I have gone through a lot of food crazes in the past 7 years. I’ve experiment with limiting carbs, being vegan, raw vegan, macrobiotic, and fruitarian. In earnest attempts to “detox”, I’ve tried juice fasts, liver cleanses, calorie-restriction, liquid diets, and various other techniques I won’t even mention. After a little less than a decade I decided what I needed was a more balanced outlook on health. When it comes to food, I’ve come to realize that I much prefer eating the occasional cookie, or ghee-drenched vegetable dish, over living in fear of dining out with friends.

I realized that being “more conscious” of what I ate didn’t have to mean becoming neurotic around food. Been there. Done that.

So, I’d like to suggest a few easy (and non-neurotic) things that people could do to make their diets a little healthier, and their bodies a lot happier. Bon appetit!

1. Read labels: The best way to ensure you are eating healthfully is to actually know what’s in your food. If the ingredients list on a package you are picking off the shelf of the grocery store reads like a Russian novel, put it back down! Bread needs four main ingredients: flour, yeast, water, salt. I have found out crazy things about foods by reading labels. When it comes to labels, think haiku, not novel.

2. Spend more time with produce: If the grocery store were a rock concert, the produce department would be the VIP section for sure. This is where all the best and richest nutrients, vivacious enzymes, complex fats, and important amino-acids get to hang out. It is easy to understand why packaged foods would get low-priority seating. In yogic terms, packaged items have ZERO prana (life-force energy). For optimum prana, consider attending the pre- and after-parties, which take place at your local farmer’s market. The more the merrier. No RSVP required.

3. Learn how to prepare your own prepared foods: The most important part about buying fruits and vegetables is actually eating them. Don’t let your nutrients rot in the refrigerator! If you are not content eating a whole raw zucchini from the fridge, consider taking some cooking lessons, or, check out all the amazing informational videos on youtube! Learn to make EASY, delicious food and not only will you stay healthy, your food bills will decrease considerably!

4. Eliminate empty calories: Once you start reading labels you will be surprised at how many foods contain sugar, or some of its sickly sweet cousins–fructose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, etc. Sugar adds empty calories to foods that usually don’t need it for flavor. Choose the breads, pasta sauces, chips, nut butters, and frozen foods without sugar and you will notice a slight drop in your weight without having to do anything!

5. Eat to sustain yourself: This is important. The thing I notice the most when people start to eat better, is that they think they also have to eat less. I’ll watch someone whose usual meal would be a steak and fries eat a tiny salad. How is that an educated transition? The great thing about vegetables is that you can eat as many as you want! Don’t shun good fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados, or healthy grains like quinoa, brown rice, and wheat berries. Remember, you want to be healthier, not hungrier.

6. Drink up: Not green juice, not kombucha (although these are great to have as well), but water! The most important part of cleaning up your diet is to provide your body with plenty of water to flush out old toxins. Drink a lot and often! Carry around a reusable water bottle with you everywhere and keep refilling it! Make a game of how many times you need to refill in a day.

7. Relax: Remember that food isn’t everything. I love the story of Neem Keroli Baba’s first experience with LSD. His student, Ram Dass (“Be Here Now”), brought him some in excitement one year on a trip back to India. Nothing happened. Neem Keroli Baba was so mentally stable from his meditation practice that not even LSD affected him. Now, most of us are not such amazing yogis that we can ingest absolutely anything and feel great, but know that there is more to how you feel than what you eat. Remember to BREATHE and LAUGH and MEDITATE and CHANT! These are all highly nurturing and nutritious activities.

8. Enjoy: Don’t eat food you dislike, even if it’s healthy. There are so many great healthy foods out there. Take your time to sample new fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. While you may not like steamed kale, maybe you would like it sauteed, or baked in something else. There are so many variables to discover. Also, if you are experimenting with a recipe and you don’t like the outcome, don’t force yourself to eat it! Some things are better off in the compost than in your belly… especially when they feel like edible punishment.

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