Sunday, October 23, 2011

Taking the First Steps to Better Nutrition

So my best friend in the world since I was 3 YEARS OLD (!!!!!) also has some gluten intolerances and asked me yesterday,"how do you do it?"

 There are a million sites out there that will, in excruciating detail, pinpoint every single product you should avoid when going gluten free.  But that to me immediately gets you started off on the wrong foot.  (Though it can be super helpful once you've really decided to go all out.  Here is a helpful link once you're really ready.  But if you aren't ready yet, this will only deflate you!  So don't look yet in that case! Your nutrition should not be about avoidance and denial.  It's not about what you can't eat.  It's about how eating certain foods can actually make you feel better, look better, and improve your overall mental and physical health, and focusing on mainly those foods.  If your diet previously consisted of mostly carbs, it may be a difficult transition at first.  I know it's hard to convince yourself that eating fat is ok, and even healthy!  So, how do you do it?

As with anything else, this is mostly a mental, rather than physical hurdle.  You have to mentally prepare yourself to completely reverse your way of eating and be ok with it.  We have been told since birth to eat a high carb, low fat diet.  Eliminating most carbs and incorporating fat into your diet is going to sound insane at first.  So give yourself a few weeks to just think about it.  Eat the same foods you've always eaten, and start paying special attention to how you feel after.  If you eat a big starchy carby meal, think about how you look and feel after a few hours, the next day.  If you eat a bunch of sugary snacks, ask yourself if you feel sleepy afterwards, and then almost instantly hungry and thirsty again shortly thereafter.  Don't change anything, just evaluate what you eat and how it makes you feel.  Sounds simple enough, but it's amazing how many of us simply ignore how the food we eat makes us feel, and the fact that there's a correlation at all.  After you've done this for a few weeks, and given yourself a chance to realize that "hey this crap really is making me feel terrible," I bet you'll be able to start changing your diet pretty easily.  But make changes before you're ready, and you risk giving up too soon.

So it's been a few weeks, and you've begun to realize maybe you could feel better, maybe the lethargy and bloat is pretty annoying, and you want to feel cleaner, leaner, and lighter.  What should you do?
1. Drop packaged foods from your diet.  Cookies, chips, crackers, snacks, bars, cereals, junk.  Stop buying it.  You'll save money that can be put towards quality produce and lean proteins.  If you have a ton of junk in your kitchen, start getting rid of it.  If you love snacks and treats, well you're in luck, because this blog as well as thousands of others have a trillion awesome recipes that are grain-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, you name it.

2. Start reading food labels, if you don't already.  Don't just look at calories.  How many grams of sugar does it have?  Unfortunately labels don't distinguish between natural sugars (fructose in fruit, lactose in dairy) and added, but normally I shoot for 0 grams of added sugar.  How many grams of protein does it have?  How many carbs does it have?  Are the carbs from dietary fiber, or sugar?  One serving of protein is about 7 grams.  Shoot for at least 45-50 grams of protein a day, if not more.  That should really be the bare minimum.  What is the first ingredient listed? Is it sugar?  Wheat?  Soy?  Corn?  Don't eat it!  If you're going gluten free, you'll be surprised by just how many products contain wheat. 

3. Think ahead with respect to meals.  Don't leave it until the very last second, once you're starving, to get your meal together.  At least in the beginning.  You want your plate to be colorful, and consist of about half produce, half protein.  Everyone says you should shop the grocery store perimeter, which is a good tip.  But not always the most practical.  Instead, my freezer is STOCKED with frozen veg/fruit.  Like, overflowing.  Nowadays frozen veg can be even fresher than what's in the produce section, owing to it being flash frozen right after harvesting.  Don't shy away from it.  A few seconds in the microwave and you're good to go.  Meals don't need to be elaborate to be filling and satisfying.  Yesterday I had an organic turkey hot dog with some melted cheese and some defrosted green beans with oil and S&P.  Took all of 4 minutes.  No big deal!  With an apple after, you'll be set for three or four hours.  Concentrate on splitting your plate in half.  One half of the plate vegetables (or fruit, or some beans) and one half lean protein.  Make as much as you can ahead of time too.  Big pots of chicken chili, a batch of egg muffins, and a big container of cooked lentils will get you through the week.  Canned chickpeas and cannellini beans are my best friends, and so is tuna packed in olive oil, light string cheese, yogurt, hummus, turkey bacon, and eggs.  A couple minutes of planning can translate to multiple meals/snacks that are ready almost immediately.  And that is the key to staying on track and not snacking mindlessly on crap.  The freezer section at TJ's is my mecca.  Frozen pre-cooked turkey meatballs, every frozen veg imaginable, fruit for protein smoothies, cheap frozen fish, honestly- there's not too much else you need!

4. Get used to spending some time in the kitchen, especially to do a little prep-work to save yourself time later.  I happen to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but that's because I enjoy it.  If you don't, no big deal.  If you have a free hour just one day a week, get in the kitchen and try roasting a whole chicken to eat all week.  (Don't want to?  Costco has big roasted chickens for $4.99.)  Save the bones for stock later on.  Make a batch of lentils, bake some egg muffins, make some chili or stew, or even roast a ton of vegetables.  When you're strapped for time all week or tired at the end of the day, and have a couple different options ready to go, you'll feel like a million bucks.  Other awesome alternatives are bagged salads (I know I know they're not ideal) that you can quickly add some roasted red peppers, capers, olives, and carrots to, all from the fridge.  Whatever you do, just try to take a little bit of time in the beginning of the week to do some planning.  You'll be glad you did.

5.  Try to change your perception of what a "meal" is.  A meal can look like many things.  It might be a green apple with peanut butter and some carrots.  It might be cottage cheese and berries with a salad.  Turkey and sliced cheese rolled up and sweet potato.  Whatever!  It's not weird.  Your taste buds are going to change, and so will your cravings.  Sunflower and pumpkin seeds and some spinach with lemon juice?  A protein shake with blackberries and coconut milk?  Food doesn't need to come out of a package or look "normal" to be good.  And keep in mind "normal" is why most people are sick, and fat.  If you can honestly look at a burger and fries or a bowl of sugary cereal and tell me that looks better, then take a minute to reflect on why you're even reading this I guess!

6. Understand that the quantity of food you might want is going to change.  Do not feel guilty making a huge salad and eating the whole thing.  They say a serving of chicken/meat is about 4 ounces.  Um, no way.  Try twice that, at least.  Not sure what to have for dinner?  There are nights I throw an entire bag of frozen veggies in a saute pan and have the whole thing.  And don't be afraid of fat.  Use some olive oil, enjoy egg yolks, have a little butter, cook with whole milk, eat some nuts or coconut butter and relax knowing you're going to be full and satisfied for awhile.  The only thing I'd watch out for is how much fruit you eat.  Better to treat fruit as a dessert or treat for the end of a meal.  But if you have a snack attack, certainly an apple or bunch of grapes is better than pretzels or chips.

To me, these things aren't a big deal.  I have a family so even if I didn't want to think ahead for myself, I'd have to so I could feed M and S for the week.  That makes it easier for sure.  But there's no getting around it.  Changing your nutrition and your life takes some effort and takes some thought.  You simply cannot grab a granola bar, a sugary drink from starbucks, a muffin, or a sandwich anymore.  You need to give yourself a few minutes in the morning to plan out your day, and leave as little to chance as possible.   Once you have fully realized that the way you're eating is detrimental to your health, and you've decided that it's time to start feeling better, that's when you're ready to start making these changes.  Until then, don't even bother! If you are still lamenting all the foods you'd have to give up, or how it might change your social life, you're probably not ready.  And that's ok.  You'll come around when the time is right.  Until then, even making a few small changes can do a world of good.  Try having a handful of nuts instead of a bag of chips, or an orange instead of a sweet.  It makes a difference, and it adds up over time.  Most of all, cut yourself some slack, and don't beat yourself up.  There's no perfect diet and no one right way to do something.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing.  Do the best you can most of the time and you'll be in great shape.  XoXoGFG

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