A happy lifestyle change

I am not dieting. Rather, in the words of Nora Roberts, I am undergoing a lifestyle change.

As I declared at the start of the year, I want to get back in shape. That desire has several components to it: lose weight, regain flexibility and endurance, eat balanced meals, drink lots of water. The holy trinity of activity, hydration and good food. Easy to say. Not so easy to do, as I’ve discovered.

I could plead the heavy workload on my job, a lack of time to regularly cook, the faint metallic taste of my local water supply. But excuses don’t solve anything — they just perpetuate the problem. So I make no excuses, and have instead embarked upon a lifestyle change.

“Her love of the quick and the greasy had sent her on an odyssey of fad diets, unsatisfying supplements, and miracle workout tapes through her late teens and early twenties. Until she’d finally slapped herself silly, tossed out all her diet books, her diet articles, her I LOST TWENTY POUNDS IN TWO WEEKS — AND YOU CAN, TOO! ads, and put herself on the path to sensible eating and exercising.”Blood Brothers, by Nora Roberts

That’s me, in one short and concise paragraph, both past version and determined present tense.

Growing up, my food choices, as established by my family, were not always the greatest. My mom cooked meals for us almsot every day, but looking back, they were in part a product of our heritage.

Ethnically, I’m a hodgepodge, as we discovered when my family traced our ancestry back to practically the Stone Age. On my Dad’s side, I’m a combination of Slovak, a bit of German, Russian and Lithuanian (maybe). I’m largely Polish on my mother’s side — but she came from a very old family, which has ancestors who are Ukranian, and more Russian, Cossack, Transylvanian and just about every Baltic ethinic group you can name.

In essence, my family inherited a cuisine that’s heavy on the well, heaviness. Lots of butter and cream, bread and potatoes, doughs and sweets, not to mention supersized portions long before Mickey D’s thought of the term. Dinners regularly featured a large serving of meat (beef, pork, occasionally chicken or fish), usually pan-friend or topped with some kind of sauce. A mountain of mashed or fried potatoes on the side, and a dessert, usually sweet cookies or a slice of cake or a Tastycake pie, to finish it off. We enjoyed pierogies, beef stroganoff, and mac-and-cheese, casseroles and breaded cutlets and large, juicy burgers topped with a load of cheese.

Oh, we ate vegetables too — after all, we had a garden. Peas, green and wax beans, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Depending on the year, we might be trying to grow brussel sprouts or beets (successfully), broccoli (not so successfully) or corn (which fed the deer). But the vegies were additions to the meal, not equal partners.

Not to mention that my family motto could be “No food left behind.” Second helpings (and thirds) were definitely encouraged. And for those occasions when my mom or gran didn’t have time to cook, there was always a trip to the Golden Arches for a Big Mac and fries and a nice chocolate shake.

Let me put it in perspective for you. Our traditional Easter breakfast consists of cold ham, bread and butter, eggs, hrutka (egg cheese), poppyseed and nut breads, and kielbasa. Oh, and a side of redbeets and horseradish. If that isn’t a heart-attack lying in wait, I don’t know what is.

Now, those menus were balanced by activity — long bike rides or walks to get anywhere, after-school band and sports practices, just plain playtime. Still, my taste buds and eating habits were formed early, and their training was to eat a lot of fatty foods.

Which brings me to the lifestyle change.

Over time, I gradually re=trained myself to cook healthier, and to eat a lot more vegies, more fowl and fish than red meat. But I’ve fallen back into old eating habits, and coupled with the lack of exercise (and an ankle injury a few years ago that sidelined me for a year), I’m no longer in fighting trim. At the start of the year, I tried ‘dieting’ – no-carbs, and then when that didn’t work, blood-sugar balancing. But there’s a problem with diets — it’s very easy to slip off the regimented eating schedules (a meeting that runs long, an unexpected business trip). And once you’ve slipped, you can easily make excuses to slip again. Because a diet is a temporary thing, something you go on, and go off when you finish losing the weight.

But a lifestyle change is just that – a permanent change. You are, in essence, re-educating your palate and re-training your brain about what foods you want to eat, and when. At the same time, you get your body used to steady doses of activity.

And that’s what I’ve been doing the last few weeks. I’ve stocked my kitchen with fish, fowl, lean cuts of meat. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a wide variety of farmers’ markets in the area, and I’ve gradually been working my way through them, learning which stalls offer the best and freshest and most unique vegies (Chinese long-beans anyone?). I’ve gathered together a plethora of recipes I’ve always wanted to try, dishes that are light on the sauces and place more of an emphasis on herb dressings.

I’ll still eat potatoes, rices, breads, but in sensible and occasional amounts. Oddly enough, desserts won’t be that big of an issue for me. I actually don’t like most cakes — the icing is a different story, but since you can’t get icing without cake, I’m safe. I do like cheesecake, but not enough to buy an entire cake and let it go to waste.

And soda’s also not an issue – I discovered years ago that I like the bubbles, not necessarily the taste. And so my fridge has a nice selection of sparkling mineral waters. I just have to commit to actually drinking the water, at least eight glasses a day.

That just leaves the activity portion of the program, which I’ll update on tomorrow.

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