Monthly Archives: May 2015

6 Rules for a Healthy Lifestyle

It has occurred to me… or really, it slowly crept on me, that by logging my food every day and striving for the perfect calorie goal, I am simply trading one obsession for another. I either compulsively over-eat or I obsessively diet, accepting nothing but black and white. Logging works great for most people. Logging worked well for me initially.. I just wonder if maybe logging my food has caused a mental rift in my mind between “good” and “bad” foods and “good” or “bad” days.

It’s like I believe that my nature is inherently always gravitating to the “bad.” My knee jerk reaction is to make the days I don’t log the ones where I frantically, excitedly, guiltily scramble to fit in every “bad” food I have been missing over the past few weeks of meticulous calculating and logging everything I ingest.

I made the decision to learn to eat better without logging during this past week. I was having a conversation with my roommates at the dinner table about my habits, my likes, my dislikes, and my overeating issues. One of my roommates, who has always been able to think of just about anything objectively, suggested that I attempt to wean off of logging and look at food as just food. The suggestion was appalling at first; “Logging works,” I thought, “There’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken.”

His suggestion planted itself like a seed in my mind and grew until I realized that my goal was never to be so obsessed with losing weight. My goal was to learn healthy habits, to get to my goal weight, and to look the way I wanted. It occurred to me that my logging obsession is just as mentally unhealthy for me as overeating is for my body. An unhealthy mind cannot make a healthy body. My solution was to utilize something I learned from a class for adoptive and foster parents that I had to take for my job. In order to run an orderly household, parents need to make clear, concise, simple rules that govern the household, such as “be kind,” “be respectful,” and “be honest.” I needed to make rules like these for my lifestyle so that I could simplify it rather than over-complicating it with numbers and figures.

1.) Only eat when hungry. This is a habit that logging completely broke me of doing. I got into a groove with logging that led me to believe that I should eat every 2-3 hours on the dot and that I should eat only what fit into my macros. While this is effective for some, I lost some of my ability to recognize hunger signals and deal with hankerings for random food items by replacing them with healthier options. The result is that on days when I didn’t log, I ate whatever I damn well pleased because that’s what I felt like having. This does not lend to a healthy lifestyle throughout. I can’t only be healthy when I log; I need to be making healthier choices all the time. I’m trying to create a lifestyle, not a cage.

2.) Try to keep each meal under 500 calories (estimated). Eating smaller meals as a guideline helps with portion control and allows me to spread my calories out over a long day at work. Since I’ve been logging for so long, I know what most of the foods I have been eating lately contain as far as protein and calories. This also keeps me from trying to meet a calorie goal for each day and gives me some flexibility. I may only feel like eating 1,000 calories one day but feel like eating 2,300 the next day and have all the energy for a workout.

3.) Eliminate as much sugar as possible. I know that sugar is the enemy, you know that sugar is the enemy, but we still eat a lot of sugar in our coffee, in snacks, and in sauces because it’s freaking delicious. It also causes cravings and helps our bodies to retain fat, so it has to go. As I let go of the logging process, I want to try to replace sweet food items that I normally would have eaten, especially at the end of the day, with something just a bit less sweet but still satisfying. I’ve also been trying to steadily drink my coffee just a little bit darker each day so that I can eliminate the daily use of sugar in my coffee as well. Sugar is a trigger for me, and I have avoided eliminating its evil from my life for too long.

4.) Get a fruit or vegetable on every plate. This rule follows my sugar rule because fruits and veggies have fiber that help break down sugar more slowly and help with digestion. Not only that, but a fruit or veggie with each meal can help me feel full longer, give me essential nutrients, and gives me a reason to try new things. Whether I slap spinach on a turkey burger, avocado on my scrambled eggs, or replace pretzels with carrots, getting something colorful on each plate encourages healthier habits and a healthier body.

5.) Drink a lot of water. I carry a 32oz bottle of water with me all day long, drink about two of those, and then have another couple of glasses of water at dinner. Some days I drink more than others, especially if I’ve been sweating a lot in the gym. Water is the magical elixir of life. Just drink it.

6.) Forgive yourself and move on. If I had a particularly rough day with food choices, no one is going to know it but me, regardless of how fat, sluggish, and gross I feel. No one can tell that you just ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in 5 seconds flat just by looking at you. Put it behind you, make your next meal a healthy one, drink lots of water, and just get over it. Move on.

Maybe it’s just my recent interest in yoga talking, my nervous anticipation about being ridiculously busy with graduate school beginning this summer, or maybe I’m just having a moment of clarity, but this is what I have always wanted. I have always wanted to forget that food is the enemy and realize that food is power. Food is fuel, but food is not an emotional dam for my anxiety or disappointment. For the next couple of months, I expect to be more aware of my body and its signals. I don’t expect to lose a lot of weight. If I do, that’s great, but I think that the most important makeover that needs to happen for me is in my mind.

I am hoping that by forming a more friendly relationship with food and with my body that the rest will fall into line later. Here’s to hoping.

Learning to Read Nutrition Labels: 5 Tips for Choosing Healthier Foods

When I first began losing weight, I had little to no food education. I just knew that “bad” foods made me fat and “good” foods helped me lose weight. For a couple of months, I ate all the same foods I was familiar with and just ate less of those foods. Over time, I realized that certain foods kept me fuller and had less calories, allowing me to eat more. This realization took only a few months. After this, I started to think more critically about food and its nutritional value. I enrolled in a nutrition class at college, and what I learned completely blew me away.

Agricultural corporations just want your money; they don’t give even two shits about your health and they will pay and/or threaten whoever is in the way to continue deceptively labeling your food so that you buy a brand instead of food items with nourishing ingredients.

This is going to be a sort of long post because I want to give the low down dirty business on food labeling and how to translate food labels. Food labels have their own language, guidelines, and rules, and it’s extremely important that those who wish to be healthier understand what all the evasive language, alternative names for ingredients, and unmentioned daily values really mean for our bodies.

1.) Low-fat or low sodium means it’s high in other buzzword nutrients or harmful chemicals… or BOTH! Food that is low in sodium, low in fat, and low in sugar does not appeal to the typical American’s taste buds, so companies advertise products as “low-fat” so that you’ll think it’s good for you when it’s really loaded with salt or sugar to help it taste better. Processed foods are notorious for this kind of trickery in advertising. Avoid foods that boast being low in any “buzzword” nutrients.

2.) Sugar can be named literally dozens of ways. FDA guidelines require ingredients to be listed from most to least. Fitspiring people generally don’t want to buy products that have sugar in the first few ingredients because it’s one of the most harmful ingredients in our food. What do food companies do about this? They alter the way they report the sugar in the food you’re eating. Sugar can be called things like “agave nectar,” “blackstrap molasses,” or “barley malt.” This tricks you into thinking there’s less sugar in the food you’re choosing.

3.) Sugar is a carb, but the FDA doesn’t require it’s percent daily value to be labeled separately. On any food label, sugar is listed under the carbohydrate category. The food label gives the percent daily value of carbohydrates, but the percent daily value of sugar is not required to be printed on the label. How is this harmful? If a food item has 8g of carbohydrates (3% daily value) and all 8g of those carbohydrates are sugar (just over 33% daily value) then you’re being led to believe that you’ve only consumed 3% of your daily sugar intake because sugar is just a carb, right?

4.) Chances are that your protein bar has more sugar than protein in it. When trying to help my not-so-health-obsessed boyfriend pick out a granola bar for breakfast, I took him to the breakfast aisle and told him that he could not buy any granola bar with less protein than sugar. Whey protein or soy protein taste is most easily covered by sugar. We found ONE box in the whole breakfast aisle that had more protein than sugar. Astounding! The same goes for protein shakes.

5.) The fewer ingredients, the better. In all, foods that have a short ingredient list, foods that don’t require nutrition labels (like vegetables and fruits), and foods that don’t have commercials are going to be the best foods for you. Try replacing one item at dinner, like your pre-packaged macaroni shells, with a food that has no commercial.

Just keep in mind that simple is better all the time. When in doubt, make it yourself so that you know exactly what’s in your food. Do you find logging your recipes difficult? MyFitnessPal has a function on their app that allows you to manually input all the ingredients you used in your meal and compile it into an entry for you! They even save it for later.

Keep in mind that these are things I learned over a long period of time. They don’t happen overnight, and they won’t be knee-jerk reactions as soon as you read them. Just as we learned unhealthy habits from childhood until now from our friends, family, and advertising, we must unlearn them. Just try to make one healthy choice at a time and add on when you feel like you’ve mastered it.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sneaky Sugar is the Enemy!

Sugar is a substance that causes cravings, encourages the storage of visceral fat, and is 8 times more addictive than cocaine. Companies that sell products with added sugar and high fructose corn syrup want you to believe that fat and salt are the main causes of weight gain, but that’s simply not true. Companies like these encourage us to “get up and move,” but they would never encourage us to eat less sugar because that affects their profits. If you want to learn more about sugar and how it’s killing America, check out Fed Up, a documentary featuring some of my favorite foodies and narrated by Katie Couric. It’s on Netflix! Be prepared to get enraged.

Check out the trailer here:

The average American woman should not consume more than 6 teaspoons (25g) of sugar per day, and the average American man should not consume more than 9 teaspoons (37.5g) of sugar per day (AuthorityNutrition). Daily, the average American unwittingly consumes 19 teaspoons of sugar per day. Added sugar is hiding everywhere, even in our ketchup, because it tastes great and it’s cheap. It’s the easiest, most cost effective way for brands to grab our taste buds’ attention and keep it. Currently, sugar is one of the only nutrients not required by the FDA to be quantified by a percent daily average on food labels. Deceptive labeling (as well as the fact that sugar can be called just about anything, such as agave nectar, barley malt, and blackstrap molasses) can trick Americans into eating more sugar.

Ge-Seedy-Crackers-Nutrition-Label

http://www.keepitrealfoodcompany.com/our-products/seedy-crackers/

Sugar does not have to be harmful for us. In moderation, and with the right combination of nutrients, sugar can be great! Fruit contains natural sugar but also has fiber in its skin and pulp, which helps us to break down sugar more slowly; however, soft drinks, fruit juices, candies, baked goods, and foods labeled as “low-fat” or “low-sodium” contain copious amounts of sugar and should be avoided. The first step to avoiding added sugar is to read labels. Foods like granola bars, cereals, sauces, condiments, and juices that claim to be healthy are responsible for much of America’s unhealthy sugar intake. Start small by eliminating or replacing one high sugar food from your typical diet and continue improving from there.

Sugar is highly addictive, and I did have and STILL have a huge problem with it. It seems like one cookie or one slice of cake at a party sends me into a huge downward spiral of compulsive sugary eating. When I think back to how I got started, I remember feeling so ashamed for eating entire bags of Hershey kisses (which isn’t even that great tasting to begin with, just full of sugar) or for making an entire pint of ice cream disappear while eating television. Lately, I’ve become sort of a food activist who is looking more closely at the marketing and psychology of the habits I’ve formed. I’ve been marketed to and prepared for this kind of lifestyle from early childhood until now. Not only that, but I grew up in the South where everything fried is standard and sweet tea is a staple.

The good news is that I have the power to reshape my habits and form my own ideas about what’s good food now. This past month, I made a bet with myself that I could eat healthy every single day, come in under my calorie goal, have minimal “treats,” and not miss a day of exercise. I did it. This weekend, I partied and had whatever I wanted to eat. It was delicious, but it was hard to bounce back from. However, after just one day back at my normal lifestyle of eating small meals with low sugar, I realize that I have formed some wonderful eating habits over the past 4 years.

That fact, over all else, makes this whole journey worth it. Do I care that I have loose skin or that I’m STILL 25 lbs away from my goal weight? Sure. Yeah, that bugs me sometimes, but you know what? I’m physically healthier and more fit than a lot of the skinny minnies who walk into the gym with me. Most importantly, I can run circles around the old me. The old me couldn’t even run.

What is my advice to those attempting to create healthier lifestyles? Take one item in your typical diet like soda or high-sugar granola bars and eliminate it or replace it with something lower in sugar. Even without watching calorie intake, a change to eliminate sugar should catalyze fat loss. Try it!

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

For the month of April, I made a promise to myself that I’d make it through all the emotions and turmoil I knew I’d be surrounded by during the first anniversary of my dad’s death. I knew that the month would be hard and that emotional eating would be possible. I vowed to use my color coded calendar to track my eating and exercise habits. I wanted to make every single day of April green, meaning that I got all my exercise in and did not go over my calorie goal each day. Well, I DID IT. As an incentive, I put a deposit down to get a tattoo on the last day of the month as a reward for my dedication. I didn’t lose any weight during this period of time; in fact, I gained three pounds, but I did lose about half a pant size. I primarily lifted weights throughout the entire month and did heavier cardio if I wanted a treat but had to earn it. The month was a huge journey for me emotionally and physically. I made progress on my physique and fitness levels, which was surely my primary goal, but I also gained some perspective on how to deal with emotional eating and the language I use when I talk to myself about my fitness goals. I learned to use more positive language and a “can do” attitude when I self-talk internally. Instead of saying to myself, “I can’t…” I would say, “I don’t/won’t.” This changes my perspective from being deprived to being empowered by my food and exercise choices. Instead of saying, “I should… go run or lift,” I said, “I will.”

Yesterday, I got a tattoo that is important to me because it has been my mantra throughout my entire fitness journey. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I go to the gym twice a day more often than not, and I’m surrounded by a lot of different kinds of people there. Some are skinny, some are not. Some are fit, and some are not. I made an unhealthy habit of comparing myself and my journey to the physiques and lifestyles of people who had nothing in common with me except for one thing: the desire to be better today than we were yesterday. I would allow my envy for the girl who could run marathons or the guy who could do twenty unassisted pull ups to consume me with jealousy and poisonous anger, preventing me from fulfilling my ultimate goal of becoming better every time I hit the gym. We can’t choose the conditions or genetic pools into which we are born, but we CAN control how we respond to the hand we’ve been dealt. Resilience. Even though I’m nowhere close to where I’d like to be, I am stronger, faster, and healthier than I have ever been. The only person I should be competing with is me. 

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It is not yet finished because it was quite detailed and in a tender spot, so we’re finishing the color in about a month. Overall, I’m ecstatic about how it’s looking. It’s absolutely perfect, and he really captured what I was thinking when I asked him to design it.

I was completely unaware that when I set out to meet my goals consistently for the entire month that I would also gain so much understanding and self-reflective knowledge. I understand more thoroughly how I function under emotional stress, such as the anniversary of my dad’s death. I met all my health and fitness goals on that day. I got up early to work out, knowing that I would be going to his grave later in the day. I cried. I was upset, but I also learned to channel my sadness into both my workout and into creativity. I made a beautiful wreath to take to his grave.

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I really didn’t expect this month to be so emotionally and mentally rewarding. I was expecting to be miserable, worn out, and depressed. Instead, I feel empowered, strong, and capable. Resilience is a funny thing.