About ten years ago I moved back to Toronto from a three-year stint in Winnipeg where I was attending the University of Manitoba and sewing my wild oats, so to speak. When I moved back I started to attend another school now known as OCAD University to get my degree in Design. For the first three years I lived in a ridiculously cheap (and small) apartment in an area of Toronto called The Beach. While I was there I literally did not turn on the stove once, not once in three years. I lived on mainly pre-made, microwaved and ordered in and out food that was expensive to say the least, in my defense I was quite focused on my studies.
In my thesis year at OCAD I moved again, close to the main subway lines and about half way through that year I started to actually cook food. It wasn’t good food or food that was good for you but I did use the oven and the burners, along with the microwave and a blowtorch a few times. Long story. I mainly cooked the simplest things possible. Meat: steak, hotdogs, hamburgers. Starch: Rice, Macaroni and cheese. Vegetables…um…no. I was just happy to have some control over what I was eating, and I admit I was pretty proud of myself for even turning on the stove. When I was finished school I moved again (I move a lot) and that’s when I actually started cooking. Not just steaks and random things I knew how to cook, mostly it was things I didn’t know how to cook and the entire process of doing that really appealed to my creative side. It became a sort of relaxation / zen exercise for me. I cooked everything: from rabbit to Cornish game hen, asparagus to bok choy and beyond, so far beyond my knowledge I eventually was just straight out experimenting. I even made and bottled jams and preserves. By doing this I thought I was eating healthily. I knew exactly what was going into my food, I tried to create some sort of balance on the plate between greens, meat and starches and I cooked dinner for myself, from scratch, at least three times per week. Cut to the end of last year, three years after I had started my “Zen and the Art of Cooking” thing and after a few conversations with my sister who is a nutritionist and personal trainer that nowadays owns and runs her own cafe in Toronto called “The Tampered Press” (shameless plug), I realized that my idea of how healthy I thought I was eating was completely wrong.
This is where I will pause the story because I really thought, 100% I was eating in a healthy manner and this was entirely based on the fact that I had been actively cooking for myself and I knew exactly what I was eating. Self delusion is a powerful thing. This is not a “this is what I eat so this is what you should eat” post. I am not selling anything or representing any diet or way of eating. I don’t take a bunch of herbal extracts or claim that eating meat is bad or good or only eating things without a face is the way to go because, quite frankly I don’t care. What I eat, what I cook and what I do is for me as what you eat and cook is for you. If you think that drinking all of your meals in shake format while wearing weigh loss patches, hanging upside down, drinking lemon juice, and watching Dr. Oz is what works for you, then by all means do it. Eating healthily and living healthily is not universal. Sure there are the basics that build the foundation of a healthy meal or snack, and some things you can obviously do to change your lifestyle for the better, but it is different for everyone which is what I have learned over the past three months. I really have to thank my sister for this because I reached out to her for help. I wanted to change the way I ate, and it has been a complete cold-turkey lifestyle change. I want to be clear: I am not the poster boy for a healthy lifestyle, my goal was not to lose weight it was to be healthier and healthier I am.
So what happened was this, three months ago I emailed my sister a calendar I had filled out in Excel of exactly what I had eaten during each day for three weeks in a row, thinking that I was probably going to have to improve a few things. However, since I ate vegetables and kept the starches down, I didn’t think I ate that many deserts and I had quit drinking over three years ago so that, altogether had to be good right? Not so much. When I met with her for the first time she had obviously spent a good amount of time going over what I was eating, she had colour coded it. Orange was “not good”, green was “a meal” and blue was “extra’s”. In the three weeks of Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, Snack, Dinner and Snack there was maybe five things highlighted in green. It was a sea of orange, apparently my eating habits were not as healthy as I thought, in fact they were quite the opposite. Granted as I was documenting it all, I could tell it was not going to be as great as I thought, (especially the day I wrote down: Dinner: Steak, Asparagus and Salad then Snack: 1 Whole Pumpkin Pie.)
My sister said to me that I need to be true to myself and either commit to changing my lifestyle or continue to feel like crap 80% of the time. I was already committed in my head and I told her I was committed to it in that first meeting. For the first couple of weeks, the only thing that kept me from going back to my old ways was the idea of disappointing my sister who is one of the very few people I look up to. She had put all this work into helping me understand the error’s of my ways and explaining to me the basics of nutrition. It was truly a night and day experience for me and only now, almost three months later becoming the ‘norm’. I still trip up once in awhile and I still smoke, like I said, I am not the poster boy for a healthy lifestyle but I am doing what I set out to.
Breakfast wasn’t a huge change, I subbed out my daily Vector Bar for a regular high fiber – low everything else granola bar. Vector bars, as it turns out are essentially meal replacements. Since I take vitamins in the morning the additional vitamins in the bars were overdoing it. Add to that my coffee, pre and post biotic yogurt and a Bannana and that’s my breakfast simple and healthy. Snacks, Lunches and Dinners where a whole other story. My snacks went from chips and diet Pepsi to carrots and hummus with water or an apple with water or kale chips with water. Lunches went from microwaved things and diet Pepsi to a turkey or avocado and cucumber sandwich on whole wheat with a salad and water. Dinners, well dinners were my thing. I loved grilling up a big steak slathered in olive oil, oregano and black truffle paste. Topping it with garlic butter and Worcestershire sauce and pairing it with a nice (fake) merlot. Now it varies – last week it was lean turkey tacos filled with lettuce, green salsa and plain Greek yogurt with carbonated water. The week before: sautéed Kale with Cannelli beans, caramelized onions, garlic and a Green Monster smoothie of my own creation (you can google those.) Yesterday I made pork tenderloin, topped it with a chimichurri sauce (made from scratch) and a salad, three weeks ago it was chicken breasts and before that, salmon. Night and day.
Anyways, when it all comes down to it, changing your lifestyle to be healthier, is not easy and there are no shortcuts, really there aren’t I looked. You have to learn and understand what makes food good and bad for you, portion control is so important and commitment is a big part of it. On average now I eat between two and three pounds of Kale per week, I didn’t even know what Kale was a few months ago. I drink 2-3 litres of water a day and when I get a craving for something sweet, instead of downing a small cheesecake, I throw some almonds in a bowl and sprinkle some honey on top. What you don’t want to do is follow trends because trends are by definition: what is popular at that time. Changing your lifestyle for the better is not a trend; it is also not a diet. You do not want to be counting calories with no knowledge of what is bad, what is good and why. Organic food is great and step in the right direction for the world in general but it’s not remotely as regulated as people are led to believe it is. In all seriousness what you really need to do (if you want to) is go and see a nutritionist. They go to school for this and are up to date on everything you will need to know. If they’re even half as good as my sister, they’ll be able to explain what you need to know and teach you so that you can learn how to continue on your own.
I’m 32, I’ve never felt better in my life. My mind is clearer, my overall quality of life has improved beyond what I though was actually possible and yes I still smoke, though I am quitting this year. One thing at a time. Now I have to go, my Kale is getting cold.
Much apologies for the almost two month delay from my last post to this one; I moved, it sucked and I’m still unpacking. I still live in and work out of Toronto, just a different neighborhood. I’ll try to keep up a better schedule in the future.