The word “diet” has become synonymous with torture. Deprivation. Punishment.
We go on a diet, try fad diets, and ultimately blow our diets. It doesn’t have to be this way. On a rudimentary level, our diet is simply what we eat. Whatever you eat on any random day of the week is your diet. Your diet may be sort of healthy, or nothing that could remotely pass for healthy. Regardless, if you consume food (and I would imagine that you do) you are “on a diet”.
Nutrition is about 50% of the healthy-diet-and-exercise touted as being necessary for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. (That’s my mad math skills coming into play there.) We’re not talking about achieving athlete status here– we’re just looking to get to a point where we’re comfortable with the body we’re living in while on earth.
If you’re anything like me, you wish there was a perfect diet that you could adopt, one that would make you feel like you’re not depriving yourself, doesn’t require you to make a separate meal for your kids and husband who turn up their noses at the fit fare, and almost practically prepare itself by first automatically jumping into your grocery cart and then onto your plate at meal times. Sorry to disappoint, but that diet doesn’t actually exist. Believe me. I’ve looked high and low. I’ve begged and bartered. It ain’t out there.
I’ll just be honest– I’m intimidated by dieting. And I’m really bad at it. I know a lot of people who are into the Paleo thing. I think it’s great. It makes sense. It’s natural, God-made foods. But as a working single mom, it requires more preparation than boxed mac-n-cheese and canned corn on a Tuesday night. Then there’s the points thing– which is great, I know it works, I’ve lost weight on that. But I can’t commit to attending meetings every week. And while I may have dazzled you with my math skills earlier in this article, I’m really not a fan of calculating points or calories.
Really what it boils down to is self-control. I have it, but it’s very selective. And it generally flies out the door when there is anything remotely sweet within arms-reach. Somehow, Red Vines and ice cream keep jumping into my grocery cart. (Not the healthy stuff. I’m not sure why it works that way.) Making a drastic overhaul in my diet (what I eat) is more than my busy life can handle. However, I have been able to adopt a few common sense changes to my diet to help me move closer to my healthier lifestyle goals.
1. Cut Back on Sugar
Several years ago I decided to stop putting little packets of sweetener in my coffee and started using real sugar instead. It’s so much healthier that way. Except that in less than 30 days, I had gone through an entire 5-pound bag of sugar. All by myself. Just with coffee. Major eye-opener. If you’re using little packets of sugar or sweetener, you may not realize just how much sugar you’re actually using. I switched to stevia for a while, but in the past few weeks, I’ve ditched the sugar in my coffee altogether. I still use organic vanilla flavored half-n-half which has sugar in it, but I’ve grown to enjoy this less sweet version of my morning cup of joe.
Sugar is in just about everything, so I’ve been more diligent about checking labels. My kids know that we don’t get cereal that has more than 9 grams of sugar per serving (which is still a lot of sugar, but there are just a handful of cereals that fall into that category).
Keep in mind that there is a lot of sugar in foods that are healthy. Fruit contains a lot of healthy sugars, but it’s still sugar. In addition to giving you calories that your body may or may not burn, it feeds that insatiable sweet tooth. Start looking at fruit as a dessert, rather than as a main course or side dish. Reward yourself with a banana rather than ice cream and you’ll save yourself oodles of calories.
2. Eat More Real Food
Some friends recently went to rural China to visit some missionary friends of theirs. For the two weeks they were there, they didn’t see a single box of Hamburger Helper. Everything was fresh. Granted, some of it was dog meat, but it was all fresh and seasonal.
I’m not going to harp on you about how organic is best. I think we can all agree that in a perfect world we could all afford organic sweet potatoes or grow our own in our back yards. We don’t all have time or money to invest in the best food that money can buy. I have three growing boys who will likely eat me out of house and home within the next few years. Again, we’re not striving for perfection here– just improvement.
Prepackaged foods contain so much sugar and salt– much more than your body needs. There are some great cookbooks out there that can help you prepare easy meals for your family using real foods. One that I particularly like is the Six O’clock Scramble, which is separated by season so you can use fresh, seasonal produce. And the recipes are quick, easy, and fool proof.
3. Drink More Water
You knew this was coming. This is one of those things included on every list of diet and exercise tips. Why would that be, I wonder? Oh, I dunno. Maybe because it’s true!
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: our bodies are made up of mostly water. Every day living depletes our bodies of water. Our bodies can’t function properly (including digesting food and moving it through our system) without adequate water. Nicer skin. Healthier bowels. Dehydration zaps energy. Need I go on?
There’s absolutely no down side to drinking more water. At least 24 ounces a day. I’ve gotten into the habit of grabbing my coffee cup in the morning, and filling it with water before filling it with coffee. Guzzle that bad boy down and BOOM! 12 ounces done!
You can also read my previous post here to find out about the many healthy benefits of adding fresh-squeezed lemon to your water.
4. Throw Away Food
As a new mommy, I remember listening to some more seasoned mommies talking about trying to avoid their second and third meals– eating the food that the little ones left behind. At the time, I couldn’t imagine doing this, because my little guy did a number on the food on his plate, and whatever was left was not edible. The mommies assured me that this would change. And it did.
It’s okay to throw away that 1/3 of a hot dog that didn’t get eaten. You’re not obligated to polish off the last few bites of pancakes. It’s bewildering to find half a piece of cake sitting on the table, abandoned, but the earth will not stop rotating on its axis if you allow it to rest in the trash rather than on your thighs. You see, our kids instinctively know something we’ve forgotten– it’s okay to stop eating when your tummy is full.
At some point we forget this, and try shoving as much food into our pie holes as we possibly can, leaving us feeling painfully bloated and guilt-ridden. (Maybe it’s just me.) It’s okay to stop eating when you’ve had enough. It’s okay to have half a serving, to ask for a doggie bag at the restaurant, to not eat the kids’ leftovers from meals. I have a friend who brought our family a key lime pie one evening. Her husband and kids were out of town, and she’d had a hankering for key lime pie. So she bought one, had one slice to satisfy her craving, then passed the rest of the pie on to our family. (I might point out here that this particular friend is quite fit.) If it’d been me craving a pie, I’d have eaten half the thing for dinner, and another quarter for breakfast. Old me. That would be old me. I think…
5. Plan to Cheat
My mom took my tweedles and I out to dinner one night, and the boys piped up and told the waiter it was my birthday, which is was. The waiter said that I could have a complimentary slice of cake. I asked him to give it to me to go, and I stuck it in the freezer when I got home, so I could save it for my cheat day.
Pick a day of the week where the healthy eating plan is in remission, and you get to eat what you want. It seems counter-productive, but it’s actually one of the best ways to help keep you on your healthy eating plan. I wanted that chocolate cake. If I had declined it, I would have felt like I was depriving myself of something. I can decline the cookies my boss brings to work on Mondays, because I know that on Saturday I get to eat whatever I want. My kids know that Saturday is my cheat day, and if I start to eat something unhealthy, Demolition Man is usually the first to speak up, “Mom! It’s not your cheat day!” Nothing like having a 9-year old conscience.
And quite frankly, I forgot all about that chocolate cake for a couple of weeks. It was there. I hadn’t deprived myself. It was available if I wanted it. But my thinking is (finally) starting to change. It’s only taken 40 years.