Monthly Archives: May 2011

Learning to Eat Well

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I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine last week regarding my health journey. She is a very beautiful, slender woman, but she admitted to me that she doesn’t eat well because she just doesn’t know how to eat in a healthful way. I think, like many people, she wants to eat a more balanced and nutritional diet, but doesn’t have the information to do that. And eating healthily is a deliberate task. It doesn’t come easily in our culture; fast food is the norm too often, and as a result, we miss out on food that tastes great and is good for our bodies just out of simple ignorance. I lived that way for a long time- I wanted to eat well, but I didn’t know how, nor did I feel like I had the time. As a single person, I don’t usually feel like making elaborate or balanced meals just for myself, so I resorted to quick, unbalanced meals of cereal or toast or microwaveable burritos or pizza delivery.

Since I have reformed my eating habits, I realize that in the past, when I thought I was eating good tasting food, I was actually just eating to stop being hungry. The food tasted ok, but not great, and I always felt bad after eating it- if not physically, then mentally (because I felt guilty for putting crap into my body). Now, I make intentional food choices based on how many vegetables I need to eat for the day or how much fibre or how much protein. The Canada Food Guide was helpful in giving me a target of how many servings of each to consume each day, as well as some suggestions for different foods to fill those requirements. And I feel great after I eat now, both physically and mentally. It’s such a revelation to have food not only fill the hunger gap, but make me feel good too!

One of the first things I added into my diet as I moved into this new life was V8 vegetable juice. I don’t like tomato juice, as I find it too thin and acidic, but veg juice contains a ton of other stuff like beets, spinach, carrots, kale, etc. I found, to my surprise, that I really enjoy it, and when I drink it, I feel like I am imbibing pure health. I feel like I am getting physically stronger, more energetic as I drink it. It may be purely psychological, but that’s ok. I sometimes find it challenging to get the recommended daily servings of fruit & vegetables (8-10 per day for a woman), so having one glass of V8 (which is 2 servings of veg) is a great supplement for me.

Another key was finding healthy food I enjoy. I thought this would be more difficult, but I’ve also found I don’t require a whole lot of dietary diversity. What tastes good will be different for everyone, so I hope no one feels like they HAVE to copy my food choices to get similar results. I really feel like the key is discovering what works for your body. For example, every morning for breakfast, I have a meal replacement shake, and sometimes I have a hard-boiled egg too if I am going straight to the gym. My older sis likes a low-fat granola bar with a probiotic yogurt drink, and she also likes to add in a hard-boiled egg if she needs a little extra energy. My friend, Erin, prefers to start her day with a bowl of cereal and skim milk. My choice works for me, because I am not a morning person. I don’t like eating first thing, so a shake gives me nutrients and wakes up my metabolism without me having to eat solid food. The only time I really change this is if I am going out for breakfast. Then I get two poached eggs, one piece of dry toast, and a pot of unsweetened tea. Gosh, that sounds boring, but it’s what I enjoy. If I liked melon, I might get a fruit cup with plain yogurt. The point is, you have to find what you enjoy, because you’ll never be able to change your eating habits if you don’t enjoy what you’re eating.

I also had to figure out how to build healthy snacks into my day. I never have liked eating three larger meals a day. I am more of a grazer, and I prefer to eat smaller meals with several snacks in between. I found out that this is actually a healthier way of eating too, because it keeps one’s metabolism moving at a more stable rate, rather than having three meals that tend to make it spike and crash. Google was my friend on the quest for good snacks. I just typed in “low calories snacks” and got a good list of ideas off of a few different sites. (I’ll write a separate blog listing those ideas to make it easier to reference for both myself and my readers.) I hate the idea of counting calories, but once I found a range of snacks to choose from (all that are between 50 and 100 calories), it made it easy to snack without guilt and without completely submarining my weight loss goal.

Something else that has been a life-saver is portion control. Yes, it is very important to plan portions at mealtimes, but here I am referring to crap foods. Just because I am eating healthier doesn’t mean I don’t still crave chocolate or chips. My first line of defense is that I don’t buy these foods to have in the house. If they are in my cupboards, I will eat them, so I just don’t buy them. However, there are times when I am in social situations and these foods are present. If they are, and I can’t resist (you tempting devils), I have ONE cookie, or ONE handful of chips. I would definitely feel deprived if I never got to eat these things at all, so by controlling my portion, I get to have the occasional treat but not go overboard like I used to in the past.

Probably the single most helpful tool in my weight loss journey is water. We hear it all the time, but most of us just don’t drink enough water. In fact, when we are thirsty, our brains often send the signal to our bodies that we are hungry. Dietitians recommend drinking water for 15 minutes (fairly steadily, but not non-stop) when you get a hunger pang. If the hunger pang goes away, you were just thirsty. If not, it might be time for a low cal snack. Drinking water (at least 2 liters a day), can get boring, but there are lots of ways to dress it up. I use Crystal Light flavor crystals to make it into juice or iced tea. Caffeine-free tea also helps me reach my quota. And I’ve found that I enjoy sparkling water. Perrier has different flavors (lemon, lime, pomegranate) that are all 0 calories. Walking around all day with a water bottle does help me control food cravings, especially when I just have the munchies, and staying hydrated actually helps with drink cravings too. I don’t get so thirsty that I “need” a soda, or even juice (which also contains lots of sugar). I actually like drinking water. The only downside is having to pee every ten minutes, but we flush fat cells through our urine, so I’ve come to terms with frequent trips to the loo by reminding myself that I am peeing the weight away.

As far as meals, I try very hard to limit fats and carbs. A general rule is that half of one’s dinner plate should be filled with vegetables, one quarter with meat, and the last quarter with starch (pasta, rice, potato, etc). I follow this pretty closely with my lunches (either flatbread with tuna and tons of raw celery, carrots, and broccoli or a generous serving of vegetable salad with tofu). For supper, I usually eat a Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choices steamer meal, for several reasons: 1) I hate cooking for just one. It doesn’t seem worth the effort. 2) They have a great variety of meals that I could not and would not make for myself. 3) They are very balanced, with lots of veg, some starch, and a little meat. 4) It is so easy to keep track of my calories- I just look on the back of the box. If I made a meal with separate dishes, it would be much harder to count calories per portion. 5) They are relatively cheap. Priced between $3 and $5 each (and they often go on sale), I find them very affordable. If you are cooking for a couple or a family, this might not be an option for you, but it works for me. 6) My meal can be ready very quickly. I go from zero to starving in minutes, so I need something fast to be available if I want to stick to a healthy food regime. Otherwise, I panic and start eating crap. 7) Portion control. Recipes that feed one are difficult to find, make, and buy groceries for, so making food that feeds more than one means more food is now ready for me to eat. Bad. Much harder to stick to one portion. This way, I eat the meal, and if I am still hungry, I eat a spinach salad and drink more water. (I find raw baby spinach delicious and filling, and it is only 5 calories per cup. Pair that will a low cal dressing, and it makes a great side dish or snack.)

One final idea I found has come in very handy is something my dad said to me when I was first starting. I had already eaten my three meals and two snacks for that day, but I was ravenously hungry. When I told him I was struggling with wanting to pig out, he told me “If you are hungry, you have to eat. This will never work for you if you are starving yourself. You’ll eventually lose willpower and quit.” He was right. Since I was twelve years old, I have had stomach problems (ulcers, hiatus hernia, and gastritis). Part of my weight problem has been my fear of stomach pain. I have often eaten just to make sure I am not hungry, because hungry means acid eating away at the lining of an empty stomach, and that hurts. I can’t deprive myself of food (not like I’ve ever wanted to), but I can make healthy food choices (like having an extra meal replacement shake, as I did that day I was overly hungry). Using all the guidelines above, I have found a way of eating well that I enjoy and that doesn’t feel like work.

I hope this blog has given some of you ideas or at least a launching point to discover your own healthy food formulas. Given that we need food to live, I think sometimes we take it a little too casually. I know I sure did. But the difference in how I feel, in how my body operates, and ultimately how I look, is powerful incentive for me to stick to healthful foods. Again, I am so grateful for the mental transformation that allowed me to see food in a new way. If I had tried to force myself into a regime, it would never have stuck. Getting the mental piece in place has served as a foundation for all the rest, and I am so happy to have the privilege of building my new lifestyle upon it. Thanks again to all of you for sharing in this with me. I look forward to any questions or suggestions you might have about eating well. Love!

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or dietitian; just a regular Jane using the resources at my disposal. Please don’t do any crazy stuff and then blame it on me. Be smart, and feel free to research and/or confirm any information offered above with health professionals. And I guess you’re going to have to get used to me being long-winded.

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