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Eating with a Purpose (Plus Couscous and Broccoli Stir Fry) 

By Marni Sumbal

When I work with individuals on nutrition, I believe it can be hard to change if you don't have a “why” to match your plan of action. In other words, if you don't know why you want to change something, how will you go about making the change and stick with it? When I work with athletes and fitness enthusiasts, the most common response I receive to my nutrition questionnaire when I ask what people are least looking forward to in their nutrition journey is the response of "giving up my favorite foods."

mzI can be completely, 100 percent honest with you that in my house, we never feel guilty or restricted in our diet. We have absolutely no rules; I do not lecture my husband Karel about food, Karel does not tell me what I shouldn't eat and meal time is a happy time. We eat our favorite foods because they have a purpose in our diet. Whether it is cookies Karel brings home from the local bakery or kale... it all has a purpose in our house and everything is consumed with enjoyment and satisfaction. I can't recall a time in many years that either of us have said we feel uncomfortable or awful after eating.

Right now I am working with a young swimmer (age 11) who is learning to appreciate new foods in the diet. As any parent may agree, it can be hard to try new things when we don't know why we need to change. I believe this is true for adults as well; how many times have you be reluctant to change a habit even thought you know it would be healthy (or good for you) to change? Having the knowledge and motivation to change is important. When I work with kids I don't believe in being sneaky about foods. I feel that sometimes we do need to be open to trying new foods. Sometimes that means a person may have eaten something that they didn't like, but they end up liking it after the fact without knowing what was in the item that they ate (like adding veggies to marinara sauce instead of "sneaking" them in).

My approach to eating is to talk about the whys — not in an educational way but rather purposeful way. Seeing that my 11-year-old athlete is a competitive swimmer who often gets sick, my "whys" to her eating are more than just eating fruits and veggies because they are healthy. She has made remarkable changes in a month and the first thing she said to me was, "I feel better." That is the “why” I was looking for. Now she is more open to trying new foods.

I have one rule with her. She isn't allowed to say "I hate that food" but instead "I haven't yet learned to appreciate it yet." She now appreciates whole-grain waffles but hasn't appreciated plums. We are moving in the right direction and I am so proud of her changes.

When it comes to having a purpose to making a change, we are more likely to make the change and enjoy the change. Ask anyone who is a runner now but claims to have hated running when they began. Or ask a new veggie lover who once hated the taste or thought of veggies. Or perhaps the new cook or planner who once thought they would never have time to plan ahead but now makes the time and wouldn't imagine any other way of living. Have a purpose for making a change and you will likely start a new way of living life.

Far too often we think about food for calories or what is bad about it rather than the good or why we are eating it. Rather than pointing out bad food, perhaps we can place more emphasis on food that we should be consuming more often (whole grains, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, fruits and veggies) and what it is about those foods that can be protective to overall health. Certainly, eating a piece of cheescake or bowl of frosted flakes for dinner once a month is not un-healthy. But slacking on fruit and veggies on a daily basis can minimize your chance of having a healthy body.

The other night I made a delicious couscous dinner. There is not a lot of fiber per serving of couscous (2g) but a decent amount of protein (6g). You can read more about it HERE but basically it is made from semolina flour, and without making it into dough it becomes tiny grains as flour combines with water. It is light in texture and flavor which makes for an easy to digest food, especially before or after a workout.

I made this meal knowing that the next day we had a tough morning workout and I didn't want anything too heavy in the belly. Seeing that we do not do off-limit in our house (nor to I encourage, advocate or endorse any type of restrictive diet unless medically needed), I enjoy the opportunity to eat with a purpose as much as possible, knowing that my "whys" will be answered as I enjoy a delicious creation and have an awesome workout the next day.

Couscous and Broccoli Stir Fry
Veggies: mushrooms, broccoli, onions, yellow bell pepper
Nuts: soy nuts, pumpkin seeds
Protein of your choice (I used tempeh) - prepare ahead of time for quicker meal prep. I cooked tempeh in a little olive oil until golden brown on medium heat.
Seasonings of your choice - ex. garlic, onion, oregano, tumeric
Olive oil

1. Saute veggies in skillet, tossed in a little olive oil on medium heat for 8-10 minutes (or until brown). Season after 5-6 minutes and mix with spatula.
2. Cook couscous according to package/box (allow ~20 minutes)
3. Prepare lentils according to package (allow ~10-15 minutes).
4. In shallow dish, place veggies and top with 1 serving couscous. Toss and top with nuts.
(optional: top with marinara sauce, salsa, greek yogurt or tahini paste and stir into the creation)

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N works as a Clinical Dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches, and is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC, providing one-on-one consulting in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. Marni is a Registered Dietitian, holding a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, and is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN). As an elite endurance athlete, she is also a USA Triathlon Level I Coach and a 5x Ironman finisher. Marni is a 110% Play Harder, Brooks ID, Hammer Nutrition and Oakley Women brand ambassador. She enjoys public speaking and writing, and she has several published articles in Fitness Magazine, Bicycling Magazine, The Florida Times-Union Shorelines, Lava Magazine, Hammer Endurance News, CosmoGirl magazine and Triathlete Magazine, and contributes to and Ironman online in addition to USA Triathlon.

To contact Marni, email, visit her blog or her website