If you don't want to read my shit and just want the tricks, scroll on down to HERE ARE THE TRICKS!
LET THE RECORD SHOW THAT I LOVE KALE BUT THIS MEME IS FUNNY.
Companies that embrace Light Low Calorie Cooking are super into carbohydrate replacements. Cauliflower rice, eggplant chips, portobello mushroom bread slices. It’s an intoxicating prospect. Replace your carbs with vegetables, eat the same foods you love, end up with a healthier diet! Boom!
Except I have questions.
What’s the real point here? Because it doesn’t feel like increased vegetable consumption to me. You could just suggest that your readers roast some brussels sprouts to go with their rice. No, these ideas always sound suspiciously like “Rice will make you Fat. This cauliflower rice will make you Not Fat,” with very little emphasis on enjoying one’s food or what a healthy diet can really look like.
Let’s look at some of the most common offenders and then we’ll talk about five better approaches to healthier eating.
A turkey club lettuce wrap
Hate that nasty tortilla full of the carbs that your brain relies upon for existence? Make your wrap using a nice, hearty piece of lettuce instead. You won’t even notice the difference in taste, texture, consistency, ease of eating, cleanliness, satiety, or literally everything about it. Sure, there’s some chance that this papery frond will shred beneath your fingertips on the first bite. And we recognize that a ragged sheet of chlorophyll may be sub-optimal for the globs of mayonnaise falling in your lap. But remember, the point is to eat one extra leaf to avoid fatness no matter what and dammit, that’s what you’re doing.
Zucchini pasta with marinara sauce
Absolutely love pasta? We get it! But pasta might be bad because it might make you fat, even though carbohydrates are the macromolecule that most bodies need in the highest quantities. So try replacing your pasta with slices of a seedy, watery, shitty vegetable like zucchini. The vegetable that people grow proudly and then desperately try to give away because it absolutely sucks. Don’t forget to put tomato sauce on it! We figure that what anyone likes best about pasta is definitely not the taste, mouthfeel, or satisfaction after eating it. No, we think it’s the strip-like shape and thick tomato blanket. So you won’t even notice the change. Oh hold on though — we’re gonna call it a cute name too. Ready? Zoodles. See? It’s like how you fool your four-year-old into thinking your wine is grape juice.
Spaghetti squash pasta with marinara sauce
I This one is gonna blow your mind. There’s the pasta called spaghetti, right? And it’s great? Well, there is ALSO a squash called spaghetti. So what if you just take the squash spaghetti and…pretend?…that it’s pasta spaghetti? Same name! Genius. Don’t forget the Zoodle trick: suppressive tomato sauce tactics. (Suppressive Tomato Sauce Tactics is gonna be the name of my forthcoming slam poetry performance piece.)
Carb replacements: fewer calories, more vegetables, same foods, what’s not to like?
Well, a few things.
It’s a flawed premise.
Nutrition is not always simple but this part is simple: you don't need to eat black bean brownies. You can eat black beans, and then brownies.
I like these veggies and I want people to eat them. It's the disingenuousness that I object to. Zucchini and squash don’t taste, chew, or cook like pasta. So calling them pasta-like and telling people to just put a blindfold on and eat it anyway is insane. It’s like how I’ve never understood why people complain that veggie burgers don’t taste like beef burgers. They’re not made of beef. Why the fuck would they taste like beef? It would be like throwing on some four-inch Jimmy Choo stilettos and being outraged that they don’t feel like sneakers. They’re not sneakers. They’re knives that you attached to the bottom of your foot. You don’t run with them, you murder people with them. They serve different purposes.
Some dishes — like stuffed peppers and stuffed tomatoes, for example — work perfectly as vegetable vessels that also provide substantial eating. And I’m definitely into working sneaky vegetables into non-vegetable meals. Soups, omelets, ground meat, and yes, even tomato sauce.
But the Don’t Eat This Thing, Eat That Thing culture where every carbohydrate in popular dishes is replaced by a vegetable is sooooo tired. Counterproductive. Creates guilt that doesn’t need to be there. Villainizes an entire food group. And, since Zoodles have none of the bite and none of the satisfaction of noodles, they make people think that vegetables can’t be satisfying. Which is a travesty, because vegetables can be heroically delicious. Just not when you’re pretending they’re something else.
Crust-free pizza? Bunless burgers? BLACK BEAN BROWNIES?! You guys, you don’t have to eat black bean brownies. Nutrition is not always simple, but this part is definitely, absolutely simple: You can have black beans in your dinner and then you can have brownies afterwards.
Healthy eating is a mountain that builds in thin layers.
What’s the actual trick to healthy eating? The understanding that healthy eating, like movement, like sleep, like maintaining relationships, is a mountain that builds in thin layers over time. It’s the accumulation of tiny decisions that mold into a bigger, stronger entity. Think of your best friend. You don’t love her because she texted you one really hilarious joke one time. You love her because she texts you hilarious things all the time. And because when you get together you can’t stop talking. And because you support each other in your petty stupid shit as hard as you support each other in the real shit. You get a remarkable relationship because you both regularly contribute small, unremarkable things to it.
It’s the same with habits. Forcing yourself once through a crust-free pizza probably isn’t the launch pad for a complete eating overhaul. The overhaul comes layer by layer. From realizing that there are some salads you like and seeking them out because you like them (not because it’s what you’re supposed to eat); to learning how to prepare food you enjoy at home so you’re less physically and emotionally reliant on take-out; to recognizing when you’re craving things because they’ll bring you joy vs. craving things because you have nothing else going on at that moment. There’s a reason that I surf in endless circles around my kitchen when I’m bored or avoiding responsibility.
HERE ARE THE TRICKS!
Accumulation of tiny decisions isn’t sexy. It doesn’t package well. It doesn’t sell well. We generally like One Idea With Actionable Direction. Unfortunately, the human body doesn’t work that way. But here are five easy ways to start implementing real, meaningful change.
1) Make a commitment to have a fruit or vegetable in every meal.
Egg sandwich? Add spinach on top. Pizza? Hellooooo, toppings. Chili? Side of baked sweet potato. When you make this a specific goal, you won’t believe how easy it is to do.
2) Consider how you feel after eating any given food and let that guide your future decisions.
Did a meal full of vegetables make you feel proud of the way you fueled your body? (I always feel like a superhero when I eat a fantastic, filling salad.) Chase that feeling! Remember how it made you feel powerful! Did you think you wanted fast food but then felt like shit after? Run away from that feeling! Remember how it made you feel powerless or unhappy in the end. (And if you wanted fast food and felt great after? Awesome! You did a perfect read of your cravings.)
3) If you don’t cook, try to cook one meal a week with simple food that you enjoy.
You’re not Bobby Flay; you don’t have to spend three hours on it. Choose easy ingredients that you like to eat. Use the internet to help you punch up those ingredients. So if you like rice, try Googling “spicy rice dish with vegetables.”
4) If you already cook a little bit, start getting better.
Perfect a pan-fried fish fillet or a tangy salad dressing that makes you lick the whisk. You won’t crave takeout as often if you can make your own stuff that tastes good for less money.
5) Prepare for when you know you’ll be looking for food in a hurry.
If you have a slammed day at work, get home at 6:30, have some shitty social zoom at 8, and don’t have any food in the house, there’s no chance you’re going to the grocery store and then racing home to cook it. Having something ready to heat and eat will reduce the chance that you say, “Fuck it, let’s get Chinese.”
Remember, you’re layering small, unremarkable decisions to make something great. And your body is doing the same. It doesn’t make much from your one black bean brownie. It makes a whole lot out of regular bean consumption over time. (That’s not a fart joke although it could be.) And both of you can enjoy the damn brownie together, like best friends do.