Tag Archives: diets

The Grand Finale

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And here it is, my final post of this entire project.  What a year it’s been!  I recently read back on the “About” and “The Beginning” posts that I wrote over a year ago in order to re-familiarize myself with the reasons why I embarked on this journey to begin with.  What I learned from reading those posts is that my posts have gotten A LOT longer over the year (sorry about that) and that most of my goals for the year were achieved.  I had wanted to learn what it was like to follow a regimented diet, to learn new cooking techniques, to be able to answer questions about popular diets, and to improve my will power.  I would say I wasn’t a total success on the will power portion, but I also realized, through a year of “failing” on the will power game, that it’s not a battle that should even be fought.  More on that in a minute, but first, my “awards” for this year.

The Dow Diet Awards
These are obviously just based on my opinion, except the “Most Expensive” award.  That one is based on cold hard facts as witnessed by depletion of my bank account.

  • Most Hated: Winner – Fast Metabolism Diet. Runner Up – Paleo
  • Most Forgettable: Low Fat
  • Best for Weight Loss: Although I didn’t really lose any weight on any of those (remember: that was my goal), the ones I would recommend would be 1) Volumetrics Diet and 2) Weight Watchers
  • Most Expensive: Sustainability
  • Enhancing the Culinary Prowess: Mediterranean, Vegan
  • I Can’t Wait to Quit You: Paleo, Low Fat, Fast Metabolism Diet
  • Favorite: Too tough to choose just one. Three-way tie between Vegan, Mediterranean, and Mindful Eating.

My Dietary Recommendations for Health and Happiness, in a very specific order

  1. Eat mindfully- Taste your food, free from distraction.  Cook it and savor it with all of your senses.  It will work miracles on your relationship with food, and is by far the best thing you can do for yourself.
  2. Cook your food – Here is a video narrated by Michael Pollan, which really hammers home the importance of cooking your own food.  This doesn’t mean “preparing” a meal, i.e. a box of macaroni and cheese. It means actually cooking from scratch.  When you do that, you don’t have to worry so much about the fat, carb, and protein content of your food. It’s just nourishment at that point, and it will balance itself out over time.
  3. Don’t be a dick about it – It’s hard to put this at #3 because I want to put it at #1, but the other ones are probably more important.  I’ve always just rolled my eyes and been annoyed when people are super pretentious about their food, but these feelings were strengthened this year by trying all these different eating approaches and also by moving to Boulder, CO (the most uppity place I’ve ever experienced).  My friends back in Tucson have something called the “In-N-Out and Casa Molina” test for people.  If you aren’t willing to ever eat a tasty cheeseburger and some delicious, greasy, unhealthy Mexican food, there may be a larger underlying issue.  If you disagree with this statement, you’re probably that pretentious person I’m referring to.  Stop being a dick about it.

regular donuts

  1. Eat more produce – Everyone could stand to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Incorporate them into more and more of your meals until you eat them constantly and start to crave them.  Then, get creative, try new ones, and try preparing them in different ways.  The possibilities are endless.
  2. Whatever approach you use if you’re trying to lose weight, choose one that can be maintained long term – At the end of the day, all of the diet trials and myriad of studies that have been performed ultimately lead to the same conclusion: the diet that works best for weight loss is the one that you can maintain.  Try out different ones to see what works for you, and don’t get discouraged when the first thing you try doesn’t work for you, but it worked for your cooler, hotter, sister who everyone likes more and who has never struggled with anything. It’s so unfair! We’re all individuals.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss.
  3. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid – Literally, but also figuratively.  If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  4. Stop freaking out about it – It’s not nearly as complicated as the media and all the snake oil salesmen want to convince you it is.

What I Learned

As I previously mentioned, I really struggled this year with will power, until I realized that there is no point to will power if there isn’t a larger goal in mind.  One of the most important lessons I learned this year is that curiosity is only a good short-term motivator.  I struggled nearly every month to stay on track with the allotted dietary pattern because I would either lose sight of why I was doing this or, when I would remind myself of the goals listed above, they didn’t seem like good enough reasons.  This was particularly true in months like Paleo and Fast Metabolism Diet when I had never felt hungrier and that transcended into some mental and emotional imbalance.  Those months were the only time that I ever got a glimpse into what it’s like to be on a diet.  One of my goals was to attempt to understand the psyche of a person undergoing a diet (thanks to those two aforementioned diets, I succeeded in that goal), but also to understand why people put themselves through the torture of a diet.  I never got to the place where I understood that, and that comes back to the curiosity thing.  Curiosity was my motivator, but the need to feel normal when you feel terrible trumps curiosity.  I imagine a person with a dire health concern or a need for weight loss has a different motivation, and that’s something that I can’t relate to at this point in my life.  Maybe if I ever need to change something about my lifestyle I’ll be able to relate to that issue more, and I’ll see the need for will power.  But right now, I think will power is a silly thing to get caught up on, and I think it’s an issue that prevents people from reaching their health goals.

So here is a larger spiel on will power, and I realize as I’m writing this, that these ideas are not something I’ve ever been taught in any nutrition or health class. They go against many of the recommendations that students are taught regarding diet counseling.  But here it goes.

The most important lesson I learned this year involves the concept of moderation.  I know, you’ve heard it a million times before – everything in moderation.  And maybe you’ve decided that moderation doesn’t work for you because you haven’t found that grasp on it – it’s either gorge yourself or go without, and if you are working on losing weight, the “correct” option is to go without.  I really REALLY learned the fault in that kind of logic this year (the caveat to this, of course, is people with addictive behaviors or personalities, which I can’t really comment on because I don’t have any kind of extensive knowledge or training in that area).  I’ll use the example again of FMD.  That was truly a “go without” month for me, and I HATED it.  Not only did I feel physically unhealthy, but I felt mentally unhealthy.  And there’s the crux of it all.  Physical and mental health are so intertwined that they can’t and shouldn’t be separated, though our current system attempts and is often successful at convincing us that they should be.  Typically things that are good for your mental health are good for your physical health, so focus on that.  You will never see the full benefit of a healthy lifestyle approach if you only focus on the physical health aspect of it.  This whole time I’ve thought that my will power issues could be rectified by taking away the stimulus.  This is the basis of nearly every fad diet and every dietary recommendation.  “Don’t keep chocolate in the house so you won’t be tempted.”  “Snack on fruits – it will feed your sweet tooth.” I call bullshit on all of that.  While this may lead to weight loss, it doesn’t do a whole lot for your mental health because you a) feel deprived and b) never learn how to have a healthy relationship with these foods that you consider unhealthy/evil.  And what is the point of physical health if mental health isn’t riding shotgun?  I don’t know what the meaning or goal of life is, but for me it has something to do with finding peace in the midst of a hurricane.  Removing a stimulus doesn’t improve will power – it weakens it.  We need to find ways to achieve balance, and we do this by being in the midst of a room full of crispy French fries, the most decadent chocolate, a succulent cheeseburger, the deepest of deep dish pizzas, the creamiest ice creams, with a littering of fruits and vegetables and other health foods… and then we choose to have a few tastes of each of those things.  We really savor them and appreciate them, and then we carry on with our day, never feeling deprived or engorged.  It’s being able to control a situation instead of letting a situation control you.  This clearly isn’t just about food.  It can be applied to nearly every situation you will ever face in life, but your relationship with your body and your body’s fuel is a foundation that needs to be built, strengthened, and continuously re-patched in order to live a long, healthy life.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that taps into the issues with how we eat in America.  Eating a diet that supports the beautiful vehicle that is your body needs to be a priority if we want to prosper and see progress on both individual and societal levels.  The path to get there isn’t as difficult as it seems.  It’s just straight into the kitchen.

“…it turns out we don’t need to declare our allegiance to any one of these schools of thought in order to figure out how best to eat.  In the end, they are only theories, scientific explanations for an empirical phenomenon that is not itself in doubt: people eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets.”
-Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

Thank you to everyone who followed this project over the past year.  There’s no way I could have done this on my own – I would have quit so many times if I didn’t have followers. Thank you for your attention, your comments, your questions.  

Live Beautiful!
Caitlin

P.S. If you’re looking for another health blog to follow with posts that will take a lot less time to read than mine, check out my friends Dezi and Matt’s blog: Simple Fitness Blog.

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, By Volume – The Volumetrics Diet

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If you’re looking for a diet to support your weight loss/maintenance or healthy eating goals, I cannot emphasize enough that you should find one with science to back it up, preferably created by someone who does nutritional research.  Perhaps that sounds obvious, but most diets are not created based off scientific evaluation (though they will try to trick you into believing otherwise).  Or maybe it sounds biased and that I’m trying to gain support for my lifestyle, but let me assure you that it’s not biased, and this isn’t a self-serving recommendation.  First, I have no plans to create my own diet, so by making this recommendation I’m only supporting those in my field.  Secondly, this should just be common sense.  You will never find a diet with published evidence in peer-reviewed journals that is wacky.  For example, there is no data to support the Paleo diet or the Fast Metabolism Diet.  Because they’re bat shit crazy.

So why should you care about science? Because you should treat that wonderful vessel that is your body with respect, for starters.  Diets that are rooted in science have been tested repeatedly on a wide array of people, making it more likely that it will be safe and effective for you.  Diets based on science are also more likely to be conservative and require real, sustained behavior change from you, which is the sign of something good.  They don’t promise short-term impressive results (lose 20 pounds in two weeks!), but you WILL be healthier if you follow them.  The only two diets that I’ve followed this year that were tested a priori (meaning that they were derived from theoretical deduction, not just observation) before they hit the market are the DASH diet (completed in June) and this month’s diet “The Volumetrics Diet.” (The Mediterannean Diet has science to support it, but it wasn’t a diet designed by scientists for health.  Weight Watchers now has science to support it and was designed based off science for weight loss, though the actual evidence for the Weight Watchers program itself didn’t come until after it was developed.)

The Volumetrics Diet
This is a diet developed by Barbara Rolls, PhD, a woman that is sort of a celebrity in my eyes.  She has been studying Nutritional Science at Penn State for decades, she has published over 250 peer-reviewed research articles, and she has been the president of The Obesity Society.  This isn’t all pomp and circumstance.  The lady knows what she’s talking about, and what she likes to talk about it is human ingestive behaviors.  Dr. Rolls runs a lab that observes people’s eating behaviors and then tests different ways to prepare food that are more healthful and less energy dense.

Energy equilibrium (thus, weight stability) is achieved when energy intake equates to energy output.  If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.  The crux of the issue is that people get hungry when they try to reduce their energy intake because they simply reduce portion size.  A potentially more sustainable and effective approach (as outlined by Rolls) is to reduce the caloric density (CD) of your food.

Rolls’ research indicates that people typically eat the same volume of food, regardless of what the food is.  She has tested this by feeding people a serving of food, say lasagna, and they eat x volume.  On another day, she feeds them the same size serving of lasagna, but this time the lasagna has a lower CD because she has added in vegetables (typically low CD foods) and taken away some meat (typically high CD foods due to fat content), and people eat the same volume (x).  Thus, the whole premise of the Volumetrics Diet is to eat either the same or larger volume of food compared to what you would typically eat, but decrease the caloric density of the meal.  In doing so, you eat fewer calories but feel more full.  SCIENCE.

stomach CD

How To Do It

Reduce caloric density (CD) of the foods you consume.  How? Check out the nutrition label and calculate:
Calories per serving/grams per serving = CD

Category Calorie Density How to Eat Examples

1

<0.6

“Free” foods to eat anytime

Almost all fruits and non-starchy veggies, broth based soups

2

0.6-1.5

Eat reasonable portions

Whole grains, lean protein, legumes, and low fat dairy

3

1.6-3.9

Manage your portions

Breads, desserts, non-fat baked snacks, cheeses, higher-fat meats

4

4.0-9.0

Carefully manage portions and frequency of eating

Fried snacks, candy, cookies, nuts, fats

This becomes almost fool proof once you get used to where foods lie in the given categories.

Throughout this year, I have found that I get really sick of tracking my diet or spending a lot of time figuring out what to eat based on specific nutritional attributes (how many grams of fat/protein/carbs, type of fat, type of carb, etc).  These are extremely beneficial and perhaps even necessary practices when you start a weight loss plan because you HAVE to learn what healthy foods look like. For me, I just got bored with it and it became tedious.  The Volumetrics Diet simplifies and streamlines things, which I really appreciate.  In addition to changing the CD of the foods you eat, the plan promotes physical activity (working up to at least 10,000 steps per day), and becoming more mindful of how you eat, why you eat, and how you can change your attitude to promote a healthier lifestyle.  I won’t go into all of that, but Rolls’ book The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet is an amazing resource.

To make it easy on myself, here are a few things I did to stick to my “volumetrics” plan.
1) Drink a big glass of water before every meal.  This activates the stretch receptors in your stomach and sends a signal to your brain that you’re about to start eating.  It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register feelings of satiety (fullness), so it’s good to give it a head start by stretching the stomach a bit.  This will help to prevent overeating.

2) Eat fruits/veggies as a starter. This means that if you make a salad to go with dinner, eat it first. If you bring an apple to go with your lunch, eat it before you eat the rest of the meal.  This works similarly to the water thing, except you’re getting some calories and lots of nutrients, which is extremely important.

3) Change up the snack routine. Most of my snacking typically involves fruit, nonfat/lowfat yogurt, and nuts.  I can easily overeat nuts because I love them so…and they’re small, which makes it feel like you’re not eating much when you’re actually getting A LOT of calories.  I switched it up by incorporating “popped” foods instead of nuts (and saved nuts as meal ingredients instead of snacks).  Popped foods include popcorn (duh) and rice cakes.  I like to eat crackers, but they tend to have an incredibly high caloric density so you can only eat a few (which I never do) if you’re trying to control intake. Popcorn and rice cakes (cinnamon was my favorite flavor) allowed me to get my starch fix without even really think about portion control.
**I also don’t eat microwave popcorn. I either make my own or buy different flavors of the already popped stuff to cut down on fat and all the freaky chemicals that are in microwave popcorn.

4) Controlling my sweet tooth. I just can’t get enough. I love sweets, everyday. This is probably my most unhealthy habit.  Delusional people (or those with extreme will power or who don’t care for sweet foods) will give you stupid advice like, “Just eat a piece of fruit.” Get real. So, I had to figure a way around this.  One way to get my chocolate fix was to buy popcorn with chocolate drizzled over it (got it at Sprouts).  I especially love salty and sweet, so this was a great snack.  I could just grab a handful and not worry about the calories because a handful was enough volume to give me the fix without a ton of calories.  When I want something more than that, my go to is always ice cream. So instead I switched to frozen yogurt, which I love just as much, and just used portion control.  This brought the CD down from 2.16 (for chocolate ice cream) to 1.13 (for chocolate frozen yogurt).

5) When you aren’t eating something healthy, don’t eat as much of it. This is seemingly obvious, but I think a lot of us forget this and just go all out when we eat unhealthy, convincing ourselves that we’ll “go back to eating healthy tomorrow.” This is why it’s so easy to fall off the healthy eating wagon.  Just allow yourself to eat these things occasionally and just don’t eat as much of it.  That way, you never “fall off the wagon.” This is one of the most important things that you can learn from reasonable diets.  There is much less of a struggle to stick to a diet when you’re granted the freedom to eat what you want.  Learning portion sizes and implementing portion control would be my number one recommendation for anyone who wants to eat healthier.

Stats

  Goal/Normal DASH Low Fat Sustainability FMD October November
Weight 121-60 123.5 123 123 125.5 127.5 123.5
BMI 18.5-24.9 19.5 19.25 19.25 19.7 20 19.5
PBF 21-32 ? ? ? ? ? ?
WC <35 ? 26.5 27 27 27.5 26.5
HC ? 36.5 37 37.5 38 38
W:H Ratio <0.8 ? 0.73 0.73 0.72 0.72 0.7
Blood Pressure <120/80 91/68 103/66 103/68 95/65 102/73 105/72
      Diet
Total kcal 2000-2200 1865 1780 1905 925-1688 1920 1820
Protein (%) 13058 15 22 19 15-61 16 18
CHO (%) 49-52 52 60 52 28-77 46 54
Fiber (g) at least 25 30 23 25 30-52 28 31
Fat (%) 20-35 33 18 29 10-46 38 28
Sat Fat (%) <10 8 7 8 3-7 7 7
Sodium (mg) 2300 2147 2315 2282 1250-1740 2127 1975
Potassium (mg) 4700 3874 3143 3746 4014-4624 3826 3906
Fruit/Veg (servings) 5-9 7-9 4-6 5-7 8-12 6-9 6-11
Cost   127.32 145.2 254.45 195.14 204.3 128.5
  

By following the Volumetrics Diet, I lost the weight that I had gained on FMD and the MedDiet.  I wasn’t really intending to, but I found myself getting full on fewer calories…exactly as the plan is laid out. I also didn’t spend much money this month, but I think that was mostly because I had a lot of food left over from MedDiet. However, I really don’t think Volumetrics is an expensive way to eat.  There are no special ingredients to buy – just lots and lots of produce.

Final Thoughts

This diet was my favorite when considering the diets that I’ve tried this year that are designed for weight loss/maintenance (Weight Watchers, Low Fat).  It was the most intuitive out of all of them for me and I wasn’t required to track my intake, so it wasn’t nearly as cumbersome as the others.  Weight Watchers really uses the same premise as Volumetrics by promoting fruit and vegetable intake; they are just two different approaches and they will each work well for different people.  Perhaps the most important thing I gained from this month, though, was the skill to start listening to my hunger and satiety cues.  I was somewhat doubtful that I’d actually feel full simply by drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables, so I had to pay close attention to how hungry/full I felt.  Turns out that I felt full a lot faster when I was following the Volumetrics approach to eating.  This is perhaps the most important skill you can learn when trying to eat healthier – listen to your body.  She will not lie to you.

And now…only one month left in this year long experiment! Join me at the end of 2013 (more likely the beginning of 2014) as I review my experience with Mindful Eating, the only “program” where I won’t really be paying any attention to WHAT I eat but HOW and WHY I eat.

Falling in Love with Food Again – The Mediterranean Way

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LovePeople

The Mediterranean has always fascinated me – the people, the geography, the history, art, culture, politics, etc.  Food is no exception.  This October, I brought the Mediterranean into my world, and I’m sad to be leaving it behind me.

The Basics
Many people (Americans) hear about the Mediterannean Diet, that it includes the eating styles of the Italians, and automatically assume that means pasta, alfredo, breadsticks, maybe lots of meatballs, etc.  In this and many other ways, Olive Garden has done a huge disservice to Americans and what we think Italian food is.  That type of food is Italian, but it is more reminiscent of Northern Italy, where heavier foods abound and health benefits of said diet do not.  Instead, the MedDiet embodies the food stylings of areas that actually border the Mediterranean Sea.  Meals in these places tend to be fresh, light, flavorful, with a very healthy dose of olive oil and red wine.
Study after study promotes adherence to the Mediterannean Diet for its heart health benefits.  I focus on heart health because it’s the most important system in the body! …and also because it is my research and interest bias.  A study of over 1.5 million people showed that those individuals who follow a Mediterranean style of eating suffer lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and even neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than those who do not.  Clearly, those Italians/Spaniards/Greeks/Turks know what they’re doing.
So what is the MedDiet? Like all healthy diets, the MedDiet recommends a focus on whole foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish, some dairy (but not a lot), and very little red meat.  On top of those key traits, however, is an emphasis on olive oil (and the frequent glass of red wine).  Interestingly, because of the olive oil and nut/seed focus, the MedDiet is actually fairly high in fat (~40%; Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 30-35%), which goes to show that fat is not the enemy.  To be clear, though, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, while nuts like walnuts are omega-3 rich, both of which are very heart healthy.  Saturated fat is another story.

mdp
One of the many reasons that this eating style promotes overall health is because of the high intake of phytochemicals (compounds in plants that often give the plant a distinct color or fragrance and typically have antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties).  Many researchers have sought to determine which specific component of the MedDiet is the source of the diet’s benefits.  Olive oil and walnuts are often studied, and while they show significant benefit when either simply added to the diet or substituted for unhealthy fats like butter, they don’t explain everything.  That’s no surprise to you or me (though this type of research plagues nutritional science), and the benefits from the diet likely come from eating simple, whole, fresh foods that have complex and synergistic favorable effects.

MedDiet Score
One of the coolest things (in my opinion) that has come out of all the studies of the MedDiet has been the results that show that you don’t have to eat foods specific to the region in order to realize the value of the diet.  What I mean by that is there are plenty of foods from around the world that are just as healthy as those consumed in the countries bordering the Mediterannean.  For example, Latin (particularly Mexican) foods are near and dear to my heart, and I eat them at least weekly.  A late night visit to nearly all drive-thru burrito joints in the American southwest will prove this, but a dish that includes foods such black beans (legumes), quinoa (whole grains), fresh pico de gallo (vegetables, herbs), and avocado (healthy, monounsaturated fats) can still be consumed whilst following the MedDiet plan.  Research has shown that as long as these types of whole, fresh foods are consumed, it doesn’t matter if they come from the Mediterannean region.  Check out the MedDiet score sheet to see how your diet stacks up!

My Experience
I have been looking forward to doing the MedDiet more than any other diet since I decided to embark on this whole project.  After the hell month that was the Fast Metabolism Diet, I was expecting to have a similar response to the flexibility and joy of the MedDiet as I did when I made the Paleo to Weight Watchers transition.  It didn’t go as smoothly this time around.  While I was restricted on both FMD and Paleo, I didn’t develop the issues with eating/food on Paleo that I did with FMD.  As a recap, when I was following FMD, I felt consistently hungry, restricted, and over-analytical about food.  This resulted in me gorging myself on unhealthy foods because there was no reprieve from the monotony and control of the diet.  I cheated constantly, but I felt no actual enjoyment of what I was eating.
Unfortunately, these issues with food and eating transcended into the first 7-10 days of October.  I ate out of necessity, but I realize now that because of FMD, I had forgotten how to enjoy food – to even really taste it.  Luckily, this issue disappeared before it ruined my whole month.  I eased back into cooking for fun and joy, and I really got to stretch my legs in the kitchen again.  I can’t adequately describe how amazing this felt once I strapped on my proverbial chef hat and got to it.  For the past few months, I haven’t really tried many new recipes, I haven’t experimented much, and I’ve just been in a cooking rut.  But no longer! I didn’t even give a second thought to what I was eating – did it fit into the stipulations for this month’s eating plan? Was it too salty/too high fat/too many points/GMO-free?…and on and on and on.  I felt so much freedom this month.  In general, the MedDiet style of eating is how I like to eat anyways.  When in doubt (of me “following the plan”), I usually just threw in some more veggies to my meal, tossed the finished product with some extra olive oil, and poured myself a glass of wine.  Oh and then ate some dark chocolate for dessert.  Yes, this is real life, and this is actually a great way to eat.  Try it on. I bet you’ll like the way it fits J
Being in the kitchen again and doing it as a hobby instead of out of necessity brought so much joy to me this month.  It’s interesting, cooking in this Mediterranean way.  I felt relaxed, at peace.  Cooking can be meditative for me, and I felt it more this month than I have in a very long time.  Nearly everything I made this month was made from scratch and there is power and beauty in that.  Food is obviously a necessity, but to make it into an art is invigorating.  I loved that about this month. So very much.

Recipes
I already posted a number of recipes that I developed this month.  Here are some of my favorites that I didn’t create, but are worth noting.
Butternut Squash, Chickpea, Lentil Stew– My parents just bought me a crockpot when they were visiting earlier this month (thanks Mom and Dad!), and this was my first creation in it.  I LOVED it!  I was sort of lazy, though, and I didn’t cook anything beforehand, as the recipe recommends – I just threw it all in the crockpot the night before, started it the next morning, and then my house smelled like a freaking dream when I got home.  I topped this stew with toasted pepitas, pine nuts, and walnuts, and served with carrot apple muffins.

Hummus Crusted Chicken – So simple and easy! I didn’t serve mine with the squash and zucchini though.  I roasted carrots with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup for about 30 minutes, and then made a basic spinach salad to go along with all of it.

Kale Ricotta Gnocchi – This takes a little more time than most meals, so I recommend it for a lazy weekend evening.  This was one of those preparations that was meditative and lovely.  I truly enjoyed making this meal.  To make these a tad healthier, I substituted whole wheat flour for the white flour and part skim ricotta for the regular ricotta.  My gnocchi weren’t as pretty as hers, but who cares? They tasted pretty. I pan fried mine in the butter sage sauce and served with roasted butternut squash (tip: I like to leave the skin on my squash while it roasts and let it get nice and crispy.  It just adds another dimension of texture and flavor).
Hope you try some out and enjoy them as much as I did!

Final Stats
I’ll leave you now with the outcomes of this month.  I put on a couple pounds, but they were full of love, olive oil, and happiness so I’m ok with it.  Nothing else too earth shattering to report – but seriously, I can’t recommend this “diet” highly enough.  I hope I’ve made that clear.  Now pour yourself a glass of wine, get in the kitchen, and whip up some joy!

 

Goal/Normal

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

FMD

MedDiet

Anthros
Weight

121-60

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

127.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

20

PBF

21-32

19

?

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

27.5

HC

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

102/73

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

1920

Protein (%)

Oct-35

17

15

22

19

15-61

16

CHO (%)

49-52

54

52

60

52

28-77

46

Fiber (g)

at least 25

33

30

23

25

30-52

28

Fat (%)

20-35

29

33

18

29

10-46

38

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

7

8

3-7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

2127

Potassium (mg)

4700

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

3826

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

6-9

Cost

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

204.3

Fancy Food For Fun – Mediterannean Diet!

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This month I’ve been following the Mediterranean Diet.  I’m not going to go into any great deal on the specifics of the diet in this post (I’ll save that for the next one).  In short, the MedDiet is the traditional diet followed by the people that live along the Mediterannean Sea (go figure).  It is characterized by LOTS of fresh fruits and veggies, poultry and fish, whole grains, lots of olive oil, nuts and seeds, a little bit of dairy, and very little red meat.  And WINE!
I’ve had so much fun cooking over the last couple weeks, and I wanted to share some of my new recipes with you.  As a reminder, please apply the term “recipe” loosely.  I estimated the amounts of everything I used – I don’t measure. If you try something and don’t like it, it’s because I estimated incorrectly or because your tastebuds are broken.  You can choose the culprit.

From Brussels, With Love

Brussels Sprouts are my favorite vegetable.  If you just cringed, it’s because a) you’ve never actually had Brussels Sprouts or b) you haven’t had them made right.  Brussels Sprouts have a really nice bitter, but subtle flavor and they marry well with both savory ands sweet flavors.  The best combination out there is bacon and Brussels sprouts, but I like to add something sweet to balance it all out – typically dried cranberries or honey.
Here are a couple of my favorite ways to prepare B Sprouts.  Try them out if you hate (or think you hate) them or if you just want a new way to prepare these delicious little cruciferous veggies!

Triple B’s: Brussels Sprouts, Barley, and Bacon

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12-15 medium sprouts, ends and outer leaves removed, sliced in half along long axis
¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 T honey
2 T olive oil
1.5 T balsamic vinegar
2 T dried cranberries
1 apple, diced
¼ cup  crumbled feta
3 slices bacon, cooked and chopped into small pieces
½ cup barley (I used 10 Minute Barley from Trader Joe’s)

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Whisk together honey, oil, and vinegar in a small bowl.
Combine sprouts and walnuts in a bowl and coat with sauce.  Spread  onto a roasting pan with all ingredients except bacon and barley.  Roast in over for 30-35 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook and chop bacon and cook barley according to package directions.
When fruits, veggies, and nuts are soft, take out of oven, mix in barley and bacon, and eat up!

Toasted SooFoo with Brussels Sprouts and Baked Salmon

SooFoo can be found in the health food section of many grocery stores (I got mine at Safeway).  It is a blend of brown rice; green, black, and brown lentils; rye and wheat berries; oats; barley; and buckwheat, making it a really tasty and great source of whole wheat grains.  I’ve also seen something similar to this at Trader Joe’s – I think it’s called Harvest Medley, and it takes less time to cook, making this a very easy dish to throw together when you don’t have a ton of time.
I’ve already given my spiel about my love for Brussels Sprouts, so I won’t go into that again.  Lastly, salmon is by far my favorite animal protein source.  It’s such a diverse, mellow flavored fish, and I never tire of cooking it.
So here was my attempt at combining this strange mix of grains along with my favorite veggie and protein.  I was pleasantly surprised at the result.

Serves 2-3

½ cup SooFoo
1 cup water
1 large salmon filet
~1-2 T olive oil
salt, pepper to taste
juice of half a lemon
7-8 brussels sprouts, outside leaves and stems discarded and cut into ribbons
~2 T pine nuts
~3 T dried cranberries
4-5 dried apricots, roughly chopped
~2 T parsley, roughly chopped

In a small/medium saucepan, bring water and SooFoo to a boil, reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes. You know how it goes :).
Meanwhile, drizzle salmon filet with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and squeeze lemon juice on top.  Place in a cold oven, heat to 400°F, and take out in 25 minutes.  This is the best way I know to cook salmon.
When SooFoo is nearly done, start sautéing Brussels Sprouts and pine nuts in just a bit of olive oil (you don’t want them to be soaking, just enough so they don’t burn). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. After about 3-4 minutes, add in the SooFoo and a little more oil in order to toast the grains. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Mix in apricots, cranberries, and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper to taste
Serve salmon over veggie, fruit, and grain mixture.  Add parsley for garnish.
I ate this dish with a nice big glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, but I’m not going to pretend to know how to pair wine with food.  Whatever makes you happy! J

My oh my, the Pizza Pie!

Everyone loves pizza! And what’s better than pizza? Homemade pizza, that’s what! It’s so easy (and cheap) to make at home, and I don’t take advantage of it nearly enough. If you don’t want to make the dough, you can buy it in the freezer section at some grocery stores (Sprouts definitely has it; I haven’t checked elsewhere).  I really like making it, though, because it’s fun to see the whole thing come together from scratch.  Here are a couple of my most recent concoctions.
Use this recipe for Whole Wheat-ish Pizza Dough.  This will make enough dough for two pies.  You can easily halve it or you can just save the dough in a Ziploc bag – just make sure to squeeze all the air out of the bag.  I kept mine for 3 days in between pies; I don’t know how much longer it would last.

Pesto Mediterranean Pizza

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Whole wheat pizza dough (see above link)
Pesto (make from scratch by blending together some basil and olive oil until you get the consistency you want, add pine nuts/walnuts, salt and pepper to taste.)
Marinated artichoke hearts, sliced into ribbons
Marinated garlic stuffed olives, roasted red peppers, diced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1.5 cups mozzarella cheese (I use 2% milk fat)
½ cup feta cheese
basil chiffonade

Preheat oven to 425°C.
This is pretty much a free for all.  Roll out the dough on a countertop covered in flour.  If you’re feeling adventurous, do some tosses to make the pie.  I didn’t do that.
Transfer the dough to a pizza stone or pan.
Spread pesto (however much you want) onto dough.  Cover pesto with veggies (the veggies I bought were just marinated in jars. I got them from Safeway, but use whatever you want.  There are no rules here).
Top veggies with mozzarella and feta cheeses and chiffonade basil leaves
Bake for ~15 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned.

Pumpkin, Spicy Sausage, Fried Sage, and Smoked Gouda Pizza

IMG_0810

Whole wheat pizza dough (see above link)
~1 cup pureed pumpkin
nutmeg and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 spicy turkey sausage, fried and crumbled
2 T olive oil, separated
1 cup smoked gouda, shredded
1 cup mozzarella cheese (I use 2% milk fat)
6-7 large leaves of sage, torn apart roughly
2-3 T pine nuts

Preheat oven to 425°C.
Start by rolling out the dough as before and transferring to pizza stone/pan.
Brush ~1 T olive oil onto dough. Spread pumpkin puree over the dough.  Sprinkle a little nutmeg and pepper over pumpkin.
Spread the cooked sausage over the pumpkin and top with cheeses.  I actually used only gouda in my pizza, but it’s not a very “melty” cheese.  I would recommend mixing with mozzarella in order to get more melt.
Sautee the sage and pine nuts in remaining oil over medium-high heat until sage is crispy and pine nuts are slightly browned.  Sprinkle them over the cheese.
Bake for ~15 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned.

Hope you enjoy these! Please let me know if you have any questions! Cheers 🙂

Fast Metabolism Diet- Where Normal People Go To Develop A Food Complex

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My month of September was spent obsessing over food, as well as hating it.  Both are things I’ve never experienced.  I spent the month following the Fast Metabolism Diet (FMD), a diet developed by Haylie Pomroy, a Hollywood nutritionist with a background in animal science and holistic health.

The Gist of FMD
The purpose of FMD is to “reset your metabolism.” Pomroy explains that many people who have tried and failed countless times at diets and weight loss may be stuck in a rut because their metabolism is out of whack.  Additionally, she believes that counting calories, carbs, and fat grams are the wrong approach to dieting.  These are ideas I generally support. As you’ll see, I don’t believe her approach is the answer either.
Pomroy’s theory is that you can coax your body into metabolizing nutrients more efficiently if you keep it guessing as to what it will be metabolizing next.  This, in theory, makes it run more efficiently.  The idea is to follow this very specific plan for 4 weeks, each week split into three phases.  Doing this will supposedly teach your body how to digest, absorb, and utilize nutrients more efficiently and effectively so that you don’t have to be afraid of ice cream sundaes and so forth.  She recommends doing the full four weeks and then repeating a week at a time here and there if you feel the need.  So before we get started, make sure it’s clear in your mind that this is NOT a long term diet.  It’s the only “phase” diet that I’ve tried thus far.

The Three Phases
I was sort of on board when I had read about as much as you just have (though, being the forever skeptic that I am, I needed more information).  I do believe that we all process nutrients differently, so while a calorie from bread may be burned quickly and effectively in one person, that same calorie may be processed differently for someone else.  Pomroy also does a pretty thorough job of describing the organs involved in metabolism (liver, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary), how they become dysregulated, many of the myths about metabolism and weight loss, etc.  I think this is how people become interested in the diet – I’ve heard some say that they tried it because it was the only diet they had ever heard of that described the physiology of weight loss.
Next, I read about the three phases and they sounded great!

How You Get Roped In
Phase 1 – Days 1 & 2: Lots of carbs and fruits
Purpose: Flood the body with nutrients, calm the adrenals with natural sugars so that it reduces its cortisol production, a stress hormone that is linked to weight gain. Pair these foods with some kind of cardio exercise.  What I didn’t realize until later is that this phase really means NO fat. No cooking with fat, no nuts, no fatty veggies, only very lean meat, etc.

Phase 2 – Days 3 & 4: Lots of protein and veggies
Purpose: These foods push your body to lay down muscle and scavenge fat. Do some kind of heavy weight lifting on these days to ramp up the protein production in muscles.  What I soon realized was that this literally only means meat and vegetables, and nothing starchy.  No fruit, no cooking with fat, no eating nuts, no eating anything fun.

Phase 3– Days 5-7: All of the above plus healthy fats and oils
Purpose: After eating low fat for four days, your digestive enzymes are firing, your muscles are pumped up, and your body has been thriving on nutrient dense foods, so now it’s ready to start using fuel for fat! (These are obviously not my words.  And this phase is where I started to really question things. I don’t know how the previous days have made your digestive enzymes “fire.” They “fire” when you eat anything. Why would your body be suddenly ready to burn fat for fuel? The plot thickens…)

The Reality

Pomroy lays it out all very simply and beautifully in the beginning.  “You’ll eat delicious food, and you’ll be eating more than you ever thought possible on a diet!” she touts.  You GET to eat so much food.  It’s so different from any other diet you’ve ever tried! Just follow these rules:

  1. You must eat 5 times per day, 35 times per week (Not hard for me. I eat throughout the day, every day).
  2. You must eat every three to four hours, except when you’re sleeping. (I’m still on board. I eat more often than that.)
  3. You must eat within 30 minutes of waking. Every day. (Mine’s more like 45-60 minutes, but still not a huge issue).
  4. You must stay on the plan for the full 28 days. (Fine.)
  5. You must stick to the foods allowed in your phase. (OK.)
  6. You must follow the phases in order. (I get it.)
  7. You must drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. (Not a bad plan. For me, this means ~60 ounces per day).
  8. Eat organic whenever possible. (Get real. I just spent a fortune on organic for a month. Not going to happen.)
  9. Meats must be nitrate free.  (These meats are more expensive, but the rationale here is that if your liver is processing all kinds of other chemicals, it can’t work on burning fat. This is the rationale for the organic thing, and many of the other items in the list below.)

But there are these few “minor” details written in fine print that really change the whole game. Here are all the things you CAN’T eat.

  1. No wheat, unless it is sprouted (Sprouted is supposedly easier for your intestines to absorb.  I’ve never seen the evidence, but sure. Whatever.)
  2. No corn. (Too many GMO’s, apparently.  See my previous post for my take on GMO’s.)
  3. No dairy. (Most cheeses and the like are high fat. Nonfat or lowfat? Pomroy says no because they’re too processed. I don’t agree.)
  4. No soy.  (GMO story again.)
  5. No refined sugar. (This includes all white sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar. Pretty much everything.  You can use stevia if you need to sweeten something.)
  6. No caffeine. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  7. No alcohol. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  8. No dried fruit (Dumb) or fruit juices (Meh – whatever).
  9. No artificial sweeteners
  10. No fat free diet foods
  11. Miscellaneous: no peanuts or peanut butter, no rice wine vinegar (I have no idea why not).

I suddenly realized I would spend the next month hating my life.  And so the story goes….

Week One – I HATE EVERYTHING
Below is an excerpt from my journal.
“Huge struggle, feeling deprived, hungry ALL THE TIME.  Joy has been completely sucked out of eating.  Sneaking little cheats everyday.  Phase II is the hardest – I’ve never been so hungry.  Similar to how I felt on Paleo, but so much worse because I can’t eat ANY fruit, starches, nuts, etc.  Brain function is slow on Phase II – exhausted, my head hurts constantly, I used to look forward to eating. Not anymore.”
The caffeine thing was hard in the beginning, but honestly, it only took 3 days to get off it and then I was fine.  The problem that I saw during week one that remained for the rest of the month was that I realized how much I legitimately enjoy drinking coffee – it’s warm and creamy and tastes good and makes me happy.  “How about some decaf,” you propose.  Nope. Decaf still has some caffeine in it (about 15-35% of caffeinated coffee).

Week two – SUCK IT UP. DON’T BE A QUITTER.
These week involved a little bit of soul searching and digging in deep.  I felt so discouraged and unhappy after week one.  Everyone thought I was weird/crazy for continuing on when it 1) appeared to be a stupid diet and 2) I felt so crappy. I thought about it – there was no longer joy in cooking or eating.  It literally felt like a chore to do either.  I didn’t feel any different in that I hadn’t lost any weight and my body seemed to be functioning the same, or worse, than it always had.
Then I realized I needed an attitude adjustment.  I saw a quote that said “Explore what you avoid – it’s important to challenge yourself and take yourself out of your comfort zone.” So I decided that I need to do just that and push myself.  I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t believe that the diet would lead to weight loss and repair a person’s metabolic issues.  But I decided that I would make this a test of my will power, and if I experienced any of the purported benefits, so be it.  After all, one of the main reasons I embarked on this “experiment” was to test my will power.
I did make some adjustments, though, to prevent myself from completely cracking.  For example, I didn’t eat the serving sizes outlined, and I allowed myself to eat some starchy veggies (i.e. carrots, tomatoes, and zucchini) on Phase II days. I also ate greek yogurt with some blueberries on Phase II days a couple of times.  It is amazing how hard it is to eat JUST meat and veggies. That’s all. Nothing else.

Week 3 – Acceptance and Comfort (And how happy hour ruins diets)

I had started to feel better and get a hang of the diet at this point.  I wasn’t STARVING during Phase II, and while I still didn’t really enjoy cooking or eating, I had come to accept that fact.  So, as comfortable as I was, I was equally bored. I still wasn’t seeing any benefit, so I kind of had a “screw this” moment.  I went to happy hour with some friends. I drank a margarita. Sweet, delicious nectar of the gods. I ate pork green chile nachos! I ate guacamole with chips! And it felt great. I didn’t feel guilty or mad or hungry.  I just felt happy.

Week 4 – Who Gives a S**t?
At this point, I was pretty much in the same place, mentally, as week 3, but I no longer felt any kind of investment or loyalty in FMD.  It wasn’t even about will power anymore, I just didn’t care.  I didn’t feel different physically, with the exception of my lack of dependence on caffeine and being extremely hydrated, which were good things.  I didn’t have high energy levels, such as were promised, and I definitely didn’t lose weight.

Final Thoughts
This was the first time that I think I got a glimpse into what it feels like to really be on a diet.  I’d say that I have a whole new respect for people who diet, but I don’t.  No one should ever make themselves feel that sad over food.  Pomroy writes that people need to lose the demons that they have created with food, but her diet does exactly the opposite.  I’ve never had issues with food, but I developed real ones with this.  The feeling of cheating on the diet was exhilarating and made me happy initially, but I would end up feeling like a failure later on.  And this happened literally every day for a month.  10 days into October, and I still feel like I have an unhealthy relationship with food.  While doing FMD, I would cheat on the diet, but practically gorge myself on my cheat foods. I didn’t really savor the food – I felt more of a sense of panic.  And this is never what food should be for anyone.  Portion control is important.  Making healthy choices is important.  But developing a longing that is never truly satiated because of the guilt that you feel for eating “unhealthy” foods is never okay.  Overall, I hated this month, but at least it gave me an idea of what people put themselves through.  And I can now tell from experience, there are so many better ways.

In other news, the first time I drank coffee was pretty much the happiest moment of my recent life.  Happier than when I got my job in CO or got my PhD or even got my dog.  I had reached the point where I was fine without caffeine.  I was functioning just great. But then I drank coffee, and the world came alive! I couldn’t believe I’d tricked myself into thinking I was okay! I could get so many things done! I was nicer! I was funnier! My brain and body worked better! Colors were brighter! The birds sang prettier! … and I think this is what drug addicts say about their respective vices…

Anyways, take a gander at the table below to see what days on FMD looked like for me.  These were really the best of the best days, where I didn’t cheat (much).  In particular, make note of the calorie counts.  Yeah, you’ll be eating “so much delicious food.” What a crock!
You’ll also see that I did not lose weight, my blood pressure looks pretty good (I think we can thank the lack of caffeine for that), and I spent way too much money. Thanks for nothin’, FMD!

Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3
Recommended What I ate Recommended What I ate Recommended What I ate
Breakfast Oatmeal fruit smoothie 1 c Oatmeal w/strawberries, sweetened with stevia; herbal tea Spanish egg white scramble Egg white scramble w/green chiles, bell peppers, red onions, Sriracha; herbal tea Toast, egg, tomato, red onion, 1/2 avocado Sprouted grain toast + 1 T almond butter + cinnamon; jicama spears; herbal tea
Snack Asian Pear Apple Smoked salmon w/cucumbers 1 C celery, 1 C carrots; 3 pieces nitrate free turkey meat 1/3 cup hummus and cucumbers Peach + raspberries
Lunch Open faced turkey sandwich (1 slice bread) Nitrate free turkey sandwich on sprouted wheat bread (2 slices) w/mustard, cucumbers, spinach; 2 small plums Tuna and cucumber salad 1 can tuna, red onion, cucumber, hard boiled egg white, cilantro, lime juice Endive tuna salad 2 C coconut curry chicken
Snack 2 kiwi 2 rice cakes, 1 c carrots, pear 1-2 oz buffalo jerky Turkey jerky, 1 C cucumber spears Celery + 2 T raw almond butter 2 T hummus, 1/2 c carrots, 1/2 c celery
Dinner 2 cups chicken and barley soup 2 cups baby kale + 1/2 c quinoa + 1/2 c black beans + carrots + cucumbers, lime juice Steak and asparagus lettuce wrap Broiled salmon, 1 c steamed broccoli w/garlic and lemon juice, baby kale salad w/cucumber & balsamic vinegar Coconut curry chicken Black bean + avocado + sauteed veggie burrito (sprouted wheat tortilla)
Snack None Rice crackers None Greek yogurt, dozen blueberries, stevia; herbal tea None Handful of mixed nuts
Total Calories 845 1,150 750 925 1,210 1,690
 

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data Vegan Paleo WW Gluten Free Smoothies DASH Low Fat Sustain-
ability
FMD
Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

BP

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

44-141

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

19

15-61

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

52

28-77

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

25

30-52

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

29

10-46

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

8

3-7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

Fat Free and Carb Crazy

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The past month I’ve been following a low fat diet plan.  For those of you older than me, you likely remember the low fat diet craze of the ‘90’s (shortly followed by the low carb craze).  I think that fad did a lot to damage the utility of a low fat diet for various health outcomes, because there certainly are a number of benefits of low fat eating.  As with all diets, though, it can be misused and abused.

The Science

Low Fat for Weight Loss- The most common reason to follow a low fat diet is to lose weight.  The reason low fat works so well for weight loss involves simple arithmetic.  In order to lose weight, your energy intake needs to be less than energy output.  Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 kcal/g, whereas fat contains 9 kcal/g.  If you cut out an equal number of carbohydrate grams as fat grams at separate times and were to change absolutely nothing else, you would lose more weight on the lower fat diet because you’re reducing your energy intake more than the low carb diet.  Easy peasy. However, a common misconception is that you’ll lose fat mass by just eating a low fat diet.  Unfortunately, fuel utilization is more complicated than that, and your body is happy to turn carbohydrates into fat if you’re eating excess carbs (i.e. if you’re still eating too many calories, but they’re coming from carbs instead of fat).  Bottom line: your energy intake needs to be less than your energy output, no matter what you’re consuming.

Low Fat for Health- There are a number of reasons to eat a lower fat diet for long term health.  The American Heart Association recommends eating <35% kcals from fat and to reduce saturated fat (SF) intake to <7% of intake (down from the old recommendation of 10%).  This highlights the importance of the type of fat consumed, as SF is packaged and transported via LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and as SF intake increases more LDL circulates in the blood. LDL is overall causal in the pathway for heart disease.  (The Mediterranean Diet style of eating is characterized by up to 40% of intake from fat; however, most of this fat comes from olive oil, which is rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.  I won’t go into any more detail about that now as I will be following the MedDiet later this year, but once again, this supports the role for type of fat for heart health).

There has also been some work in the field of fat intake and cancer incidence and recurrence.  The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification trial enrolled over 48,000 postmenopausal women and randomized over 19,000 of those women to a low fat diet (20% kcals from fat) with a focus on increasing fruit and vegetable and whole grain intake.  After 8 years of follow-up, researchers saw a reduced incidence of ovarian and invasive breast cancers in those following the diet modification.  There is also work focusing on risk of recurrence of cancer when a low fat eating plan is followed, so keep your eyes peeled for that work in the future if this is something that you’re interested in.

My Experience

This was an interesting month for me for a number of reasons.  Instead of dropping my fat intake low and immediately, I gave myself some time to get acclimated to low fat eating.  I started at 30% kcals of intake for week 1 and reduced my fat intake by 5% every week.  I tracked my fat intake using the FatSecret app (available on iPhone and Droid platforms.  My Fitness Pal is also a great mobile app for diet/physical activity/weight tracking). Weeks 1 and 2 were really easy for me and served to just get me familiar with the fat content of the foods that I eat regularly.  I didn’t have to change anything at all to eat 30% and 25% was an extremely attainable goal.  I grew up eating foods that aren’t particularly high in fat – lowfat or nonfat yogurt, 1% or skim milk, tuna in water instead of oil, etc., so there weren’t any significant changes that needed to be made.

Things got interesting at 20% and 15%, and I actually had to make some real changes.  I usually eat peanut/almond butter on toast every morning for breakfast, I’m pretty heavy handed with olive oil when I cook, and I could eat avocadoes every day if someone would provide ripe, reasonably priced ones for me.  There are nothing wrong with these foods, but when you’re trying to curb fat intake, they become an issue.  I calculated my fat gram goals based off my average intake (1500 kcal/day and 2000 kcal/day), which equated to 25-33 g of fat/day.  To give you an idea of how that works out, 2 Tbsp of peanut butter (a standard serving for me) will give you 16 g of fat, ¼ of an avocado has 7 g of fat, and 1 Tbsp of any oil has about 13.5 g of fat.  Clearly, it wouldn’t take much to surpass my fat goals, so I started to get stingy with my peanut butter in the morning or use jam instead.  I used olive oil/canola oil sprays when sautéing veggies instead of just pouring oil into the pan, and avocadoes became a treat that I would allow for dinner when I had been really good all day. I never successfully got down to 15% kcals from fat, and 18% was where I bottomed out.  I found that I was especially hungry on those days, and would get stressed over everything I was eating.  I’d find foods that were low fat, but every gram mattered at that point, and low fat just wasn’t cutting it.  You have to go down to nonfat for almost all products at that point, and I’m not crazy about that (see recommendations below).

The most interesting thing that I saw with low fat intake that I hadn’t really predicted was how incredibly hard it was for me to maintain my overall kcal intake.  Since I’m trying really hard not to lose weight, I had to supplement my diet with more carbs or protein in order to reach my necessary calorie goal.  Adding protein without adding fat was a challenge as my primary sources of protein (nuts, protein bars) are also fairly high in fat and lower in carbs.  I don’t eat much meat, but when I did, I would use chicken and boil it instead of cooking it in any oil.  Beans were another option, but beans are also high in carbs, so my overall carb intake went up. My carb intake also increased in ways that were not healthy. A lot of days I ate way more fruit than I normally do, and I replaced a lot of veggies with fruit since most fruit is higher in calories than veggies, and I had a calorie goal I was trying to meet.  Wanna know what else is high in calories, but not fat? Candy.  Like Mike and Ike’s.  So are bagels.  So my diet became supplemented with shitty food like that occasionally just to maintain calorie intake.  Moral of the story: go on a low fat diet if you’re trying to reduce calorie intake.  It’s easier than I realized, and since you’re trying to reduce calorie intake, you better not be supplementing your diet with a lot of excess sugar.

Recommendations for Reducing Fat Intake

Frozen yogurt or sorbet instead of ice cream- Sorbet doesn’t do it for me, personally, because I like chocolate for dessert, but frozen yogurt works and it’s way way lower in fat than it’s creamy counterpart.  I’m also mildly lactarded, so frozen yogurt is a great switch since the little bacteria friends in yogurt have already digested the lactose for me.  Thanks, guys.

Nonfat/reduced fat dairy products- I’ve never eaten full fat yogurt.  I did for the first time that I could remember a year ago, and I was amazed at how delicious it was.  Luckily, that didn’t trick me into doing it regularly because I have a girlish figure to maintain, and I don’t want to waste calories on something like yogurt.  I prefer nonfat greek yogurt over any other kind of yogurt because it’s REALLY high in protein, so you’ll feel fuller than just eating normal low/nonfat yogurt.  For cheese, I can do reduced fat cheeses, but nonfat cheese is gross and it doesn’t melt well, so you’re better off introducing a small amount of fat to maintain some of the flavor and consistency.

Get down with the Greek- Whenever I make any kind of cream sauce, whether it’s adding it to a tomato sauce or more of an alfredo, I use plain greek yogurt, and I’ll add plain almond milk if I need more liquid.  Cook on low heat, and it’s delicious.  I also use plain greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.

Lean protein- your best options are skinless chicken, fish, turkey, or very lean cuts of beef.  Minimize the amount of oil you cook them in- try boiling, grilling, or broiling instead of deep frying or pan frying.

Condiments- Start experimenting with other toppings on sandwiches other than mayonnaise.  If you like the taste, you can replace mayo with Miracle Whip as it’s much lower in fat and overall calories.  You can also try mustard.  I think yellow mustard is gross, but I love spicy brown mustard, and it’s especially low in calories (3 kcals/tsp).

Nonfat processed foods- I’m not recommending that you eat nonfat processed foods. My recommendation is to stay away from that shit.  There is lowfat peanut butter, and I hope that makes your furrow your brow and be suspicious of how the hell that works.  They replace some of the fat with maltodextrin (a carbohydrate used as a filler in a lot of foods), and I don’t like that.  Granted, I don’t buy peanut butter with other weird fillers either- just plain peanuts and salt for me, thanks.  My recommendation is to just eat less of it because you’re not going to make it lowfat and not weird.  The same goes for salad dressing.  I actually don’t buy salad dressing because I don’t eat much salad at home and because there are too many preservatives and things I can’t pronounce on the label. The number of those words increases by about 30% when you go nonfat because they fill it with a lot of science experiment results in order to make it taste somewhat close to normal.  Sure you can buy these nonfat foods and reduce your fat intake, but what else are you eating? No one knows for sure. Just reduce your portion size or make your own (salad dressing, at least) with less oil.

Steer clear of all of Paula Deen’s recipes.

paula-deen-butter-1Final Stats and Remarks

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19.0

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

26.5

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.20

I chose the lowest fat intake that I reached this month, 18%.  As you can see, I struggled to eat enough calories, but all in all, not a whole lot to report.  My blood pressure went up a bit, probably because my fruit and veggie intake went down.  I no longer have a way to measure my percent body fat, so that won’t be reported any longer.  And my ass is disappearing.

Next stop: sustainability month! It’s about to get real…expensive.

June, With Fewer Grains of Salt

Standard

First, an update on my life.  If you read my last post (or know me), you know that I just moved to Boulder, CO.  Life here is pretty great so far.  You might say it’s Coloradical. I’ve spent the last month hiking, doing yoga, going to concerts…and that’s about it. You may be asking why I have been neglecting my blog if I’ve had so much time on my hands, and the answer is simple.  I live in Boulder, CO, and I don’t want to spend any time on my computer (if you are unfamiliar with the area, do a Google image search, and you’ll see why).  But don’t fret.  I have still been true to the experiment, and I’ve been following the DASH diet for the last month (minus the last nine days, as it’s now July).

Background

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) aims to reduce blood pressure and improve vascular health (my favorite topic).  Check out http://www.dashdiet.org for more info. The stars of the DASH diet are really fruits and vegetables, though emphasis is also placed on incorporating lots of beans and legumes, switching meat to lean meat, dairy to low or nonfat dairy, and making at least half of your grains whole grains.  Sounds like an overall healthy diet, right? Right.

In making these simple changes, what ends up happening by default is that you reduce your processed food intake, thereby reducing your sodium intake (fun fact: the majority of sodium in our diet comes from processed foods.  What we add from the salt shaker accounts for very little of our intake).  Additionally, by switching to all the whole foods mentioned above, you increase your intake of other vasoprotective minerals including potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

The goal of the DASH diet is to reduce sodium intake to 2300 mg/day (though the DASH-reduced sodium diet recommends 1500 mg/day for people with suboptimal blood pressure….which is 70% of the American adult population).  The average American consumes about 3700 mg/day (thanks, processed foods), but the reduction to 2300 mg/day isn’t difficult if you eat whole foods.  Even with this minor change, you can still see a reduction in blood pressure because you are increasing your intake of all the other vascular protective minerals, thereby counterbalancing the impact of sodium.  In fact, studies have shown that individuals who are moderately hypertensive who follow the DASH diet can show reductions of up to 6 mmHg in their systolic blood pressure after only 14 days.  These results are equivalent to that of the primary hypertensive medication on the market, ACE inhibitors.

The cool thing about the DASH diet is 1) there are absolutely no gimmicks, extra money, or bullshit promises involved, and 2) although the diet was originally designed to treat moderate hypertension, so many more benefits have been shown over the years.  It is now recommended for improving overall cardiovascular risk, reducing insulin resistance, reducing the risk of diabetes, and is a great tool for weight loss as well.  It’s one of the few diets that has stood the test of time and can easily be maintained over the long haul because it focuses on incorporating MORE into your diet (fruits, veggies), and consequently, reducing some of the less healthy options.

My Experience

To be honest, this was probably the easiest month for me, which was one of the reasons why I chose it now – I wanted something that would be fairly straight forward as I transitioned into my new life.  The biggest challenge for people as they transition into the DASH diet is to cut out processed food.  This isn’t much of an issue for me since I don’t eat much of that stuff these days.  My typical diet roughly follows the DASH recommendations, though I did focus on cooking more with spices and avoiding mindlessly adding salt to dishes as well as eating more fruits and veggies.  While it wasn’t a far cry from my actual diet, it was nice to have goals to focus on.  In doing so, it made my diet much healthier than normal. Here are some tips on how to easily incorporate the DASH plan into your life:

  • 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies a day keeps the heart disease away: To reach your fruit and veggie goal, eat at least one serving of F or V at every meal.  Also, replace all snacks with F or V.  For me, the easiest way to do Part 2 was to either just eat a piece of fruit or to eat baby carrots, sugar snap peas, or bell pepper slices with hummus (I don’t like veggies by themselves).
  • Spice up your life: Instead of immediately adding salt as your go-to season, try other spices first.  Cumin is my personal favorite spice, and garlic/onion powders are other good spices when you’re looking for a more savory flavor.  Fresh herbs also go a long way in adding flavor.  The DASH plan has also come up with the brilliant idea of marketing their own spices and marinades, Mrs. DASH.  These are sodium free flavor enhancers, and boy, are they tasty.  If after you have added all these other spices and still need a little somethin somethin, add a pinch of salt– you don’t need much.(Another fun fact: most of our taste buds serve some sort of survival mechanism.  Sweetness cues our brains that something is probably nutrient rich, like fruit, whereas bitterness is indicative of poisonous things, causing us to spit them out.  The love of saltiness, on the other hand, is not something that we are born with, and is instead a taste we grow to love.  I imagine the introduction to salt began when we started salting our meats as a preservative.  That tasted good and we love it.  However, we have not evolved to need/love it, and we can teach ourselves to love it less.  I’ve been working on this, and I have found that the less I eat salty foods, the more overpoweringly salty and terrible they taste when I do eat them, french fries excluded.  Give it a try!)
  • Hop on the whole grain train:  If you eat a lot of bread products, do whole wheat (beware of “multigrain” products.  While many are in fact made of multiple whole grains, others are simply multiple refined grains put into one product and are no better than their refined counterparts.  The ingredients list will tell you if they are whole or not).  Try whole grain pasta (many people hate it, I like it better), brown rice, quinoa, etc.  Get creative.
  • Skip the salt (another way): Buy canned vegetables/beans/sauces with no salt added.  They taste pretty meh, but you can always add your own salt.  Chances are that you’ll add less than what the saltier packaged counterparts include.

Final Stats

 

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Smoothies

DASH

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19.0

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

 

Since I moved, I haven’t had anywhere to measure my body fat or waist/hip circumference.  I’m not sure if my new lab will have those tools available; if not, that information may no longer be included.  I’m pretty sure nothing has changed, though.  Other than that, no real changes, other than my fat intake went up a few percentage points…. just in time for me to follow a low fat diet plan for July! I have kissed peanut butter, avocadoes, and pasta drenched in olive oil goodbye (ish).  So far, so OK…see you later this month! (But realistically, see you in the beginning-middle of August.  I suck at having a blog).