I’ve been back in the South for a few months and more times than I care to admit, I've indulged in some of my favorite Southern treats. Sweet tea in particular. Also, everyone failed to mention that Atlanta has one of the hottest restaurant scenes in the country. I've done a pretty good job of keeping focus, but don't get it twisted on weekend trips back to my hometown, things get a little more challenging. I'm a sucker for cornbread, mac and cheese and turnip greens.
Thankfully, over the years, I've been able to introduce healthy living into my family and we've experimented with healthier ways of cooking Southern style food. It was scary at first. Something so deeply engrained in my family's history now being banished from the Sunday spread? One word. Trouble. I can't say it has been easy, but it has certainly been a learning experience for everyone. Some things haven't gone over well, but many things have.
Whenever I talk about the South in particular, there's a lot of resistance. Not only to the idea of changing the things we Southerns eat and the way food is prepared, but even about body image and how we've made being overweight in our community largely acceptable. I've gotten used to being shot down with a glare and a rebuttal of, "You're skinny, what do you know??" or "Women should be comfortable in their skin, no matter what." And that's when I laugh and table the issue for another time.
Why the focus on the South? It's no coincidence that the Southern states are endearingly called the Stroke Belt. But things are slowly but sure changing.
If nothing else, listen to this. It IS possible to live in the South, still get the same good comfort food and stay on the healthy wagon . A few years ago, I developed a few tips to staying healthy in the South. All of which helps to remind myself and my family that it can be done. We all want to enjoy good food AND the memories that come along with a hot steaming bowl of mashed potatoes, but we just have to be smarter about it. For those of you who are still struggling with how to stay healthy in the heart of everything butter-ladden, here's a few ways to to keep it together:
1.) Dare to be Different
First, let's change our thinking. For whatever reason, being a “big girl” in the South has become largely acceptable. I totally agree that a girl should be comfortable in her own skin, however, I’m not a proponent of hypertension, strokes, heart attacks and other illnesses relating to obesity. I know it is the norm, but dare to eat different and be healthy.
2.) Realize Being Healthy is a Lifestyle Change
As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m not a fan of celebrity diets or “Get Skinny Fast” schemes. Being healthy and losing weight truly requires a lifestyle change which means sometimes, not taking the easy way out like cooking at home instead of dining out, skipping Aunt Susie’s famous chocolate pie or running around the block after Sunday dinner instead of taking a nap with the family. All major sacrifices that will pay off to a better you in the long run.
3.) Find Ways to Make Your Favorite Southern Dishes into Healthy Meals
My cooking counterpart Ashley can probably speak more to this, but there are, in fact, ways to make some of your favorite indulgences into healthy, good-for-you meals. For example, use olive oil or canola oil instead of vegetable oil if you must fry, use faux meat instead of ground beef and if you have to use sugar, use raw sugar instead of the processed stuff. Being healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up EVERYTHING!
4.) When Your Schedule Calls for Dining Out, Dining in 2.0
I'm a pretty busy lady these days and I have to admit I'm not the cook in our house. So, when my schedule gets the best of me (or my other half isn't home), I often find myself running out to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner. (Yeah, it's that bad). If I'm honest with myself, it all comes down to a lack of planning. (Shame on me, but hey, this is real life!) The next best thing to dining in??? I've been a slave to Whole Foods salad and hot bar. Much to the detriment of my wallet, it's the next best thing to hitting a local fast food chain, or something I frankly have no business eating. Most grocery stores have a prepared foods section so find the healthiest option, buy that puppy and try to do better the next day!
5.) Reward Yourself
There’s a few Southern treats that I will always love. One is sweet tea. Ever since I’ve been back, I’ve been craving it like it’s going out of style. So, I’ve allowed myself two glasses of sweet tea per week in exchange for extra ounces of water and harder runs. A small price to pay in my opinion for the delicious goodness of sweet tea.