Katrina Clarke| October 15, 2016 | Toronto Star
Alan Bo has eaten pretty much the same foods every day for his entire life.
When he was a kid, it was cereals, salads and scrambled eggs.
As an adult, it’s oatmeal, wraps and pasta.
“It’s like, every day you know you’re going to drink water,” said the 31-year-old Toronto poet and avid runner, who also eats vegetables and fruit. Food is just something he needs to fuel his body, not something he gets excited by. “I sort of take a neutral approach to it.”
Bo is not alone. J.Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and the late Steve Jobs have all followed a style of uniform eating that involves chowing down on the same food or rotation of foods daily.
In extreme cases, such as if someone only eats lettuce, it could be linked to eating disorders or obsessive compulsive disorder, says a psychiatrist. However, dietitians say the behaviour mostly stems from a desire to eat healthily, cut costs and save time, though it could also be due to picky eating habits.
“It’s one less decision to make during the day and frees up mental energy for other things,” said Desiree Nielsen, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian. “Repetitive eating might apeal to those who enjoy routine in other areas of their life and potentially, those who aren’t that interested in food and want to minimize the time spent on food prep and planning.”
Eating the same foods every day is by no means common, said Nielsen. None of her clients eats exactly the same thing every day, but around 75 per cent eat the same breakfast every day and many have go-to lunches.
Indeed, one survey out of the United Kingdom looking at the eating habits of 2,000 office workers found that three out of 10 people ate the same thing for lunch every day. Another, also out of the U.K., found the average Briton eats the same rotation of seven “safe meals,” including spaghetti Bolognese and pork chops, on a regular basis.
Nielsen sees both the pros and cons of following strict food plans.
“Putting healthy choices on autopilot helps you stick with them and makes it convenient to eat well,” she said. “(But) eating the same thing day in, day out carries the potential for deficiencies, boredom-fuelled binges and fostering rigidity in dietary choices.”
Torontonian Jasmin Banaei, 25, attributes her habit of eating the same thing every day to two things: a busy schedule and dislike of cooking.
“I find (cooking) extremely time consuming,” said Banaei, who spent the last two years completing a master’s degree, working as a research assistant and completing an internship. “I’d rather be doing other things . . . hanging out with my friends.”
On an average day, Banaei eats two eggs sunny side up, two servings of fruit and a yogourt, bread or bacon for breakfast. Lunch is a stew that her mother — a personal trainer — makes in bulk and hands off in batches to her cooking-averse daughter. Dinner is a large kale salad with vegetables, herbs and chickpeas or beans. She also snacks and goes out for dinner once a week.
Banaei said the diet helps her feel healthy and saves her time and money. She estimates she spends $50 on groceries per week.
And no, she doesn’t get bored.
“I really, really like salads,” Banaei said.
A routine repetitive diet can be healthy or not, depending on what you eat, said Stefanie Senior, a registered dietitian who has a private practice in Toronto.
A healthy version would consist of a variety of fruits and vegetable, healthy fats, proteins and vitamins, Senior said. An unhealthy one would be high in processed foods, low on produce and low on vitamins.
One benefit is that since humans are hard-wired to like a variety of foods, those who eat a uniform diet may be less likely to load up on food throughout the day, as though they were at a buffet, since they don’t have easy access to it, she said.
Looking at celebrity diets, Senior said Steve Jobs’ reported habit of eating only carrots or apples for weeks at a time is decidedly unhealthy and Anna Wintour’s daily midday steak is red meat overkill, but Jenna Lyons’ lunchtime Cobb salad receives her stamp of approval.
Alan Bo calls his diet healthy and “mentally comforting.”
“I’m sure on paper it sounds like I have some disorder,” he said, laughing. “It’s not, like, a weird thing I do. It’s just food, right?”
But experts say in extreme cases, it could be a red flag.
“Restricted eating can absolutely be part of an eating disorder,” said Dr. Valerie Taylor, chief of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital. “If you see somebody and their eating behaviour suddenly significantly changes and they become very restricted and they’ll only eat a few things . . . absolutely this is something you could be concerned about.”
In some cases, it could also occur alongside presentation of obsessive compulsive disorder, a disorder in which someone’s life is disrupted by uncontrollable compulsions, such the need to excessively wash their hands or clean, she said.
But Taylor cautions whether restrictive eating is healthy or not must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s very context-specific,” she said. “Running is healthy. If you run for four hours every day and you don’t eat enough, running is not healthy. It depends on whatever else is going on.”
How to create a healthy uniform eating routine, according to registered dietitians Desiree Nielsen and Stefanie Senior
- Consult a registered dietitian. There is no one-size fits all approach to eating — an expert can help tailor a routine simplified food plan to fit your lifestyle and nutritional needs.
- Choose foods with a built-in variety of fruits and vegetables, such as smoothies, soups and salads.
- Embrace trial and error. Try different combinations to see what feels good for your body.
Could you eat the same thing every day for the rest of your life?
Reporter Katrina Clarke tried it for 5 days. Her verdict? Boring
I have a good friend who insists she could live off hummus and Chardonnay for the rest of her life.
I believe her.
I know plenty of people who eat a variation of the same foods every day. Some do it because they’re lazy, some because they don’t know how to cook and others because they just know what they like.
I try to vary my meals, testing out new recipes and going out for dinner a few times a month. But throughout university, I too ate pretty much the same thing every day: cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, stir fry for dinner. It was boring, cheap and easy.
I brought those habits back — healthier this time — to test the idea of uniform eating for this story.
The 5-day meal plan I followed:
Breakfast: Smoothie made with banana, peanut butter, almond milk, protein powder.
Lunch: Salad with lettuce, sweet potato, lentils, noodles, red onion and goat cheese.
Dinner: Quinoa with stir fried vegetables and soy sauce.
Snacks: Rotation of granola bars, yogurt, nuts, vegetables, apples.
Grocery total: $50
Here’s how it went:
Sunday: Today is food prep day. Cutting up vegetables takes a long time.
Monday: My taste buds and stomach are satisfied with this meal plan — it’s basically a healthier version of what I usually eat.
Tuesday: I wake up with a cold. The smoothie tastes fine, but the salad looks totally unappetizing. By lunch, I want a bagel. I eat the salad. I’m not looking forward to dinner but I eat that too.
Wednesday: I’m feeling better and food tastes normal again. I go out for drinks with friends after work and I happily devour my leftovers for dinner when I get home.
Thursday: The repetition is starting to get to me and I think I’m consuming way too many vegetables. But then my colleagues see my food as we’re walking towards our go-to lunch joint and say, “Oooh, good salad.” They buy $10 versions of the same salad.
Friday: The home stretch! I realize I’ve unintentionally gone vegetarian for the past week — the thought of saving some animals is nice — and I saved around $30 not buying lunch. I also saved time, shaving 10 minutes off my morning routine and 30 minutes off my night schedule, though Sunday’s food prep did steal two hours from my weekend. I don’t think I’d want this diet forever, but five days was doable. Now, give me pizza.