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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fuel up!

About eight months into my "new approach to food" (with the invaluable help from my trainer and this website). The results are there, in so many ways. In fact, I am getting so used to "my new life" that I forget how bad overeating (or eating the wrong foods) can make you feel.

I got a strong reminder last weekend after indulging in a full burger+fries+drink combo from a popular junk food restaurant. How did I feel while I was eating it? Okay. How did I feel after I ate it? In one word... AWFUL. All of my body's resources were needed to digest this unbelievable amount of fat, salt and calories. I was pretty much unable to do anything else but veg out for the next few hours.

Then I went to the gym for my workout. Let me tell you this: it was the worst workout I had ever had. I felt like I was 90 years old. An out of shape 90-year-old. How could a fit woman in her mid-thirties all of a sudden have so much difficulty doing her regular exercise? The answer lies in the food I ate, for sure. I had filled myself with the wrong fuel (try putting diesel in your regular car and see what happens!) and was now paying the price.

I thought "No wonder people complain of having no energy!" (be it physical, mental or emotional). How could your body and your brain function well when you give them the wrong fuel (and often too much of it)? If you feel slow, heavy, yucky, tired, down, and generally unwell... search no more! Chances are it comes from what you put in your mouth.

To me, the relationship between food and overall wellness is obvious. On a "good food day", I feel like I could run up the Everest without oxygen bottles. On days when I get off track (and have junk or simply too much sweets), I just want to lie down and doze off. Oftentimes I will also struggle with a headache. Other people will get digestive discomfort. Either way, the answer is clear: eat clean, you will feel great. Eat unclean, and you will feel so-so... at best.

And I'm not even speaking of hydration, which also makes a huge difference. On the occasional day I don't drink enough water, I get side cramps while running. Otherwise... it never happens.

People have been asking what I eat on a typical day. Here I'm going to make a list (portion size included) of those staple foods. This could help you plan your grocery list and your meals (and snacks).

Before we start, a few important notes:

- All the food for one day is split rather equally between 6 small meals/big snacks (For a medium-sized woman who is very active, they are around 300 calories each. Adjust to your own situation.)

- Each of those 6 meals contains both a source of protein and a portion of fruit or vegetable

- Each of those 6 meals comes with a tall glass of water. 2 more glasses of water will be had at other moments during the day, and at least 1 more for each hour you exercise.

- Notice there are no liquid calories of any sort (no pop, no alcohol, no cream or sugar in hot drinks. Not even fruit juice, which is not necessary in a balanced diet) - the only exception being skim milk. I have found that even healthy smoothies don't satisfy me, but it might be different for you.

- There are also no foods that contain more bad than good (like junk, desserts, chips, etc.)

- There is no heavy seasoning, thick sauces, etc. A little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, herbs and spices... goes a long way.

- I do allow myself a little bit of those less healthy foods/drinks occasionally. The idea is not to be a food extremist, but to eat clean about 90 % of the time, leaving just enough wiggle room for a small treat once or twice a week. (E.g.: a dish that doesn't really fit the healthy food requirements - moderate portion! - or a small serving of dessert or unhealthy snack, or a small serving of alcohol). Nothing is taboo, but everything in moderation. And if you don't want to eat something, don't buy it.

- If you're going to improve the way you eat, go at it gradually. Tackle one goal at a time. Focus on one thing solely for at least 2 weeks. For ex, you could spend 2 weeks monitoring your hydration, OR your caloric input, OR your sugar consumption, OR your protein consumption. Once you feel comfortable with the change, go on to the next one. I cannot say this enough. I have to admit it: with my trainer's plan, I thought we were going way too slow (I lost about 2 pounds per month - along with about 1% body fat per month, which didn't seem like much at first). But in the long run it worked, it added up, and most importantly I know I have created habits that will stay with me for life!

- It does get better. At first I thought my cravings were gonna get the best of me. They did, sometimes. But the longer you get your body used to eating clean, the less it craves junk. You will get off track (I regularly did, but the results still came in). You will feel frustrated (oh yeah. Might wanna warn your significant other). Give it some time. Don't expect perfection from yourself.

- Finally, if this all seems a little extreme to you, remember that this is what your body was created for: natural, wholesome, healthy foods in small quantities. This is what we naturally thrive on. The rest is just an artificial creation that makes us develop cravings/addictions... and see what it is doing to North America!

The list of daily foods

(Prepare them in advance as much as possible - makes your life so much easier!)

1) water: 8-10 cups a day
e.g. herbal teas, decaf tea, water with a few drops of lemon juice, etc. to make it more interesting. I also have flavored coffee that contains no calories or sugar, but that tastes like vanilla or chocolate! Yum.

2) raw green, leafy vegetable: 1 to 2 cups a day
e.g. romaine lettuce, mixed greens, spinach, etc.

3) cooked vegetable: 1 cup a day
e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, bok choy, green beans, etc. Can also be a homemade vegetable soup.

4) raw veggies: 1 cup (mixed) a day
e.g. celery, carrot, cucumber, bell pepper, mushroom, tomato, avocado, etc.

5) "tasty" vegetables: to taste
e.g. onion, fresh garlic, leeks, etc.

6) whole fruit: 1 medium, 2 small or ½ big a day
e.g. 1 apple, pear, orange, peach OR 2 kiwis, clementines OR ½ grapefruit, banana (because bananas have so much sugar), etc.

7) small or cut up fruit: ½ cup a day
e.g. berries, grapes, cherries, pineapple, mango, melon, etc.

8) skim milk: 1 cup a day

9) greek, plain, nonfat yogurt: ½ cup a day
(Add some fruit for taste. Occasionally I will put 2 tablespoons of flavored yogurt in it, or 1 teaspoon of jelly, honey or maple syrup. But not every time. You get used to a less sweet taste.)

10) 1% cottage cheese: ½ cup a day

11) cheese: 1 portion (the size of 2 fingers or 1 cubic inch) a day

12) "good carbs": ¼ to ½ cup (measure it!) a day
e.g. brown rice, quinoa, bulghur, whole wheat pasta, mashed sweet potatoes, bran buds, plain oats, etc.

13) bread product: 2 portions a day
e.g. 1 slice whole wheat bread or ½ bagel or 1 medium homemade muffin or a handful of crackers, etc.

14) protein: 2 portions of the size of a deck of cards a day
e.g. fatty fish, white fish, chicken breast, turkey breast, seafood, egg+egg white, lentils/legumes, etc. Less often: pork, beef, veal, etc.

15) seeds: 2 tablespoons a day
e.g.  sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, flax, etc. Wheat germ goes in that category too.

16) nuts: about 10 small or 5 big a day
e.g. almonds, tree nuts, etc.

17) fat: 3 teaspoons a day
e.g. olive oil, butter, margarine (check ingredients), nut or peanut butter, etc.

18) protein supplements (especially if you work out a lot or don't consume much protein otherwise. They help curb cravings): 1-2 portions a day
e.g. whey protein powder, whey protein bar. Look for a short list of ingredients, and as little carbs as possible. I try to avoid sucralose as well (stevia and lo han guo are ok). The powder can be used to flavor your oatmeal. Half a protein bar cut in small pieces will add flavor to your greek yogurt.

19) herbs and spices: to taste
e.g: basil, thyme, oregano, pepper, turmeric, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. Easy on the salt! 1 tablespoon of salsa or low fat mayo or 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or lemon juice can enhance many things.

Bon appétit!

(Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!)

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