Its the first Monday of April and time for another AIM post. This time we’re answering a reader’s question about the “brass tacks” of our daily food plan–how, what, and why we eat what we eat. I write about that almost every day, so why am I finding this so hard? I think its because I don’t want to mislead anyone. I could just write about what I am eating now, how I plan for it, think about it, cook it, shop for it. But that is not how I’ve always eaten. When I thought about it, I decided there have been four main stages I have gone through. So far. I am pretty sure I will have to adjust my food plan again. Aging and all that, you know. So here goes.
Stage 1. When I first started losing weight, the majority of what I learned about food was from Weight Watchers. Sure, I investigated on my own. But the main focus was on counting calories (points) and paying more attention to the fiber content (high was good) and fat content (high was bad.) It did not matter a lot if the food was processed. In fact, I think it was easier to count the points if it was packaged with all that information already on the box. (This is probably unneeded information, but I was the QUEEN of Cool Whip Lite. I made sure that I never ran out of that stuff.) I did start to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. And the biggest change I think I made was having a good breakfast. I continued to eat this way when I reached my 100 pounds lost and started to maintain at that level. (Yes, I lost 100 pounds while ingesting Cool Whip Lite almost every day.)
Stage 2. I was struggling a bit with maintaining my weight loss, and a good friend recommended a personal trainer. Little did I know, the trainer was a foodie too! I learned so much about good food and nutrition from her. I started eliminating all processed foods from my diet. I learned that there were new foods that I actually enjoyed eating. Lentils, edemame, and quinoa come to mind. I also started exploring healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts–specifically walnuts.) It was during this time period that I read (among other things) The End of Overeating. The deadly combo of fat/sugar/salt really rang a bell with me. I decided to minimize wheat and sugar in my diet.
Stage 3. During an especially stressful three year period, I regained some weight (25 pounds.) I never stopped my healthy eating lifestyle. I continued to explore healthy recipes. I developed new recipes myself as I went along. I just ate too much.
And this has led to Stage 4. Through all the reading and investigating I have done, I tried one more thing. And it seems to be working. I am losing weight slowly and steadily. I am eating a little more protein, and a little less grain and fruit. As I think about it, these are the most significant changes I have made:
- My breakfast is consistently smaller–200 calories instead of 300-350 calories.
- Walnuts have gone on the back burner. Yes, they are a super food. But for me, they are almost as much of a trigger food as chocolate chip cookies were when I first started. I still have walnuts, but they are a much smaller portion, and I NEVER grab a big handful to eat.
- And I have taken to eating whey protein in various forms (smoothies and Quest protein bars.) I am finding it quite enjoyable. So that is a new tool in my arsenal. I love the convenience. I love the taste. And I especially love the way that I feel filled but not stuffed for a long time after.
So on to the day to day stuff. These are the habits that have lasted through all four stages:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables. When I started out I had to force myself to eat a piece of fruit instead of a cookie. Then I got a little obsessive about keeping all kinds of fruits and vegetables available at all times. This led to either a) overeating, or b) wastage. Now I am still careful that I ALWAYS have plenty of fresh vegetables available. And I keep enough fruilt on hand. But not too much. I am keeping a little more frozen fruit–good for smoothies and convenient for baking. Fresh fruit is still my first choice. I probably shop twice a week.
- Batch cooking of meat. Even though cooking is something I truly enjoy, I don’t always want to spend the time it takes to cook at mealtime. So I LOVE batch cooking. I routinely buy boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut them into approximately 4 ounce pieces, and season and cook them and then freeze the majority of them. They are ready for a big salad or just to add to some veggies for dinner.
- Low calorie baked goods. This might be where some people think they cannot change their tastes. But once you decide that having brownies and cookies on a daily basis are no longer an option, the low calorie healthy treats start to look (and taste) pretty darn good. I really enjoy baking, so that is another part of the enjoyment. As soon as my baked goods cool down, they are wrapped individually in tin foil (makes it convenient to re-heat,) and placed in the freezer. If I start to have too many baked goods in the freezer, I put a moratorium on my baking until I need some more. These days most of my baked goods are healthy breakfast options.
- Tracking. Its second nature to me now. A few times I toyed with not tracking or journaling my food. But I am more comfortable keeping track. It does two things. If I am feeling deprived, I can look and see what I have already eaten, or look forward to a meal or snack that is coming. And if I get anxious that I am “eating too much” I can look and be reassured that I am eating a perfectly normal amount of food. I just heard something recently. John Ortberg was talking about a book called The Power of Habit. In it the author describes keystone habits. A keystone habit is one that will set off a chain reaction to other habits. In terms of physical health, food journaling is a keystone habit. Once people start keeping a food journal, they start to plan menus differently. Then they start to exercise, just as a result of keeping a food journal. Almost every night I write out the next day’s menu. I write down the food and the calories. I am careful to get enough protein throughout the day and make sure there are several servings of vegetables. There is usually at least one fruit and one grain, and I really like to have 200 calories left at the end of the day for a snack of my choice. I can change the menu if the mood strikes (most often it is sub’ing hot food for cold,) but I stick pretty close to the plan.
These are the main day-to-day habits that seem to come almost naturally to me now. It doesn’t mean that I don’t indulge, or make poor choices sometimes. But it is my Intention to continue to eat healthfully for the rest of my life. I have a Vision of what that life is: healthy cardiac, endocrine, immune, and musculoskeletal systems. The Means are all the practical habits I listed above. (I wrote about V.I.M. here.)
I love food. That’s not gonna change. But I can still love food, enjoy its endless variety and tastes, and live a healthy life. I hope that this might provide some inspiration for those food lovers out there who think its not possible to truly enjoy food AND live a healthy life. I’m living proof that it is.
To read more about what “a girl’s gotta eat!” be sure to check out my friends and maintaining experts:
AIM: Adventures in Maintenance is Lynn, Lori, Debby, Shelley, and Cammy, former weight-loss bloggers who now write about life in maintenance. We formed AIM to work together to turn up the volume on the issues facing people in weight maintenance. We publish a post on the same topic on the first Monday of each month. Let us know if there is a topic you’d like us to address!