Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dear Frustrated: Part 2

Dear Frustrated:
As promised in Part 1, today I want to address healthy eating.  I will admit to you that I have struggled immensely with healthy eating, and have only recently been able to truly understand it's importance (for a long time I believed that if you spent enough time in the gym, you wouldn't have to watch your intake -- boy was I wrong).  I have already mentioned how much I loathe diets and how strongly I recommend you not follow them.  So, then where does that leave you?  If you aren't following what some Hollywood Doctor has written in some flavor-of-the-month diet book, then how do you eat healthy?  If you aren't counting your calories, only eating fat-free products, or cutting your carbs, how do you make wise food choices?  Trust me friends, many people struggle with these questions.  I am constantly getting asked which plan I am on or which cook book I follow.  Once I was even asked what "The Healthy Living Plan" was.  I do not follow a plan.  I make wise and well-informed choices when it comes to food.

Believe me, I to have battled with understanding how to make healthy choices.  I went from one extreme of starving my body, hating food, and throwing up every bite that passed my lips; to the other extreme of eating everything in sight, pretending I didn't mind being a "full-figured" woman.  On the underweight side of unhealthy, I practically dared people to try to make me eat or to keep me from purging.  On the obese side, I, more verbally, let others know that I didn't struggle with anorexia and bulimia and then get 'healthy' just to have to watch every bite I ate.

So when I decided to redirect my life toward more healthful living, I found myself a bit lost.  I wasn't sure how to use eating to lower my weight, unless it was in a very extreme and unhealthy way.  I want to offer you some information and advice that I have found helpful and useful.  Please bear with me if I jump around -- I just want to be able to share as much information with you as possible.

- Read the book Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst .  Do it.  This book spoke to me in a huge way, and, most importantly, allowed me to look inward and upward when it came to food choices.

- Learn and understand your specific struggle.  Is it sugar?  Potato chips?  Soda?  Processed food?  Aspartame?  Portion control?  My specific struggles have been sugar, soda, and portion control.

Don't fall for gimmicks (ie: fat-free, low-calorie, light, or low-carb).  Read and understand labels.  Many times, if a product is advertised as "low in" or "free of" something, it has a high volume of sodium and/or sugar to make up for the missing calories/fat/carbs/etc.

- While you are reading labels, check out the ingredients list.  If it looks like a science experiment, DON'T put it in your body.  If you try to focus on eating more natural, less processed foods, you will be able to ensure much higher quality in the calories you consume.

- Eat fresh (and I am not talking about Subway).  If the foods you choose have a long shelf-life, chances are they will cling to the inside of your body for just as long.  Think of processed foods as "cellulite-makers".
Grilled shrimp, asparagus, red peppers and grape tomatoes.
Served with a whole grain roll.

- Don't worry about cutting out all carbohydrates.  Your body needs carbs to function.  I am not suggesting that you create all of your meals out of corn, potatoes, and white bread.  But I am suggesting that it is okay to pair a sandwich (on whole grain bread) with sliced green peppers and fresh fruit (instead of chips) for lunch.  If you would like a baked potato, fine (maybe give a baked sweet potato a try instead), but pass on the corn for that meal.  You want to make spaghetti for dinner?  Go ahead, just use whole grain noodles and skip the garlic bread.  It's all about moderation.
My favorite vegetable red sauce (with very lean ground beef),
whole grain noodles, and baked asparagus.

- Fruit is good for you, darn it.  I get so irritated when certain diet plans suggest you give up fruit.  Fruit contains many vital nutrients and vitamins that your body craves, as well as providing you with hydration.

- Vegetables are also great for you, duh.  Green leafy vegetables contain more of what your body is lacking than any other food.  If you hate vegetables and want to get healthy, you are just going to have to suck it up, my friend.  I might suggest (if you really truly can't stand them) finding one that you find at least bearable and cook it every different way possible.  My very favorite vegetable is asparagus, I eat it several times a week and I bake, grill, steam and saute it.

- Add protein into your diet.  I have found protein powder has become my new BFF.  I put it in coffee and smoothies.  I add it to my whole grain cereal in the morning; as my doctor explained to me that it is pertinent to your body's metabolic health to have protein within an hour of waking.  And I also drink it with milk at bedtime (sometimes, if I'm feeling motivated I will blend it with milk, frozen fruit, and natural peanut butter).  I used to be afraid of going to bed with a full stomach, until my friend, who is a fitness and health professional, explained to me that consuming protein before bed will actually keep your body from crashing (ie: going into starvation mode) while you sleep.  This will allow your metabolism to stay up, and will help your body to stay nourished.  As an added bonus, I have found that I sleep more restfully and wake more easily.

- Snack.  But first, understand what a snack actually is.  Cookies, ice cream, pretzels, and cheese dip are not snacks -- those are treats.  A snack, for me, is a serving of yogurt with a sprinkle of granola, a bowl of fresh fruit, fresh cut vegetables, natural cheese, a glass of milk with protein powder, or almonds.  If you keep your body fueled, you will be less likely to crave naughty indulgences.

- Watch your portions.  I have always been a member of the "clean your plate club," so portion control has been a real struggle for me.  What helped me the most (aside from reading labels and measuring out each serving) was eating off of a small salad plate instead of a large dinner plate.  Even though I make the conscious choice to grab a smaller plate for myself, I feel like it tricks my brain into understanding that less food is okay.  During the first few weeks of this, I didn't allow myself seconds, and I found that I was starving because my body was so used to over-indulging.  But now that I am used to smaller portions, I am fully satiated at each meal.  I had to re-learn the difference between full and too full.
The bowl on the right is how much cereal I used to consume each morning.
The bowl on the left is what I now consume -- it is one serving measured out.
In order to avoid having to measure each morning,  I have since changed to a small bowl
that will only hold one serving plus milk (and protein powder).

While remodeling our kitchen, I ran out to get dinner for my husband and I.
Both of these drinks, from two different restaurants, are MEDIUMS.
It is very important for you to be accountable for your own portion sizing.
- Add veggies first when filling your plate.  This helps you to remember to eat more greens (and oranges and reds, etc.) instead of only adding them to your plate as an afterthought.  Most generally, half of my plate is vegetables.

- Stay hydrated.  Your body needs fluids, just as much as it needs food, to properly function.  If you are properly hydrated, you will have more energy, will feel hungry less often, your skin will appear brighter, your muscles will work better, you will sleep better.  Try to drink at least 64 oz of water each day (and even more on the days you hit the gym).

- I don't recommend cutting anything completely out of your diet, due to the risk of caving to your cravings and then binging.  Unless you are an "all or nothing" type of person, such as me (this is also called an addictive personality - thanks therapy).  I, personally, have a hard time limiting the intake of something.  If I have one soda, I have to have three; if I have a bite of chocolate, I have to eat a pound; if I smoke one cigarette, I have to have an entire pack (thus, the reason I quit smoking 3 1/2 years ago and haven't touched a cigarette since).... you get the picture.  I know and understand that my food weaknesses lie in sweets and soda.  When I first embarked on my journey, I gave up sweets completely.  I felt like I was going through drug withdrawal (which made me really consider the toxic and addictive qualities of sugar).  I stayed away from sweets for over nine months, and have only just recently been able to take a single bite of something sweet and then walk away (trust me, the second, third, and fourth bites taste just the same as the first... there really is no reason to have more than a little).  I also stopped drinking alcohol for quite a long time.  Mostly because I prefer sugary sweet drinks, such as margaritas and daiquiris.  Alcoholic beverages contain a ton of empty calories, that I generally don't feel like I need to have.  Diet soda has been my really big vice for a long time.  I have tried to give it up over and over and have never succeeded for very long.  I did use it for my Lenten sacrifice (along with sweets), and am holding strong so far.  I may just have to pretend that Lent lasts all year long...

- Finally, and most importantly, keep a food journal.  Write down absolutely every single thing you eat and drink.  Don't count your calories, track your points, count your carbs, or calculate your fat grams (because, let's be honest, how long would you be able to keep up that tedious task anyway?).  Just write down everything you put in your mouth.  An example of what I would write for a meal would be: 1 glass of 1% milk, 1/2 grilled chicken breast, 1 whole grain roll with natural butter, baked asparagus with Mrs. Dash, small dinner salad with 2 TBSP Italian Dressing.  The purpose isn't to count or track, the purpose is to create accountability and honesty.  Think of your food journal as the annoying police office that is driving behind you on the interstate.  You want to speed, but you won't because he's watching you.  Same with you're food journal.  I may want to eat an entire package of Double-Stuffed Oreo's, but I'm not going to because I'll be damned if I have to write that in my food journal.  You have to be honest with yourself when you write your entries, too.  You will only cheat yourself if you lie.
A page from my food journal.
I hope that these tips have given you some insight into what has worked for me, as well as what doesn't work.  In the next installment of these letters to you, we will discuss my favorite thing of all, exercise.  Stay tuned!

Make healthy choices.  Love yourself.  And thank you for keeping me In Good Company.

*UPDATED* -- I forgot to mention a few more super important tips that have helped me.  First, when you sit down to eat, eat all of your vegetables before you move on to the rest of your meal.  Second, if you are having a naughty treat (such as chips), place your measured portion on your plate and then put the bag away.  Never set an open bag of sin in front of you when snacking.  Third, if you always succumb to your cravings, don't keep your pantries full of foods that will tempt you.  Even if your kids love fruit snacks, if that happens to be your temptress... don't have them laying around.  Trust me, your kids will survive.  And fourth, find an activity to help you fight your cravings.  What worked for me was prayer.  Honestly.  If I felt like I was going to cave in and binge, I would pray for God to give me the strength to make healthy choices.  Find what works for you.


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  2. Really good advice, and medically sound, as I used to give many of these tips to the people I worked with in a diabetes clinic last year. Portion control is a major issue that people don't realize. Much of it is due to society's acceptance of 'more food.' It's hard to go to a restaurant and not eat what you are given, particularly when you've paid for it. I never realized how bad it was in the USA until I came to the UK and was served proper portions at restaurants, instead of mega-USA portions. I used to leave hungry, but now I've been retrained as to how much I should eat.

    One fun thing I used to use in my community health presentations to illustrate the portion distortion -


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