I see it all the time. Someone wants to “clean up” their diet and get serious about losing weight but doesn’t know how to cook. So what do they do? They buy a recipe book or meal plan with complex recipes involving 15 ingredients and 17 elaborate steps. They go out to the grocery store and buy dozens of expensive, fresh ingredients. They spend 30-45 minutes preparing their first meal from the meal plan and it tastes amazing. They feel good. This is going to work. Time to start their fitness journey!
A week later they are back to eating bowl after bowl of cereal and pizza rolls.
What happened? So often we believe that in order to be serious about health and nutrition we have to be amazing cooks who slave over meal prep. But are you really going to eat veggies everyday if you have to spend 45 minutes roasting them in the oven? This is where the microwave comes in. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a steamable bag of veggies and popping it in the microwave for 5 minutes.
The microwave can really be your best friend if you are trying to lose weight because consistency and sustainability are way more important than optimality. And what’s more consistent and sustainable than convenience? Are you really going to find the time to prep and cook raw chicken every week for the rest of your life? It’s perfectly ok to buy frozen precooked grilled chicken and pop it in the microwave for two minutes. Is this the cheapest or tastiest way to prepare chicken? Certainly not. But it’s sure damn convenient. And when you’re fighting the temptation to throw those pizza rolls in the microwave because you don’t feel like spending 45 minutes cooking your family dinner – allowing yourself the convenience of microwaving chicken, veggies, etc. is perfectly fine.
Just remember, the perfect is the enemy of the good. It’s better to do something 80% optimally for ten years than to crash and burn over and over trying to do something 99% optimally.
So often in the fitness world people talk about the “bodybuilder diet” which apparenty consists of broccoli, rice, and “bland chicken”. The emphasis is always on bland. As in, if you want to be maximally lean and ripped you need to sacrifice your taste buds to the god of gainz. The idea that bodybuilders are just forcing horrible tasting food down their gullets is repeated over and over. It feeds into the myth that to eat “clean” means to sacrifice flavor in favor of optimal health – that eating “clean” is a “sacrifice” that requires vast amounts of willpower. The “bland chicken” myth also makes it sound like seasonings are somehow not conducive to the goals of leanness, muscle gain, or health in general. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
There are two main problems with the “bland chicken” myth. First, most bland chicken is simply overcooked. Chicken has a narrow range of acceptable temperatures that are optimal in terms of texture. You want it to be around 160-165 degrees F. Too little and it’s undercooked – too much over that and the chewy texture translates into the perception of “blandness”. I don’t care how much seasoning you put on there if you have to chew it for 60 seconds to get it down you’re not going to enjoy it. Furthermore, keep in mind that if you take the chicken out of the oven at 165 degrees it’s going to keep cooking in its own juices for another 5 minutes bringing the temperature higher than 165 and thus out of the optimal texture range.
Second, most bland chicken is underseasoned. More specifically, most bland chicken is undersalted.
Why? Because of another pervasive myth in the fitness/health world: salt is bad and we need to limit our intake of salt. Very very few people have a legitimate medical condition that requires limiting salt intake. For everyone else, I would wager they are not consuming enough salt. Chicken is a low-fat meat (“lean protein”) and because of that missing fat, needs to be heavily seasoned with salt. Most people’s concept of “liberal salting” is just a small pinch. Naw. You need to smother your chicken in salt. Every available square inch of exposed surface needs to be salted. Your taste buds will thank you. Kosher salt is the best for sprinkling because it disperses evenly.
So next time you hear someone talking about “bland chicken” keep in mind that the only thing bland about chicken is your bland cooking method, either overcooking it or underseasoning it. Salt is your friend! Learn to love salt! Our brains were designed to crave salt and it is extremely tasty to normal humans. Use this to your advantage and turn boring, bland “clean” foods like veggies and chicken into delicious foods that are not a sacrifice to eat.
I want to add a bonus tip: if you want to get the protein-benefits of eating chicken but don’t want to deal with the hassle of cooking raw meat then I highly suggest the more expensive but super convenient option of buying frozen pre-cooked grilled chicken at your supermarket. Walmart and Aldi both have good options (I love the Aldi ones the most). Make sure it’s not breaded (just check the carb content – should be zero).