Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, knows the allure of fast food—especially when it comes at the close of a busy day. As she writes in the introduction to her new book, Schedule Me Skinny, “I was at the mercy of my hectic schedule and thought I had no choice but to sacrifice my health.” But as she soon discovered, a little foresight combined with a flexible outlook could foster a diet that was both speedy and satisfying. In addition to consulting high-profile clients, Sarah-Jane now authors the Meatless Monday column on Self.com and is a regular guest on national media programs. We scheduled some time to discuss her new book and the state of popular nutrition today.
MM: Schedule Me Skinny emphasizes planning as an essential aspect of good nutrition. Why is planning so important?
SJB: The busier we get, the less time we have on a day-to-day, meal-to-meal basis to figure out how and what to eat in order to be healthy and reach our goals. That’s why it’s so important on the days we do have a little of that rare “extra time” (like the weekends) to spend some time forming a plan so that we don’t have to think twice about what our healthy meals and snacks will be during the work-week. If you try spending 30 minutes planning and preparing for healthy meals (as I have outlined in the book) even just once, it will be easy to see why (especially when you are really busy) you don’t have time to NOT plan!
MM: The past few decades have seen the rapid rise and fall of diets based on exclusion: no-fats, no-carbs, and so on. Can you predict the next big fad, and are we finally in a position to recognize that every food group has its place?
SJB: I definitely hope that people are beginning to recognize that all foods groups have a place in a healthy diet as each one serves a unique purpose for our bodies. I think we are moving toward trying to eat “cleaner”—more fruits and veggies, lean meats, whole grains, low fat dairy and less packaged foods. I think this trend is very positive as it gets people back to thinking of balance, moderation, and variety as the principles of a healthy diet. However, there are still many fad diets out there, like Paleo, Grain Brain, etc. that are calling for elimination of food groups, which I do not think is a positive, sustainable solution.
MM: Part of what we preach here at Meatless Monday is flexibility. But most traditional diets aren’t so forgiving. Why do you think people are attracted to rigid programs?
SJB: Well, we tend to be better at seeing black and white than gray as we are such an extremist society. We want all or nothing. And while it may seem easier in the short term to take this “all-or-nothing” approach—for example cutting out an entire food group,—in the long-term it is pretty much impossible to sustain. That’s why I actually encourage a daily treat as part of the Schedule Me Skinny plan; if you treat yourself to a small amount of something you really enjoy everyday, you are less likely to binge on those foods later on, leading to a much healthier, more balanced diet overall. That’s what I think we can learn from those rigid programs: the importance of balance and moderation. I always tell clients if you don’t think you could follow a diet for the rest of your life then that’s a red flag that you should never start it to begin with.
MM: What’s the single most effective change a person can make in their daily eating habits?
SJB: I think it is to become a more mindful eater. I have a whole chapter of the importance of mindful eating in Schedule Me Skinny. Mindful eaters have four major characteristics: 1) They eat when they are physically hungry only (and do not try to soothe emotions like stress or boredom with food) and stop at the first sign of fullness. 2) They eat sitting down at a table. 3) They eat off of a plate rather than out of a bag or box. 4) They eat without distractions, such as the TV, phone, reading, etc. It takes some practice to become a mindful eater, but just by changing how you eat will make a huge difference in your eating habits.
MM: Do you have a favorite meatless recipe that you can share with our readers?
SJB: Black Bean Soup—this is one of my “Plan B” dinners from Schedule Me Skinny. If you keep you pantry and freezer stocked, you’ll always have a “Plan B” healthy meal that can be made quickly, without a trip to the grocery store for especially busy days that don’t go as planned!