Every year I make a food-related New Year’s resolution.
One year it was to not buy packaged foods with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce; the next year it was to purchase only organic fruits and vegetables. Invariably, these resolutions fall by the wayside when January 2 rolls around and an Oreo, or sometimes seven, ends up in my mouth. What can I say? I love to eat! However, this year I want things to be different. I want to eat in a way that fuels my body and makes me feel my best. Not only that, I want these changes to last. I want to make Jack LaLanne look like a rookie, and the cast of The Biggest Loser to look like uncommitted pansies. Bring it, 2011. And by it, I mean brown rice pasta and power smoothies. Let’s do this.
Knowing I can’t do this alone, I seek the help of an expert. My last experience with a nutritionist wasn’t ideal. I saw a lady who thought that because I didn’t eat meat, I’d probably stop menstruating soon, followed by a quick and painful death via lack of steak. Um, no. Thankfully, I was knowledgeable enough about nutrition to realize she was a complete whackado. And until now I was reluctant to seek professional help again. Luckily, I have a recommendation for a non-crazy food person – Tali Sedgwick, also known as the Food NE/RD (Nutrition Education/Registered Dietician).
Tali started her practice fairly recently after spending 10 years in the fashion industry. I’m sure that’s enough to make someone hella crazy about food, right? At first I was worried that Tali might condone a cigarettes and jumping jacks diet, but after reading her website, I knew we were kindred. She’s all about sustainable whole foods and honing a mind-body connection. This is something I definitely need help with because, honestly, sometimes I think I’m so out of touch with my own body that it might take me a week to notice I accidentally cut off a finger.
My first interactions with Tali are over email. She asks me to fill out a couple forms about my eating habits and health history and to keep a three-day food diary. I diligently track what I eat and am a little freaked out when I see that on one day all I consume are pancakes. The really scary part is that I thought I’d eaten a fairly balanced diet that day. Mind-body connection, anyone? Ashamed, I send off my diary for Tali to either judge or be disgusted by me. I am nervous about our meeting.
Tali’s office is on Nob Hill on California Street, near the Tonga Room . It’s nice to know that I can follow up my nutrition counseling with a mai tai the size of a hot tub. But first, I gotta hike up the mountain that is California Street. When I arrive, I’m sweating, panting, and barely upright. I’m buzzed into the reception area and quickly drink about 50 cups of Arrowhead Springs. Refreshed, I’m greeted by Tali who has also just arrived and is sweating and panting, as her bicycle got a flat at the bottom of the hill. I’m relieved to find that she’s friendly, welcoming, and doesn’t appear to be crazy-town. I have another wave of good feeling about her.
In her office, Tali produces, especially tailored for me, a packet with all manner of charts and useful information. The first thing I notice is that she’s broken down my food diary into calories and key nutrients. It’s interesting to see the components of what I’ve been recklessly throwing into my mouth. Tali explains that she’s mostly OK with my food choices. It’s true that I put some thought into what I eat. As I’m vegan, I’ve been asked, “Where do you get your protein?” more times than Anne Heche has been called crazy. Tali clues me into which food choices are better than others, and because she knows what she’s talking about, I feel comfortable taking advice from her. And this is a big deal – until I was 10 years old, I didn’t trust my parents not to accidentally kill me.
Tali has creative solutions for my major food faults. For example, since I’m a freelance writer, I have a difficult time sticking to mealtimes. I might end up eating breakfast at 6 a.m., 11 p.m., or (most likely) not at all. And sometimes I’ll eat an apple with peanut butter at noon and call that lunch, and other times I’ll make a rice cooker of brown rice at 2 p.m. and eat the whole thing. Her genius advice? Set an alert on my always-open Google calendar that reminds me when to eat. This makes total sense and I vow to try and adopt it. Tali also gives some of the usual tips: Don’t eat in front of the TV, and eat mindfully, meaning chew your food slowly and actually concentrate on tasting it. With the promise to put her plan into action and keep her updated on my progress, I say good-bye and relish the delightfully easy downhill walk to BART.
My first stop after our meeting is Rainbow Grocery to buy food and multivitamins. Tali recommends that nearly all her clients take a multi-v because, although we’re supposed to eat a complete whole food diet, sometimes life gets in the way. And by life, I mean Oreos. And by sometimes, I mean who’s counting? To call Rainbow ’s vitamin section complete is the understatement of the decade. It’s got more vitamins, supplements, herbs, herbal supplements, pills, elixirs, and tinctures than a witch. Navigating the aisles can be somewhat intimidating, and I was thankful for Tali’s advice to check out Rainbow Light Women’s Multivitamin. It’s pricey (about $30 a bottle) and you have to take six gigantic pills a day, but man is your pee ever neon yellow with nutrients. That’s good, right?
When I arrive home, I immediately go about creating a dining place in my tiny apartment. I eat most meals in front of the tube because TV is my only happiness – but I realize that’s not good. I don’t concentrate on my food and I know this because sometimes I’ll eat an entire meal and then be all, “Time for dinner!” So, taking what I learned in college, I hobble together an eating nook made from milk crates and cardboard boxes before I prepare dinner.
Now, time to cook. I take Tali’s advice about making more food than I need so I can freeze portions for future meals. I love cooking things in the rice cooker, and as Tali noted, it’s just as easy to make six servings of quinoa as it is to make one. It’s so addictive that I end up making massive amounts of both brown rice and oatmeal, as well. Thoroughly rice-cookered out, I sit down in my nook to slowly and deliberately enjoy the crap outta my quinoa stir-fry. I set a timer to see how long I can make the meal stretch. With all my effort, I’m able to make the plate of food last for only 15 minutes. And it was hell. I never knew dining with myself could be this insufferable. I have a whole new respect for friends and family. My boyfriend deserves a medal. I resolve to become a better person, more deserving of spending quality time with myself. Man, this nutrition stuff is unlocking all sorts of issues. I might have to go the next level on this bitch and take it to therapy.
The next morning, I wake up, make coffee, and sit down to work (aka cruise cute animal videos on YouTube). I’m swept away by a baby tortoise eating a tiny tomato when my 9 a.m. breakfast reminder pops up on my Google calendar. The half-shelled hero is so damn cute, but I manage to close the video (after bookmarking it!) and head to the kitchen. I remove one of my premade frozen oatmeal servings and pop it in the microwave, thereby killing all its nutrients. You win some, you lose some. Next, I sprinkle ground flax seeds, some frozen blueberries, a drizzle of peanut butter, and some almond milk into the oats. I pour a glass of almond milk and grab two tangerines and head to the nook. Believe it or not, sitting down with this meal as the center of my attention, I can actually make out the flavor of each ingredient, and it all tastes better, too. Normally something has to be covered in Oreo for me to appreciate it, but no, this really is good. While doing the dishes, I daydream about ways to cook millet, and ruminate on the subtle differences between various types of kale.
Fast-forward a month and I’m still working Tali’s nutrition plan. Impressive. Some of Tali’s tips are easier to stick with (Google reminders, eating nook, multivitamins), and others are still a challenge to maintain (20 minutes to eat a meal – SAY WHAT?). But my enthusiasm for this new way of eating is still going strong. Not to be grandiose but fuck it: Food is the biggest medicine you put into your body and you better make it count. Don’t you want to live long enough to see things like hoverboards, floating diners, and the eventual overthrow of humans and their enslavement by robots? The future is gonna be awesome.
Tali offers an initial nutrition assessment, like the one I got, for $110. If you want further counseling after that, she’ll work with you to come up with a plan at a fair rate.