We started our new healthy lifestyle with a rough idea of what we wanted to eat: low carbs (this was a battle for me), lean meats like chicken, fish and turkey, fresh fruits and vegetables, low calorie, low fat, low sodium and low sugar. I thought it sounded like the bland diet they give sick old people with diverticulitis. I wasn’t excited about it. We also discussed exercise. Christian already had a gym membership, I decided that I’d rather be drawn and quartered than set foot in a sweaty building full of gym people. We were off to a great start.
I’d done countless diets before. I knew what didn’t work for me but I hadn’t yet found that perfect combination of things that did. But one thing was for certain: this was not going to be easy and it was going to take more work and commitment than anything I’d ever done before. So what did we do?
The Calorie Goal
We started off with a 1,200 calorie a day diet. The goal was to have 300 calories per meal and two snacks of around 150 calories each. This was difficult to navigate at first because I honestly had no idea how many calories were in the foods I ate. I also had never really given much thought to portion sizes. Measuring cups, nutrition labels and MyFitnessPal became my frenemies. If left up to me, a box of Bran Flakes would yield about 3 servings. It took some rending of garments and gnashing of teeth but now I’m completely comfortable with a 1/2 cup serving of cottage cheese when I formerly could’ve downed an entire tub in under a minute. Mmm… cottage cheese. Where was I?
The Foods We Ate
I’ve always enjoyed cooking but had become kind of lazy the last few years. It seemed easier to order Thai from the place across the street than to make anything homemade. Once we committed to getting healthy, cooking seemed to be the only consistent way to monitor exactly what we were taking in. Going to a restaurant and ordering grilled chicken with a side of broccoli might sound harmless but unless you specify, it’s likely that your meal contains more sodium, fat and sugar than you’d use if you were preparing it at home. So we went to the grocery store. We wandered the aisles, we threw a few standards in the cart, we bickered over brown vs. white rice, we cooked some pretty boring meals and I pouted. Then a wonderful thing happened: I turned to the internet.
There are a zillion chefs, cooks, bloggers and pinners out there who made our new healthy lifestyle so much happier. They created recipes that were low-calorie, low sodium and low sugar that tasted delicious!! I got more creative and comfortable in the kitchen, I actually looked forward to our meals instead of dreading them and I found foods that filled me up without breaking the calorie bank! Hallelujah! Here’s a brief rundown of the criteria I used when searching for recipes.
Carbohydrates: brown rice, quinoa, some cous cous, oatmeal, whole wheat/veggie/high fiber pasta (my favorite is Ronzoni Smart Taste because it’s low-calorie and tastes like real pasta instead of like paste)
Dairy: Greek yogurt (I cannot live without a tub of this in the fridge – use instead of mayo or sour cream, put it in smoothies, eat for breakfast, mix with peanut butter for a delicious snack with fruit. I could go on for hours), 1% milk (I think it’s worth the extra 20 calories a cup because it fills me up so much more than skim), cottage cheese, Neuchâtel (in moderation and in place of heavy cream for pasta sauces)
Fruits: tangerines, apples, grapes, berries, bananas (bananas hurt my stomach but Christian likes them and found them to be quite filling), pineapple, pears, plums, you really can’t go wrong with fresh fruits. I usually keep a bag of frozen berries on hand for smoothies, too (look for ones that are just plain ol’ berries, not the smoothie kits because they usually have extra sugar)
Vegetables: endless possibilities. The only thing we really stayed away from was white or yellow potatoes. We eat sweet potatoes constantly, butternut, acorn and spaghetti squashes are all incredibly versatile, pumpkin (canned, plain), kale, spinach, asparagus, peppers, mushrooms, anything really. Have fun, experiment and use whatever’s in season! I’ve always keep onions, garlic, green onions and a few peppers on hand to add low-calorie flavor.
Other: I’m not sure where to put these things but they bear mentioning. Lentils, black beans, Luna bars (for snacks), Truvia, agave nectar, coconut oil, honey and lots of sriracha
How We Planned
It became quite apparent from Day 1 that figuring out what to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner on-the-fly was not going to fly. If I didn’t have a plan, I’d “accidentally” order two meals from Chick-Fil-A with two different drinks (so the cashier would think they were for two different people) and wolf them both down. This new lifestyle had to come with some structure. Each Sunday, I sit down with Pinterest and come up with 4-5 meals I want to make. Christian and I created a shared calendar so we know what’s for dinner every night of the week. We’ll pick our recipes and plan what to cook based on our other activities. For example: if I’ve got plans with friends on Wednesday night, we’ll have something quick and simple like a tossed salad topped with the best chicken ever. If I’ve got a free night, I can whip up something a little more time-consuming.
We make a shopping list and buy all the groceries for the week. We always make at least 4 servings of everything: a serving each for dinner and a serving each for lunch the next day. It takes all the guess-work out of making a game-time decision and since I can’t stand the thought of wasting food, I’m much more likely to cook and eat what I’ve already purchased. And if I’m not in the mood for Thai soup on Tuesday? No problem. I can swap it out for Thursday’s chicken curry without running to the store at 6 p.m.
Added bonus: saving money! SInce we eat most of our meals together, we split groceries 50/50. I can purchase enough food for the two of us to have three meals a day (plus snacks) for 5 days (there are always leftovers) for an average of $65 a week. That’s a little over $2 per person, per meal. I don’t think you could feed one of Sally Struthers’ kids for that.
This was a rough adjustment for me. I’m going to devote a separate post to this beast because it was probably the bumpiest part of the road. Suffice it to say, it’s a necessary evil.
make a goal, create a framework, plan ahead, move dat ass