Friday, November 15, 2013

Food Decisions

I got a comment on the About page of the blog last week stating: "I was wondering if you would consider a post that is more specific as to how you make your food decisions? I would be interested to know how you go about choosing what food you will eat and amounts and what kind of general nutritional guidelines you use.” First, I’m happy people are reading! Second, I like taking requests. Third, this is a great topic so here goes…

My food decisions have been evolving since I started my weight loss journey in early 2007. Prior to that point I ate what was easy and what I liked (not very many foods!). One of the biggest steps I made was to learn about calories, macro and micro nutrients, metabolism, and how to be mindful/accountable for my food choices. I started by making a few drastic commitments paired with an online food journal. I gave up soda and other drinks with calories, stopped eating fried foods (except the occasional indulgence), and eventually gave up eating at fast food restaurants.

Another big change was moving toward eating almost all meals at home and planning ahead as much as possible. I am fortunate to have a supportive partner who likes to cook and likes planning ahead. When I started on my journey we started being more rigorous about making a weekly meal plan/menu and building our grocery list on that. We used to do it old school with pen and paper, now we use an app called OurGroceries that lets us both access the list from our phones. We keep the menu and ideas we come across there, along with our grocery lists.

Lately I have been eating very cleanly, I've found that I recover much better from my half marathon training if I am eating a ton of fresh produce and eschewing gluten and alcohol as much as possible. This can be a challenge during some of our weekend activities, but I do my best. I stopped counting calories about a year ago when we were about to leave for our tropical Christmas in Curacao. I didn't want to be obsessing about calories and nutrients while we were away and knew I needed to give myself time to adjust to life without a food diary. I think food diaries are excellent for people who truly need to lose weight and who may not be as mindful about what they eat or as knowledgeable about their food.

The trip and weaning period before were a success, and when I started using the Thrive Forward program shortly after the trip I realized that I was stressing out about food too much when I kept a diary and that it was detrimental to my health. I have been able to maintain my weight now without counting a single calorie or trying to make sure I get enough protein/carbs/etc.

The foundation of my food decisions is a focus on whole foods with high nutrient density. Basically, I’m trying to get as many micronutrients as possible for the fewest calories. That’s why the staples of my diet are greens, raw/cooked/dried vegetables and fruit, legumes, and nuts/seeds. When I eat packaged foods I make sure I know what all of the ingredients are, and that I’m happy to put those things in my body.

I like routine, and I've gotten myself into a fairly regular one with food. A typical day looks like this:

I usually eat a single date before any of my short runs and workouts. I am experimenting with nutrition pre-long run and last week ate a banana and a bit of peanut butter. That seemed to work well.

Typically a homemade energy bar after my shower before I drive to work. Sometimes I just eat fruit or dried fruit.

Almost always a smoothie. I make them ahead of time for the week. I will (rarely now) also have homemade cereal with berries & nut milk, oatmeal, pancakes, or toast with nut butter and fruit. I stick with smoothies for the most part because it’s the best way to get kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots and beets in my body before 9AM!

Morning snack
This varies but is typically one of the following: fruit with a few nuts or nut butter, a single serving of this trail mix, a single serving of roasted chickpeas, or a low calorie homemade or store bought bar. I aim for 100-150 calories but I don’t stress about it. I still measure certain foods – anything pre-packaged in multiple servings, high calorie foods like nuts/nut butters, etc.

Usually a salad topped with fresh veggies (we always buy cucumber, bell peppers, zucchini and carrots for this purpose) and parts of the previous night’s dinner. Sometimes we have soup, a casserole, or a more composed dish and then I’ll eat that instead of a salad. I like to always include some raw veggies, so if it’s a composed dish I’ll bring a side of carrots or cucumber or pepper. I also always eat fruit with lunch, usually an apple or pear.

Afternoon snack
Most of the time I’m at work or out around the time I’m ready for an afternoon snack so I will eat a packaged bar. I’ve tried to make my own but they never come out to the consistency I’d want for transporting. My favorites are Larabars, Vega Bars, Pure Bars, Lydia’s Organics and 22 Days. I look for a bar in the 200 calorie (plus or minus 30) range that’s made from whole ingredients. I try to avoid soy and gluten, mainly because those ingredients are more highly processed.

Dinner is definitely where my choices vary the most. I try to stick to my rule of thumb to eat mostly whole foods so our meals center on vegetables and legumes. We eat grains several times a week – usually brown rice, quinoa and rice noodles/wrappers. We eat tofu/tempeh about once a week. We have built a well stocked pantry that always has grains, dried & canned beans, and frozen/canned vegetables. We build our meal plans on Thursday’s because Carly doesn't work on Friday and does our main weekly shopping then.

As I said before, we keep a running list of ideas in the app. I also keep a folder in my favorites with recipes I come across in blogs. I try to share them with Carly when we meal plan. We also take stock of our pantry and fridge to make sure we are using what we have on hand. She eats pork, seafood and dairy so we will often make meals that she can add those elements to. We also have some go-to meals that show up a lot: tacos/taco salad, pasta/rawsta, roasted veggies with lentils/beans, and tortilla soup show up a lot. We try to plan for leftovers and for disruptions to our normal week.

It definitely gets easier over time once you know what you like and what your schedule allows for prep/cooking time. Soups and casseroles are nice because we can make them on the weekend, eat them on a Monday/Tuesday, and have them for lunch throughout the week. We try to do more salads at the beginning of the week because lettuces tend to be fresher then. We make sure to plan ahead and pre-cut veggies, marinate tofu, soak beans, etc. whenever it’s feasible. Once you make the shift in your habit to focus on mostly whole foods it becomes a lot easier to make good choices.

I hope this was helpful and not repetitive or rambly!

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