Deep philosophical questions like the one in my title are what I aim to answer in this blog. And sadly, I am here to say that protein shakes do not appear to bring any kind of man at all to the yard. Anyway, as promised in my last post, I am going to talk a little about how I managed to take off (and keep off so far!) 170 lbs. I was going to make this one post with everything (nutrition AND exercise AND support systems), but it was just too much. I’ll just talk about nutrition today. There’s a lot of stuff I could tell you (and will tell you) about nutrition and so forth, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I owe my success to one key principle: moderation. I have never, ever been able to master this idea for weight loss, or really any other area of my life either. I would either be making a permanent butt indention in my couch with my hand crammed in a bag of Cheetos or I would be manically exercising and subsisting on lettuce. There was no in between. But this time when I decided to lose weight, I knew that there absolutely had to be an in between in order for me to be successful. It was so important to me that I when I decided to chronicle my journey in a blog, I named it The Space in Between All or Nothing. So yeah, I eat right and exercise around 90% of the time. But the other 10%? That’s reserved for whatever I want, and if what I want is cheesecake once in a blue moon, that’s totally okay.
So food. Important stuff. Can’t live without it. Here’s the thing: I aim to eat a pretty clean diet, but I’m also somewhat lazy. I’m not going to go search out weird stuff. I want to be able to go to Food Lion and usually find what I need. My rule of thumb is pretty much that if I can’t pronounce some ingredient on a box, I shouldn’t be eating it. And speaking of boxes, I generally try to stay away from them (I mean food in a box; I don’t have some weird box phobia or anything). No crazy diet food either. I stick to the outer edge of the grocery store: meats, dairy, produce, whole grains. In the beginning of my weight loss journey, I got completely overwhelmed by all the food ideas that were being thrown at me. It looked something like this:
Haha, that was actually a picture I took for when I auditioned for The Biggest Loser. But I slowly figured out what worked for me. In my former life, I used my kitchen solely for the microwave to warm up fast food, but now I actually cook. I would love to share some recipes later, but right now I’ll just share some of my staples:
Meat: chicken breasts (yes, that diet stereotype is very true), tuna, extra lean ground beef, turkey sausage, turkey breast, Canadian bacon (for my breakfast sandwiches)
Dairy: Greek yogurt (all the time, every day, in everything…I’m completely obsessed), string cheese, Laughing Cow cheese wedges, low fat cottage cheese (another diet cliche, but seriously, it fills you up and the protein amount is insane), chocolate almond milk (great after a workout or in smoothies). And my favorite dairy product: eggs. I love them in omelets, and hard-boiled, or pretty much really any way at all. Low calorie and high protein…what’s not to like?
Grains: I am all about some carbs, ya’ll. I eat Nature’s Own Double Fiber Bread, light English muffins (for breakfast sandwiches), Flat Out wraps, oatmeal (steel-cut, in the crockpot so I can make enough for awhile), and quinoa. I’ll admit it, I haven’t sold my family on the quinoa yet, but I’m pretty into it.
This category is where my most distressing nutritional habit lies. Microwave popcorn. Here’s the thing: you can eat an entire bag for about 140 calories. But the chemicals and crap inside that bag that get on the popcorn are really distressing. I have tried cleaner versions of popcorn, because it really is a good snack. It’s not the same. I’m cutting back because I honestly don’t want all that stuff in my body, but it’s hard!
Vegetables: To be perfectly honest, it was way harder for me to incorporate more veggies in my diet than fruit. So like a mom tricking her picky eater kid, I sometimes sneak it in. I get a ton of spinach in every day by blending it in my fruit smoothies. I promise you, while it does make the smoothie a somewhat unappetizing green color, you really can’t taste it. I can’t say the same for kale though. I eat salads almost every night with dinner, and throw in as many peppers, cucumbers, and mushrooms as I can. Sweet potatoes, avocados, squash, and zucchini are other favorites. But the thing that I am absolutely obsessed with, the thing that I could eat pretty much every single day, is mashed cauliflower. No, contrary to many claims, it does not taste like mashed potatoes. It just doesn’t. But it is delicious all on its own. I steam it, put in in the food processor, add a couple Laughing Cow cheese wedges and some salt and pepper, blend it up, and shove it in my piehole. So awesome.
You may notice the absence of tomatoes on this list. This is because I can’t stand tomatoes. I have tried to like them because I know all their many health benefits, but I just can’t. My hatred of tomatoes dates pretty much from birth. Oddly enough, I love everything to do with tomatoes (tomato sauce, ketchup, even cooked tomatoes), but I can’t stand a raw tomato. And yes, I do know a tomato is technically a fruit, but I chose to put it with the vegetables because that’s how I roll.
Fruit: Fruit can be deceptive. I mean, veggies, you can usually pretty much eat as much as you want and be fine calorie-wise, but fruit, you have to watch out. It can add up. Especially bananas! I try to stick to the lower calorie kinds, in particular strawberries (my favorite!), blueberries, plums, cantaloupe, apples, clementine oranges, and pineapple (higher in calories and sugar, but I love it).
Random crap: Stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else, like almonds. I know you have to be careful with nuts because they’re pretty high in calories, but they are very filling (high protein!) and portable. And though I know they have pretty much no nutritional value, I love low sugar Fudgecicles. Yes, they have ingredients I can’t pronounce. Yes, they do come in a box. But this is where the moderation comes in. They’re not the best things, but they’re not the worst either. You can have two for 80 calories and feel like you had a treat, so I say it’s worth it. Same goes for Edy’s Fruit Bars (although they’re a bit better since they actually do have fruit in them). And finally PB2. For those not familiar with it, it’s powdered peanut butter with a bunch of the fats and oils of regular peanut butter taken out, so it’s only 45 calories for a serving. Personally, I didn’t enjoy it as a substitute for just eating peanut butter like on celery or something, but it’s really great in smoothies.
So that’s the stuff I usually have in my pantry on a daily basis. For many months, I kept myself at around 1200 calories a day. Then I hit the mother of all plateaus. I just could not lose weight, no matter what I did. I suspected that I was actually eating too few calories for someone with my activity level, but me being me and unable to trust my instinct sometimes, I decided to consult a nutritionist. She confirmed my hunch. She said with the amount of running I was doing, at the very least I should be eating 1600 calories day. I understood the science behind it, about your metabolism slowing down if you don’t get enough calories, but convincing my stubborn mind of this fact was another matter entirely. She also taught me that the ratio of carbohydrates to fat to protein was important too. So now I track protein and fat and carbohydrates, as well as calories, and aim to eat 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. It sounds like a lot to track, but it’s pretty easy using an app on my phone. It even does handy pie graphs! Writing down everything I eat has been really key to helping me lose weight. I always write it down, good or bad. Like even that gigantic slice of ice cream cake on my birthday, even though I really didn’t want to know the calories on that one. Here’s some of my favorite meals lately:
Changing things up and increasing my calories completely broke my plateau, and I am so glad I got the help of a nutritionist (even more glad that it counts as preventive on my health insurance, so I pay nothing and can go as often as I want!). She also gave me some really great clean recipes that also have easy to find ingredients. Sometimes the little tweaks make a big difference. I truly use food as fuel now, instead of as a way to numb my feelings. Of course, I still have days where eating a couple cheeseburgers seems like a good way to cope with a problem, but I don’t beat myself up about having thoughts like that. I probably will always have thoughts like that every now and then, because I will always be a recovering emotional eater. And that’s really okay. It’s how I choose to react and deal with those thoughts that matters.