Year for the Planet Week 52: Moving Forward – 12 Lessons from a Year of Sustainable Eating

Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This is the final post for 2017 where I dealt with my food choices.

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It’s been a year of changing my diet for the sake of the environment and my health. I have set myself up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits, minimal consumption and waste, and a lot of money saved. This project changed my life—and I hope you can do this for yourself, too, if you haven’t already! I have broken down what I have learned into twelve things which you can apply in your lives, one lesson per month. Ready? Let’s go!

1. Know yourself.
What does it mean for you to “eat sustainably”? I learned that there are so many ways to frame this basic yet often misunderstood desire. Knowing why I was doing this project was key. In the beginning of this project, I took a blood test, weighed myself, and took a general assessment of what my current diet was doing to my health, relationships, and lifestyle. This gave me a baseline with which to work on and allowed me to frame my goals beginning from where I was.

2. Design your system.
We are all different so what works for me might not work for everyone. I enthuse about doing these 10-minute raw desserts, but I know many cooks who revel in a longer process of making a meal. Create systems that work for you, whether it’s meal prepping everything on a Sunday or shopping in your local market to make sure you have fresh vegetables to make a daily breakfast omelette.

3. Identify availability, budget, and convenience.
Your location and resources will determine what food you can make, so check out what staples are easily available and what you can afford. This will make it easier for you to stick to this lifestyle change. I was afraid I’d be dropping out of it quickly if I wasn’t able to find organic kale, for example. Stick to locally grown produce and find flexible recipes to make them with.

4. Plan ahead.
Each time I fell off this sustainability wagon, I was reminded of the importance of planning how and where I was going to get food in whatever city I was in. When there is no plan, our brain will automatically default to the most convenient way, which is usually processed and overly packaged food flown in from elsewhere.

5. Buy in bulk.
The best way I cut down on waste was to prevent as much packaging from entering my house. Buying staples that you can store for a long time such as oatmeal, whole wheat flour, and other dry goods in bulk is way to reduce plastic waste and save a lot of money.

6. Forget brands.
My shopping cart has been the least colorful when it comes to packaging because I avoid anything neon or flashy. Buying generic staples and local produce has made me ignore advertising by default. This makes me more excited about the meals I will prepare instead of the temporary high of buying something pretty.

7. Anticipate and prepare for roadblocks.
I had to be wary of the many things along the way that would make me fail in this project—and to arm myself accordingly. This includes bringing in extra reusable bags when I was shopping for produce in anticipation of the plastic bags the grocery staff would automatically put them in. I also would have to be on top of things when paying for them and help the often-confused store bagger to pack my purchases without plastic.

8. Study the benefits of food.
Understanding what each food does to my body and what herbs and spices can heal me changed my mindset on eating. As a result, I am not dependent on medication when I’m sick. Seeing food as medicine will orient you towards a way of eating that helps your mind and body, instead of mindlessly eating processed food.

9. Take responsibility.
The most triggering thing people have told me when resisting a sustainable diet is that “That’s just the way it’s always been done,” and they blame something else for their wasteful practices. I think what drove me away from this kind of lifestyle was being afraid to fail. Make mistakes, acknowledge it, and improve for next time. We can’t change overnight; in fact, it took me a year.

10. Prioritize.
I have never been healthier in my life, but it’s not just because of this project. I also made exercise a priority. Both my DNA test and my attention span show than a 30-minute HIIT workout is best for me so far, so I complement that with my normal taekwondo sessions and meditation. I also make relationships a priority so I would check in with friends and family regularly. Finally, doing fulfilling work gives meaning to my daily routines and makes me happy.

11. Reward yourself.
The hardest thing to do is to change oneself, so I made sure to reward myself throughout this project. A good reward helped my goals instead of hindered them, and so instead of treating myself to cheat meals of pizza, I would make healthier versions of things I craved or buy clothes that fit me better. A positive feedback loop ensures that you can keep at it for a long time, maybe even for life!

12. Never stop learning.
I set this up for a 12-month project but I know there are still many things I need to learn. As the planet changes, so will my habits need to change. There may come a time when coffee will no longer be available, or I might move to a country with no coconuts—what then? Keep reading, experimenting, and finding other ways to be better. Let’s be proactive in a changing environment!

Happy New Year!

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