Food tracking tips | lose weight without losing your mind

Let’s be honest, food tracking is a chore.

food tracking

 

Weighing, measuring and documenting everything you put in your mouth isn’t any fun.

It’s tedious and time-consuming. It tethers you to your phone or computer and can trigger anxiety and obsessive behaviour in people who get overly hung up on numbers.

Yet research repeatedly demonstrates that people who keep food journals are more successful at weight loss and weight loss maintenance than those who don’t.

Is there a way to track your food without losing your mind?

I think so. Below, I share my food tracking philosophy; why it’s important, how to get started, what to do with what you learn, and best practices for losing pounds while preserving your sanity.

Why food tracking is important
  • it’s an objective way to show you what your diet really looks like; calories, fats, sugar, carbs, proteins, warts and all 😉
  • it allows you to identify areas for improvement; often tweaking just one or two components of your diet can result in measurable change
  • it creates a sense of accountability; knowing that you have to log those Girl Scout cookies may make you think twice about whether they’re truly helping you move toward your goals
  • it forces you to become more knowledgable about what you’re putting in your body; newbies to food tracking are often shocked by how many grams of sugar their favourite flavoured yogurt has or how little protein a purportedly ‘high protein’ breakfast cereal actually has
  • it facilitates the creation of new nutrition habits; long-time food-trackers typically report that they eat the same basic meals from one day to the next. Food tracking has helped them identify their best nutrition plan; a plan that’s sustainable over the long term.
Getting started with food tracking
  • pick an online food tracker and create an account; it doesn’t really matter which program you use, they all count calories and break your daily intake down according to carbohydrates, proteins and fats. I prefer MyFitnessPal (just because I’ve been using it forever..) but have clients that love CoachCalorie and FitDay.
food tracking

Hooray me! A 9-day food tracking streak!

 

  • enter your current weight and, if asked, your current activity level; note that this is usually an assessment of how you spend the majority of your day NOT how frequently or intensely you work out.
  • don’t enter a weight loss goal; the first week or 10 days of tracking are to be used to figure out what you’re currently eating and identify areas for improvement.
  • accept the program’s default settings for daily calorie intake and diet (macronutrient) composition; again, making changes before you know what you’re already doing is simply shooting in the dark.
  • diligently track everything you put in your mouth for 7 to 10 days; this includes water, tea, coffee, condiments and cooking oils. The more accurate your input, the easier it is to determine what needs to be changed. Don’t worry, you won’t be doing this forever (see below).
  • don’t track exercise; since we’re not trying to meet any particular calorie requirements during this initial phase, tracking caloric expenditure is overkill (plus, it’s way too easy to overestimate calories burned during exercise…).
Using the data to make change
  • once you’ve established 7 to 10 days’ worth of baseline data, analyze it; compare your daily calorie intake to the recommendations made by the program. If you’re consistently well-above your target, focus on reducing food intake by no more than 500 calories per day; small changes tend to be easier to maintain than drastic ones.
food tracking

A day where I was fairly close to ‘plan’

 

  • if your daily intake is close to the program’s recommendations, compare your daily macronutrient intake to the program’s targets; focus on tweaking your macronutrient intake to better reflect your goals. Most people tend to over-shoot on carbohydrates and under-shoot on protein. Simply swapping a serving of lean protein for a serving of starchy carbs may be all you need to move things in the right direction.
  • if your daily intake is consistently below your target you’re going to need to eat more; chronic low calorie intake (especially if you’re eating fewer calories than your body needs for basic maintenance and day-to-day functioning) tends to result in metabolic slow down. Because your body is used to having to save energy, it’s in perpetual fat storage mode. The thought of eating more may scare you. You’ll need to adjust your intake slowly, perhaps by as little as 100 calories per day every week or two.
  • commit to following this ‘new’ program and continue tracking food for another 7 to 10 days; pay attention to how your body responds to the changes you’ve made, keeping track of energy levels, hunger and cravings in the comments section of your food tracking app.
  • repeat the above steps in another 7 to 10 days’ time; figuring out your ‘best nutrition plan’ is an iterative process.
  • continue avoiding the temptation to track exercise; most trackers only provide calorie burn estimates for cardiovascular exercise and, unless they integrate heart rate, are likely to be wrong. For a discussion of the challenges of estimating caloric expenditure during exercise, read the follow-up post to this article.
Food tracking for weight loss and sanity maintenance
  • once you’ve created a baseline, used it to generate a plan and have followed the plan consistently for a week or two, take a break; religiously tracking food can lead to anxiety over eating and an obsession with numbers. Listen to your body and trust yourself to continue fuelling yourself in a way that makes you feel good.
  • return to food tracking, periodically, as a way of ‘checking in’; birthday months, holidays and stressful times at work are typical reasons for going ‘off plan’. Return to tracking for a week or so after any life event that’s left you eating differently than you usually do. Right yourself and get back to living.
  • simplify your food tracker’s ease of use; have a tendency to eat the same meals over and over again? Most tracking software allows you to create and save favourite recipes or meals. I do this with my protein pancakes and veggie omelettes. Then all I need to do is enter one food item, rather than enumerate all the ingredients every time I eat it.
  • link up with friends who are using the same food tracking system; just knowing that somebody will notice that you’ve logged in and lost a pound makes food tracking less isolating (it’s also a great way to increase the accountability factor of the tool).
  • use your food tracker as a menu planner; rather than logging after you’ve eaten, input your planned meals and snacks for the next day, examine the daily nutrient summary and tweak your menu to optimize calorie and macronutrient intake.

Next week….some thoughts on the challenges of including exercise expenditure in your daily food tracking routine.

Do you track your food? If so, which program do you use and why?

The psychology of eating | small behavioural changes add up to big results

I am a student of the human brain. Honestly, I love learning about what goes on inside my own head, especially when I’m not even aware there’s anything happening :-)

Humans are exposed to hundreds of thousands of pieces of information about their surroundings each and every day. Even though we pick up on fewer than 5% of them (okay, if we’re really observant, perhaps it’s as high as 10%…), they’re all processed by the brain and together, effect the way we behave and the choices that we make.

psychology of eating

Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to food.

Last week, my husband (who’s also a student of the human brain) dropped a journal article on my desk. He knew I’d be fascinated and (unlike most of the articles he shares with me), due to the topic, would actually read it.

“Easy as pie”** is a review paper written by psychologist Brian Wansink (the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab).

It describes the fascinating results of a number of studies linking dining behaviours with over-eating. He argues that by making subtle changes in our surroundings, we need no longer rely on willpower to keep us from mindless eating.

And that learning a bit about the psychology of eating may result, over time, in big changes in behaviour and weight.

His philosophies about weight loss, weight loss maintenance and habit formation echo my own;

My favourite actionable items from the post?

  • Simply serving food on plates that contrast in colour with your food can reduce calorie consumption by up to 18%; apparently white food gets lost on white plates and our brains have difficulty determining how much is actually there. Creating more visual contrast highlights portion size and results in us eating less!
  • Women who store packaged foods (especially breakfast cereals and potato chips) behind closed doors weigh (on average) 9.5 kilograms less than those who leave them on the counter top; out of sight definitely means out of mind when it comes to food. Turn this subconscious behaviour to your advantage by leaving a bowl of fruits and veggies out, in plain sight.
  • Families whose meals are served from the stove or counter eat 19% fewer calories than those serving themselves at the table; when we have to walk to the kitchen for a second helping, most of us don’t (which is great for ‘calories in’, but rather sad when you realize it reflects our general attitude about daily movement…). As a corollary, the author suggests that serving salad at the table is a great way to increase your intake of greens.
  • Big plates result in bigger portions. Same thing goes for serving spoons, especially when food is served ‘family style’ at the dinner table; purchasing smaller dinner plates (25-cm rather than the standard 30-cm) will not only shrink your waistline, it’ll also shrink your grocery bill.
  • People pour 12% less liquid into tall, thin glasses than they do into short, squat glasses. (Bartenders do this too, so if you’re looking to score a larger drink at the bar, ask for a tumbler rather than a highball glass 😉 ); Why? People tend to focus on the height of the glass when pouring, rather than its width. Want to reduce your serving size by another 12%? Either pour standing, or place your glass on the table; looking down at a glass makes it appear fuller so we stop pouring sooner.

I love that none of the above suggestions require any exertion of willpower at meal time. Just committing to a different way of storing and serving the foods you already eat. I’m always happy for an excuse to purchase new tableware!

Did you know about any of the above patterns?

Which of the above will you put into practice today?

** You can find the entire article in the January 10-16th, 2015, issue of NewScientist magazine. Volume 225 No. 3003.

#SilkCreamyCashew | a Silk Cashew review (and a pumpkin recipe too)

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Silk Canada. They provided me with coupons to purchase the product and compensated me for writing this post. Faithful readers of this blog will know that I don’t write sponsored posts very often. And that when I do, the reviews are always balanced and the opinions entirely my own.

When it comes to food, I’m a fairly boring eater.

I like what I like and I eat pretty much the same thing day in, day out.

My desert island foods haven’t changed much in the past 8 or 9 years.

I’m always late to the new-food-trend-party. And I’m okay with that.

Having a consistent set of go-to meals supports my workouts, saves time in the kitchen and keeps me from needing to buy new jeans (unless of course, I want to buy new jeans :) ).

I do, however, like to keep things interesting by making little tweaks to my favourite recipes.

Like subbing pumpkin for bananas in baking. Flax seed for whole wheat flour in pancakes. Cacao nibs for dried fruit in yogurt. And Silk Cashew for almond or coconut milk in smoothies, oatmeal, grain-free cereal bowls, pasta, curries and baking.

Silk Cashew

Like almond milk, cashew milk is a great non-dairy alternative for those who can’t, or choose not to drink cow’s milk.

With as much calcium as dairy milk (30% of your recommended daily allowance) and only 60 calories per serving (that’s 35% fewer calories than skim milk), it’s also an efficient way for us sun-deprived northerners to get a little extra Vitamin D (45% RDA) and Vitamin B12 (50% RDA).

Like coconut milk, cashew milk is a great thickener for curries and pasta sauces, but with less fat and a more subtle flavour (my children are particularly sensitive to the smell and taste of coconut 😉 ).

It’s creamy texture (much creamier than almond milk) was a welcome addition to my morning oats and made my post-workout smoothies thicker and more milkshake-like (yum!).

I did, however, find it to be sweeter than the unsweetened almond milk I usually buy.

While Silk Cashew only contains 8 g of sugar per 1 cup serving, I needed to dilute it 1:1 with water to keep my palate happy and my daily sugar intake where I like it to be (that just means the carton lasts longer 😉 ).

I’d love to see them come out with a no-sugar-added option for those of us trying to tame a sweet-tooth.

Since we’re still smack-dab in the middle of pumpkin season, I thought I’d try adding it to one of my favourite savoury dessert recipes; a 2-serving, pumpkin mug cake. Enjoy!

Silk Cashew

Fitknitchick’s Creamy Cashew Pumpkin Mug Cake

  • 2 Tbsp Almond flour
  • 1 Tbsp Coconut flour
  • 1 egg (or 2 egg whites, slightly beaten)
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cooked pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/4 cup Cashew Silk
  • 1 Tbsp chocolate chips or cacao nibs (optional)
  1. Lightly grease a large mug (or small bowl) with coconut oil or butter.
  2. Combine all ingredients (except chocolate) and mix well.
  3. Pour into greased mug and microwave on med-high for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes (or until firm but not crispy).
  4. Remove from microwave and sprinkle chocolate on top.
  5. Return to microwave and cook for an addition 30 s.
  6. Let cool completely before sharing with a friend.

Currently, Silk Cashew is only available for purchase in Canada. Follow Silk Canada on Facebook for more delicious ways to incorporate it in your family’s healthy meal plan.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Silk. The opinions and text are all mine.

What I read on my summer vacation | fitness book reviews

Disclaimer: Ulysses Press sent me a free copy of Special Forces Fitness Training to review here. No other compensation was provided, and as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are all mine.

Way back at the beginning of the summer I shared my summer fitness reading list. The fitness books that I planned on reading over the holidays. Books that might introduce me to new exercises and ideas to share with my clients and readers.

SummerFitnessBooks

I didn’t manage to get through them all.

Alas, the overwhelming urge to re-read the entire Outlander series before the television show debuted got in my way (I managed to get through 4 of the 8 books; well, 5 really, as I read the final book before I started my do-over…).

In my defence, reading about Jamie and Claire’s exploits did make me think a lot about exercise (or at least the strong, lean, muscular body that a “born and bred” Highlander must have given all of the horse-back riding and sword-fighting and caber-tossing and other forms of ‘physical exertion’ they perform…) 😉

But I digress…

Never one to beat myself up for what I didn’t accomplish, I’m sharing my thoughts about the titles that I did manage to finish reading; two are from my original list of five, the third is a bonus.

What I read on my summer vacation: fitness book reviews

1. Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age by Vonda Wright.

Of all the books I unearthed when researching the pitch for my own book on fitness after 40, this one seemed the most promising. Fitness After 40 is written by a female, over-40, orthaepedic surgeon with a specialization in sports medicine and a proven track record with over-40 athletes. Her approach focuses primarily on four components of fitness; flexibility, cardiovascular training, resistance training and equilibrium or balance training. While I found the sections on flexibility and balance training to be universally applicable (and I found several new exercises to share with my clients), the recommendations for resistance training were more ‘gentle’ in nature than those I give even my beginner clients.

Although the book states that it’s written for individuals of all fitness levels, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the book was aimed at ‘elite’ or ‘masters’ athletes. Individuals who have trained hard for years, often at the national level, and required rehabilitation for exercise-related injuries. While a focus on injury prevention is wise when it comes to training middle-aged and older adults, it seems a bit off-putting if one’s goals are to simply increase activity levels in the general population.

Recommendation: Unless you’re an over-40 elite or masters athlete who needs specific information about continuing with your training, borrow this one from the library.

2. Special Forces Fitness Training: Gym-free Workouts to Build Muscle and Get in Elite Shape by Augusta Dejuan Hathaway.

Members of the military’s most elite units need to be in incredible shape. Often times, though, they don’t have access to full service gyms, thereby requiring a strength and conditioning program that relies on minimal equipment and body weight exercises. In Special Forces Fitness Training you’ll find 30 such programs, including whole body workouts (‘King of the Jungle’), workouts that target the upper body (‘Get a Grip’), core workouts (creatively named ‘Core Workout I, II and III) and cardio workouts. They can be performed in isolation, or combined, depending on the time you have available for exercise and your fitness level.

While most of the programs offer direction for multiple levels (Levels 1, 2 and 3), a few differentiate the workload and duration by sex. A minor criticism (and perhaps one that simply reflects different performance standards in the military for men and women), but slightly off-putting when one notes that the recommendation for reps/sets/duration of many exercises is dramatically different for men and women. I have many women clients who are capable of doing the “men’s” workouts… #justsayin

With illustrations for every exercise (including those described in the warmup and stretch sections of the book), Special Forces Fitness Training makes a great resource book for the moderately-fit to advanced exerciser (regardless of whether they’re in the military or not). In particular, for those who work out at home and have limited access to equipment.

Recommendation: If you’re a group fitness or personal trainer looking for bootcamp-style training ideas, buy yourself a copy. It’s great value for the price point.

3. Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind by James Fell.

Let me start by saying ‘I love James Fell’. He has the very rare ability to read, digest and transform the results of scientific studies for the non-scientific reader all while being witty, self-deprecating, irreverent and ENTERTAINING. He’s not a fan of ‘pseudo-science’, celebrity trainers or magic fixes. In an industry plagued by fear-mongering and false promises, he’s brave enough to admit that weight loss is a long, slow process and that most who try, will ultimately fail. That being said, his approach is sound and easily accessible to anyone who truly wants to improve their health and is willing to do the ‘mindset’ work required to get there. Interested in understanding how brain chemistry, human evolution, cognitive behavioural change therapy and the food industry all conspire to make weight loss hard? This is the book for you.

Recommendation: If you’re tired of dieting, like knowing how your body and brain work and are ready to make a longterm investment in your health, download a copy right now.

Have you read any of the books I reviewed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Any titles I should add to my fall fitness reading list?

 

 

Make your own meal plan | benefits of a boring diet

Back when I started paying attention to nutrition I craved structure.

A meal plan that I could follow as I learned the in’s and out’s of fuelling my body so that it performed well, looked good and felt great.

For a couple of months, I swore by Clean Eating Magazine’s bi-weekly plan. I posted it on my fridge, used it as a guide to grocery shopping and ate (mostly) the three prescribed meals and snacks.

benefits of a boring diet

But as I started to lift heavier in the gym and read more widely about sports nutrition, I came to realize that it wasn’t the plan for me.

  • Too few calories (my body needs more than the 1400-1600 most days’ menus provided).
  • Too many grain-based carbs (I tend to gain weight around my mid-section if my diet includes too many starchy carbs).
  • Too many processed foods (even ‘healthier’ versions of bars, cereals and crackers typically have too much sugar).
  • Too many different ingredients required to prepare the varied menu (the more ingredients required, the less likely I am to follow the recipe).
  • And not enough protein (protein has been a game-changer for me, helping me put on muscle, reduce body fat and feel satiated between meals).

[Note, that the very first sentence of the last paragraph included the words ‘for me‘. It might be a great meal plan for you. The only way you’ll know is if you follow it and pay attention to how your body responds. ‘Be your own detective’]

Over time, I’ve developed my own, personalized meal plan.

It consists of a handful of options for each of the mail meals of the day. I have three standard breakfast meals that I choose from. Lunch is always a giant salad; 3-5 servings of veggies plus lean protein. Dinner is a bit more varied (but the variation mainly comes from the way the way the meal is prepared, rather than the ingredients). And I have a dozen or so between-meal snacks that I rotate among depending on how many days it’s been since I’ve been to the grocery store.

It’s really very boring. And it totally works for me.

benefits of a boring diet

Nobody ever said boring couldn’t be delicious!

 

4 benefits of a boring diet

1. You always know what you’ll be eating. For many of us, paying attention to how we’re fuelling our bodies can lead to food anxiety. Stressing over how much of what to eat when. Trying to come up with new, creative ways to put food on the table for our families. Worrying about hidden ingredients that might be undermining our health and fitness goals. Having a list of ‘pre-approved’ go-to meals  means that you’ll only need to decide between a small number of options at any given meal.

2. Daily food tracking becomes less important. While keeping a food journal is a great way to learn how best to fuel your body, most of us don’t want to have to do it every day for the rest of our lives. Although I’ve used MyFitnessPal on and off for years, I use it mainly as a menu planner and a way of calculating the calorie and macronutrient content of my go-to meals. Once I know that a breakfast of a spinach and pepper omelette, with avocado and strawberries supports my goals for the day, I don’t need to input it day after day.

[Note: If food journalling works for you, by all means continue to do it. Adopting a boring diet just makes it easier 😉 ]

3. A boring diet makes grocery shopping a snap. Just like my diet, my route through the grocery store is boring and predictable. I buy the same items (and the same quantity of those items) week in, week out. I’m much less likely to forget an important recipe ingredient and less tempted to travel down the supermarket’s ‘danger’ aisles. And I can be in and out of Superstore (having easily spent $300…) in less than an hour.

benefits of a boring diet

Yes, we eat bacon. And a LOT of eggs…

4. Restaurant meals are more fun. Most of us have difficulty sticking with our healthy eating plans when dining out. Portions are typically larger than we’d serve ourselves at home. Multiple courses are the norm. Even the healthiest options can contain hidden sugar, salt and fat. And there’s so much choice! Following a boring diet has helped me wade through the minefield of restaurant menus. I simply look for a meal that’s close to what I’d be eating at home and ask my server for modifications, if need be. Dressing on the side, extra veggies instead of potatoes, grilled instead of fried.

Plus, choosing wisely with my main course lets me enjoy a glass of wine or dessert if I’m in the mood 😉

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 7.02.03 AM

Are you a boring eater too?

What are your favourite benefits of a boring diet?

Learning how to create healthy meal plans is only one of the many lessons I’ll be teaching in my upcoming online group training program for over-40 women. Make sure you add your name to my email list so as not to miss the registration announcement!

 

 

How much sugar is too much?

Whenever I start with a new client who’s primary goal is fat loss, I ask her to food journal. To write down everything she eats and drinks for a minimum of five days (but preferably for two complete weeks).

During this time, I suggest that she make no dramatic changes to her diet, so that we can generate a reasonably accurate view of what’s she eating. Until we know what her diet consists of, it’s hard to know what needs to be changed. (Many people find this challenging, as they’re excited to start moving toward their health and fitness goals and a bit embarrassed to share their love of chocolate, red wine and/or Lucky Charms…)

Most of my clients use MyFitnessPal, an online food tracking program, to record their meals and snacks. In addition to calculating daily calorie intake, MyFitnessPal also provides information about where those calories are coming from (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and the number of grams of sugar consumed each day.

how much sugar is too much

Note that I was ‘over’ on sugar for the day, but only consumed 15 g of refined sugar…

Often, even before the baseline tracking period has ended, most clients will shoot me an email asking ‘how much sugar’ they should be consuming. Many of them are shocked to see that they’re consuming 100 or more grams of sugar daily and want to know how much sugar is too much.

At this point, I explain that sugars come from a variety of sources. Natural sugars exist in fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains. Our bodies use them for fuel. While natural sugars contribute to the daily sugar totals that MyFitnessPal provides, they are not the sugars that we’re primarily concerned with.

Instead, we need to focus our attention on the sugars added to foods and beverages during processing. These ‘added sugars’ include all refined sugars, corn syrups, honey, agave, cane sugar and maple syrup.

how much sugar is too much

A better question, then would be, ‘what’s the recommended daily intake of added sugar?’

Unlike for vitamins and minerals, there is no RDI for added sugar. Obviously, the less we consume, the better.

However, the general consensus among nutritionists and health organizations recommends limiting added sugar consumption to no more than 25 to 30 g per day. Regularly consuming more can result in elevated blood glucose levels, fat storage, insulin resistance and diabetes. And we all know how addictive sugar can be

Because MyFitnessPal doesn’t differentiate between the sugars that occur NATURALLY in foods and the sugars ADDED to food during processing and packaging, it becomes necessary to track added sugar intake another way; by reading ingredient lists and nutrition labels (something we should all be doing anyways).

how much sugar is too much

Some short-cuts to reduce added sugar intake?

  • Pay attention to the various forms of sugar that are added to your foods; maltose, dextrose, sucrose, fructose-glucose (probably the worst one out there for us; my husband wrote this guest post about it for me). If there are multiple forms of added sugar in the ingredient list, you’re probably better off not eating it (or limiting your serving size and/or the frequency with which it’s consumed).
  • Keep a running daily total of your sugar intake from processed foods (including alcohol and the sugar or honey you add to your coffee and tea). You can do this instead of OR in addition to food tracking on MyFitnessPal, depending on your health goals and how crazy food tracking makes you. When you hit your own personal RDI (25-30 g) for the day, STOP.
  • Limit your consumption (and purchase) of foods which have any form of added sugar as one of the top five ingredients. Food manufacturers must list ingredients in the order of their contribution (by volume) to the food in question. The higher the ingredient on the ingredient list, the more of it in the food you’re eating.
  • Plan your added sugar intake for the day BEFORE you’re faced with the option of consuming it. When my family goes out to eat, I always check the dessert menu first. If one of my favourite desserts is listed, I’ll skip the wine. For me, dessert and wine is an either-or thing because they’re both high in added sugar.
  • Identify one or two high sugar foods that you’re consuming regularly. Aim to reduce the frequency with which you eat them or eliminate them entirely. A can of soda has upwards of 40 g of added sugar. Simply eliminating your daily soda (or other sugary treat) may be all that’s required to bring your added sugar intake down to a reasonable level (meaning that you won’t need to worry as much about the smaller amounts of sugar added to products like yogurt, spaghetti sauce and salad dressing).

One final note; many people believe that they should reduce their intake of fresh fruit to reduce their sugar consumption. For the most part, eating too much fruit is not the reason why people need to lose weight…. :)

My online training group for 40+ women is focusing on reducing their added sugar intake during the month of July. I’ll be asking them to share tips and tricks in our private Facebook group. I’d love to share YOURS with them.

What’s your best tip for reducing added sugar?

Share a link to a low- or no-sugar dessert with me?

 

Five steps to a successful ‘pantry raid’ | tips for healthy eating

Have you recently made a commitment to cleaning up your diet?

Focusing on better nutrition to improve your health, gain energy and lose a few pounds? Eating to fuel your body rather than combat stress, fatigue and frustration? Happy to have set some goals but have no idea where to start?

How about a ‘pantry raid’? (It’s almost summer camp season after all 😉 )

Getting rid of the foods that don’t support your goals and replacing them with healthier, nutrient-dense options is the easiest way to set yourself up for success.

Five steps to a successful ‘pantry raid’

1. Remove all items from the pantry. Place everything on the kitchen counter or table. Take a look at ‘best before dates’ and immediately toss anything whose expiry date is passed (make sure you’re composting the contents of cans and jars and recycling the packaging wherever possible).

I like to take this opportunity to clean out and wash the shelves; who knows when the next opportunity to do so will arise!

2. Separate the remaining items into canned and jarred goods, unprocessed dried items (fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, rice, pasta, oats, flour), junk food (chips, cookies, candy, chocolate bars, flavoured syrups, ice cream cones etc.), processed and packaged dried items (macaroni and cheese dinners, noodles with seasonings, most breakfast cereals, pancake, cake, cookie and muffin mixes and all forms of sugar).

Throw the junk food out. All of it. Take the trash bag to the curb immediately if you’re likely to recant.

3. Read all labels and ruthlessly discard items with high sugar, salt and trans fats. This will mean most processed foods including crackers, granola bars, cereals and cookies. It may also mean jars of spaghetti sauce, apple sauce, fruit (if packed in in syrup rather than water), dried fruit with sugar added and flavoured or salted nuts. If you think you need to keep a small amount around (for baking special desserts or entertaining company), make sure to place it out of your line of sight. Get rid of all trigger foods (those foods that you can’t even have a little bit of without eating the whole bag, box or bar). If you’re brand new at reading nutrition labels and ingredients list, have a look at this post.

Numbers to watch out for? Single servings with more than 8 g of sugar or 250 mg of sodium. Ingredient lists with sugar (or a sugar substitute; fructose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, most ‘oses’) in the top 5. Sugar substitutes are a point of contention. I don’t buy them or consume them myself, as I believe that they have the same action on your brain as the real thing. Decide for yourself.

4.  Return what’s left to your cupboards. Healthiest and most frequently used items go at eye and chest level. Less healthy and (hopefully) less frequently used options go on the very top and bottom shelves (although if you have young children who are prone to foraging and you’re attempting to clean up their diets as well, put it all as high up as possible).

Place items with the shortest shelf life towards the front of the pantry, longest shelf life at the back. Group items according to their function or packaging. I have a shelf for cans and boxes. Another for baking ingredients. And a third for healthy snack items. (The coffee and tea have an entire shelf to themselves…)

5. Create a shopping list of clean eating pantry staples; items that you can easily incorporate in lunches and dinners. Include beans and lentils (dry or BPA-free cans), tomatoes/tomato sauce/tomato paste (no sugar added), raw nuts, sugar-free dried fruit, oats (steel cut), rice and quinoa (brown, whole grain or ‘black’), almond/coconut/whole wheat flour, an assortment of spices, healthy oils (extra virgin olive, grape seed, avocado, coconut), low-sodium broths (chicken, vegetable, beef for making soups and stews), canned or dried sources of on-the-go protein (tuna, salmon, jerky) and protein powder (whey, vegan or hemp).

Now that your pantry is clean and well-stocked with healthy ingredients, head on over to Pinterest and check out my Clean Eating, Innovative Salads, Quintessentially Quinoa and Recipes for Menopause Symptoms for some clean eating cooking inspiration! (Go ahead and give me a Pinterest ‘follow’ while you’re there; I’m working on sharing more of my favourite pins each and every day).

 

 

More important than being a ‘foodie’? Being a ‘healthy foodie’

Last week I joined in a Facebook challenge to find out how much of a ‘foodie’ I am.

healthy foodie quiz

Click on through to take the test yourself, then come back and share your score in the comments section below

Of the 100 foods listed, I’ve only tried 53. And as such, am not much of a foodie at all.

Now this surprised me, as I (1) live in a city with lots of cultural diversity, (2) love to explore new recipes in the kitchen and (3) like to think of myself as a somewhat adventurous person.

Upon a bit more reflection, I realized the reason why my score was so average.

Of the 100 dishes listed, many were less-than-healthy (Pocky sticks and deep-fried pickles?) or included ingredients that are not ecologically sustainable (caviar and turtle soup, anyone?).

Rather than bemoan my ‘lack of foodie’ status, I decided to create my own ‘healthy foodie quiz’.

Of the 37 items listed below, (1) how many have you tried and (2) how many do you include in your weekly menu plan? Give yourself 3 extra points if any of those items are organic, wild-caught and GMO.

healthy foodie quiz

I’m happy to say that I scored 49 out of a possible 50 points on this quiz (perhaps a bit biased, since I wrote the quiz…). I’ll be adding gojii berries to my shopping list next week.

What does your ‘healthy foodie’ score say about you?

40-50;  You’re a healthy foodie rock star. You know the value of fuelling your body with nutrient-dense foods and are probably a dietician, nutritionist or healthy living blogger!

30-39; While your diet is fairly healthy, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up a bit on the benefits of including more nuts, seeds and healthy fats in your diet.

20-29; Time to get a bit more adventurous in the kitchen, I reckon. Start by adding one new-to-you food from the above photo each week. Search out ways to prepare it; Pinterest is a great place to find recipe ideas.

0-19; What the heck are you eating if you’re not eating the foods pictured above? (And was there an inverse correlation between your ‘foodie’ and ‘healthy foodie’ scores?)

Any other ‘healthy foodie’ items you’d like to add to my list?

Of the items on the original ‘Foodie’ quiz, what was the strangest one that you’ve sampled?

Did you know that improved nutrition can offset some of the most annoying symptoms of mid-life hormonal change? Just one of the issues we work on in my 40+ Female Online Group Fitness Program. Next session starts January 12, 2014. For more information and to be the first to hear all the registration details, subscribe to my email list NOW.

5 Reasons to Eat More Pumpkin

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll already know that I adore pumpkin.

PumpkinTweets

Not just pumpkin pie (although it, along with pumpkin cheesecakeis one of my favourite desserts, especially with a drizzle of dark chocolate ganache…). Pumpkin quick breads and soups and curries and oats (try my recipe for Pumpkin Protein Oatmeal bars).

They also make a great backdrop for a family photo shoot…

eat more pumpkin

5 reasons to eat more pumpkin

  • Unlike many other starchy carbohydrates, pumpkin is low in calories (26 per 100 g; that’s about 1 cup of cooked, 1-inch cubes), has a small glycemic load (GL = 3) and and rich in dietary fibre (5 g per 100 g). That means that it’ll satiate you, keep you feeling fuller longer and provide fuel for your workouts without significantly elevating your blood sugars and triggering an insulin response. Try some in your pre-workout morning oats.
  • It’s full of Vitamin A, a powerful, all natural source of antioxidants important for maintenance of the integrity of skin membranes and vision. Just 100 g of pumpkin contains a little more than 7,300 mg of Vitamin A; well over 200% of your recommended daily allowance.
  • The seeds are naturally rich in phytosterols, plant-based chemicals which have been shown to improve heart health by reducing LDL cholesterol. They’re also an excellent source of the amino acid tryptophan, which converts to GABA (a calming, feel-good hormone) in the brain.
  • With 546 mg of potassium per cup (as compared to a banana’s 422 mg), pumpkin is a great post-workout electrolyte replenisher. Potassium helps restore the body’s balance of electrolytes after a tough workout and keeps muscles functioning optimally. Swap pumpkin for banana in your mid-day smoothie to up your potassium intake without elevating your blood sugars.
  • The key nutrient that boosts pumpkin to the top of the SuperFoods list is the synergistic combination of carotenoids. Carotenoids have been shown to decrease the risk of various cancers, including those of the lung, colon, bladder, cervical, breast, and skin. Just a half-cup serving of pumpkin provides more than 100% of your RDA’s for both beta- and alpha-carotene.

Now that you know WHY you should eat more pumpkin, head on over to my Pumpkin Pinterest Board for some tasty ideas you can whip up TODAY.

MorePinterestPumpkin

Do you have a favourite pumpkin recipe to share? Leave your link in the comments section below!

Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers. Are you having pumpkin pie for dessert today?