two salads, one bowl

One week remaining in the super healthy reset month, a.k.a. #healthyoctober, Sobetober, Octsober, and still going strong!  It hasn’t been easy!!!  In fact, the hardest part has been the sobriety, mostly because of the ubiquity of alcohol in my new locale/work environment.  So instead, I’ve been drinking a cocktail of willpower, stubbornness, and fear of failure, which has allowed me to maintain a clean sheet.  Hurray for questionable motives!

What’s that?  What have I been eating?  Well, as I mentioned in my previous post, it ain’t home cookin’.  But what the New York lifestyle lacks in homemade, it makes up for tenfold in a cornucopia of options online and delivered in seconds.  And healthy is trendy, so you better believe there are restaurants catering to whole-food, raw-food, gluten-free, local, organic, fair-trade, über-vegan, level five.  And yet, my staple has been, shock of shocks, a salad.  But not just any salad!  A custom salad conjured up by mouse click with all the fix-ins a person with a primarily plant-based diet is proud to call his own.

My new employer, Yext, provides two free meals per day (yes, we’re hiring) when ordered on Seamless, a magical service that delivers pretty much any kind of food at pretty much any hour to your doorstep.  (And if you live in New York, and you hadn’t heard of Seamless…you’re welcome.  Also, you really should get out more.)  Many restaurants allow you to “build your own salad,” where you can choose the leaves and various other toppings.  My usual is something like kale/spinach, beans, grape tomato, red onion, Portobello mushroom, avocado, and tofu, with some modifications here and there depending on what the place offers.  I always get the large salads, but they’re just not big enough.  So…I order two.  Because of the pricing structure of the “build your own salad” offerings, and because variety is the spice of life (and basically required when you eat salad every day!), I build two completely different salads.  And then, well, I think you know what happens next…

Using the old Coke can technique measuring stick for size reference.

So a bowl of salad walks into a bar…


In our first healthy/nerdy lunch discussion group coined “Leaves for Life,” Lawrence, Craig, and I shared our histories and experiences with eating (healthy and otherwise).  To be sure, my switching to eating healthy demanded significant mind over matter thinking, and the today’s discussion reminded me the mindshift I went through that helped me overcome the hurdle of even beginning to change.  These three (related) realizations may not seem like much, but for me they were literally life-changing and drastically conflicted with my culture and upbringing.  Integrating these statements into my belief system (as opposed to just acknowledging them intellectually) were instrumental in allowing me to drastically and permanently change my eating habits.

  1. If there’s food left on the plate, and I’m not hungry anymore, it’s OK to stop eating.  This may seem obvious, and while I always knew it made sense, I never practiced it.  Culturally, and I’m sure it’s the same for many of you, it was unacceptable to leave anything on the plate.  So, I never did.  But, eating all the food on my plate never did help any hungry kids in Africa – it just made me overeat.
  2. If it’s dinner time, and I’m not hungry, it’s OK to skip that meal altogether.  This is a more extreme version of the statement above, but the thought of skipping a meal (again I think largely because of culture) was impossible for me to comprehend before.  “Well, I should eat now in case I get hungry later,” I would think to myself.  Turns out, your body (when healthy) is pretty darn good telling you when you *really* need something.  I was ignoring my body’s signals and stuffing food in my face just because it was time!  A lot of the time I wasn’t even *really* hungry; it was more like a psychological addiction I had developed to eating at a particular time, like a habit-forming drug.  And even if I was hungry, many times it was just a tinge of hunger, something that would easily pass by focusing on something else if I applied even the slightest bit of willpower.
  3. If there’s no meat in the meal, it’s still a meal, and everything will be OK!  This was probably the hardest one for me to completely believe.  No meat – no meal; that’s just how I was brought up.  I thought I would perish without meat!  “Where will I get protein!?”  (Turns out, there are many other sources of protein.)  I ate meat at pretty much every meal.  And if there was no meat in it, I considered it a snack.  The interesting thing was I didn’t have to believe that not eating meat would improve my health – it was just believing that everything would be OK, that I would not disintegrate, if I didn’t eat meat at *every* meal.  This was the key to feeling safe to try a drastic diet change where I stopped eating meat (and fish and dairy and processed grains and basically just started eating only plants) for a while.  After I did that, I felt so great by eliminating meat, fish, dairy, processed grains, high sugar foods, etc., I decided I would limit my consumption of those things as much as I could tolerate while still being sustainable for the long term.

I think that anyone who goes through as drastic a change as I did cannot sustain it on willpower alone for the long term.  The mindshift is what allows me to keep it going.  Maybe you have struggled with these same hurdles, or maybe you have others that you’ve overcome.  I’d love to hear your experiences.

sustaining the flywheel

I get asked from time to time if it’s hard to maintain the healthy eating at such a high level.  It’s not a piece of cake (pun intended), but I have a few habits I’ve developed that allow me to keep the flywheel going.

  1. Don’t keep unhealthy food at home.  Apart from alcohol, I have an extremely low amount of unhealthy food/drink in my house.  And what I do have is only there because I already had it, like if I bought some snacks because I was having friends over who wanted more than just carrot and celery sticks.
  2. Do keep plenty of healthy, ready-to-eat snacks on hand.  So that when I do get that hankering for just a little something, I end up choosing something healthy because it’s available and convenient.
  3. Have some ready-made/easy-to-make backup dinner options.  When I don’t feel like making dinner from scratch that night, it’s great to have something ready-made (my go-to is a veggie stew) or something that I don’t have to spend much time preparing.  Or at least I can combine with something else so I still save time/effort.
  4. Eat at home as much as possible.  Options for healthy food when eating out are limited, and it’s difficult to know/control all the details about the constituent parts of your meal.
  5. Get to know restaurants that do have healthy options.  So if I do end up eating out, I have some healthy mainstays to choose from.  My new favorite is Veggie Grill.

The way I’ve really gotten this to work is by spending a few hours prepping for the week on Sunday (or Monday night if I’m travelling or run out of time).  And it doesn’t have to take a long time.  Here’s what I did in 3 hours last night after work (including driving) to set myself up for success this week.

  1. Went grocery shopping at Costco on the way home from work.  Got the ingredients I needed to make my weekly veggie stew, fruits and veggies for snacks, and other stuff I might like to use during the week.  Because I do this regularly, I already had some of the ingredients I needed at home (like beans).
  2. Made a veggie stew/chili.  (That’s an 11 quart pot.)  I’ll post the recipe another time, but it’s basically a veggie chili recipe (based on the one from Eat to Live), and I just throw a bunch of other vegetables in there.  This time it had carrots, celery, onion, garlic, garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, corn, mushrooms, and spices (chili powder, cumin, Mrs. Dash, and some cayenne pepper for a kick).  Some of the ingredients are frozen (like chopped spinach or broccoli) and others are canned (like beans and tomatoes).  Fresh is usually better of course, but veggies are so much more nutritious than the alternatives, I don’t get hung up on using frozen/canned vegetables.  And in some cases, frozen can be more nutritious than fresh because of time spent in shipping, sitting on shelves, and so forth.
  3. Prepared some fruits and veggies as snacks.  Every week, I cut and wash some fruits and veggies and pack them in plastic containers so that I always have healthy snacks ready to go.  For fruits I usually do blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, but this week strawberries were not available.
    For vegetables I usually just do baby carrots and celery sticks, but this week I added some broccoli.
    And I make a LOT of each.

And after dishing out the soup into plastic containers, here’s how my fridge looked.  Still some beer in there, just in case… :-)

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