Part of eating ethically is, well, eating. This is something I do very well at least insofar as I know where to find food and to put it in my mouth. As a child, my mother taught me to check the ingredient list for strange things with names I couldn't pronounce, but I don't recall much emphasis on calories, fat, portion size, or even the good things like calcium and iron. When I went off to college and became the sole decision-maker about what I would eat, I didn't make the best choices. For the most part, I ate too many calories and not enough nutrition. I recall thinking that, because I wasn't overweight, I didn't need to pay attention to such things. You can guess what happened. I gained weight. In my first two years of college, I gained about 10 pounds, which actually wasn't a bad thing for me. However, in the ensuing five years, I gained another 15 pounds, which was decidedly not good. When I started graduate school, I decided to start eating better and exercising more so I could lose the weight. It was really hard! Not paying attention had gotten me used to a state of over-consumption and under-nutrition to such an extent that cutting back a little here and there just slowed my weight gain rather than helping me lose. Despite all of this, I was still reluctant to actually count calories or measure out my food. I didn't want to seem obsessive about my weight or appear to be bowing to social pressure.
Lately, my attitudes have been changing mostly due to running. I have never been athletic before, and I really had no hope when I first got on a treadmill that running would become part of my life. I'm so glad I was wrong. Running has become very special to me. I not only enjoy doing it and the way in which it makes me feel strong and fit, I also enjoy reading about how to become a better runner. What I have learned is that being informed about what you are putting into your body is a good thing. Counting isn't the same thing as restricting, and getting proper nutrition is essential for an active life. When I look at food and nutrition as fuel for my body, calories become just another metric, one completely removed from my pants size. When I think of my body as a tool, it motivates me to take care of it. In a way, this should be obvious. It should be the way all of us look at what we eat.
So on to actually eating. I know I need a certain number of calories every day to not keel over and die. I need more calories to be able to get out of bed and write blog posts and even more if I want to run. I also need vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. My running sources tell me I should pay special attention to iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Putting all of these things together seems daunting but doable. In general, I want my ethical eating lifestyle to be practical, by which I mean that I don't want to spend a great deal of time on it. However, I think some overhead here at the beginning might be required. What I need to do now is count. Count the calories, vitamins, and so on in the foods I eat (this will clearly also require some measuring, yikes!). My plan is to do this religiously for a week or two. I'm not necessarily going to change what I eat; I just want to know how much nutrition I'm getting in how many calories. (In truth, even just knowing how many servings of food are on my plate would probably be a good start!) Luckily, there are now internet resources that help with this. The Daily Plate (www.thedailyplate.com) supposedly has a vast searchable database that will allow me to tell it everything I eat and will thus provide me with all the wonderful information my little heart desires. By the end of my 1-2 week experiment, I hope to have gained enough knowledge about what I eat and how much nutritional bang I'm getting for my caloric buck that I won't have to examine things quite so hard in the future. Here are some questions that illustrate the sorts of things I would like to know by the end of my experiment. If you wouldn't know the answers to similar questions about what you eat, maybe you should consider joining me.
- How many calories can I eat without gaining weight? How many do I need to run?
- How much milk do I actually put in my cereal?
- If I had to guess, how much is "about a cup"? What about a tablespoon?
- How much potassium do I need, and can I get it all from a banana?
I guess I'll tell you the answers in a week or so. : )