Food has always been one of the great loves of my life. I can recall a photo of me from one of those disposable Kodak cameras when I was a wee babe, goopy cake smeared all over my chubby cheeks, a fat grin peeking through the crumbs. It was my first birthday, and my parents made the grand decision to introduce me to the culinary wonder you and I call chocolate. I liked it so much, in fact, that I dunked my whole face in the dessert in an effort to taste it all at once. Can't beat a baby's logic.
Since that day, I've lived my food-filled days bound by a personal mantra: "Life's short, so why waste it on tasteless food?"
To me, tasteless is pretty much anything of the leafy green variety. At best, vegetables are bland, and at worst, downright stomach-churning (unless they're stacked sparingly atop a juicy burger — that's a whole 'nother story). Typically, I stay the hell away from salads, whole-grain breads, mixed nuts, lentils, chickpeas, and tofu. I'm a big fan of avocados, onions, and brussels sprouts soaked in butter. Does that count for anything?!
That's not to say I'm loading myself with artificial sugars and sodium 24/7. I'm fully aware of the concept of limitations — and to some extent, I practice it. An average day for me would include a banana and green tea for breakfast (I happen to loathe bananas, too, but they give me energy and make me feel full in the mornings), a roasted turkey sandwich or a baked chicken gyro for lunch, followed by a pack of Milano cookies or a few Hershey kisses, and a cheese pizza, creative hamburger, or some form of pasta for dinner. While my diet's not SO bad, I mostly consume foods I enjoy very much.
Growing up, my mom taught me how to balance fairly healthy living with positive body image. As a youngster, Mom struggled a bit with body image herself after a boy told her she'd look cute if she wasn't so fat (kids can be vicious), so making sure I ate right and felt good about myself at the same time was her top priority. She would pack me the BEST lunches — my tablemates were constantly jealous! — made up of fresh bakery bread, expensive meats, a side of fruit, and a chocolate bar, because she didn't believe in restricting candy for my brother and me. It would only make us want it more! We never had soda in our fridge, because Mom believed in the importance of staying hydrated with water. To this day, I usually skip the Coke that comes with combo meals.
My sibling and I were always active. Mom and Dad signed me up for an interesting mix of sports: tennis, softball, ice skating, cross-country, basketball, tap, and ballet (side note: I'm a HORRIBLE dancer, so don't ask me to replicate any moves). When I was 13, I joined the local swim club. I stuck with it and eventually became a top competitive swimmer.
At the peak of my career in the pool, I was working out for five hours a day. That meant consuming a LOT of calories to keep my strength up, and during those years, Mom was incredibly busy in the kitchen. Oftentimes, we'd order takeout, because satisfying a hungry swimmer is no easy feat. That's probably about the point in my life I developed a serious adoration for restaurant food. One swipe of the card, and a steaming plate of professionally prepared grub appears under your nose. In college, I made a lot of carefree, coffee-fueled runs to the local burrito joint to satisfy a late-night appetite. Nothing but fond memories there.
Fast-forward to the present day. I moved to San Francisco after graduating last year and landing a full-time gig at POPSUGAR. And boy, does this city know how to cook. Coming from a small township in the Midwest, it's tempting to eat out every night. If my budget allowed it, I really and truly would, because the food here is insanely scrumptious. In reality, I get delivery about three nights a week, and I almost always place my order from a restaurant I've never been to for the sake of trying something new and delicious.
The lesson, here, is this: it's not about depriving yourself of the food you crave, but about adding in a few healthy habits, too. For me, it's my morning bananas, drinking water frequently, and walking home from work. Next time you're choking down kale out of your own self-guilt, remember my mantra. In general, life's too precious to waste on things you don't like. (And if you like kale, well . . . munch your heart out.)