Yay for the components!

I’ve been on my Writing Diet for just over three weeks now. I’m learning a lot, and I feel certain these lessons will stand me in good stead for the rest of my life. It’s rather astonishing how much better I feel these days. I went into the diet with only a few ground rules: (1) Try to eat enough protein, instead of so many carbs, (2) Try to exercise every day, and (3) Try to eat mindfully. Notice they each begin with “try” rather than “do” or “don’t.” Of course I can’t be perfectly mindful every moment, but the difference is that now I really feel what happens to me when I don’t eat right. I get dizzy, I feel sluggish, I succumb to all food-related whims and cravings. But when I’m eating what’s right for me, I have lots of energy, I feel satisfied, I don’t eat as much junk, and I don’t think about food constantly. It’s an exemplar of the win-win situation!

One thing that’s really helped is learning to eat in what I call “components.” The standard American diet is very meat-and-potatoes: you have your starch, your protein, and your vegetable (maybe), and that’s a meal. When I was growing up, a typical dinner was a Chinese version of the same: white rice, a few kinds of vegetables cooked rather plainly, and a meat dish, like curry chicken thighs. It’s a hearty, tasty way to eat, but I can’t do it anymore. For one, I don’t want to rely on heavy meat dishes for protein. For another, we never seem to be able to cook all three things at once. On any given day we’ll have vegetables and leftover rice, but no protein. Or we’ll have tempeh and rice, but be too tired to cook vegetables. The problem with the three-part meal is if any one of the parts is missing, it’s not a meal anymore. (At least for those of us who insist on having our vegetables.)

Since I’ve been on the Writing Diet, I’ve realized that (a) I need to eat when I’m hungry, (b) I get really bored if I don’t get variety in my meals, (c) I don’t want to have to cook for every single meal. So I’ve started eating in “components”: a little of this and a little of that. I’ve been pleasantly astounded to discover just how many meals I can put together without having to seriously cook anything. Examples:

  • Ingredients from my pantry and our garden = Noodle soup in dashi broth with wakame, sesame seeds, green onions, and an egg.
  • Leftover crêpes + canned refried beans + chopped onion = fusion “burritos”
  • Leftover breakfast pancake + almond & apple butters = afternoon snack
  • Nori + sesame seeds + leftover rice + leftover corn + leftover sprouts + Japanese mayo + okonomiyaki sauce = lunch

In the first one, I have to make the broth, but that just requires a little time and throwing things into a pot. In the second, I chop an onion. In the fourth, I just throw together stuff that’s in the pantry and the fridge. The thing I love about these “component” meals is that they can be made from very small quantities of food, as opposed to the three-part meal where all three sections need to be fairly ample. With this new way of eating, if I’ve only got a handful of this and a pinch of that, I can still concoct a satisfying and interesting meal. It’s sort of like that wonderful old story, “Stone Soup“!

I’m thinking now that I should start grocery shopping with “component eating” in mind. I can buy even very expensive ingredients, because I’ll only be using a little bit of them. Or I can buy things that would be unhealthy in quantity, but are fine if I only eat them in little bits. And I can be more creative with everything I buy. Eating this way is fast, easy, healthy, and really quite fun, because I’m inventing so many different combinations of flavors and textures. Yay for the components!