First Steps On the Path to Vibrant Health

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Author and blogger Laura-Jane Koers shares how to eat clean without spending a ton of money or time.
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“Cook Lively” by food blogger Laura-Jane Koers takes the intimidation out of clean eating by offering simple and appetizing vegan and raw-inspired recipes.

Cook Lively!by Laura-Jane Koers (Da Capo Press, 2017) shares plant-based recipes to help you get energy and clearer skin. Raw-inspired and vegan, this cookbook simplifies the sometimes overwhelming world of clean eating. In this excerpt the author, a popular food blogger, gives her advice on how to start eating healthier without a ton of hassle.

We all recognize that eating more plants and fewer processed foods is the answer to the seemingly complicated question of how to eat well. In other words, it’s not the lack of knowledge that is the problem. Rather, it’s putting this knowledge into action that is the tricky part. It’s the eating “not too much” and eating “mostly plants” bit that is the trouble.

We are humans. Naturally, most of us crave fats, salts, and sugars; few people come out of the womb craving cucumbers and apples. Enjoying flavorful food is one of the greatest pleasures of our lives. Since we were toddlers, we’ve been crafting our food habits. We’ve created snacking habits, grocery-shopping habits, holiday food traditions, TV-related food habits, brand loyalty, and restaurant-ordering routines. We’ve learned to prepare meals a certain way (whether that means unwrapping a frozen pizza or ordering takeout). These habits are grooves in our brains that are deeply etched. Eating and preparing food is something we do every day, and, depending on your age, you’ve most likely had decades of experience. If you’re 40 years old, you’ve eaten over 40,000 meals. You’ve become the world’s foremost expert in eating and preparing food in your unique way.

Depending on what you’re accustomed to, your expertise and food habits are most likely both a blessing and a curse. Your food habits are a blessing because you’ve got skills to quell your hunger (or your boredom, as the case may be). But your habits are also a curse if they lean toward the unhealthy, because you’re such a master that learning a new way of eating feels like learning to walk again. If this sounds like you, recognize it. Honor it. Be patient with yourself.

If you’re trying to learn new habits, it can feel as though you’re learning how to write with your other hand. When you’re stressed or in a rush, it’s natural to go back to writing with your normal hand, because you mastered it decades ago and it takes zero effort. Similarly, when learning a new way of eating, it’s not about willpower or cravings. It’s about what you know, what you’ve mastered. The trick is to teach yourself new skills and habits when it comes to food, so that they become your new normal. It can be done, and with less time and effort than you might think. When I started my own journey toward healthier eating, breaking those old habits (unwrap, snack, microwave, order in) was a big challenge. Over time, I realized that adopting a few simple rules to live and eat by could make this daunting task easier — and even enjoyable!

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

Consistently eat a little healthier than you ate yesterday, and you will be on the road toward wellness. When it comes to food, consistent steps in the right direction beat short-lived extreme diets, hands down. Eating well is an ongoing practice, not a short-term event.

Add Rather Than Subtract

When getting started, focus on adding healthy ingredients and recipes in addition to your regular routine. Your mental energy should be spent on bringing new foods into your life. For example, don’t dwell on the tragedy of giving up Sunday-morning waffles. Instead think, I will start with an Easy Green Smoothie first, then if I still want waffles I can have them.

Say Yes to The Good Stuff

Start with the low-hanging fruit! If there are certain healthy foods or recipes that you already enjoy, give yourself permission to splurge: to buy or make them in large quantities and even to enjoy them at odd times. This can help you look forward to eating those healthier foods – like the day I discovered those healthy truffles after days of drab green salads. And I’ve always loved fresh cherries and berries, so I regularly keep them around.

Say No to The Yucky Stuff

If you can’t stand the taste of a certain food, don’t force it. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of healthy, flavorful ingredients to choose from. Don’t force yourself to try to like something that doesn’t do it for you. We all have our likes and dislikes! I can’t stand the graininess of pears, and I’d never voluntarily eat a piece of plain raw cauliflower. Move on and keep trying.

Think One Meal Ahead

It’s tough to make healthy choices for yourself at the last minute. A fascinating study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that we will happily plan healthy snacks (like apples) for ourselves in the future, but when it comes to right now, we’ll take that cookie, please: “When the participants were asked to plan their future snack in advance […] they chose an apple over a cookie. 35 percent of the participants chose an apple on Day 1, but 65 percent of the participants did so for Day 2” (“Mining Behavioral Economics to Design Persuasive Technology for Healthy Choices” study by Lee, Kiesler, and Forlizzi, Carnegie Mellon University). Use the power of psychology for your benefit and plan ahead. By mentally planning what you’re going to eat for your next meal (be it by packing your lunch the evening before or firmly deciding what you will eat a few hours before your meal), you can avoid the stronger impulse to make unhealthy choices in the moment.

Grocery Shop Your Way to Health

The food you bring into your home gets eaten. (And what you leave at the grocery store does not.) Making healthy choices at the grocery store has one of the overall biggest effects on your health and results in a chain reaction of food decisions. Ideally, when shopping you’ll be doing two things: adding healthier, fresh foods into your cart and leaving (some) of your normal processed-food items in the store, unpurchased (especially snacks and sweets).

Start Off Slow and Steady

If you’re just getting started with adding more fresh food into your routine, here is a loose plan to kick you off for success:

1. Your first healthier grocery-shopping trip should be normal, plus two additions: ingredients for one healthy recipe that you will make and some easy, fresh, healthy snacks (like fresh grapes, blueberries, cherries, almonds, or dried apricots). When you get home, make that healthy recipe within the next 2 days.

2. On the following shop, try adding ingredients for two recipes, plus more healthy snacks to keep you going.

3. On the following shop, get the ingredients to repeat the same two or three recipes (if you enjoyed them)! This helps you improve your cooking skills, and you’ll start to have a few recipes that you can call upon more frequently.

Repeat Recipes That You Enjoy

Enjoyed a recipe? Why not make it again? The second time you make it, you will find it so much easier and quicker. And the third time? It’ll start feeling like a breeze. Repeating recipes (that you enjoy) will help you feel like healthy eating is easy.

Meal Plan in A Way That Works for You

We’re all unique, and few of us have brains that can handle planning 7 days of meals in advance. (I wish I had that brain!) Perhaps you’re a busy, disorganized type. There’s no shame in that! Own it, and meal plan in a way that works for you. For example, maybe eating the same few recipes again and again will work best for you.

Cozy Up with Healthy Fats

For years, we’ve been trained to fear the idea of fat in our foods. But the truth is, the body needs healthy fats! Saturated fat needn’t be feared. In fact, much of the saturated fat contained in coconut oil contains lauric acid, which is thought to support the immune system. Plus, coconut oil has even been shown to promote a reduction in abdominal fat. Remember: a balanced and healthy diet includes healthy fats.

Open Freezer in Case of Emergency.

Keep simple tasty desserts and easy entrees in the freezer for when you need a sugar fix or a quick and easy meal. This is especially important if you’re newer to healthier eating. Having something healthy to reach for when you get busy or stressed is crucial.

More From Cook Lively:

Orange Creamsicle Ice Cream Cake with Suspended Blueberries
Zucchini Nuggets with Almond Meal and Mushrooms
Beet Sliders with Chickpeas and Almond Meal

Excerpted from Cook Lively!: 100 Quick and Easy Plant-Based Recipes for High Energy, Glowing Skin, and Vibrant Living — Using 10 Ingredients or Less by Laura-Jane Koers. Copyright © 2017. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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