Let’s be real: Fast food is good... like, really good. It is literally formulated to make consumers addicted to it, so it makes sense that so many of us are.
It also makes sense that fast food, or junk food in general, is at the root of a constant internal battle many of us struggle with: the idea that we must choose between eating food that tastes good and being fat, or eating food that tastes like mulch but is good for us, and being slim.
This is a far too simplified view of healthy eating, and it’s ruining our self-esteem (not to mention our ability to guiltlessly enjoy a cronut).
So much of our problem is that we adopt this "all or nothing" mentality towards dieting. First of all, I think we should ditch the "D" word entirely. It serves no purpose other than to make us feel terrible if we eat a cupcake -- a punishment no one should endure.
Of course, ideally, eating the cupcake should also entice us to commit to that spin class or go for that run, but sticking to an exercise routine is another goal entirely, and I think getting a handle on what you eat should precede it.
Believe it or not, there are ways to infuse a little health into your love of sh*tty food, without making yourself feel like you’re missing out.
Here are a few key habits to keep in mind the next time you're shamed away from the dessert table:
Carbs Can Be Your Friend
Full disclaimer: I start with this because potatoes are legitimately my favorite food, though I know they aren't good for me. In any form, at any time, I will consume them.
I’ll spare you the trite suggestion to "try subbing sweet potatoes" because I think that’s a hideous idea. Anyone who truly loves potatoes knows there are fundamental taste differences between the two.
So, how do you make them (or any other carb) more manageable within a healthy lifestyle?
1) Add other ingredients to them.
Eating a baked potato for breakfast doesn't sound too responsible. However, by throwing together a breakfast skillet (which takes no more than five minutes from start to finish), you can incorporate your beloved carbohydrates into something that will actually keep you full.
Include a big dose of protein (in this case, eggs) and lots of veggies. I always keep bags of frozen (read: cheaper) organic kale in my freezer and toss in a handful. The whole thing stirs together into an easy, messy, beautiful breakfast.
2) Go alternative.
Purple potatoes are amazing. They’re amazing because, well, they taste just like white potatoes. They’re not the easiest to find, but assuming your local Whole Foods carries them, they cost about the same and are a super easy way to sneak in extra vitamins/minerals without ditching the tater. Also, they look very sophisticated and require no extra effort on your part.
This method of swapping out not-so-healthy options for nearly identical-tasting, better-for-you alternatives can be applied to other foods, too. For example, they make white bread that is actually whole grain.
While I’m the first to defend shamelessly eating a Snickers bar when the urge strikes, I’m also aware that it’s not sensible (or even pleasurable, based on experience) to do so on a daily basis.
That being said, lots of us have sugar cravings we just can’t kick. So should you tune out your sweet tooth and hope for the best? Hell no. Try this instead...
1) Eat kettle corn.
This stuff is addictive in its own right, and look, it may not be carrot sticks, but as far as satisfying a bad habit goes, it gets the job done. It may be made with whole grains and salt, but the added sweetness factor satisfies cravings.
All-natural kettle corn is one of my favorite go-to snacks. I actually enjoy eating it and I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself.
2) Utilize natural sweeteners.
Honey and cinnamon make fantastic sweeteners, and you’d be surprised what you can come up with when you get creative. An example of such culinary discoveries: Special K with a couple wrist-flicks of cinnamon and a pour of almond milk tastes like grown-up, health-conscious Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Seriously, I dare you to dislike it.
In the same vein, drizzling honey over almond butter or peanut butter on an English muffin makes for a 30-second snack that coworkers will gawk at.
I also love honey and cinnamon in my oatmeal; the two work great together and add zero artificial sugar to anything they touch.
Stop. Counting. Calories.
For that matter, unless your intention is to lose a significant amount of weight, ditch the scale, too. The thing that really determines how healthy you are is how you feel on a daily basis -- no questions asked.
If you’re exhausted despite nine hours of sleep, you’re probably not treating your body right, even if you've dropped a pound and haven’t eaten junk all week.
If you’re eating mainly whole foods, you should be confident that the calories you’re consuming are packed with the nutrients you need. If you decided to indulge in a pint of ice cream on any particular day, avert your eyes from the nutrition label; just let it happen.
1) Sneak in veggies.
Marinara sauce is a 20-something staple in the kitchen. Trader Joe’s sells cheap jars with simple ingredients that taste good, and you can make it even better for you by chopping up some red vine tomatoes or red peppers and tossing them in.
Add some of that frozen kale we talked about earlier and some grilled chicken breast, and you’ve got a full-blown impress-your-mother pasta dish. Other options include adding spinach to your brownie mix (seriously), and pureeing any veggie (potatoes included) you have on hand for the base of a simple soup.
2) Eat -- a lot.
Eat several small meals throughout the day, a couple of hours apart. This isn't groundbreaking research or new information, but it’s effective and it’s something not enough of us are doing.
Part of making this process routine is forcing yourself to plan ahead. Pack baggies of raw almonds, kettle corn, baby carrots, a couple Girl Scout cookies and bring them to work with you.
Ration the snacks throughout your day, and you’ll be surprised how much energy you have and how much of a normal person you are when lunch approaches. Gone are the days of ravenously ordering enough for a family of five and uncontrollably twitching at strangers on the street.
The moral of the story, I think, is this: Realize you only get one body, but you also only get one life. Balance accordingly.
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