With the world of 2019, it’s no wonder that so many people struggle with disordered eating and a crappy relationship with food. We are promoting diet apps for children, ridiculous health trends, and there is a new “healthiest” diet being promoted so frequently we all have whiplash. Eggs are healthy, except they aren’t because they have cholesterol, except they have good cholesterol, except they might give you a heart attack. Fat is unhealthy, until it is actually healthy and you need to go keto, until keto means you’re lacking micronutrients and you probably aren’t in ketosis anyway. The list goes on, and you’ve probably seen it all over your social media. No wonder so many of us yo-yo diet (which can actually be worse than just keeping the weight on). It’s exhausting.
What I’m doing is, in its simplest terms, the opposite of that: intuitive eating. This is the anti-diet to end all diets, because it challenges the core belief of dieting: that you need to restrict yourself and your body to only a certain amount or a certain kind of food, your body doesn’t know what’s best for it, and you must will it into submission. Intuitive eating revolves around the core concept that the human body is pretty good at knowing what it needs. Crazy idea, right? That you should trust yourself and your body to figure out what you need?
For people who have dieted religiously, this might seem too idealistic. They may see no wiggle room between restriction and binging, or feel like if they let go of the rules that diet culture prescribes they will suddenly spend every night with a quart of ice cream and every morning with a donut and frappuccino. They may be surprised to see some dietitians, who dedicate their whole lives to educating people on how to eat well and how much sugar is really in that soda, promoting intuitive eating as a better way to health than any kind of diet or meal plan. If all you have ever known is diet culture and restriction, it’s hard to wrap around the idea that maybe, you didn’t need to restrict your body into shape after all.
Believe it or not, I do still eat vegetables. On purpose. And enjoy it. Shocker, right? It’s not that hard to do. Other than a brief spike due to a change in medication, I have also maintained a healthy weight, without making myself skip my favorite ice cream or cut out all my favorite fats (would I truly fit in with my generation without a healthy appreciation for avocados?). Even if I hadn’t, I would still love and enjoy this way of eating, because it’s giving my body what it actually needs. Sometimes, that’s cucumbers and carrots and bell peppers and apples. Others, it’s avocados and cheese and bread and ice cream. The biggest victory is learning to not attach pride or guilt to either of these lists, but rather, trusting my hunger cues to let me in on what will best nourish my body in that moment.
So, what does this dietary choice have to do with my journey toward minimalism?
Simply put, my mission and reason for pursuing minimalism is to live a life of less static and more of what matters. Less “should,” more “let’s.” Less “I have to,” and more “I want to” and “I would love to!” It’s why I chose to KonMari my closet in spite of the anxiety surrounding it, and why my partner and I downsized when we moved earlier this year (which cut the time it takes to clean in half, if not down to a quarter of what it took before). By minimizing down to things that I truly enjoy, and simplifying the things I keep, I can reduce the stress in my life and home. The same goes for food choices.
Rather than complicating how I eat with calorie counting or rules about “good” and “bad” foods, I can focus on filling my fridge with food that my family and I love. No more forcing down vegetables that taste gross. No more having to use “self-control” to avoid the ice cream in my freezer. And, perhaps most importantly, no more desperately trying to finish the foods I have before they go bad. We all know someone who has a drawer of good intentions, full of produce that they are absolutely certain they will eat… until they don’t, and the cucumbers get soft, the tomatoes get moldy, and the apples look less like galas and more like crabapples. While there is still the occasional thing lost to the back of the fridge, overall, we have gotten really good at eating through everything we have.
Honestly, we have less food waste now than when I was meal planning religiously. When I was meal planning, we had leftovers, nights that recipes just didn’t sound good or work out, and lots of scraps that I felt like I had to figure out creative ways to use up… meaning the next week’s meal plan was less focused on what sounded good or what was nutritionally diverse, and more on how to use up what we had, and so the cycle continued. Even things like counting macros added to the strain, trying to balance the amount of protein, carbs, and fats every day and in every meal instead of just focusing on what I was craving. These can be helpful for some people, but for me, it was just overcomplicating the process.
Now, each week we go through pretty much everything we buy, and what is left is quickly cut up into a quick meal or snack. My go-tos for using up the scraps are smoothies, soups, salads, veggies to eat with hummus or ranch, and charcuterie boards. There are a million more “empty the fridge” recipes out there, but these are the ones that work best for us. Instead of trying to figure out what meal will use up a third of a bell pepper, a cucumber, a thumb-size piece of ginger root, and a pear, I can dice up the veggies to eat with some cheese and throw the fruit and ginger into a smoothie at the end of the week. Boom, problem solved.
Grocery shopping is also a far more fun experience. Throughout the week, I keep a list on my phone of what I’m really craving but don’t have, and what we run out of that we use frequently. Usually, it looks a little something like this:
- Bok Choy
- Chocolate chips
- Canned pumpkin
- Greek yogurt
and when I shop, I can focus on picking up those things and things that will go well with them. For example, I already have mushrooms and soy sauce, so when I go shopping I’ll pick up some bok choy, daikon, and some thinly sliced skirt stead to make stir fry. I’ll pick up canned pumpkin and chocolate chips and make chocolate chip pumpkin bread, which I already have everything else for in the pantry or fridge. The rest are standalone snack items or things that need to be replenished in our pantry.
Since switching to managing our food this way, it has relieved stress and significantly reduced the amount of time that is spent looking for recipes, preparing food, and making grocery lists. It has also reduced the foods we buy and eat because we feel like we have to, instead of because we want to eat them. At first my focus by doing this was just to reduce food waste and the influence of diet culture in our home, but with how much time and energy it has given me back from meal prep, it has become a huge part of my daily practices for a more minimal life.
*Quick disclaimer – this is what works best, for me and my household, right now. I am not a nutritionist, registered dietitian, or any other kind of medical professional. This isn’t here to tell you you need to OD on bok choy or start skipping all your veggies if you aren’t feeling it. If you are considering a significant dietary change, consult your doctor first. Don’t take medical advice from strangers on the internet. You do you!