5 Mistakes You Will Make When You Try To Eat Healthy
Since "staying alive and healthy for longer" is the reason we decided to invent society in the first place, you'd think we wouldn't have all these roadblocks between us and healthy eating. If the world made sense, you'd walk into the grocery store and everything would be arranged on a gradient scale from "healthy boredom" to "delicious suicide," and you could make an informed decision like a goddamn adult. That way, people who have a family health history with more obnoxious tumors than a room full of Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonators could say, "I'll just hang out over here in the boring but healthy aisle, because I'd like to live to see the release of Star Wars Episode XXIII: We Cloned Alec Guinness."
Instead, we live in our stupid world, where trying to put nutrients in our body without also poisoning ourselves is literally a lifelong struggle that we are all but guaranteed to fail at. There are a million nefarious factors that are keeping us from achieving nutritional nirvana, but a million is too many entries for an article. So here are five.
You Planned too Far Ahead
I love plastic bowls of microwavable mac and cheese. They're my favorite thing that is literally killing me. And the best part about it is that I can forget that I have it for weeks on end. Then, on some magical day when I'm either drunk or very drunk and rooting around my cabinet for snacks, I'll find it, and it'll feel like Christmas. Since I don't remember buying it, it's exactly the same as getting a present from God.
It doesn't even matter that plastic bowls of mac and cheese taste like stale pasta smothered in salt goo (because they are stale pasta smothered in salt goo). Something you receive as a gift tastes better. It is untainted by the stink of effort or sacrifice. You know how when you buy five bagels and get a sixth for free, that free bagel is always the most delicious one? It's the same basic principle.
Bagels, by the way, will also kill you.
But that's not how healthy food works. Celery turns into flaccid, inedible mud-sticks faster than Donald Trump can turn a normal conversation into one about how racist he is. Kale transmogrifies into a brackish pudding of the damned before you can remember why the fuck you bought kale. In a mere week, fish will grow a colony of moldy residue that will either worship you as a god or try to usurp us as the planet's dominant intelligence. Anyone who decides to "start eating healthy" and "cook their own meals" will, inside a week, be battling a swarm of swampy fungus goblins that burst hungrily from their fridge at 4 a.m., crying havoc in the voice of conquering. Yes, when you try to shift your diet in a healthy direction, you run the risk of getting flayed by an army of tiny, pain-worshiping monsters. It's pretty fucked.
But more importantly, it's just another goddamn thing to keep track of. Another thing to have to plan every week. That energy has to come from somewhere. Unless, of course, you figured a way around this mistake ...
You Didn't Become An Entirely New Person
Stocking a kitchen with healthy consumables isn't something you just do; it's an actual skill. It's the difference between learning to drive a car and learning to fix a car. Anyone can get a Prius from their garage to work and back, but a far fewer can replace the head gasket in a 1999 Integra, or even know what the shit that means. It's an entire lifestyle change. If you eat like me, and want to one day eat healthy, you have to take into account that you will no longer be the person you are now. You will be a stranger in your own body. If that sounds like I'm exaggerating, just you wait.
I don't like any part of cooking. The planning, the construction, the standing-in-the-kitchen and idly stirring until something's consistency changes -- it's all awful. I'd much rather just throw a plastic bowl of instant mac and cheese in the microwave, hit the button, stare at it salivating for 90 seconds, and then shovel that pile of starch and salty goo down my gullet so fast that I can't even tell how thoroughly I've scorched my innards.
Setting aside the fact that healthy food is far more expensive than unhealthy food (which normally couldn't be set aside so easily, but I'm stupid rich), it's simply a matter of construction. To eat the way I normally eat, I just need to grab a slab of ham, a brick of cheese, a loaf of bread, and the fanciest fucking scotch available. To eat healthy, I have to buy quinoa, eggplant, bell peppers, a melange of spices, and then know exactly how to put them together into a thing that will taste good. And even then, I can still accidentally make it unhealthy by doing it wrong by, say, absentmindedly covering everything with Velveeta cheese sauce. I'm running a gauntlet of failure, only to find that I accidentally packed my arteries full to bursting with cheese anyway.
So to eat healthy, you have to be interested enough in food to learn how to make different kinds of it, rich enough to buy the good stuff, and talented enough to craft it properly. Then you have to have the presence of mind to remember what you bought, and the free time to put it together, because another common mistake is ...
You Didn't Make A Bunch Of Free Time Appear Out Of Goddamn Nowhere
I divide everything I do in an average day into three basic categories: Work, Sleep, and Trying To Fix The Personal Relationships I've Ruined Because All I Do Is Work And Sleep. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that those three categories don't leave room for preparing elaborate meals -- which, as already stated, I don't know how to prepare anyway. That's well-spotted, eagle-eyed readers. Enjoy a mouse carcass, on me.
Click here to receive your free mouse carcass!
It's not just me and my trend-setting commitment to laziness. Despite the supposed rise of foodie culture, home cooking has been steadily declining for the past three decades. We're eating home about two-thirds as much, and on top of that, we're spending about two-thirds the time preparing food as well. That article predicts drive-thru supermarkets in our near future, selling us precooked meals right into our car window. Which is, as of right now, the most appealing part of the future I've been promised.
Especially since, apparently, it's going to require a lot of window cleaner.
So in the end, we can't cook more because we don't know where to make the time come from. Sleep less, and we'll die. Work less, and we won't be able to afford the healthy food anyway. What was that third category again? Oh shit, I forgot to pick my buddy up. He's getting out of jail today. Let's get through these last two entries real speedy-like.
You Aren't Trying To Punish Yourself For Something
There's a reason you can still buy this poster:
Aside from the clever wordplay.
Eating is a great way to feel better. Chocolate is an antidepressant. Sugar is a stimulant. Plastic bowls of mac cheese are just, like, excellent. On top of that, not having time to cook also means not having time, period. That means being tense and exhausted and deserving something delicious to ease your fried nerves.
That word "deserve" is the key.
Eating healthy means not eating something that tastes better. It means denying yourself some pleasure, over and over again. And why, again? You busted your ass today. You met all your deadlines, you went to the gym, you lent that money to your buddy after you picked him up outside the jail. You've been doing great stuff. You deserve the sweet satisfaction of stuffing something deadly down your throat.
And this test of willpower doesn't end with the meal. Healthy food doesn't sit in your stomach. It doesn't satisfy the way unhealthy food does. And going to bed hungry is hard enough in any circumstances, and it's impossibly frustrating when you've spent the entire night stuffing your face full of lentils and spinach. Plus, I live in the part of Los Angeles that's absolutely chock-full of restaurants selling greasy food. You know the part.
Their siren song is warm and alluring, tickling my ear as I fantasize about taking a bath in an instant mac and cheese tub the size of a Volkswagen.
You Tried To "Get To The Bottom Of It"
When I suggested that we reorganize grocery stores into different sections based on how healthy stuff was, I wasn't actually kidding. I can't stress enough how weird it is that nutrition is both the most important part of our food shopping and totally obscured.
I've written about how unhealthy food disguises itself as healthy food with tricky labeling, but this goes way beyond that. Even conventional wisdom tricks us. Do you think granola is healthy? It's not! It's full of fat, which may or may not be bad. You'd think juice would be fine, since it's squeezed fruit and fruits are bombs of pure healthiness, but juice will also murder your liver. Even vegetables are bad for you -- I mean, probably. Google it.
The internet: Where everything is true!
Then, if you keep digging, you can find articles that challenge everything you think you know about nutrition. Maybe salt is okay! Saturated fats, too! Maybe the entire concept of nutritional research is flawed! Fuck it all! GORGE YOURSELF ON ICE CREAM RED BULL SMOOTHIES!
Cut that shit right out. Nutritional science is complicated because all science is complicated (that's why scientists do it instead of goobers like me). So the exact effect that "salt" and "saturated fat" are going to have on an individual person, or different people in general, is going to be tough to pin down. If you insist on finding out how bad each individual ingredient in each individual thing you eat is, you're going to get totally lost and come to the conclusion that it's all bullshit and we can eat whatever you want.
That's the trick, though. Because the information you're digging for in that situation isn't useful anyway. It was never on the table to just "stop eating salt," because salt is in everything. Don't believe me? It's a goddamn element.
But if you go to a doctor, or a good expert, and ask them to cut through the bullshit, it all comes down to one fairly simple thing: Whole foods good, prepackaged and fast foods bad. If you take the time to prepare your own meals, they'll end up being healthier through pure momentum -- probably because, unlike the food industry, you aren't actively trying to get yourself addicted to the stuff you're making.
At the end of the day, that first step toward being a healthy eater may not be easy, but at least it's clear. It's everything that comes next that's impossible.
J.F. Sargent is making rice right now! Rice is still healthy, right? Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and let him know if it's okay to eat rice.
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