Here are the benefits I got from eating healthier and the struggles that came with it. Most importantly you'll see the way I accomplished it. Our dietary habits are often in our control. Because of this, we should all be our own experts when it comes to the food we put in our mouths. Along the way I'll share tips for making this happen. It's real a challenge. I almost feel like I was breaking up with a girlfriend over the food I couldn't eat.
I had no clue where to start. Off I went to the Internet. I started by searching diets and meal plans but of a lot of the suggestions were too Beverly Hills for me. I'm not a much of a cook so it had to be something I could do myself. I came up with my own plan.
• Eat foods with as few ingredients as possible while staying away from bread, rice, pasta, and sweets.
Make sure to check with you doctor before you try something for yourself. To give you a better idea of what I ate for 30 days, I took a picture of my meals and snacks. Warning. It's not very glamorous. For the first week I'll share a calorie journal and diary. After that I'll focus more on what I'm eating and anything that may have stood out to me.
I consider myself a run-of-the-mill guy. I'm far from being an athlete or a chef. I do have a full time job, a wife, and four kids. Somehow I had to fit a better diet into my routine. I always told myself "I'll eat better...tomorrow". Then I had the follow up to a routine check up. Que devastation. My doctor told me my blood sugar was high. Too much rice, pasta, bread, and sweets had made me pre-diabetic.
Knowing weight can be a factor in diabetes, I pulled up the height and weight standards for the US Army (shown in the 4th picture). I needed some kind of reference for where I was at. According to the chart I was within the minimum and maximum range. So what gives? I guess I can thank genetics. Either way I already thought it was time to get healthier. So I'll take this as the motivation to get those elusive six pack abs (still elusive).
The following week I began keeping track of everything I ate and excluded the typical bad stuff. My goal was to eat under 1,500 calories a day until I lost 20 pounds (and throw in the occasional exercise). This would put me right in the middle of the minimum and maximum acceptable weight range on the Army Chart. After that it was a matter of getting fit and staying there.
My first week wasn't as tough as I thought it would be. It was a challenge but, doable. I noticed the discipline I used to make healthier food choices was spilling over into other aspects of my life. Once I saw that my life, in general, was getting better I had more motivation to keep going. It worked. I lowered those bad levels and my doctor was proud of me.
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Step 1: Getting Started
What is my food's health value? I found out very quickly that food is just like a trip to the store. You go thinking to spend less then $10 but when you leave, your receipt says $40. If you don't realize how fast calories add up, eating toward a healthier goal will be much more difficult.
I started with no idea of how much the food I eating was worth. When I was hungry, I ate. I ate whatever was convenient. I never looked at any labels. I ate whatever the family was eating. All this had to change. Here are some tips.
• Set a goal. My goal was to be the average weight for my height and age according to Army standards. You can find this chart in the intro to this instructable.
• Make a spread sheet. For me, knowing the value of food was a good starting point. I made a spread sheet with the different values of each food. I rounded calories to make it easy for me to track. For example, an egg is 78 calories. I would round it up to 80. At the end of the day I would reference this sheet to add up all my calories.
• Plan ahead. This is huge. If you don't plan ahead you'll eat whatever is convenient. Convenience does not always equal healthy. It's also tough to gauge how many calories you're eating if you don't exactly know the ingredients.
• Stop grazing. This if a tough one, especially if you have kids. For example, I'll heat up a bunch of chicken nuggets for the kids and eat one as I make their plates. Or, I'll eat the slice of pizza my daughter didn't eat on her plate. Stay strong! Don't do it! Know what you're going to eat and stick with it.
• Watch the salt. Don't trade sugar for salt. I noticed I was trying to fill the gap left from sugar with salt. You'll have to adjust (see next step).
• Reward yourself. I don't mean with food. For me, I printed out a calendar and got a small sheet of stickers. If I made my goal of only eating 1,500 caloriesI would get my 5 year old daughter and have her pick out a sticker to place on that day. She loved doing it and was my biggest cheer leader. If I was within 100 calories, I got half a sticker. It was a fun thing I looked forward to.
Step 2: Change Your Relationship With Food
For me, I want to use food primarily for maintaining health. However, I often use it for other purposes. It helped to pay attention to the real reason I was eating. Even more, I paid attention to why I was eating a particular kind of food.
Why are you eating?
Sometimes we just don't want to answer to anyone but ourselves. And so, we eat whatever we want, whenever we want. But are you hungry? Or are you just eating Thin Mints to feel like your own boss?
Tired of sitting at your desk? Or just passing through the kitchen. Be careful not to associate taking a break with eating junk food. Don't wind up in the pantry just because you were near it.
Food is my favorite thing to meet over. I have to be careful not to over-associate friendship with food. My wife also pointed out that I like to show love with food.
When I worked the paper side of construction I would come in from the field and go strait to the office refrigerator. Everyday I'd eat an ice cream bar. Sometimes two. Before I knew it I gained 10 pounds. I ate those treats because they tasted good, not because I was hungry.
Step 3: Adjust Your Point of Reference
It's pretty amazing how quickly our bodies adapt to something. Getting used to eating healthier does have a transition period. For me it was about two weeks. I'll use juice as an example. I used to drink it all the time. For the entire 30 days though, the vast majority of what I drank was water. When I had anything other that water, the taste was overpowering. Here are some things to keep in mind.
• Serving size
My serving size has always been "as much I want". I wasn't to surprised that I was actually eating multiple servings. What surprised me was how many calories came with those servings. Just take a look at the labels.
Processed foods contain a lot of different ingredients to enhance flavors. When you cut out these extra chemicals, you'll notice big time. Many things will taste bland at first. Give it a chance. Eventually, you acquire a new frame of reference for flavors.
• Empty stomach vs full stomach
We often eat until we are full or until we have and empty plate. The key is to pay attention to when we are satisfied, not full. Once you recognize how much your're supposed to eat, based of of caloric intake, you'll develop a new definition of "full".
Sometime you're just thirsty. Don't confuse it with hunger. You'd be surprised how many empty calories you can avoid by just downing a glass of water.
• Food appeal
I love all things baked. It's always been easy for me to notice this type of food. When I see it, I want it. I had to remind myself that those kind of things are "not real food". At least not for me.
I realized this after a couple weeks. Where did all the crunchy stuff go? No surprise. Most crunchy things are junk food. I did find some vegetable chips that were a good substitute. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Step 4: Residual Benefits of Meal Planing
Knowing that other things are getting better will help drive you.
Eating healthy requires discipline, planning, and commitment. It just so happens that any other good accomplishment requires the same characteristics. Since eating is such a big part of life, there are plenty of chances to practice.
Here's one little victory for example. If you're standing at my sink there is a cabinet to the upper left-hand side. It's where all the sippy cups go. Over time the lids and cups became lost or mis-matched. Instead of pulling them all out and organizing them, I just bought more sippy cups. This cabinet became over-filled. Doing dishes eventually looked like the scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I would open the cabinet, throw in a cup, and slam it shut before gravity took over. This scene continued until I started eating healthy. Once I was able to resist foods I wanted, I was able to easily take on smaller challenges. And so, the sippy cups were organized.
The same kind of improvements happened for things like doing laundry and avoiding the snooze button on my alarm clock.
Step 5: Day 1. Here We Go.
Last night my daughter and I were going to make spaghetti for the rest of the family. I know I can't eat the noodles but I thought I could do something with the sauce and meat. My wife decided to go to the movies with the kids. I just saved the mushrooms that were going to go into the spaghetti sauce into a Tupperware container. They became part of my dinner for today.
130 - Almonds, 1/4 cup
100 - Apple, 1
50 - Babybel Light Cheese, 1
none (didn't feel like it)
20 - 2 Hand fulls of spinach
130 - Craisins, 1/4 cup
250 - Tuna patties, 3
100 - Honey mustard salad dressing
300 - Dry Roasted Chickpeas
200 - Lemon pepper chicken breast (I was full so I didn't finish it)
50 - Mushrooms (left a few of these on the plate too)
120 - Olive oil
Total for the day: 1450 Calories
Tuna patties: One can of tuna, 1/4 cup bread crumbs and 2 egg whites mixed and formed into patties. Cooked in a pan with 1 tbsp olive oil.
Chicken Breast: Rubbed with pre-made lemon pepper seasoning and baked in the oven. 420 degrees or 45 minutes.
Mushrooms: sauteed in a skillet with one tablespoon of olive oil.
Dry Roasted Chickpeas: Drain two cans of chickpeas and place them on a baking sheet. Season to taste. I like salt and cayenne pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Shake them around at 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave them in until the oven is cold.
4 miles rowing
Step 6: Day 2
I'm not very exited about eating mushrooms again but I have a goal and I don't want to waste food so I will. I did go to IN-N-OUT today. I thought I would feel sad about not eating a regular hamburger and fries but I was good. I genuinely thought to myself "my food taste good" so I was happy with that.
120 - Greek yogurt
100 - Banana
70 - Cup of sweet and salty popcorn*
40 - Onion
120 - Olive oil, 1 tbsp
80 - Half a box of mushrooms w/ 1/2 tbsp olive oil (left overs from yesterday)
230 - Chicken Breast
270 - Dry Roasted Chickpeas
480 - 2, In N Out hamburgers protein style (lettuce wrapped instead of bread).
0 - Water
Total for the day: 1510 Calories
* I was worried about the amount of sugar in the popcorn but it had less sugar then a banana. So, I felt less guilty.
Step 7: Day 3
Going on a trip today. Here comes some outdoor fun with hiking. I was in a hurry and didn't have a plan so I just grabbed a left over pork chop from the fridge during lunch. I had no idea that a pork chop had so many calories! Just goes to show how much I don't know and how "a failure to plan is a plan for failure". I was over by 130 calories today. Wish I could have eaten more than 3 ribs. I could have easily eaten at least half the rack.
240 - 3 Eggs
100 - 1/4 Cup of Parmesan cheese
50 - 1/2 Apple
30 - 1/3rd Banana
510 - Pork chop
130 - Almonds
50 - Babybel Cheese
340 - Pork Ribs (LLoyd's pre-cooked from the supermarket)
140 - Baked beans
40 - Mixed Veggies
Total for the day: 1630 Calories
Also: Treading water swimming with daughters
Step 8: Day 4
I was nervous about today. I was hiking with 2 of my kids and had to pack a lunch for all of us. Normally I would just eat a sandwich on the go but that would mean eating bread. So, I just rolled up some turkey and a slice of cheese. I really liked those oranges. I must of burned a million calories on that hike because after dinner I was still hungry. Thank you popcorn. During the hike I felt like I was getting energy from somewhere else.
240 - 3 Eggs
110 - 3 Turkey sausages
260 - Mixed nuts and raisins
80 - Colby Jack Cheese, 1 slice
80 - Turkey lunch meat, 5 thin slices
180 - 2 Oranges
260 - Wendy's Summer Berry Chicken Salad, Half size with berry vinaigrette.
80 - Cup of popcorn
Total for the day: 1280 Calories
4 mile hike
Step 9: Day 5
Big breakfast with the family. I wanted to load my plate up. I even made pancakes but, those were for the kids. I almost feel like I'm breaking up with a girlfriend over the food I can't eat. Easier said then done when it comes to changing your relationship with food.
240 - 3 Eggs
140 - Bacon, 2 slices
240 - Hash Browns
20 - Ketchup
160 - Mixed nuts and raisins
130 - Greek Yogurt
260 - Bratwurst
140- Sweet patato tater tots
10 - Bell pepper
20 - Onions
30 - Mushrooms
20 - Ketchup
30 - Raspberries
Total for the day: 1440
Step 10: Day 6
Today wasn't bad. Had breakfast for dinner. Wanted to load my plate up again but I knew I had to report to you at the end of the night so I stayed with the program. Plus at the end of this all the scale won't lie, I either trimmed down or I didn't.
70 - Cantaloupe
130 - Almonds
100 - Banana
270 - Crab Cakes
10 - Spinach
130 - Craisins
20 - Vinaigrette dressing
120 - Sausage patty
240 - Eggs
220 - Hash browns
80 - bacon
10 - Ketchup
Total for the day: 1440
Recipe: Crab cakes, 2 cans of crab meat, 2 egg whites, 1/4 cup of bread crumbs, mixed. Cooked in 1 tbsp olive oil. Makes 5.
Step 11: Day 7
It was a rough day. I was really hungry today. So much so I was having trouble concentrating right before lunch. That's why I had such a big snack. I went to the pizza shop with the family but didn't eat. It was more awkward for them than me. I did try the "agua fresca" though. It wasn't that good. I should have stuck with water. I think I am eating too many animal products though. It would be bad for me to trade sugar for cholesterol. I got to have better planing. I wasn't very excited about eating a can of pinto beans. Like I said, better planning.
130 - Greek yogurt
30 - Raspberries
260 - Bratwurst
20 - Peppers
30 - Onion
50 - 1/2 apple
130 - Almonds
180 - 2 Crab Cakes
300 - Pinto Beans
70 - Bacon
160 - 2 Hard boiled eggs
150 - Prickly pair drink from the local pizza shop, said it was natural.
Total for the day: 1510
Step 12: Day 8
First time going out with my wife for lunch. Normally I'd get a steak quesadilla. Today I got a salmon salad. I only ate half to keep it 500 calories.
Breakfast: Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal,Apple
Lunch: Grapes,1/2 Onion,1/2 can Water Chestnuts, Chicken
Dinner: Half of a Cafe Rio Salmon Salad
Step 13: Day 9
I'm starting to use canned food more often. I know fresh is better but this can be used as needed without going bad so fast. Olive oil sure has a lot of calories. 120 calories for 1 tables spoon!
Breakfast: Greek Yogurt
Snack: Nectarine, Almonds
Lunch: Other half of my Cafe Rio Salad
Dinner: Can of Tuna, Onion, Water chestnuts, Olive oil
Snack: pop corn
Step 14: Day 10
Breakfast: Corn Tortilla, 5 egg whites
Lunch: Bratwurst, Green Beans, Water chestnuts
Dinner: Sweet and sour chicken Stir-fry
Snack: Cup of fat free milk
Step 15: Day 11
I went out for a nice dinner with my wife. Since I knew I was going to eat more then my calorie allowance in one sitting, I only ate two meals today. No sticker for me today.
Late breakfast: Wheat bran cereal with raspberries, milk.
Dinner: Rib eye steak with potatoes, pretzel bread with butter, assorted cheeses, ice cream, chocolate cake.
Step 16: Day 12
Feeling guilty about yesterday. Taking it easy today.
Breakfast: oatmeal and orange juice
Snack: Orange, apple.
Dinner: In-n-Out burger protein style, no bun.
Step 17: Day 13
Lunch: Orange chicken, stir-fry zucchini, string beans, mushrooms, carrots.
Dinner: Chicken & Broccoli
Step 18: Day 14
Man! I didn't plan today. I didn't eat anything I wanted to. Food was not the highlight of my day.
Breakfast: Canned corn and string beans
Dinner: Left overs from last night. Chicken, broccoli, potato.
Step 19: Day 15
Breakfast: Wheat bran cereal with crasins and milk.
Lunch: Spinach with walnuts and craisins, Hominy. I actually really liked this.
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese.
Step 20: Day 16
Breakfast: Baked chickpeas with salt and pepper. These took time to get used to but became one of my favorites.
Lunch: More spaghetti squash, imitation crab with olive oil and oregano.
Dinner: Zucchini, mushrooms, onions, spaghetti sauce.
Step 21: Day 17
Breakfast: Babel light cheese, almonds.
Lunch: Zucchini, mushrooms, onions, crab cakes with honey mustard dressing. I made the crab cakes my self with bread crumbs and olive oil.
Dinner: Watermelon arugula salad from Panera Bread Company. Not a fan.
Step 22: Day 18
Breakfast: Two eggs with spam.
Snack/lunch: Chickpeas, banana, apple.
Dinner: Ribs, bell pepper, corn, potato.
Step 23: Day 19
Breakfast: strawberries, Greek yogurt, eggs
Snack: Humus, water chestnuts, Lima beans. This was not good so after a few bites I ate a nectarine instead.
Lunch: While everyone else ate pizza, I ate lunch meat and cheese.
Snack: Mixed nuts
Dinner: Chili, cheese, tater tots, fried chicken. Not food I should be eating but I didn't want to offend my Mother-in-law with not eating her dinner.
Step 24: Day 20
I cheated for breakfast. I really thought my favorite doughnuts would be good. I deserve it. Right??? I bought two and ate them. Big mistake! I felt so sick after eating them. I would have felt much better without them. Throughout the day was a party for my Father-in-law. So my meals ran together. I don't know how many calories I ate but I made sure to take it in moderation.
Breakfast: doughnuts. Never again.
Lunch/Dinner: Chicken, corn casserole, chips and guacamole, watermelon, steak.
Step 25: Day 21
Breakfast: Yogurt and walnuts.
Lunch: Steak, water chestnuts, peas, carrots, potatoes.
Dinner: Shrimp, Chicken, Stir-fry.
Step 26: Day 22
Breakfast: Walnuts and yogurt
Lunch: lettuce wrap
Snack: Graham cracker with peanut butter and jelly. I thought this would be good and I debated on whether of not to eat it. I the end, it made me feel sick. It belongs with the doughnut category. You'll feel better without it.
Dinner: Beans, corn, and chicken from El Pollo Loco.
Step 27: Day 23
Breakfast: Yogurt and walnuts
Lunch: Half a Costco salad with just a little dressing
Snack: Babel cheese, almonds.
Dinner: beans, corn, chicken from yesterday. Splurged with some watered down mango drink.
Step 28: Day 24
Breakfast: Wheat bran cereal, raspberries, milk.
Snack: Coconut rolls. This was a snack from Costco. I really bought them because I wanted something crunchy to eat.
Lunch: Wendy's Salad.
Dinner: Salmon, spinach, onions.
Step 29: Day 25
Breakfast: Wheat bran cereal, almonds, raspberries, milk.
Lunch: Onions, spinach, chicken.
Snack: Dried fruit
Dinner: Succotash, chicken, potato.
Step 30: Day 26
Breakfast: yogurt, raspberries, walnuts.
Lunch: Onions, spinach, chicken.
Dinner: Chili. No cheese. So sad.
Step 31: Day 27
Breakfast: Yogurt, almonds, raspberries
Snack: Veggie chips, hummus
Lunch: Onions, spinach, chicken. Easy to make but I'm getting tired of this.
Dinner: Corn, mash potatoes, meat loaf.
Step 32: Day 28
Breakfast: Wheat bran cereal, walnuts, craisins, raspberries, milk.
Lunch: Corn, mash potatoes, meat loaf. Again.
Dinner: Stuffed Zucchini, (ground beef, tomato sauce, cheese).
Step 33: Day 29
Breakfast: Yogurt, almonds, banana.
Lunch: Meatloaf, mushrooms, hominy.
Snack: Bran muffin Laura made.
Dinner: Wheat bran cereal, banana, raspberries.
Step 34: Day 30. Celebration and Conclusion.
I made it. I made my dinner was a good one tonight. A few weeks later I went back to my doctor. By then I had lost those 20 pounds. She told me my sugar levels (and all my other levels) were in a healthy range. So It worked. Here are some concluding points I'll leave you with.
• Watch the portions other people give you. My wife often makes dinner. She does get upset if I don't eat it. I've learned to eat smart portions and not go back for seconds....or thirds.
• Try new things. As you may have seen I ate some things over and over again. To change it up I would simply use a different spice. This might be pepper, lemon salt, or old bays seasoning.
• Don't be afraid to tell people. There were plenty of opportunities to cheat. Most people were encouraging when they found out my goal. I got a teasing here and there but I always kept my end goal in mind.
• As you move on. You don't always have to be so strict but don't fall off the wagon. I like to keep a scale in my bathroom. I weigh myself every day. If I see my numbers creeping up, I lean back toward this way of eating. It's worked for me.
Good luck! Thanks for reading.
Breakfast: Apple,eggs. I ate the apple while my eggs cooked.
Lunch: Wendy's berry salad.
Dinner: Crab legs, sausage, potatoes.