Ever since the end of summer, I’ve been trying to slowly change what I eat, and how I think about what I eat. I’m a foodie, which is clear to almost everyone who gets to know me. I love food! I like to plan great meals and linger in the grocery store choosing yummy ingredients and I love to savour food, even sometimes talking about how good it is while I’m eating with like-minded friends. I don’t think that doing any of those things is inherently harmful – savouring things is a great way to add more joy to life. Unfortunately, sometimes I use food for comfort – after a long day, a bad breakup, to make a boring day more exciting. I would look forward to eating – again, not inherently bad, but in my case this was slightly maladaptive. I never wanted to “waste” a meal on sub-par food, and sometimes ate until I was too full. None of this is horrible, but add to it the fact that I did my fair share of mindless eating, and ate a bit too much junk food for my liking, and I knew I needed to make a few changes, just for myself.
All of this to say? I was ready for new eating habits, for the sake of my health and, yes, my weight. I never got to the point of being technically overweight, but I wasn’t happy – primarily because I wasn’t eating healthy. Keep in mind, I haven’t made any enormous changes – that’s the very key to why I’m succeeding! I’ve changed small things slowly in such a way that it doesn’t feel like I’ve changed anything, and it certainly doesn’t feel like I’m on a diet. I’m still not the epitome of health, and nor do I want to be. But I’m now hovering around a weight that’s about 10lbs lower than it was a month ago, and I often feel more energetic and less hungry throughout the day. I’m on a good food routine, and I thought I’d share what worked for me.
One thing I did was read Secrets to a Healthy Metabolism by Maria Emmerich. It’s self-published and has typos and strange formatting at times (at least the Kindle version), but the information is helpful, and lays it all out using the science behind everything. My main takeaways:
- try not to eat or drink anything that will spike your blood sugar
- eat or drink potentially blood-sugar-spiking things (ex. sugar, juice, fruit, carbs) with a fat or protein or both.
- beware of “fat-free” products
- yay, fiber!
- fats (and fiber, and protein) slow down the absorption of food, which means less extreme blood sugar spikes
- blood sugar spikes lead to blood sugar crashes = hunger and fatigue
So what did all of this translate into?
Breakfast: My breakfast nearly every day is a smoothie. My current smoothie is delicious and simple. It follows this awesome formula, and my ingredients are 1/2 frozen banana, handful of fruit (usually mixed berries or mango), flax seed, protein powder, water, spinach. I blend it up in a cup with my immersion blender and it’s delicious. The banana has enough natural sugar to make it palatable, but there’s a ton of fiber and protein as well. I usually pair it with a piece of whole grain toast with natural peanut butter, and that keeps me full for hours.
Lunch: I used to make myself these elaborate toasted sandwiches and other things for lunch, because I had enough time between classes to come home. Not anymore, but that suits my new healthy purposes! Lunch these days usually means leftovers or a portable “fuel-only” option. Leftovers recently have been a butternut squash and cheese risotto, perogies, frittata, pasta with tomato sauce. The “fuel-only” option, as I call it, is usually a no-fuss meal I can make in a few minutes. Most of the time, this means a whole wheat tortilla with red beans (mashed with salt and pepper, sometimes a little onion), salsa, and sometimes some avocado or sour cream. It’s so filling (the beans!) and pretty yummy too, all things considered.
Regardless of what I eat for lunch, I always try to make sure it has enough healthy fat and protein. I still sometimes make fancy sandwiches if I’m home, but now I pay more attention to what goes in them.
Snacks: My new snacking system is the thing that’s probably made the most difference. Basically it boils down to this: eat a fat and/or protein. Most of the time, this means nuts. Plain nuts, of any kind. If I’m hungry, nuts are my first line of defence. I usually eat around 12 and I’m good for another little while. If nuts are unavailable, a spoonful of any nut butter will suffice. If I don’t want nuts, I eat a wedge of cheese. At work, an absolutely amazing snack (I work as a waitress, so not much time to snack during the shift) is a hard-boiled egg. I don’t usually pair my snacks with any kind of carb, they are fine on their own. Honestly, having a kind of implementation plan in place (if I’m hungry = nuts, protein, fats, etc) has made a world of difference. It means I don’t snack on chips or popcorn or any random thing I find in the fridge, and it doesn’t feel like I’m depriving myself either, not at all.
Dinner: I still sometimes make elaborate, carby meals with my friends (often, actually). I still sometimes pig out, and that’s okay. What’s important is that my paradigm has shifted. When I think about what to eat for dinner, I’m always thinking about whether it will give me an extreme blood sugar spike, and if there are enough good fats and protein in it. Previous to making these changes, it would have never occurred to me to make scrambled eggs for dinner in a pinch. I’d often get fast food while I was working, but making these changes lead me to now get sushi (full of great fats and protein) instead of a Subway sandwich (mostly carbs) or cheese ravioli (almost totally carbs and comes with a bread roll!). I also try to eat a lot of vegetables – usually spinach, peppers, and root veggies (my fave is roasted sweet potatoes). This is probably the meal that I have changed the least, so I feel that I’m still able to eat the food I like, with minor changes (ex. switching to whole wheat/brown rice pasta).
Drinks: This is the area I still need to focus on. In my freshman chemistry class, I learned that alcohol is converted to sugar in your body – a fact that was reiterated by the book I mentioned above. I still drink my fair share of wine or cider, but I try to pair it with a meal, at least. Working on it! I now drink only water between meals, and never drink juice anymore. That, too, didn’t feel like a big change but I think it has made a big difference. I drink my tea with a bit of sugar and real cream.
Other changes: I drink a lot more water now. I’m no longer usually hungry between meals if I eat my snacks, but my body sometimes feels like it wants to eat anyways. To curb that, drinking cold water is really great. I also weigh myself almost every day. I write the numbers down in a notebook where I also write down the food I eat. I do not count calories. I have tried before, and it does not work for me, whatsoever. Instead, I just write down what I ate, not many other details – the tracking is only for me, after all! I weigh myself so often because I like knowing where I’m at. I should emphasize that I’m not tracking these things urgently – it’s just to keep an eye on how things are progressing, and often I miss tracking a few days if I’m busy. Having a food log has really worked for me as I began to stop mindless eating. Now the eating habits are more internalized, so I don’t need the food log as much.
I’d love for you to share your healthy eating tips, tricks, strategies for fooling yourself into eating better, tasty recipes, best snack ideas, etc, etc.
Also please know: all of the above are things that have worked for me, specifically. The reasons for undertaking these changes are personal, I’m not suggesting that anyone should follow my lead. I’m just posting in case you find the material interesting! Happy eating.