Tag Archives: final thoughts

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.

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“When Walking, Walk. When Eating, Eat.” A Lesson in Mindful Eating.

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For my final month of this amazing, yearlong experiment, I opted for an eating method unlike anything else I have tried.  December was characterized by “mindful eating,” which focuses on the hows and whys of eating instead of the whats.

virginia woolf- dined well

Background

Most diets take the approach of eliminating or emphasizing certain foods (i.e. eat less fat, eat more vegetables, stay away from wheat, only eat organic, etc.).  The problem with these approaches is that they don’t address the psychology of eating at all, and everybody knows that we, as humans, typically eat more for psychological reasons instead of out of actual hunger.  A lot of us know that we overeat and have issues with maintaining healthy portions, whereas others undereat and never feel satiated.  We focus on certain types of foods in an effort to attain a certain goal (high protein, low carb in order to get “cut”).  In doing so, we lose any sense of joy that comes from eating food.  If that’s not enough of a reason to switch your eating style, maybe the fact that you never attain said goals (likely because you never feel satisfied and then binge on “unhealthy” foods) is reason enough to change.

Mindful eating, unlike other approaches, teaches us how to enjoy food again by listening to our body’s cues.  Take a looksee at the plate below, which does a really great job at explaining what mindful eating “looks like” for a given meal.

Print

When practicing eating mindfully, the focus is to actually be present.  By being present, we can focus on the flavors and textures of food and appreciate our food more.  Turn off the TV, get away from your computer, and focus on your plate.  Another helpful practice is to actually put your fork down between bites.  Chew and swallow each bite before you take another.  By doing this, you’ll eat more slowly (if you’re prone to eating quickly, make a conscious effort to actually slow down), which means that you’ll probably notice when you’re full, thus preventing overeating.  Do you ever get through a meal and not even realize how it tasted? Practicing the above approaches to eating will help you enjoy your food and actually form a connection with it.  You’ll appreciate it more and likely not see eating as a “chore.”

Another important point about mindful eating is the conversations that arise about food – both with ourselves and with other people.  We can be extremely judgmental about our eating practices because 1) we are either unhappy with our bodies and we associate “unhealthy” habits with our body issues or 2) the media has done a really effective job at tricking you (and everyone else) into being apologetic and judgmental about everything we put in our bodies.  This is something that has to end if you are ever going accept yourself and actually be happy with attaining weight loss or health goals once you reach them.  When a judgmental thought arises when you choose ice cream over a piece of fruit, let it go.  Allow yourself to eat the ice cream, and use the approach that I outlined above to actually enjoy that ice cream and not overeat it.  When you’re eating with friends, don’t talk about dieting or make statements like, “I’m so fat.”  Don’t apologize for ordering the burger instead of the salad.  These words don’t help you – they only serve to foster feelings of guilt.  Furthermore, they may affect someone else who is struggling with food, self-esteem, or body issues.

My Experience

In many ways, this was simultaneously the hardest and easiest month of the year for me.  It was easy because shopping and cooking were more streamlined, and I didn’t have to overthink my menu.  I could eat any food at any restaurant, which was really nice when people asked, “Oh wait… what diet are you on this month? Can we go there?”  It was more difficult than many because I had to take the time to sit down and actually think about what I was eating, why I was eating, what I liked/disliked about my meal, pay attention to satiety cues, etc.  Isn’t that interesting? That actually thinking made this month more challenging than most? I’m sure I’m not alone in that reaction to mindful eating.

Some of the strategies that I used to be more mindful (in addition to what I outlined above) went as follows:

  • Setting the table and eating free from distractions.  I always say I don’t eat in front of the TV because I don’t… but I eat in front of my computer, watching Netflix, which is the same freaking thing.  I always looked at this as using my time efficiently, but that’s the equivalent of an 8 year old argument, and it’s time to stop that nonsense.
  • When at work, not checking emails while eating lunch.  Another thing that I thought was just efficiency.  I move too fast through my life.  There’s no legitimate reason to sacrifice my meal time to make it more efficient, when a better way to achieve efficiency would be to simply cut the extraneous BS out (like..Facebook).
  • Sitting down for snacks as well as meals.  When I get home, I typically go right to the pantry and grab a handful of something – almonds, popcorn, crackers, chocolate-covered-whatevers.  But this month I would ask myself, “are you willing to actually sit down and eat this?” Typically the answer was no because I wasn’t actually hungry, so I wouldn’t eat it.  It made me stop mindlessly munching on things, which is one of my worst dietary habits.
  • Attempting to eat slower.  I say attempt here because it turns out that I really am an extremely slow eater.  I’ve been told all my life that I’m ridiculously slow, but I always just thought that other people were fast.  Yes, every single person I’ve ever dined with was a fast eater and I was normal.  Makes sense… So I tried to slow down when doing mindful eating, and it was not possible.  And that’s when I finally accepted how slow I am (cue lightbulb turning on).  But most people should actually try this.

One of the things that I found most interesting about this month was people’s reaction to my description of mindful eating.  I would tell people about focusing on the flavors and textures of foods so that they would enjoy them more.  Many people who are focused on a health goal would reply with something along the lines of, “that sounds horrible because my food sucks.”  This always baffled me.  Just eat something that tastes better.  You can very easily attain a health goal while eating delicious food.  And that was something that I realized as well – I stopped eating crappy food this month because I was focusing on the flavors and textures.  This meant that I really avoided processed foods because I started paying attention to how much they suck.  Imagine that…

Final Stats

 

Goal/Normal

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

FMD

MedDiet

Volumetrics

Mindful

Anthros
Weight

121-60

123.5

123

123

125.5

127.5

123.5

125.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

20

19.5

19.7

PBF

21-32

?

?

?

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

?

26.5

27

27

27.5

26.5

27

HC

?

36.5

37

37.5

38

38

37.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.7

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

102/73

105/72

108/75

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

1920

1820

1855

Protein (%)

13058

15

22

19

15-61

16

18

20

CHO (%)

49-52

52

60

52

28-77

46

54

53

Fiber (g)

at least 25

30

23

25

30-52

28

31

28

Fat (%)

20-35

33

18

29

10-46

38

28

27

Sat Fat (%)

<10

8

7

8

3-7

7

7

8

Sodium (mg)

2300

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

2127

1975

2325

Potassium (mg)

4700

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

3826

3906

3826

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

6-9

6-11

5-8

Cost

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

204.3

128.5

?

In general, there were no real changes from a health/dietary intake perspective.  I also didn’t track cost in December because I was home in Tucson for the last 9 days of the month, not buying groceries, so everything would be skewed.

Final Thoughts

This month resonated with me more deeply than any other month this year.  2013 has really been a year of striving to achieve mindfulness and presence on a very personal level.  I think this is true of many people, but I am very rarely present when I’m by myself, without the distraction and conversation of others.  My mind wanders to what I’ll be doing later, how I want to recount a specific activity to someone instead of just being present for that activity, and I fill my life with distractions – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest… the internet, in general.  When I’m at work, I am often inefficient because I can only focus on a given activity for a few minutes before I check one of several social media sites or read a blog post.  These are habits I’m trying to break, but it’s a struggle. (You may be wondering how any of this relates to mindful eating, but it does (because everything relates to everything else 😉 I’m getting there).

One way that I have been working on mindfulness is via my yoga practice.  Yoga is a way to connect deeply with yourself in a way to better your relationship with yourself, which will benefit those around you, by working through series of asanas (postures).  The goal is to remain very present by focusing on your breath, the areas of the body that feel great as well as the areas that feel tension or discomfort.  My mind wanders constantly in yoga – as a way to escape the tension or discomfort and because that’s just what I do.  I make to do lists or daydream when I’m attempting to meditate, simply because I don’t know how to free my mind of thought and stay present.

This month felt like a culmination to what I’ve been working on personally for the whole year, even though I didn’t plan for it to end up that way.  I truly recognized how much of a journey all of this is (“this” meaning life or whatever you’re trying to work on with yourself).  Of course I knew that, but I hadn’t really enveloped it.  It’s all about progress.  One of my yoga teachers made the point that you don’t suddenly reach enlightenment when your heels finally make contact with the earth in downward facing dog.  It’s a journey of progress and a single success isn’t exciting if you didn’t have to work for it and earn it, nor is a single success exciting when it isn’t a part of a bigger picture.  This is true of all health goals too – whether it be weight loss, incorporating more vegetables into your daily routine, running a marathon, or mastering a balancing sequence in yoga.  You have your whole life to work towards making the best version of yourself, so take your time, be patient, and do it right.  When you don’t do it “right,” have the patience to come back to your center and start anew.  Be gentle with yourself and those around you.  And don’t take it all so damn seriously.

This mindful eating month provided a new approach to remaining present.  The focus was with food, but that transcended to other aspects of my life.  I found myself better (but not perfect) at meditation in yoga.  I stopped checking my Facebook account so much.  And I became more patient with myself and stopped having judgmental thoughts towards myself whenever my mind would wander in meditation, or I would check my Facebook even though I had just checked it, etc.  I just let it happen and then reconvened.  I can’t tell you how empowering this is: this practice of not being so self-critical because I finally realized that it gets me nowhere.  December was defined by progress, and it was the first month out of the whole year that I felt like I hadn’t learned all I needed to know about the given dietary approach in the allotted month.  I continue to eat mindfully into 2014, learning everyday from the approach, and I don’t think it’s something that will go away anytime soon. If you’d like more information on mindful eating, please comment, and I’ll send some resources your way!

And with that, 2013 has come to a close.  I’ll write a couple more posts to wrap everything up.  One will answer the questions that people asked me.  The other will summarize the year.  Not many people sent in questions, so please do if you have any!! Thanks, as always, for reading all these many many words 🙂

P.S. I’m sorry for ragging on Facebook so much in this post.  It’s a great forum and perfectly acceptable way to network with others.  I just have my own issues that need to be addressed.  It’s not Facebook’s fault.

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

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

A Food Culture, With the Capacity to Endure…at a Price.

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When I decided to go sustainable, I had to make some stipulations of what that meant, which went a little something like this:

1)    Local Trumps Everything Else – Organic farming practices are great for the environment, no doubt about it.  What’s not great for the environment is shipping food (grown organically or otherwise) to another side of the globe.  It’s estimated that food travels an average of 1300 miles from farm to table, which generates a huge carbon footprint.  So just because an apple was grown organically in New Zealand, that doesn’t mean I’m really being sustainable by buying it.  Importantly, eating locally produced food also supports your local economy, which is never a bad idea.  Ideally, I tried to buy local, organic foods.

2)    Eat Seasonally- This sort of goes hand in hand with #1.  We should all try to make a more valiant effort to do this, because if we’re eating out of season, that means the food is being shipped from far away, typically another hemisphere.  For me, that meant not eating apples, pears, citrus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. because those are winter crops.

3)    GMO-free all (eh, most of) the way- This actually isn’t that hard to do if you’re eating organic food.  Organic food, by definition, has to be GMO-free.  However, when buying food from the farmer’s market, I didn’t really ask about the GMO status…because local trumps everything else.  All packaged foods, however, had to be GMO-free if they weren’t certified organic.

4)    No chain restaurants- This isn’t much of a challenge for me, as I prefer to eat at locally owned restaurants.  Had I eaten out much in Boulder for the month of August, I would have chosen restaurants that use lots of locally produced ingredients.  That’s not too challenging to do in this town; the restaurants here really cater to the sustainable lifestyle.  However, I didn’t eat out much in Boulder.  When I went to other towns in Colorado (Golden, Fort Collins, Denver), I made sure to not eat at chains (this is more of just an economically sustainable solution than an environmental one).  In Boulder, I mostly just went to coffee shops, but sticking to my criteria, this meant no Starbucks.  Shucks.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about my eating experiences for Sustainability month.  I will make note of a couple differences, though.  First, I didn’t notice marked differences in the flavor of foods, though I did notice that the organic grapes I bought were surprisingly sweeter than normal grapes (I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison of course, so this could be attributed to the varietal that I purchased), and I have noticed in the past that organic apples taste better as well.  Secondly, organic produce is going to spoil faster than conventionally grown produce.  Third (the most important issue, in my mind), just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  There are plenty of organic cookies, macaroni and cheese products, ice creams, and so on.  These can be just as high in calories, refined sugar, and sodium as conventionally produced counterparts.  Those nutrients don’t magically disappear just because you’ve slapped an organic label on the item and marked up the price 50%, but I think people have it in their mind that if they are eating organically, they are safe from the perils of obesity, diabetes, and so forth.  I’m not going to get into a discussion of whether or not organic processed foods are superior to their conventional counterparts; however, I will say that you are making a healthier choice by eating conventionally grown strawberries than an organic strawberry breakfast pastry (i.e. a Pop Tart) 100 times out of 100 times.

Shop til Your Bank Account Drops

The main topic I want to discuss is how to shop organically.  I shopped at a number of different grocers in order to determine which places had the best variety and prices for organic/local food.

1)    Lucky’s Market- This is Boulder’s independent grocery store, conveniently located across the street from my house.  Great variety, more local selections than anywhere else in town (except the farmer’s market), pretty pricey though.  The prices were roughly 20-30% higher than most other locations.  So while I like that it is a local option in every sense of the word and that I can walk to it, I won’t be doing my regular shopping there.

2)    Whole Foods Market- I hate Whole Foods more than is probably appropriate.  The reason for my distaste is that they abuse what they are via their pricing strategies.  Whole Foods is the largest national natural foods retailer, which is great.  However, their prices are so ridiculously inflated that I refuse to shop there.  On top of that, all the produce that I buy from Whole Foods spoils so much faster than from everywhere else (and this is a comparison to other organic options).  Plus, the people seem more pretentious at Whole Foods (which is saying a lot since I live in Boulder…by far the most pretentious community I’ve ever set foot in).  There are two things that will get me to go to Whole Foods. 1) Their bulk section is amazing and there are some grains/nuts/seeds that I can’t find elsewhere; 2) they carry my favorite flavor of Kombucha that I haven’t found elsewhere.  Here are more reasons to dislike Whole Foods.

whole-paycheck1-300x280

3)    Sprouts Farmers Market- This is my favorite place to grocery shop, in part because their produce and fresh food sections account for over half the store’s square footage.  The prices are extremely reasonable and they have a large variety of health foods.  I think one of the reasons that Sprouts has reasonable prices on their organic foods is because they also sell conventionally grown products.  When consumers can compare those options side by side (and when price is the driver for decision making, as it is for most people), the cost of these products are forced to stay relatively low.  Packaged foods are still fairly pricey at Sprouts, but I think that comes from the manufacturer more so than the distributor.  The down side: while they carry some local products, it’s certainly a small minority of all the available choices.

4)    Safeway- I never shop at large grocery chains like Safeway or King Sooper’s (Fry’s or Ralph’s in other parts of the country).  They are typically so big and offer so much of what I don’t buy – packaged foods, highly processed foods, and usually a small produce department with fairly low quality produce.  However, for the sake of the blog, I braved the Safeway in Boulder. Hel-looo! I was so impressed!  The produce, natural foods, and bulk sections take up 1/3 of the store, and the selection and quality is amazing.  Their organic produce section is just as large as the conventional produce section, and similar to Sprouts, prices aren’t through-the-roof expensive.  They had lots of local options, bulk nut butter and local honeys, as well as a make-your-own trail mix bar. Neat! This may be an artifact of being in Boulder, as there is certainly a market for these kinds of foods, but I’m wondering if this kind of selection is available in other Safeways.  Can anyone comment on that?

5)    Boulder Farmer’s Market- I’ve read in multiple articles about how to eat more sustainably on a budget that you should shop at your local farmer’s market.  Maybe that’s true in other places, but it’s definitely not true in Boulder.  The farmer’s market here is extremely expensive.  So while I like to go for the experience and to support local farmers (but mostly because the dumplings sold at one of the food carts are some of the best things I’ve ever tasted), it’s not somewhere that I can shop regularly.  I should try a farmer’s market in a neighboring town and see if these prices are a Boulder-specific phenomenon.

 Final Stats

Goal/ Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

123

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

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

27

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

37

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

1905

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

19

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

52

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

25

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

29

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

8

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

2282

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

3746

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.20

254.45

Clearly, no real changes in my basic health or diet intake values, but my bank account certainly felt the pains of eating sustainably this month.  Sadly, I wasn’t even 100% organic – there were a number of items that were so outlandishly expensive that I couldn’t justify the organic pricetag, namely eggs and cheese.  I was willing to pay the price for organic meat itself, but that meant that I only cooked meat 4-5 times the entire month.  Eggs came in around $5/dozen, so I went for the next best thing: eggs from chickens raised locally, cage free, and without antibiotics.  I only bought a very small amount of cheese (a small block of cheddar) that also came from locally raised cows because I couldn’t fathom paying the price for organic cheese.  I suppose the silver lining to paying this much for all of my food was that I was much, much less wasteful than I have been in the past.  When I’m paying $5 for a pint of raspberries, you can be damn sure I’m eating every single one, pristine, smooshed, or on the wrong side of ripe.

Final Recommendations

My main recommendation is to follow the Clean 15, Dirty Dozen list.  If your concern is pesticide content, this list will be your friend.  The Dirty Dozen are the fruits and vegetables that typically have the highest pesticide content, whereas the Clean 15 have very low pesticide residues.  Unless you’re a sustainability purist, it’s worth saving your pocket book and buying Clean 15 when you can.  Here is a list you can print out and keep in your wallet for easy reference.  Other than that, buy organic when you can and if your budget allows for it.  Buy local even more often than that.  Join a CSA (community supported agriculture; where you buy a “share” in a local farm and are delivered local, fresh food for a large portion of the year. Go to http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ for more info), if possible.

For September, I’m following the Fast Metabolism Diet.  I can tell you already that it will be the most challenging month of the entire year.  Yes, harder in many ways than Paleo.  Stay tuned…

Fat Free and Carb Crazy

Standard

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.