What I Wish I Knew About Eating Healthy Earlier in Life

Food, along with society's eating habits, have come a long way since I was in high school.

No joke—all of the horrible associations people from the past have with school lunches could not be more true. I definitely don't think any of the meals served on campus were made from actual food. I steered clear from school lunches because smelly grease dripping from processed cheese and pepperoni just didn't do it for me; nor did iceberg lettuce drenched in plops of mayo, mislabeled as "ranch dressing." Seriously, so freaking gross.

Riley and Maya talking with Farkle at lunch table

(Girl Meets World via Disney Channel)

But that said, I'm not going to sit here and tell you I was Miss Healthy growing up. In fact, no one I remotely associated with ate as well as they could've, from what I recall. And looking back, I don't think that was just an age or high school thing—I think it's because we were so limited in our options.

It's not like my parents were proponents of fast food growing up, but it's also not like we ate gluten-free pasta with cashew cream sauce. There was no massaged kale to accompany our grilled chicken. There was no coconut milk for our sugar-free ice-blended mochas. No tasty Hint Water to encourage us to stay hydrated; but rather Coca-Cola and Capri Suns to quench our thirst throughout the day. Olive and avocado oil may have existed, but you better believe it was the notoriously high-calorie, high-fat canola oil that we used to whip up our eggs and sauté our veggies. Tofu did exist at this time, but no one knew how to cook it to anyone's liking, so unless you fancied tasteless white squares that looked like cheese, you def didn't get your hands on this product.

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There were TV dinners, pure dairy ice creams, sandwiches, pizza, pita wraps, you name it. Even so-called "baked chips" were the furthest thing from healthy. But that's just the way it was. I think by the time I was a senior, there were like two vegetarians in my graduating class, and that was—you guessed it—weird.

Once I graduated high school in Orange County, California, I transitioned over to college in Eugene, Oregon, which was undoubtedly the home of healthy habits at the time—habits that weren't demonstrated many places elsewhere during the early 2000s. I was exposed to a whole new world of eating options. It was here that I first heard the term "organic," even though everyone at the time misunderstood it to mean less calories or less fat, when really it simply meant a product "free from hormones" or "not grown with pesticides." So everyone was jumping on the "organic" bandwagon because they somehow thought this was the key to losing weight. Okay

This era of my life was when the term "vegan" started to be tossed around. A greater commitment than "vegetarian," it was through this culture of not using or ingesting any remote form of animal product that the world and I were introduced to soy for the first time. It was quite the breakthrough and it was everywhere. Soy milk, soy chicken nuggets, soy ice cream, soybeans (hello, Edamame!). I don't think there was too much mainstream experimentation with soy cheese up to this point, but this animal protein replacement certainly made its mark. And most people didn't even realize that this is actually the same bean that makes up tofu.

Long after I graduated college, soy continued its reign as the leading ingredient in items ordered by vegans and vegetarians. From there, all-vegan fast food chains like Veggie Grill made their way to the mainstream. Cities including Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles featured soy items at many of their restaurants. Heck, even certain Starbucks locations began serving soy lattes.

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But a few years into my life in L.A. (where I moved immediately after college), a lightbulb suddenly went off and many of us were like, hmm, soy actually tastes gross (for the most part), it's high in carbohydrates, and, after much research, it soon became one of the most controversial foods out there. Even so, soy continued to rep its OG status, but at the same time, other similarly used products like tempeh, coconut and various nuts and plants began popping up everywhere.

As soy became less common, many people started realizing that being vegan doesn't necessarily mean being healthy or living a low carb, low calorie lifestyle. Starches (which include beans, grains, peas, corn, potatoes and pastas) are totally common in many vegan dishes. So as of only the last few years, products have been made to not only replace animal ingredients, but also to replace high-carb, high-sugar ingredients.

This brings me to present day, where a typical meal for me  (when it's not the holidays or when I'm not on vacation) ranges from Mexican cauliflower "rice," to a coconut "tortilla" burrito with scrambled egg, turkey bacon and cashew "cheese," to Pad Thai with Shirataki noodles, to a snack of apples dipped in sunflower butter. 

I'm not vegan, I'm not vegetarian, and honestly I'm not the healthiest person out there—but at least I have options to go the health(ier) route, should I so choose. Looking back, I wish I had these opportunities growing up. I wish I got myself into a clean-eating lifestyle earlier on. I think my life would be so different, and that's something that does bum me out.

Even two straight days of clean eating makes me feel like a totally different person. Many people primarily associate eating healthy with weight and skin, but it's really about how I feel inside that makes the biggest difference. I feel so much happier and positive when I'm feeding my body with proper nutrients and real food. Much like a car needs the right fuel, it really does go the same way with your body.

We are so lucky to have so many options these days. Even if we don't have direct access to specific items that some places across the country have, all it takes is a quick stroll through Pinterest and you can basically make either a vegan, paleo, gluten-free or sugar-free version of anything you want. If there's one thing I wish I could change about my past, it would be to have eaten healthier as a youth—I wish I knew then what I know now.

 

Clearly you came here because you love food as much as we do, which means you'll probably to THESE truths for all people who are obsessed with eating.