Humans are natural pattern recognizers, says science. Well since I mainly write about food and culture and wellness and life, but mostly food, I wanted to share My 12 Feel-Good Food Patterns that I have recognized in my own life — and a few I’d like to drop….
Labels Are So 2019. Wait, what? Ok, go with me here. I’m looking towards the future. 2020 and beyond. What will food + “diets” look like, sound like? Society loves hashtags, but we hate labels. At least that’s what it feels like lately. “I don’t want to be boxed into a food label.” Is what I’ve heard so many people and bloggers say the past few years. Some people have even “left” veganism with this sort of mindset. And you know what, I don’t really blame them. If you feel boxed into a diet or label that doesn’t work for you, well then, you need to step out.
When it comes to food, we often talk about restriction as being a bad thing. And what is a label? A sort of restriction. So personally, I think nixing “labels” when it comes to food is a great thing. And maybe even trying out my less-cool word than hashtag – patterns.
But Wait, What About Vegan? It’s a word I use to describe my lifestyle, based on the patterns and habits I choose/see in myself. Those choices are influenced by my body, my life experience, my values and my emotions.
Funny thing, I landed on veganism not by saying, “I’m going vegan!” But by spotting my patterns and concluding, “Hmm, I’m eating like a vegan does, weird. I guess that’s me then.” Granted, this was back in 2001, I was still reading my email from AOL – and nope, not a single vegan blog on my radar. Shoutout to VegNews (founded in 2000). Back to my point, if you feel stuck or confused, don’t obsess over labels. Just focus on awareness.
Labels and diets and rules and categories of eating are complicated these days. Keto, Paleo, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Pescitarian, Vegetarian, Beegan, Plant-Based, Raw, Whole30, WW, Cavepeople, Aliens, Robots. It’s enough to make your head spin.
But I promise, the actual food part is easy. It’s just food.
If you are just getting started on figuring yourself out, do this: Try a bit of everything. Then continue to do whatever feels right, what you find “works” for you – body, heart and brain. And by brain, I mean education/common sense.
Nutrition Education Matters, but…. Our educated brains know to avoid five chocolate bars for dinner. Our educated brains also know that adding spinach to our sandwich is probably a good move, nutrition-wise. But here’s where it gets so messy these days. We all look to doctors, scientists and dietitians for nutrition advice. And oftentimes, even they can’t all agree on what is “healthy.” So yeah, it makes sense to feel a little confused about food.
So what do we do?….. All we can do. Try our best – and keep learning and staying aware of our bodies and minds. Watching for patterns.
Why should you care about my food patterns? Look, what works for me may not work for you, but it’s still helpful to observe others. Especially those – like me – who have been through a lot when it comes to food. I’ve done the full world tour so to speak. My journey may not be yours – my body may not be yours, but then again, maybe they are similar. And that’s enough to gain some insight into your own journey.
And that’s why food is such a hot topic. We all love sharing what works for us and listening to others. And in turn, maybe even noticing some PATTERNS for what works for a lot of different people. Then in turn, using science and research to backup those claims. It all comes back to patterns, guys – and science. Jessie Pinkman was right.
So am I a Nutrition Expert? Nope. But I know a lot about food and dieting and plant-based nutrition and wellness at this point in my life. And it helps that I have a B.S. in Health Promotion, which included a hefty amount of nutritional sciences back in school. And I love staying up to date on nutritional research and studies. I read a lot. I listen to my fave doctors, dietitians and people I respect when it comes to food.
But even with the true ‘experts’, nutrition + food isn’t black and white. It’s a spectrum. I strongly believe that every body needs different things – but in all the messiness, there are patterns to tune into. That’s why I wanted to write this post. I want everyone to notice their own patterns.
Food + Wellness is a lot of Trial and Error. I’ve failed a lot. And failing is the best teacher. I’ve evolved, grown, healed because I’ve tried and failed and tried again. And eventually found some winning among the mess of cookbooks, articles, doctors, overeating, undereating, high energy, low energy and everything else.
I’ve come a long way from counting calories, starvation diets, keto-diets, no-carb diets, over-exercising and everything in between. If it was a “thing that helped you lose weight” I probably tried it. My late teens and early twenties were a shitshow when it came to “how the heck do I eat???” Toss in poor body image and self esteem issues and you have a train wreck sitch’ going on. But really, I don’t regret any second of it. I learned so much and today, I have so much empathy for people struggling with food issues.
These days I am so freaking confidant and proud of the way I eat and my relationship with food. I seriously wish I could hug every person on a starvation diet or struggling in any way with food and tell them that it can be better. Keep going. And remember, when mental health starts to jump in, it’s probably not about the food. So take care of your emotions and voices in your head and people around you ‘syaing things’ to you – before you even try to “eat right.” Please, don’t skip that part.
…and to pivot off of that. “Healthy” doesn’t mean thin. Nope. Again for those in the back, “healthy” doesn’t mean thin. Focus on feeling good and loving your body, rather than fitting into those skinny jeans with the tags still on, in the back of your closet. Health is sooooo much more valuable than “skinny.”
Body image and food issues: Get help if you need to. You can feel good again. It took years and years for me, but it is possible to heal and find the balance and healthy set point we all crave. And if you go through a rough patch, don’t freak out. Just keep doing your best. And if it’s really rough, get help. It’s out there.
Ok, ok, enough lead up. Here they are…
My 12 Feel-Good Food Patterns
1. I Eat A Lot of Fruit.
Ask my husband. I am a fruit monster. Fruit is one of my most favorite things. I usually add blueberries (frozen) to my breakfast, then maybe a fruit snack during the day, but night-time, after dinner is actually when I eat most of my fruit for the day.
Now back in the olden days, I read all these “food combining” articles that would gasp in horror at the thought of eating fruit after a large meal. Or at the amount of “sugar” in fruit. I still remember one celebrity who I once saw in some nutrition video in the 90’s saying that she doesn’t eat much fruit because it’s basically just water and sugar. I mean, fruit is so rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals and electrolytes like potassium.
And you know what? I feel great eating fruit after dinner. And during the day. And when I travel. So I keep doing it. In the summer months, it’s usually peaches or strawberries. Two to three peaches or a pint of strawberries. Then once fall hits, I switch to a giant apple (or two.)
I also add a lot of bananas to my smoothies and love kiwis, mardarins and tart and firm grapes.
So yeah, long story sort, I eat a lot of fruit.
2. Treat Everyday.
I eat dessert everyday. Really. Along with my after-dinner fruit, cookies, a brownie, wacky cupcakes, peanut butter cups or a vegan ice cream bar. I have an after-dinner sweet tooth for sure. The funny thing is, I’m not big on eating sweets during the day. Aside from a giant chunk of dark chocolate in the afternoon or a ‘sweetish’ granola bar or baked good, I rarely eat “treats” when it’s daylight. Call me a dessert vampire I guess.
3. Light-Portioned + High Impact Lunches.
Once my brain and workflow starts going, I get on this energy wave that doesn’t really like to stop for lunch. So on most days, I eat a light lunch. And by light, I don’t mean low in calories, I mean light as in, doesn’t feel like I need to lay down after eating. I focus on nuts, healthy fats, carbs and for me, even salt and dark chocolate. Chocolate is a food group, right? Avocado toast, a smoothie with nuts or seeds, a platter of vegan cheese and crackers, carrots and hummus. I will also make leftovers or when it’s cold outside, soup. And sometimes, a spinach-stuffed grilled cheese sandwich. Swoon. But in general, a large portioned lunch tends to slow me down a bit. Not a bad thing, but hello siesta! So on workdays, I crave high calorie, low bulk foods.
Side note: This could also be because often times I am shooting recipes in the morning and afternoon – and taste-testing. So a formal lunch never happens. Just a lot of mini bites, tastes and nibbles.
4. Chugging Water.
I don’t drink water all throughout the day. I tend to take a ‘water break’ around noon and chug a giant glass. It does the trick for me to help me feel hydrated.
5. Big + Predictable Breakfasts.
I used to skip breakfast because it just make me feel more energized. But then I’d be starving and ravenous by lunchtime and devour a large meal. Then what happened?? I felt soooo tired. The exact thing I was trying to avoid in the morning. It was a silly cycle that I’m glad I have worked on. So I found a great compromise. I eat a nice-sized, nourishing breakfast, like clockwork, every day and then lunch isn’t ravenous at all. Breakfast of right now: Right now I am into blueberry oatmeal and a giant soy latte. Matcha or espresso.
Another thing about breakfast is that I absolutely make the same thing every day for weeks on end. I change up lunch and dinner, but breakfast is always the same. It makes things easy. Right now, as mentioned, I’m into oatmeal. Before it was breakfasts sandwiches. And for a while it was waffles. Sometimes it’s bagels and sometimes it is toast (avocado, mushroom or nut butter.)
6. How You Eat | Mood | | Pleasure | Feelings Matter
Food is important, sure. But sometimes I notice that the mood, excitement and how I feel around food is even more so. Eating with family or friends. Being cozy. Using my fave bowl or mug. Feeling happy that I made something from scratch. Eating something that reminds me of something fun. Health and healthy eating is about way more than what’s on the plate. And I definitely make a habit of doing this.
My pattern is that I embrace cozy food moods. Happy moments. Sometimes I eat a bowl of cold cereal at midnight because it just feels fun. Or popcorn with a movie on a Saturday afternoon. Baking cookies and eating them with fave people. Or pizza – as greasy and carb-y as you want – on a Friday night. Those things feel ‘healthy’ to me! Food is about more than “nutrition.” True story.
Mindful eating, pleasure in what you are eating and all that jazz. This article touches on it.
7. Not Eating Animal Products.
Shocking, I know, since I have two vegan cookbooks, a site called FindingVegan, and have published plant-based recipes here on HHL for twelve years. But yup. Not including animal products has been a pattern that makes me feel good from the inside out. And it’s worth noting that I don’t have to eat vegan. I don’t have to nix dairy and eggs and bacon and fish from my diet. That’s not a rule.
Really, I can eat whatever the heck I want. And many of my fave people still eat these things. Heck, I used to eat those things! But for the past sixteen or so years, I choose to not eat animal products, simply because my life experience, personal perspective on food, the planet and (mostly) animals, has brought me here. To a place of being able to say: “Yup! A food pattern of mine is to not eat animal products.” I guess that makes me vegan. But really, it just makes me me.
Oh and this.. I personally eat local honey. It’s a pattern. It’s an animal product. And yup, I’m still a proud member of the vegan community.
I usually have one chocolate thing a day. A tiny nibble of dark chocolate in the afternoon, or something rich at dessert. Sometimes I make a chocolate smoothie and sometimes I have chocolate mousse on hand. I guess I really do crave that flavor!
9. Tea, Tea, Tea.
Tea time! Yeah, we do that in our house. At least a few times a day. It’s a nice way to slow down and drink something warming. I only drink herbal teas. My faves are rooibos, chamomile (at night), hibiscus, dandelion and peppermint or ginger.
10. Warm Dinners.
though I love a giant raw salad at a meal. I tend to want warm dinners. Soup, skillet tofu, chili, pasta, pasta, pasta, rice, beans, sweet potatoes. I just crave those warm, cooked foods for dinner. It feels like home. And most of my fave comfort food dinners are cooked, warming foods. Mac + Cheese, Pasta, stuffed sweet potatoes, broccoli soup, risotto, lasagna, enchiladas and more.
11. Go-to Snacking.
I snack on the same sorts of things every day. Here they are: Baby carrots and hummus. Crackers and aged vegan cheese, fruit, raw nuts, smoothies, a homemade ‘healthy-ish’ cookie or bar, store-bought vegan bar or toast. Toast being avocado toast or nut butter toast. And when in doubt, PB+J it.
12. Greens All At Once.
I’ve noticed that I tend to load up on my greens for the day all at one meal. For example, a giant salad at dinner. A giant serving of spinach or broccoli at dinner. A big green smoothie at lunch. Or a giant serving of greens at lunch. I tend to pick one meal and focus on really loading up on veggies and leafy greens. That way, I get to kinda check that thing off the list for the day and not worry about whatever else I may be eating.
Now for the fun part….
5 Food Patterns I’d Like to Drop
1. Eating Too Late.
Sometimes we don’t eat dinner until ten o’clock – or on a busy work or event night, even later. I keep trying to move that up. So eight o’clock is my goal for dinner. And heck, if I can pull off six or seven, I do it. Eating earlier is a goal of mine, but again, I don’t really stress myself out about it. It’s really more about what time I end up going to sleep as opposed to some food-myth-y rule about not eating after a certain time. The later I eat, the later I go to sleep. The less sleep I get. And at least eight hours of sleep = very good for me.
I also enjoy the midnight snack when my dinner gets pushed later. Midnight popcorn, cold cereal, fruit or treats do happen. I’m not hugely happy about ever eating that late though.
2. Overdoing Sugar.
When it comes to treats, remember this (I’m talking to myself here) – you can always add, you cannot take away! Seriously, when eating treats and sweets, slow is key. You can always have more later, but overdoing sugar is no fun for me. I don’t feel great after that second giant brownie.
3. Forgetting to Eat Lunch or Eating Too Late in the Workday.
As said above, lunch is a quick thing for me. Especially when I am recipe testing or shooting food – I tend to just nibble whatever I’m making. But sometimes I literally forget to stop work and eat lunch. I have my most productive hours from noon-five. So I sometimes just need to power through a project. Fun Fact: I actually set a notification on my Alexa to remind me to EAT at 2pm. Don’t laugh, but it’s real. And it helps! If I forget to eat lunch, it is suddenly 5PM and I’m starving, hangry and just want to plop on the couch until dinner.
Also note. When I skip lunch, I always and I mean always tend to eat more at dinner. And eating too much at once never makes me feel great.
4. Not Drinking Enough Water.
Back to #4 above, if I forget to do this, I’m screwed and end up feeling dehydrated at the end of the day. So yeah, like everyone else, I’m trying to drink enough water daily. I just feel better when I’m well-hydrated.
I write recipes and cookbooks and food articles for a living. So the take-out shame I feel is real. So real. But we have a serious take-out habit here in LA. From Veggie Grill to Sage and more. Vegan takeout is so much fun. And so yummy! But like everyone else, I’m trying to cook more meals in my own kitchen because they always taste the very best.
So there you have it! My little personal inventory on my food patterns. If you have a few minutes today, I encourage you to take a look at your own patterns. What are you proud of? what would you still like to improve or add or remove? Don’t judge too much, just assess. Consciously understanding how you eat is the first step to feeling better about how how you eat.
We’re literally all just doing our best and want to feel our best and be our most happy + productive and fulfilled. So don’t judge yourself, just assess. And keep going. You’re doing great.
Some experts in nutrition that I adore…
Ginny M, Gena H, Carlene, Dr Barnard, Alex, Julieanna H, Alexis, Dr Fuhrman, Abby L, and many more that I can’t think of right now!
Looking for even more of my food patterns? They are all over my Finding Vegan Meal Plans.