Tuesday, October 2 2012

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Have you ever given much thought to the sort of things you put in your body? More specifically, have you ever seriously considered the sort of food you eat? When you’re hungry, what kind of snack do you reach for? Are you more likely to pick up an apple, or open a bag of chips?

Last week, I went on a martial arts training camp in Stirling Range mountains. A typical day looked something like this:

Wake up at 6am to use the bathroom and eat an orange.
At 6:30, start tai chi.
7:00am, go for a run and then practice basic techniques for an hour.
A cold shower would follow to cool the muscles and train the spirit (more on that another day).
Breakfast consisted of a mix of grains and cereals, and maybe some toast.
Around 10:30, serve herbal tea over a discussion of life and the martial arts in general.
After that, mid-morning training begins.
For lunch, we eat sandwiches and maybe some earl grey tea.
After a break to digest, afternoon training commences.
We practice weapon and unarmed forms, and end the day with a session of yoga.
Hot showers all round at 6pm, along with an apple and a muesli bar for afternoon tea while the dinner team organises a meal of dahl, spaghetti, or couscous.
Free time follows, used for some well-earned rest and relaxation, until lights out at 10pm (though most of us are in bed before 9).

Nuts in place of chips made me feel great. Image Credit: Ali Elan | Flickr

Our schedule on might seem austere, but it was actually very liberating. I learned a lot of lessons about life from this experience, but the one I want to share most is around food. Every meal I ate on camp was ridiculously healthy, and provided me with all the energy and nutrition I needed. I often had three or four servings of good food to eat several times a day, and it was amazing. The fruit and muesli were perfectly invigorating, and they were all the snacks I needed during my simple life in the mountains. It’s hard to imagine life without junk food, but during the week of training, it didn’t cross my mind even once.

Yet when I came back into the city, the first thing I bought was a tube of Pringles and a box of hot chips. I thought that I would really enjoy them because it would be nice to indulge after all the hard work I had done, yet I found myself a little disgusted at the sort of rubbish I was putting into my body. When I went to my friend’s birthday party later that night and had a slice of cake, my stomach hurt from the sudden rush of processed sugar. After lunch the next day I felt like eating chocolate to cleanse my pallet, so I bought even more cake, which tasted great but instantly made me feel sick afterwards. I realised that I had become so healthy that I could instantly feel the effects of the sugar, saturated fat and other gross things that I was eating.

After that, I made a resolution to avoid junk food for the rest of the week. After all, my Spartan diet in the mountains reminded me that human beings have survived off fresh plants and healthy animals for millions of generations, so why couldn’t I? In place of the chips and chocolate biscuits I would traditionally buy, I bought a huge packet of roasted nuts and dried fruit. In place of cordial and soft drinks I bought fruit juices (real stuff, not the stuff filled with processed sugar that never seems to expire) and herbal tea. And you know? I’m not going to lie, it’s not always been easy. The first three days of being back in the city involved getting over some massive cravings for chocolate. But I know now how unnecessary sugar is, how I just enjoy eating it because of the momentary pleasure it brings my tastebuds rather than because I’m hungry or I need the energy. I also know how unhealthy it is, and how hard my body has to work to stabilise my energy when I’ve just inserted a huge rush of sugar into it.

Fresh Fruit can be a great source of natural sugars

Fresh Fruit can be a great source of natural sugars. Image Credit Move the Clouds | Flickr

Something else I noticed was that being in certain places made me want certain foods. When I was at my girlfriend’s house, I was aware at the back of my mind that she had four blocks of chocolate, two packets of biscuits, two bags of chips, a few bottles of fizzy drinks and other short-term pleasure foods in her pantry. It made it harder to choose to nibble on assorted seeds or an apple knowing that superficially tastier alternatives were nearby- alternatives I’d eaten most of my life and had become accustomed to enjoying despite the negative effects on my body.
But at home, I’ve made a dedicated effort to keep the pantry stocked with only healthy snacks, and lacking nothing else to eat, it’s much easier (and more satisfying) to maintain my healthy diet. When I crave sweet foods, I now enjoy a piece of fruit, and when I crave savoury, trail mix and rice crackers do a great job. I know writing about it like that makes it seem unsatisfying and insubstantial, but I promise you from the very bottom of my stomach, I feel so much better for eating healthily. Each day that passes I crave junk foods less and less. And even in this short time, making those simple choices has had a noticeable effect on my body and mind.

So here’s my challenge for you. Don’t worry, it’s not going to be hard, and it’s not going to involve you cutting anything out of your diet unless you want to. I want you to write down a list of everything you eat for one week. Draw up a template, or use this one.

 

That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Not too hard, right?

I’m not trying to guilt-trip you into avoiding all your favourite foods. All I want to do is help you become a little more conscious of the sorts of foods you eat every week. And maybe when you look back on it all, you might want to make some changes, or you might not. Maybe you’ve noticed how tired you get during the middle of the day, or after a session of exercise. Maybe you’re aware of how hungry you are mid-morning or late at night. And maybe you might like to see if you feel any different from adding a little more fruit to your diet, or cutting down on meat or whatever. But at the very least, I think it will be helpful to be conscious of what you’re eating.

Let me know how you go everyone. Stay healthy!

Xin.

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