Lots of people in health and fitness roll their eyes at the idea that eating healthy is hard. The stark reality they’re missing: For many people, constraints with time, money, transportation, etc. make good nutrition seem out of reach. Read on for some hard truth about healthy eating.
“What, exactly, does it take to eat nutritious food consistently when you’re faced with constrained resources?” Let’s find out.
You need a good market.
When I say “market”, I mean a place where you can buy affordable, fresh, whole food. Of course, if you’re on a budget, this market would offer non-organic, non-special, non-bio dynamic fresh food…
Plenty of countries celebrate this market concept as there’s a reserved word for it all over the world: For example, in Germany, it’s ‘wochenmarkt’; in Poland, it’s ‘rynek’; in Thailand, ‘talat’.
Of course, in the absence of that sort of market, you’d have to shop at a supermarket (which sells traditional grocery store or market products, plus household products) where you pay more for the convenience of having everything you could need in one location.
In fact, health research has recently been focusing a lot on what happens in communities where there aren’t just reduced options for buying fresh food, but none.
Overweight and obesity is associated with lack of fresh food access.
So let’s get real: For many communities, the idea that “eating healthy isn’t that hard” is total rubbish. Research suggests it’s hard indeed.
But that’s just one reason why eating healthy is hard. Because even if you have access…
You need time to shop.
My work is usually flexible. I can have clients early morning and then in the evening. This gives me time during the day
That’s probably not typical of other people’s work.
- Some work 50 hours a week and then rush home to relieve the sitter.
- Others commute two hours every day.
- Others are constantly having to decide between grocery shopping and getting some exercise or helping their children with homework.
- Others have two jobs…maybe a day job and a night job.
So where’s your shopping time now?
There are a million other examples, and naturally there’s also research. This phenomenon even has its own name: time poverty.
In fact, in consumer surveys, time is as big a barrier as cost when it comes to eating a healthy diet.
You need to transport all the food.
Let’s say we have a market to go to, and the time to go there. Big assumptions for most of the world’s population…but let’s be generous and offer them up freely.
So what’s next?
Well, we have to get there and lug all that food home. Which means you need a car or reliable public transport. (That costs money.) And you need to be able to carry the shopping. (That takes strength and energy.)
So, what if you don’t have a car, because you can’t afford one? Or because you live in the city and can’t afford to park one? What if you struggle to get up the steps of the bus, let alone carry groceries up them? What if you’re 80 years old?
Sometimes shopping for, and transporting, fresh food will feel like more than you’re capable of. And it may well be.
So maybe the convenience store will do. Sure, they only have cinnamon rolls and frozen dinners. But the dinners have frozen vegetables, and that’s healthy. Right?
Or, should you just order fast food? Or takeout? Just this once? You’ll cook tomorrow, you promise. Which brings us to the next challenge…
You need time to cook.
If everything is fresh, then most of it needs to be cooked or preserved quickly.
In short, more time and labour. Not much respite for the modern 50 hours/week worker. Another black mark to the time poverty column.
You need equipment, seasonings and ancillary ingredients.
You need cooking skills.
Here’s a fun game you can play. And by fun, I mean really quite depressing.
Find a Millennial, and take away their smartphone (don’t worry, it’s only temporary). Now that they can’t Google the answer, ask them: “What is ‘home economics’?” Often, they don’t know.
In case you don’t know the meaning of “home economics”: It’s a subject they used to teach at school where you learn to manage a household & mostly about learning to cook.
Yes, that was a real thing. But it’s not anymore.
We are now at least two generations removed from people who grew up in a house where people cooked regularly, and where people were taught to cook at school.
These skills are passed on and socially reinforced. In other words, if you’re just ordinary at cooking, chances are your kids will be even worse.
Recently, there has been some good evidence to show that teaching people to cook can improve ALL of the following:
- Attitude toward food and cooking
- Fruit and vegetable intake
- Food purchasing habits
- Social interaction at home
In the end, it takes some experience and skill to chop up a bunch of foodstuffs and put them together without it tasting awful. Especially if you’re trying to eat on a budget.
Without that skill, the idea that “eating healthy is easy” feels extra absurd.
You see, everyone knows fruit and vegetables are good for you. Everyone knows it’s easy to eat too much starch and sugar in one sitting. Everyone intuitively understands the idea of portion control.
Yet, in modern life, the planets have to align for this to translate into “eating healthy”. Which means, despite what rah, rah personal trainers and other fitness fanatics often say:
It’s not always easy to eat well.
And maybe it’s okay if we just started admitting it.
What to do next:
Some tips from Jon Nardinochi
Whether you’re trying to figure out how to eat in the context of your busy, hectic, time-strapped life, it’s okay to stop pretending eating well is always a breeze.
When constrained resources make eating healthy a challenge, consider these strategies.
Embrace the struggle.
Unless you’re affluent, and/or your career involves you getting paid to be in shape, modern life will sometimes make it challenging to eat well.
The first step is to accept this in a sober, realistic way. Then you can focus on finding strategies to work around the challenges.
Build a kitchen toolkit.
With a proper kitchen set-up you’ll be able to cook most things, even if you don’t consider yourself “a chef”.
Schedule your shopping and meal prep.
Put shopping and meal prep into your calendar so you’re not always scrambling (and opting for less-nutritious convenience meals).
This also helps you use fresh food before it goes bad, saving you money in the process.
Meals don’t need to be elaborate to taste delicious. And while cooking skills don’t develop overnight, putting tasty food on a plate is by no means rocket science.
Prioritize stress reduction
Eating well consistently requires resources — money, time, energy, and skill development. These requirements can be challenging when you already have a lot to worry about.
Reducing your total stress load may make more room in your life for the effort of high-quality nutrition (and allow your body to make better use of all those great nutrients).
Go for a walk, relax in the park, spend quality time with family and friends, do some yoga, play around with your kids, read a book.
If you’re struggling to eat the way you’d like, cut yourself some slack. It’s OK to ask for help.
If you’re asomeone who’s been known to say “healthy eating is easy” or “people just aren’t trying hard enough” — stop and reexamine.