Friday, June 12, 2009

Food attitudes, tips, "tricks" and thoughts

Today I am going to talk about food. Specifically some of the difficulties that I had with changing my eating habits and the ways that I found to cope with them.

My main challenges are:

-I work with food all day. It is often very tempting to snack when I am cooking, and I often gave into that temptation. I would snag a pepperoni, some fries or an ice cream cone without even thinking about it. It was just there so I blindly ate.

-I had an unreasonable idea of what portion sizes should be. I would heap my dinner plate with spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread. I would go back to a buffet 4 or 5 times before I was finished, then have dessert. I wouldn't blink at eating 1/4 of a cheese cake. It was absolutely worse than I ever believed it was. It was denial, pure and simple. It was me saying over and over "But I really don't eat that much"

-I had to relearn what actual hunger and satisfaction feel like. I'd been operating on cravings and appetite and needing to feel "full" for so long that I had actually forgotten how to tell the difference between appetite, that "boy that looks/sounds/smells good! I want some" thought process, and actual physical hunger. I also had to learn the difference between full, that "I'm getting uncomfortable so I'd better stop eating" feeling, and satisfied which is more of an "I'm not hungry any more so I don't need to keep eating" feeling. I was shooting WAY past satisfied and stuffing myself to discomfort. It was ridiculous.

I was already fat, tired and miserable, but I never did anything about it. Then I saw my doctor. It was an appointment to discuss my sleep apnea issues that turned into a discussion about my weight and general well being. She took some blood and had me come back the next week for the results. I pretty much expected the high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Comes with the fat territory. What I wasn't prepared for was how close I was to being diabetic. I was one tenth of a point away from being diagnosed that day. It scared and shocked me terribly. She told me that if I didn't make some drastic changes and loose a fairly large amount of weight I was headed for heart disease and quite possibly diabetes, among other problems. She gave me a prescription to help curb my hunger and increase my metabolism, kind of a little nudge to get things going, and told me to try to start by cutting out sugary drinks and not snacking at work. She said to just remind myself that I wasn't really hungry and stop myself. So I listened, and worked hard at it, and managed to loose 7 pounds my first week. That was it, I was totally motivated and encouraged and on my way.

Pretty much a typical day now goes like this:

Breakfast: a fruit, a fat free dairy or a protein and a whole grain. Example- fat free plain yogurt with Truvia and vanilla or almond extract with Kashi Go Lean cereal and frozen blueberries. Or an omelet made with liquid egg substitute and fat free cheese with a slice of toast and an apple. Cereal with skim milk and strawberries or an egg with toast and an orange etc...

Lunch: usually either something frozen (Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice etc.) with a sliced tomato or a salad, or a Special K protein bar with a fruit, or a salad with grilled chicken etc... Sometimes leftover dinner from the night before. Usually a convenience meal since I am tend to be at work when I eat lunch.

Dinner: I am trying to have dinner with my family as often as I can, just having what they have but maybe bulkier on the veggies and lighter on the meat and carbs. So if they have spaghetti I have some too, but I mix my pasta with a veg like broccoli or zucchini to get more veg and less pasta. Also, portions are crucial. I eat off of a small lunch plate now. If they're having something I really don't want to attempt (like biscuits and gravy or something else completely fat and carbs) then I revert to the type of food I would eat for lunch, or leftovers from another night or perhaps a low calorie soup with some fruit or a veggie.

Snacks: I try to make most of my snacks a fruit or veggie, but sometimes snacking is where I give myself a little leeway- if I really want chips I'll have some, but I only have 3 or 4 just to get the taste. Or I might have a little soft serve, again, not much, just enough so that I don't go hog wild with cravings later. Sometimes I do beef jerky- it's a good way to get protein into my diet without a lot of fat, I've found beef jerky with less than 100 calories an ounce. (sounds like a lot of calories for an ounce, but with it being mostly protein it's very satisfying and keeps me filled up for quite a while)

Now, here are some of the tips and "tricks" that have helped me to maintain these eating habits:

-Drink drink drink! Sometimes when you think you are hungry you are actually dehydrated, you should always drink something before you eat, but don't drink calories. The only calories I drink are from my coffee in the morning, and that's because I simply can't give up the creamer. I am using sugar free and trying to use less so that helps. I tend to drink a lot of diet sodas or other diet soft drinks. I know they're terrible with artificial sweeteners, but at this point they are helping me avoid other temptations, and I am always on the lookout for drinks sweetened with stevia instead of aspartame or saccharin. The stevia based sweeteners that I have heard of are Truvia, PureVia and Sweet Leaf. At the moment I can only find the Truvia in packets at the store, but the new zero calorie SoBe Life Water drinks are made with PureVia, and are quite good. I don't have any experience with Sweet Leaf, but I have heard good things about it.

-Add flavor not fat. It is such a bad habit to add butter to things that don't really need it. I have bought light margarine, but I still don't want to use it if I can figure something out that works just as well. Some of my favorites are lemon juice, garlic and onion powder and even olive oil. I know that olive oil is still a fat and has lots of calories, but used sparingly it's much better for you than butter or margarine. One of my favorites is to add some lemon juice, olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper to spinach, tastes so good. Works well on other veggies and on pasta and rice too.

-Fill up on fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies are usually low in calories, high in fiber and water and loaded with nutrients. They're nice and bulky so they fill you up and are perfect for filling up if you feel like your dinner or whatever is too small. Example: the lower calorie frozen dinners are all fairly tiny compared to what most people are used to eating, so I'll eat a whole tomato or a side salad or an apple or something with it. Viola, I am full!I try to make sure that half of my plate is veggies and 1/4 each is protein and whole grain carbs. My husband complains that he often feels hungry too soon after eating a lot of just veggies. This leads to my next tip:

-Fiber and protein are your friends. They are the things that will stick around in your tummy the longest, protein because it just takes longer to digest and fiber cause it doesn't really get digested at all (at least that's what i think is the case, feel free to correct me if I am wrong!) And having something staying in your tummy means that you feel fuller longer. If you have a bit of protein with your veggies and fruits you won't get hungry again as quickly. Foods high in protein and fiber will not only keep you fuller longer, but they are also very important to your bodily function. Protein will keep you from loosing muscle mass and fiber helps keep you regular and maintains a healthy digestive system. So add some peanut butter to your apples, or some fat free cheese to your veggies, eat fat free cottage cheese with your strawberries, add a bit of chicken to your salad, or some lean beef to your stir fry etc...

-Make as much of your carb intake as possible whole grain and/or unrefined. Whole grains have more fiber and nutrients than white, processed and refined versions. So whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, whole grain cous-cous, brown rice, steel cut oats etc will keep you fuller longer and are all around better for you.

-Chew gum. Seriously, this has been a godsend for me. I work around food all day and the temptation to taste things is tremendous. Chewing gum makes tasting nearly impossible, who wants to stick a pepperoni in their mouth when they already have a mouth full of minty or fruity goodness? Even if you don't work around food, this is handy when cooking meals at home as well. It also gives a little bit of sweet taste if you are having a sweet craving. One caveat- too much of the sugar alcohols in sugar free gum can cause digestive issues like gas and diarrhea, so be careful!

-Don't deny yourself anything, but don't keep temptation in the house either! Basically if you want something badly enough, have some! Just keep the amount small and savor every bite. I get cravings for chocolate or potato chips fairly often. For chocolate I have a couple of squares of Dove chocolate, or a couple of Hershy's kisses. If I am craving chips I have 4 or 5 chips. The trick is, I make it an occasion.I don't let anything else distract me, I take small bites, savor them slowly, really experience the flavor and texture of it, enjoy the heck out of it, then stop. I don't have to eat a whole bag of chips or chocolate to enjoy the experience of it, and that's all I really need. I have learned not to keep it in the house though, if it's there it's too easy to grab out of habit and just nosh away. If you MUST keep some around, pre-portion it into reasonable portions and stick to them. I have beef jerky bagged in 1 ounce portions and it really does make a difference, there is less temptation to take more than I should if it's a matter of grabbing a small bag rather than trying to grab some out of a large bag.

-In relation to the above tip- savor your food and don't do other things while you eat (like say, watch television?). Take your time, put your fork down between bites. Really get into it. Make each meal an occasion. If you eat slower you give your brain and stomach enough time to communicate with each other and you realize that you are satisfied a lot sooner than if you are wolfing down your food as fast as you can in front of the T.V. It's also a good idea to eat together as a family or with a friend. You'll eat slower and enjoy the experience more if you are talking with someone you love.

-Be aware of the calories in what you eat. Not the exact number all the time, but at least a general ball park. Then you can reason with yourself. Do I really want to eat that 150 calorie tiny bag of potato chips? Is it worth 150 calories? Maybe a one serving bag of light popcorn sounds better at 100 calories? Sometimes the chips will be worth it, most of the times not. It also helps of you're like me and at least trying to keep calories to a general number.

-Related to the above- be aware of what portions really look like. Use a scale or measuring cups for a while until you are used to seeing what portions really look like, it's all about relearning what's reasonable. You won't have to measure like this forever, just till you retrain yourself.

-Use smaller plates. It's a simple trick but a good one. There's a saying that we also eat with our eyes, and it's true. If you take the same amount of food that swims around on a large dinner plate and put it onto a smaller lunch plate it just looks more satisfying and filling, and it will feel that way too. Your eyes will tell your brain that you are eating a full plate, and your brain will believe it.

-Finally, have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish and why. I am not doing this to be thinner or skinnier and thus more attractive, although that will probably be a side effect. I am doing this because my health, even my life, is in danger if I keep on the way I am going. My blood pressure is too high, I am borderline diabetic, my heart is working too hard, I can't breathe properly at night without a machine and oxygen, I don't even want to contemplate the state of my cardiovascular system. I can't keep up with my son when he is running around and playing at the park. So for me, that's what it is. I am trying to save and improve the quality of my life.

I know it's weird to take eating advice from a fat girl, but bear in mind that I am loosing weight, and that everyone has to start somewhere! I don't claim to be any kind of expert, most of these tips and "tricks" are just things I've known about but was too lazy and careless to put into practice. I'm still figuring it out as I go along as I work towards finally taking back my body from myself, making an effort to be healthy and happy. I want to be able to run and play with my son while he is still interested in running and playing, I want to see my son grow up, fall in love, get married. I want to see my grandchildren and watch them grow up too. I am in danger of not accomplishing that at the moment unless I drastically change my lifestyle.

Just remember, like I said above, I'm not any kind of expert. I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist, I am simply a woman on a mission. I am sharing my thoughts, ideas, progress and techniques in the hopes that it may inspire someone else to take back their lives. Any major changes in diet or activity should be discussed with your doctor to be sure that it is in your best interests.

Until next time, when I will talk about the physical activity side of things (an area that I definitely need improvement in!)

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