Believe it or not, many days I already have a rough idea of what I’m going to eat, not too shortly after I’ve roused from my slumber. Not in a "meal plan" kind of way; simply in a "what do I have in the fridge; and what do I need to pick up from the grocery store" kind of way.
For me, protein is the centrepiece of every meal. To that end, I always have a selection of protein ready to go in my fridge. On this day I had the following in the fridge, thawed and ready to eat:
…which is not to speak of the veggies and other ingredients available to me in the fridge and pantry. Protein is the most important fuel for me (and, if I’m being honest, for you), and every meal unpacks from that.
Although I wasn’t hungry when I woke up, I started to run through my day, which includes considering for a moment what my break fast meal might be. Break fast is very, very important.
Hear me out… I’m not here to say that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but I do think your first hunger is the most important hunger of the day. I have many reasons for this, but most of them point back to circadian biology. We are diurnal animals designed to wake, move, eat, play, hunt, survive, and thrive during the daylight hours, and our body is attuned to take up fuel in the early part of the day.
This is not to say anything about what happens psychologically when you answer your first true hunger of the day with an epic protein-forward meal as opposed to, say, a muffin and a macchiato. This moves it from the realm of circadian biology and into the realm of conditioned response. The brain goes: "I was asking for nourishment, and this animal ate a bunch of sugar. I felt better! You know what? I'm going to cue up a craving for that the next time I get hungry..." On the flip side, if you answer your first hunger with delicious whole foods, your brain develops a Pavlovian appreciation for that. You have more control over your cravings than you think.
Anyway… I take break fast very seriously.
I decided that, of all the yummy ingredients chilling (heh) in my fridge, some scrambled eggs with spinach, prosciutto and feta cheese, alongside a really nice Italian sausage was going to hit the spot today; whenever my first hunger of the day showed up — probably after my intense morning workout.
Here’s how the day went:
7:30am: I prepared my usual morning beverages: a cold brew coffee (pre-workout!), a huge green tea, and water with electrolytes.
8:30am: I taught my high rep barbell class, which is basically like an hour of high intensity cardio with weights.
9:30am: I headed into the weight room for my heavy upper body workout. Cruising Instagram in between sets, I got wind of this incredible grilled cheese sandwich that was on special today at a local watering hole near where I live. Not just ANY grilled cheese: raspberry and bacon jam grilled cheese with three kinds of cheese on house-made sourdough. I was very into it. I decided that just might be worth it.
Some questions you may be wrestling with:
Isn't a grilled cheese sandwich “junk food?” Not in my opinion. This particular one was comprised of whole foods.
Isn't a grilled cheese sandwich “fattening?” There is no answer to this. It depends on context. How many calories have you eaten that day? How many have you expended? Dude, I got fat on chicken breast and steamed veggies, so I no longer am capable of believing in a “fattening” food. Whether you get fat from food depends on a pile of context and nuance. Anyone who tells you otherwise is sheisty.
Does a grilled cheese sandwich fit into a healthy diet? A raspberry and bacon jam grilled cheese sandwich isn't diet food. It isn’t plant-based. It isn't keto. It isn't Paleo. It's probably "too many points" on Weight Watchers. And I don't want to know whose macros a grilled cheese sandwich fits, but if your macro coach is feeding you grilled cheese, please give me his/her number. Fortunately, I’m not waving any particular dietary flag besides “Eat supportive food when you feel hungry.”
So... is a grilled cheese sandwich supportive, then?
Technically, no. I’ll unpack that in a moment.
But let’s not forget the eat.simple manifesto, because there's more to it than just supportive/unsupportive:
"I eat satiating, satisfying, nutrient-dense, supportive, self honouring foods.”
A grilled cheese sandwich might be satiating. It might be satisfying. It might even be nutrient-dense.
Supportive? Maybe. Self-honouring? Maybe.
That’s a lot of Mights and Maybes. And while a lot of Maybes doesn’t make a YES food… it also doesn’t mathematically add up to a NO either.
It’s in this very context driven “grey area” where we can't rely on the math. There is not a clear answer as to whether a grilled cheese is a Yes or a No.
We have to simply ask ourselves: Will this be worth it for me? (There's that context again...)
So, let’s pick up where we left off...
11:00am: finished my weight room workout and I! Was! Very! Hungry!
As I drove home, I toyed with the idea of heading down for this grilled cheese sandwich.
Here is a list of all of the Will This Be Worth It For Me thoughts that very casually went through my head as I drove:
“I have a lot of work to do and I don’t think hanging out at a restaurant for an hour or so is a good use of my time today.”
“I don’t usually feel good when I eat a lot of cheese. Is it a good day for me to have gut rot? What do I have going on later today and tomorrow? Can I afford to feel like hot garbage? Let’s see… two podcast episodes, a meeting, a deadline, and a horseback riding lesson… none of these things feels like they’d be fun to do whilst feeling 'ew.'”
“The other thing is the bread. Even though homemade ‘legit’ sourdough is one of the less-egregious bread options, I know I don’t respond well to wheat. It always leaves me fatigued and brain foggy. I definitely can’t afford to have fatigue and brain fog; I’ve got a lot on my plate.”
“I really did have my heart set on that yummy egg scramble today. Mmmm prosciutto and feta…”
“And that workout was so hard; I feel like protein is really what I want and need right now.” (This is a different point of view: some folks think after the huge workout is the time for a cheat meal. For me it’s the time to support the hell out of my body!)
FINAL ANSWER: “You know what? I’m going to have my regular breakfast, and then maybe I’ll go out for that grilled cheese later, for supper! That sounds great.”
Despite the fact that I am now sitting down and intentionally writing an entire blog post about this, I want you to know that these thoughts went very mildly through my head as I drove home from the gym.
There was no white-knuckling. If the grilled cheese had won out, I’d have pointed my car south and I’d be reporting on this blog how damned scrumptious it was!
There was no wrestling with what I “really” wanted.
I exhibited no willpower or discipline.
All of these thoughts came to me solely as information.
I happen to have the metabolic clarity to process this kind of information in a totally sensible way. And what I really and truly wanted was to chase that heavy workout-induced hunger with some epic - and delicious! - protein.
I was very happy with the decision for many reasons. I wasn’t feeling deprived of a grilled cheese. I was just going to have it later! And besides which, the meal I had planned to make - and wound up making - for myself, was extremely yummy. It was, in every way, a win-win.
By about 1pm, my epic break fast was done and dusted. It was just as good as I had daydreamed it would be.
Just in case I didn’t make this perfectly clear: it is MAGICAL when this happens. When you can answer your hunger with a meal that you’ve been looking forward to for hours; that satiates a big hunger; and that is so damned physically, mentally, and spiritually satisfying that you feel absolutely lucky to have been given the opportunity to eat it. For me, today, that was eggs, prosciutto, spinach, and feta. It may have been a raspberry and bacon jam grilled cheese on sourdough. Either way, I made the choice from a place of information, like a grown-assed adult.
It’s now 7:30pm as I’m writing this, and the satiety of that epic break fast meal is just starting to wear off (6+ hours of satiety from breakfast is pretty cool if you ask me!).
I’m no longer craving that grilled cheese sandwich at all. For supper I’m BBQ-ing a small steak and roasting some veggies.
The grilled cheese will be on special next week. Maybe I’ll get it then!
Or maybe not.
But either way, that decision will not be tumultuous or stressful or ever require even a shred of willpower.
Maybe that grilled cheese will make its way into my belly one day. But for today, even though that craving was strong, the drive to answer my hunger with a delicious, satisfying, satiating, supportive meal was even stronger.
Spoiler alert: this drive almost always is stronger, which is why it's not hard at all for me to "stick" to my "diet."
And that, my friends, is the effortless relationship with food