks, almost wounded.

“Go on,” says another, who you’re pretty sure you’ve never met. “Live a little.”

Eventually, everyone shrugs and goes back to their drinks. You watch as they guzzle into intoxication. A couple of times you almost talk yourself into indulging ‘just this once’.

A little while later, someone comes up to you and tells you, between drags on their cigarette, that they really admire you for abstaining from booze.

“I wish I had your self control,” they tell you, wistfully. You feel more than a little patronised.

Adult social situations are much the same as teenage ones when it comes to drinking and food. Since I’ve been on a restrictive diet (for health, not image, reasons) I’ve encountered the above situation on more occasions than I’d care to count. In order to function at my best–and not be a sickly, crampy mess–I avoid gluten, dairy, and sugar. “All the good stuff,” people have joked to me before. Sure, I’d like to say. And all the stuff that contributes to chronic health problems.

The most common thing I come up against when refusing food and explaining my situation is, “oh, but surely just a little bit won’t hurt”. Actually, these foods in any amount are enough to make me quite uncomfortable. Unless you’d like me hunched over your toilet bowl (and not from drinking), please don’t try to suggest that I just have a nibble.

The second most common is the good old, “oh, that must suck”. You know what sucks more than ‘missing out’ on your delicious creamy dessert? Spending the next day with stabbing stomach pains. Also, flatulence.

The final, and arguably most frustrating, is the, “you’re so good. I could never do that”. Do you approach all areas of your life with that attitude, I wonder? Do you quit before you even begin? Thanks for the praise, but I’m not doing it to impress society at large; I’m doing it for my own personal health reasons. And for the record, yes, it is god-damned hard to overhaul your eating habits, but like anything, you get used to it after a while. Of course you could do it if you really tried; you’ve probably just never given yourself a chance.

It’s difficult to live contrary to most of your peers. If you’re strong enough to stick to your guns, you’ll encounter a lot of questions, but eventually a lot of admiration. It’s hard to watch other people ‘enjoying’ the things that you can’t/won’t eat, but the best thing to remember is that nothing tastes good enough to be worth the negative effects your body will suffer afterwards. (Plus, if you learn to make clean desserts, you’ll never miss out. And people sometimes actually prefer your treats to the traditional versions.)

Interestingly, when I was in the detox stage of my lifestyle change and didn’t consume alcohol either, I encountered almost the exact reactions that I did as a teen refusing a drink. The best part of adulthood and autonomy is being able to control your own environment: food, exercise, hobbies. That’s the whole point of moving out, right? It’s the best chance you’ll have to start from scratch, form new habits, and live the life you’ve always wanted to.

TB