Better Choices

I ended the last post with “Don’t forget, you can buy and eat whatever you like.” I stand by that, but I want to acknowledge that if you have a food allergy or autoimmune disorder then it’s obviously not true. In the case of those conditions, there are certainly right and wrong/deadly choices.

In general, I do think it’s helpful to distinguish between right choices and better choices. If you’ve tried a diet before, you know that most diets are obsessed with right choices and promise to help you make them more often. If you consistently make right choices, they say, you’ll achieve the goals you set for yourself and the diet will work. Making right choices all the time is unrealistic and exhausting to attempt. And when you make a wrong choice, it’s easy to get discouraged. I think that’s a big part of why diets don’t work: placing arbitrary restrictions on what you will and will not eat is not a sustainable way of going about living your life.

What I’m saying is that you have real power here, and the real power you have is the power of choice, and what’s most important is figuring out how to choose better.

When you’re learning about food, consider the source. Documentaries, government agencies, cookbooks, or blogs all have an agenda: they want you to choose a way of consuming that is in line with their beliefs about food. Or, in the case of the government agency, they don’t care what you do they just need you to drink a glass of milk with dinner every night so that the lobbyists are happy. It’s up to you whether or not to pick up what they’re putting down.

Better choices are different than right choices because they allow for gray areas. I don’t digest dairy very well anymore, but cheese is amazing and I refuse to remove it from my life. Some would say the right choice would be to avoid cheese altogether, but I think the better choice for me is to reduce the amount of dairy I eat overall so I can still enjoy the cheeses every now and then.

If you strive for better choices rather than right choices, I think you’ll find it easier to kick (or form) the food habits you want, and that the changes are more sustainable and long-lasting. If you push information about health and food trends through the filter of better choices, you can build a lifestyle of eating well by comparing options to your food goals.

Do you have any food goals? If you don’t think you do, think about whether or not you’ve ever said something like

  • I wish I was better at cooking, or at least enjoyed trying to cook
  • If I could lose like five pounds that would be great
  • I wonder if there’s a way to only eat one slice of pizza
  • What’s all this buzz about Vitamin C
  • I’m sure vegetables can be delicious, but I don’t know how to make them taste like anything but sadness
  • What are macros, and is it OK to fry them
  • So sugar is in everything, huh
  • I’ve always wanted to try a fad diet, but they’re all so dumb

…then I’d say you’ve considered creating what I’m calling a food goal.

Say your food goal is to become a more responsible consumer. Instead of trying to clean up every item on your weekly grocery list, start with one item at a time. Learn about where that food comes from, what the labels mean, and what options you have at your store. For me, eggs were the best place to start because we eat them almost every morning. I learned the better choice at my grocery store was a brand that had gone to the trouble of becoming Certified Humane, and that that label actually meant something. Does this mean that I refuse to eat eggs that aren’t Certified Humane? Well, no. That would mean that I couldn’t have fast-food breakfast sandwiches or some my favorite diner meals, and that isn’t the way I want to go about life. But if I’m in charge of buying eggs for my family or for a trip with friends, you best believe I’m going to grab the Certified Humane eggs if they’re available because I’ve decided it’s the better choice.

In case you’d like to give this a try yourself, here’s a short list of things you can start making better choices about when it comes to food. Pick one at a time and work on it until you feel like you’re ready to try another one.

  • Any animal product (start with something you eat regularly like bacon or ground beef or fish filets)
  • Milk (even if you’re already drinking plant-based, you can probably up the ante by looking into how your milk of choice is produced)
  • Your favorite veggie (maybe shopping in season is cheaper)
  • Deli meat (what even is “inverted sugar”)
  • Snacks (finding alternatives with less junk)
  • Sugar and salt (scaling back intake of either might be relevant to a food goal)
  • Bread (if it lasts for a month, there’s room for improvement)

Next week, I’ll share some other ideas for making better choices. Let me know if you’ve done something like this before, I’d love to talk about it!