This is going to be a little bit of a rant hopefully mixed with a little common sense. One of the excuses I hear a lot (and that I personally used myself!) is “I don’t have time to work on my diet!” The idea that a diet “takes time” comes mostly from the diet industry. I think people genuinely believe that it takes a lot of time and preparation to “work on a diet.” Part of it I think really is just an excuse to keep putting it off, but I blame most of this wrong-headed approach on the diet industry. When you look at the programs that are advertised all over the media, it usually comes as some kind of package, either with food you have to pick out and order, or some kind of food list and meal prep instructions and all kinds of things you need to read, set up and/ or shop for. They have to sell you something for the hefty amounts of money you are paying them!
In reality, “working on your diet” takes no more time than the way you are eating now. You do not need to order any pre-packaged food off a website; you do not need a long list of special powders, pills, specialty foods or equipment. All you need to work on your diet you most likely already have at home right now. It’s not about doing anything special: you don’t need hours to do “meal prep” or create a “diet menu.” There is really one thing you need to do to “work on your diet”: Make Better Choices. It takes no more time than what you do already. I know this for a fact, because it takes me no more time to make better choices now than it took for me to make really awful choices two years ago.
Pretty much anywhere you go to eat, whether in your job’s cafeteria, fast food or the grocery store, even a gas station mini-mart, you choose what you eat, and all you have to do is make a better choice than you did before! Most cafeterias have some kind of salads, vegetables, cheeses, or yogurt in addition to whatever processed foods they have. Some of the better ones can make you a wrap or you can always get the burger/ chicken breast sandwich and ask them to leave off the bun/ bread (you can always just throw it away yourself!) Just because you are in the cafeteria doesn’t mean you have to have the burger, fries or spaghetti or whatever. While you are there on your regular lunch hour, choose something healthier!
The same goes for eating at fast food or even a regular restaurant. Salads are available at almost all fast food places, and certainly at a sit-down restaurant. The same thing goes with the fast food burger (take off the bread and skip the fries!). Some of them now have the “low carb burger” wrapped in lettuce. You don’t have to have fries and the soda. Get a bottle of water or if you want something sweet, get the diet soda. Your eating doesn’t have to be perfect- it just has to be an improvement for you! You will still lose weight and be eating healthier!
The same goes when you are shopping at the grocery store: you don’t have to buy the packaged foods. Most supermarkets have salad kits and steam-in-the-bag veggies. They take no more time to prepare than the boxes of packaged foods you make now, whether on the stove or in the microwave. Most of them are 5 minutes or less, and if all you are doing is pouring the salad in the bowl and adding the seeds/ nuts and dressing, it’s maybe a couple of minutes at most! As for the rest of the meal, it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are a variety of slow cookers and pressure cookers (Instant Pot comes to mind) that greatly simplify “meal prep.” You can either set up your entree to cook while you are at work or using an Instant Pot, cut the meal prep down to a few minutes. Personally, I use my cast iron skillet, toaster oven or get the prepared meat out of the deli (usually rotisserie chicken or roast beef). Making dinner for me takes no more time than hitting the drive-thru, and it has the extra bonus of already being at home. I get a lot of stuff done at home while the dinner is on the stove/ in the oven: letting the pup out; feeding the cats; putting the laundry in, etc. Instead of sitting in a smoggy smelly drive-thru, I’m at home taking care of things I need to take care of whether I make my own dinner or not.
It’s not any more difficult to make a “healthy” grocery list than it is to make an unhealthy one. Instead of getting seven frozen dinners or seven boxes of rice or pasta mix, I get seven days worth of protein, veggies, fruits (my preference is for fresh or frozen, but canned work too). Instead of buying a box of frozen waffles, I buy a carton of eggs. Instead of boxed mixes, I get vegetables: Instead of processed foods, I get fresh meats, eggs, cheeses, etc. It’s simply about choosing things that are minimally processed or healthier rather than things that not so great for you. Shopping takes the same time whatever I am buying. Cooking doesn’t have to be some long complicated recipe out of a book: it can be throwing some pork chops or burgers on the stove and heating up some veggies. Most of the time it’s 30 minutes or less, which is about what it takes to hit the drive thru and get home.
The same goes when you stop at the gas station for a snack: instead of getting the chips or the candy, get a cheese stick or some jerky. They also have nuts, which are a great snack! Instead of the soda, get a bottle of water or a diet soda.
If you decide you want to buy a “diet book,” go for it! I would also suggest you buy a book on nutrition, simply to give you an objective point of view. There are a lot of books with solid weight loss/ healthy eating plans and many of them contain recipes. If you don’t want to buy a book, there are a lot of websites that offer free information on nutrition and recipes. One of my favorite sites is Primal Potential. It has 100 Fat Loss Friendly Meal Ideas for free and she also did a podcast on healthy meals under $1.99 per serving. Another of my favorite sites is Paleo Leap (I eat Paleo if you haven’t guessed!) I’m also a fan of Nom Nom Paleo, but her recipes are bit more involved, although extremely delicious!
A few words on meal prep: I know there are a lot of people who live and die by the meal prep idea. They make a batch of soup, stew or meat on one day and eat it during the week. There are just as many people who spend several hours cutting up their fruits, veggies, meats, etc and pack it all in the fridge or the freezer so they can heat it up in a couple of minutes or have them ready in the fridge. That’s up to you: if that works for you and makes it easier, then it’s worth the investment. For me, it’s too much of a hassle and it usually doesn’t work out for me. My idea of quick and easy snacks are usually a bag of nuts or some Epic bars in my desk. Personally, I think they keep better and last longer than the cut of celery or cucumbers, although I will prep radishes when I buy them.
The whole point is that “working on your diet” isn’t any more work than what you are doing now. If you think that the way you are eating now is “working for you,” just ask yourself how you are feeling? Are you happy with how you look and feel? Do your clothes fit the way you want them to? Do you have the energy you need and want? Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect: it just has to be better. And ‘better’ is relative! Make a better choice this week and then when you feel a little more comfortable, make another better choice. Your body will notice the improvements and you will start losing weight, without doing a lot of extra work.
You don’t need to do hours of meal prep or menu planning and your schedule doesn’t have to change: the only thing that changes are the choices you make regarding the foods you are eating. Obviously, the diet industry does not like to tell you this, because they have a vested interest in selling you their products. If you don’t buy their little food prep boxes, equipment, books or meal service, then they don’t make money. Eating healthier doesn’t need a big investment of time or money, but it does require a little bit of common sense and careful thought. You can work on eating better or you can work on staying where you are: it’s your choice.