Tips for automating exercise and eating

Yesterday, I was texting with a friend and mentioned that I was on my way out to get a hair cut (and colour, truth be told). She commented on how impressed she was that I “was still prioritizing the small self care stuff that makes us feel better” even though my life’s been recently turned upside down.

I hadn’t really thought of what I was doing as self-care (of course it is) or something that was going to make me feel better (it certainly did). I scheduled this appointment at the end of my last appointment and was simply doing what my calendar told me I had to do today.

automating exercise and eating

Losing those greys always makes me feel better…

I like to think of this way of going about the day as ‘auto-piloting’ and apply the same strategy to many areas of my life, including exercising and nutrition.

While living on ‘auto-pilot’ might seem to be in direct opposition to the ‘live in the moment’ and ‘be present’ advice we see daily on social media, when used correctly, it can free us from wasting time and mental energy on trivial decisions.

Like what to wear. Which route to take to work. When and where to workout. Which exercises to include. What and when to eat. How best to load the dishwasher…

A little Google-searching tells me that ‘decision fatigue’ is a real and recognized psychological condition in which a person’s productivity (and ability to make future decisions) suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.

The simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make more decisions.

The solution? Make the decision once (and ahead of time) and use the ‘auto-pilot’ strategy to follow through.

I’ve found the following ‘auto-pilot’ strategies to help me (and many of my clients) commit to regular exercise and healthier eating.

Pick a couple that resonate with you and commit to trying them for a month.

Tips for automating exercise and eating
  • register for a group fitness program; perfect for those who need a bit more accountability and are unlikely to skip an activity that they’ve paid for in advance (with the added benefit of not having to figure out what you’re going to do when you get to the gym; your instructor or coach does all the planning, you just show up and follow their instructions). I’m currently using this auto-pilot strategy and it’s working for me.
  • pack your gym bag and organize your workout clothes in advance; remove the early morning (or after work) decision-making by having your workout clothes chosen and set out the night before, a clean towel and water bottle in your gym bag and you running shoes, wallet and keys waiting by the door
  • schedule your meals for the week; grab a notebook (paper or electronic), create a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and FOLLOW IT (here’s a free meal planning tool you can download, print out and fill in with your menu ideas)
  • simplify your diet; let go of the idea that a food needs to entertain and that a limited diet is boring; create two or three simple ‘go-to’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that are nutritious and complete. Tack them to the fridge door (or someplace else in the kitchen where you’ll see them). No more standing in front of the pantry wondering what you should eat and whether it will ‘fit your macros’.
  • create a grocery shopping ‘check-list’; create an electronic check-list of the foods you eat regularly, ordered according to the route you take through the grocery store. Print out a copy, stick it on your fridge and tick off items as you run out of them. This one simple task allows me to do my bi-weekly $300 Superstore shop in less than an hour.
  • cook once, dine twice; double the size of your dinners with the goal of incorporating left-overs into the next day’s lunch. Not only does this save you cooking and lunch-prep time, it also removes one more decision during your weekly meal planning task.
  • pack tomorrow’s lunch and snacks after dinner; super easy if you’re packing left-overs (they have to be put back in the fridge anyways) and you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices with a full tummy (and when you’re not in a rush)

These are just a few of the ‘auto-pilot’ strategies that I’ve tried and found useful.

What are your favourite tips for automating exercise and eating? 

 

 

Nutrition and grief | tips for helping those suffering from loss {Guest Post}

From Tamara ~ My family and I are truly grateful for all of the meals and snacks and foodie gifts of love and comfort that our friends and family provided in the weeks following my daughter’s death. I’ve asked my friend, fellow blogger and Registered Dietician Melanie, of Nutritious Eats to share some ideas about nutrition and food prep during periods of grieving; so you’ll be ready to step in and help out a friend in need when the time arises. Thanks so much Melanie for your willingness to share your thoughts (and recipes!) with us.

From Melanie ~ I have had the pleasure of getting to know Tamara through blogging and social media and am struck by her grace, positivity and beauty inside and out. I truly wish it were under different circumstances that I would be providing this guest post, but Tamara and I believe that this information might help someone else during such a tragic time.

Providing food for someone who is grieving with the loss of a loved one is one of the simplest ways to show how much we care. At such a devastating time it’s hard to feel like you’re doing anything to help. Although we can only imagine all the emotions the family is going through, one thing we can be certain of is that cooking is far from their minds. But people don’t bring meals forever and the grieving process doesn’t have a definitive time period. Unfortunately the need to consume food isn’t going to just go away.

Today I am providing a few nutrition and meal prep tips to help families get through this extremely difficult and stressful time, as well as tips for friends and family members who want to help.

Nutrition and grief: Tips for Grieving Families 
  • Keep meal prep simple. Think of it in terms of food groups- make a batch of whole grains like quinoa, a lean protein like some grilled chicken or fish, a batch of hard-boiled eggs, a couple of vegetables (one could be salad which will keep in the fridge for days undressed), fruit and dairy.
  • Rely more on convenience items like canned beans, jarred tomato sauce, pre-shredded cheese, pre-cut vegetables
  • Buy a few healthy condiments like pesto, salsa, guacamole or a fresh dressing to jazz up those basic foods you’re preparing
  • It’s important to eat 3 meals a day to keep your blood sugars stable and avoid binging on junk food
  • Caffeine has negative side affects on the brain and nervous system if used in excess so try to keep consumption at ~2 cups a day
  • Don’t omit fat, stress will cause you to crave it, but rely on healthy fat like avocado, nuts, olive oil and fatty fish like salmon
  • Lean proteins will assist in growth and tissue repair- focus on lean beef, chicken, turkey, tofu, shrimp, eggs, nuts and seafood
  • Getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids can help with our response- focus on fish, nuts, flax seeds and leafy vegetables
  • Get your Vitamin C which protect the immune system so stock up on citrus fruits and vegetables like broccoli and potatoes
  • B vitamins are essential for coping with stress as they are used in building up your metabolism

It’s common to want to provide something delicious and comforting that the family will love, but the high carb, high fat “comforting” fare, along with ample desserts and wine can eventually catch up with anyone. Food affects the way we feel, our energy, our skin, or digestive system, so it’s important we are providing our loved ones with proper nutrition to help nourish their body, mind and spirit.

Traumatic events not only affect one’s emotional state, but also their metabolic and hormonal state. The amount of stress that their bodies go through can play havoc on their health. For example. when the stress hormone cortisol is elevated it can contribute to fat accumulation, usually around the abdomen or in the blood vessels and if stress is prolonged, which of course it would be if you lost a loved one, possible health effects such as high blood pressure, chronic muscle tension, headaches can also occur. Unhealthy food will just make it worse.

Nutrition and Grief: Tips for Providing Meals to Grieving Loved Ones
  • Make sure your dish or meal is well-balanced and nutrient-dense. Offer a few different food groups with your meal.
  • Use lean meats and seafood instead of higher fat cuts of meat
  • Avoid recipes that call for too much butter, cheese and/or cream or whole milk
  • Offer healthier baked goods like whole grain muffins using nuts and fruit which are perfect for the freezer too
  • Also consider bringing healthy snacks like date and nut energy bites
  • Bring something light such as a grilled chicken salad along with a hearty soup which can be used as a freezer meal for a later date if needed
  • Warm foods like soups and stews are very comforting and can be packed with heart-healthy vegetables
  • Provide food in disposable containers or tupperware they can keep so there doesn’t need to be any coordination of returning dishes
  • Use a calendar to share amongst friends to avoid duplication and to cater to the family’s likes and dislikes (more information below)
Nutrition and grief; Registered Dietician-suggested recipes for healthy, tasty and nourishing meals

Vegetarian Chili

This hearty bowl of vegetables will provide plant-based energy and fiber. Pack mini tupperware containers with all the fixings.

Vegetarian Chili | Nutritious Eats

Saucy Slow Cooker Turkey Meatballs

Who doesn’t love a slow cooker recipe? You could pack some cooked veggies or a salad on the side and a healthy grain like quinoa or a high fiber pasta to go with it.

Meaty Mushroom Marinara

This is made with lean ground turkey and veggies and is a great option to spoon over pasta or steamed cauliflower.

Meaty Mushroom Marinara

Hearty Vegetable Soup

This is my go-to soup recipe not only when I am under the weather, but when I am craving something healthy and satisfying.

Chicken Fajita Bowls

Fajita bowls are great because they can be customized per person and are very well balanced. It also is perfect for leftovers and I think they are well liked by most people. You could do lean beef or strictly vegetarian too.

Chicken Fajita Bowls | Nutritious Eats

Chipotle Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili 

Another chili recipe because chili makes a great comforting meal, it’s even better leftover and freezes well! This one uses a learn protein, turkey, along with the super nutritious sweet potato.

Kale and Quinoa Salad

This makes the perfect light lunch and will last in the fridge all week. It makes a good amount and is packed with nutritious goodness from the high-protein quinoa, the antioxidant and vitamin/mineral rich kale and almonds.

KaleandQuinoaSalad-1-2

Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork

This is another versatile dish that can be served with the lettuce wraps, a tortilla or spooned over brown rice.

Apple Pie Walnut Donuts With Vanilla Glaze

It’s natural to want to provide something sweet during stressful times, but you can find lighter options. These donuts are made with yogurt, whole wheat flour and almond milk and will still satisfy that craving without as much fat and calories.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

Providing something to be eaten for breakfast or snack is helpful too. These are the perfect thing and super easy to make (one-bowl required!)

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars | Nutritious Eats

I strongly encourage you to set up a online calendar which can make providing food or other helpful services so much easier. I have used CareCalendar before which is very convenient. This is how it works: one person will set up the calendar for the person or family in need. You can chose a date range for how long help is needed, for example one month. Then just fill in information such as the recipients usual meal time, dietary preferences like dislikes and favorite foods, and other helpful info like if they have freezer space available. This information will help the giver quite a bit!

Another great thing about sharing a calendar with the friends and family of the recipient is then other people can see what type of meal you are providing which reduces duplication. That way not everyone brings a lasagna. I also love that this online calendar is not limited to just meals- you can have friends or family sign up to help with yard work, errands such as grocery shopping, babysitting, etc. We all can imagine just how difficult day to day tasks are when you have just lost a family member or loved one and I think any help would be appreciated.

I hope this was helpful and remember that no one knows what the grieving family needs so it’s okay to ask. While one family might need meals for a month, another might need help for much longer. It’s never too late to get this set up to help those we love.

Keep those healthy meals coming!

MelanieF.-1-200x300Melanie is a Registered Dietitian and mom of four, with extensive experience in wellness and weight management. By combining her passion of food, nutrition and exercise, Melanie encourages her clients to have a healthy and happy relationship with food. She is the author of the blog Nutritious Eats where you can find healthy family recipes, nutrition and fitness tips and more. When she is not cooking or blogging, you can find her drinking coffee on the porch, chasing her children around, running, doing yoga, and practicing photography. You can follow her on twitter , instagram or Facebook.

10 Ways to Overcome Emotional Eating {Guest post}

I have a treat for you today, dear readers. A guest post written by my kind, generous, compassionate, insightful and very smart friend Evelyn Parham. Evelyn and I first met via our blogs. We read, shared and supported one another’s writing. She then joined my online women’s group training program, developed a passion for the emotional side of nutrition and recently obtained her certification as an Eating Psychology Coach. I know that you’ll love her as much as I do!

Have you ever felt sad, stressed, or angry?

What happened when you experienced the emotions? Many of you probably reached for comforting food. There is nothing wrong with eating food to feel good. But eating food for the sake of helping you deal with emotions is not the best way to deal with your emotions.

Emotional eating does not discriminate; it touches everyone. Overcoming emotional eating takes time. Even after learning how to overcome emotional eating, there will be times when emotional eating will pull you back in.

Why? Because you have emotions and you are an eater.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 8.26.05 AM

Here are ten ways to overcome emotional eating.

Overcome Emotional Eating
  • Pay attention to your emotions. Oftentimes emotions get suppressed and suppression leads to you ignoring emotions that get stirred up within you. If you are sad, acknowledge the emotion and take time to deal with the emotion. Dealing with the emotion when you know it is present helps you control emotional eating.
  • Do not eat to fill a void. Emotional eating is when one eats to fill a void, but when you pay attention to your emotions, you are less likely to eat your feelings. A void means there is space for other things to fit in your life. Fill the void doing activities that take your mind off eating food.
  • Be mindful when eating. Take time to enjoy eating. Let your mind engage with the flavor, texture and aroma of the food you are eating. Eat when you feel hungry and stop eating when you feel satisfied. Do not surf the web, watch television or do any other activity besides eating. When you are pre-occupied with other actives besides eating, you will eat mindlessly which can lead to overeating.
  • Stop fighting food or trying to control yourself with food. You need food to fuel your body and when you fight against food, you usher in stress chemistry. Stress impacts your emotional heath and when you are stressed, you eat. Learn to embrace food for what it is, and for what it does for your body. Enjoy food without putting restrictions on yourself.
  • Write in a journal. Journaling is a good way to express yourself. Each time you put any food in your mouth, write it down in your journal. Write down any emotions you are feeling when you eat. Also, document how much food you consume. Journaling helps you pinpoint when you are most likely to eat your feelings.
  • Do not eat anything when you know you are emotional. If you know you are sad, upset, or stressed, do not put any food in your mouth. Do not try to bury your emotions, because eventually they will come out and express themselves in your food choices. Instead of reaching for comfort food, take a deeper look at the emotion you are feeling. Allow yourself time to feel the emotion and work through it without reaching for food to numb your feelings.
  • Slow down while eating and slow your breathing. Eating fast causes stress chemistry to rear its ugly head. Stress chemistry causes lots of things to go awry in your body. Do your best to slow down when you eat your food. One way you can slow down when eating is to slow your breathing. Slowing your breathing calms you down and it also decreases the stress chemistry that happens when you eat fast.
  • Exercise or do movement that you enjoy. Exercising is a good way to work through your emotions. The next time you feel emotional, go for a walk or do your favorite exercise or movement. Exercising or movement is relaxing and when your body is relaxed, your mind is also.
  • De-stress your mind, body and spirit. Take time to de-stress daily. Meditate or spend some quiet time alone. Spend a day getting pampered. Get out and enjoy nature. These are all ways of de-stressing, but the most important thing you can ever do is take time for yourself and be with yourself.
  • Talk to someone about your emotions. Holding in your emotions does more harm than good. It is always a good idea to work through the emotions you feel. Feelings and emotions oftentimes get expressed through food. Talk about your emotions with someone you trust. Opening up to someone helps you uncover and work through the emotions you feel. Never be ashamed to talk it out.
Final Words

It does not matter what emotion you feel, please whatever you do, let it out. Holding in emotions affects your mind, body and spirit. Working through your emotions decreases your need to reach for food to fill the void.

Do not suppress your emotions. Allow yourself time to feel the emotion. Remember, you are an emotional being with feelings. If you feel sad, work through all that comes with feeling sad. Let the tears flow and do not hold back.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 8.25.38 AMEvelyn Parham, M.S. is a Blogger and Eating Psychology Coach. She helps people live nourished, balanced and whole. Learn more about Evelyn at http://evelynparham.com/about.
Please take a minute to leave a comment or share this post with a friend (via the social media icons below). You never know who you’ll help in doing so!

Good carbs, bad carbs, right carbs, wrong carbs; what’s a girl to eat?

A couple of weeks ago, I described my current relationship with carbohydrates as a ‘roller coaster’; an endless cycle of carb cravings, indulgence and blood sugar highs and lows.

Your comments to the video confirmed my belief that I am not alone in my tendency to be drawn to sweets; particularly when tired, stressed, pre-menstrual and super busy. (Isn’t that what June is usually like for mom’s of school age kids???)

In an attempt to understand why my usual strategies for maintaining control over my diet weren’t working, I decided to do some research. For me, intellectualizing a problem is the first step to solving it (I was the nerdy kid who played ‘school’ during summer vacation). I created a reading list and got to work.

I decided to start with the 2nd book on the list; I’ve read it before and the arguments presented made sense to me then (given the things I already know about nutrition and physiology and my own body’s response to certain foods).

The book is based on the premise that hormones determine whether your body burns or stores fat. Too much of one hormone?  Fat storage is turned on and you gain weight. Keep those hormones in check? Fat burning ramps up and the weight comes off. The trick is understanding how food affects your hormones and manipulating your diet to get the desired results.

According to my answers to the book’s questionnaire, I am a classic ‘mixed burner’.

My body uses both sugar (derived from the protein in my muscles) and fat as sources of fuel, and can shift easily between the two according to the lifestyle I choose to adopt. Too many carbohydrates? Elevated stress? Inactivity? Menopause? Each will push a mixed burner into the fat-storing, muscle-burning state. Low-calorie diets that may have worked when they were younger will lose effectiveness as they age.

All of this rings true for me.

According to the authors, my diet should consist primarily of

  • vegetables and fruit (except for the very sweet ones; banana, pineapple, watermelon, mango and grapes)
  • lean protein and
  • nuts (up to 1 cup per day)
I should minimize my consumption of dairy (using it as a condiment only), avoid alcohol (except at my once-a-week cheat meal) and eat starch (including starchy veggies and fruits) according to ‘bites’. Just 5-10 bites of starchy carbohydrates at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
fitknitchick food
The other dietary recommendations are all things I currently do; eating 3 meals and 2-4 snacks daily, snacking on protein and veggies, increasing water intake and reducing caffeine.
The second part of the book talks about  exercise; in particular, the type of exercise you should be doing to ‘spark’ your metabolism and shift into fat burning and muscle building. No surprise here; weight training is key, compound movements are advocated over isolation exercises, short, high-intensity workouts are superior to long slow distance. These elements form the foundation of the way I currently exercise, so I expect the nutrition information to be more important for my own personal fat loss goals.
Perhaps the three most important take-home points about the metabolic approach for me are;
  • count bites of starchy carbohydrates rather than measure out portions or count calories
  • pay attention to how your body responds to the level of starchy carbohydrates you’re eating (if you’re eating 5 bites per meal, are you hungry before or after eating? do you experience cravings between meals? how are your energy levels?). Adjust your ‘bite number’ up or down accordingly, with the goal of eliminating cravings and improving energy
  • combine high intensity rest-based interval training with daily walking to improve my hormonal profile

Now that birthday season is over in my house (3 birthdays in 10 days means lots of extra dessert nights, more wine than usual and a box or two of dark chocolate caramels…), my plan is to give the Metabolic Effect Diet a test drive for the next 8 weeks or so.

I’ll be monitoring my energy levels and paying close attention to cravings and feelings of hunger until I figure out exactly how many bites of starchy carbs are best for me.

I’m also starting a new workout plan The New Rules of Lifting For Life: An All-New Muscle-Building, Fat-Blasting Plan for Men and Women Who Want to Ace Their Midlife Exams based on core strength, whole body compound exercises and high intensity intervals which should further enhance fat burning and mood stabilization. The first two phases of the program will overlap with my new nutrition plan, at which point, I’ll recap my progress and thoughts about both.

I still plan on reading and reviewing Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health and The Carb Sensitivity Program: Discover Which Carbs Will Curb Your Cravings, Control Your Appetite and Banish Belly Fat because both sound intriguing and the best researchers compare and contrast their findings!

P.S. June is gearing up to be a big month for challenges! I’m also participating in Sweet Tooth Sweet Life’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge and Running Loving Living’s Virtual 5K.

Have you read any of the books on my summer reading list?

Are you a ‘self-help’ book reader like me? What’s your favourite healthy lifestyle self-help title?

Monday Motivation: diet, exercise and heart health

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. February is Heart month. Both of these events are important to me. Nine Valentine’s Days ago, my infant daughter was recovering in hospital from the first of two open heart surgeries.

Today, I want to talk about improving your heart health as a motivator to eat well and exercise regularly.

In Canada, heart disease and stroke are the number one cause of death in women. In 2008, nearly 30% of women’s deaths were attributable to one or the other!

Although we often think of ‘heart disease’ as referring to arteriosclerosis (thickening of the blood vessels in the heart), it’s a much more general term, encompassing a range of conditions including acute coronary syndrome, angina, arrhythmia, congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, endocarditis and a variety of valve disorders.

Estimates suggest that over 90% of adult Canadians have at least one of the risk factors for developing some form of heart disease during their lifetime. How many describe you?

  • overweight
  • diabetic
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • inactivity
  • smoking
  • stress
  • excessive alcohol consumption

The good news is, all of the above risk factors are life-style in nature. That means we can all lower our risk of heart disease by making some relatively simple changes in our day to day living.

  • start moving; incorporate moderate intensity exercise into your day, most days of the week
  • quit smoking (ask your doctor for assistance)
  • reduce alcohol intake
  • take up a relaxing hobby (like knitting!)
  • sleep more
  • eat more foods that are high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains) and low in salt and saturated fat (clean eating is the perfect diet to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure and eliminate type II diabetes)

Still not convinced that improving your heart health is a smart thing to do?

Consider the cost to your pocketbook of medications used to control diabetes and reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure (three of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke).

Here’s the receipt for my daughter’s most recent prescription refill.

That’s a three month supply of one of the two medications she takes to control her high blood pressure (a consequence of the time that elapsed between her first and second heart surgeries). The other costs even more. Not everyone is as fortunate as we are to have a good drug plan.

Heart disease is one of the few forms of death that you can cheat.

What will you do today to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke?

Salad days are over for another year; what to do?

Only 5 more days until it’s officially winter, but according to my kitchen garden, fall’s been over for a long time. The boxes and raised beds full of lettuces and other leafy greens have been cleaned out and covered up until next year.

From May to October, I bypass the grocery store’s salad fixings, preferring those from my own garden instead. Spinach, kale, swiss chard, peppers, radicchio, arugula, romaine and collard greens, to name a few. There’s nothing better than grabbing a fresh handful of greens when making a lunchtime salad or scramble.

Come November, I’m forced to purchase the less-than-appealing offerings of my local produce stand or give up salads entirely until spring. While some of it is edible, much more is wilted, tasteless and over-ripe, having sat too long in it’s cellophane bag before finally reaching my plate.

Without salads as an option, how’s a girl to get in her daily 6-10 servings of veggies?

My solution is to switch from raw veggies to roasted. Slow roasted and in large enough quantities to serve as lunch for several days in a row. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetables and may even fool your sweet tooth into thinking it’s already had dessert!

Peppers and asparagus with chicken and olive oil pesto

What type of vegetables do I roast? Whatever type you prefer! I’ve tried potatoes (red/white/sweet), asparagus, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, pea pods, onions, ginger and garlic (of course!). Often times my ‘recipe’ is dictated by what needs to be eaten up soonest!

Sweet potato, mushroom, onion, ginger in coconut oil

All you need is

  • a large roasting pan (I use a glass, pyrex dish)
  • an oil or fat (canola, olive, sesame, coconut)
  • seasonings (sea salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, basil)
  • veggies

Wash, peel (if necessary) and cut veggies into bite size chunks (the smaller they are, the faster they’ll cook).

Toss prepared vegetables with chosen oil and seasonings.

Pour into pan and roast at 350 degrees F for about 45 min.

Serve hot or cold!

What’s your favorite vegetable?

Ever tried roasting it? Please share your recipe!

On mindful eating; what a hospital stay can teach you

Today’s the last day to have your name entered in my first year blogiversary giveaway. Go, read, comment and hope to win!

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Last week I spent six days largely confined to a hospital room. No, not mine, I’m fine thank you. My 9-year old daughter’s. She had pneumonia (better now, thanks again) and was stuck in bed on oxygen and IV antibiotics.

To say that my usually full schedule was thrown for a loop is an understatement. Not only did I miss a week’s worth of workouts (in retrospect, I’m referring to it as a ‘planned rest week’), but I also desperately missed my refrigerator and kitchen cupboards.

I’ve been in hospitals enough this past year to be completely familiar with the cafeteria’s offerings. Heavy on the starchy carbs, fats and processed sugars with very few ‘clean’ meals available. The irony of a place of healing serving such unhealthy food never ceases to amaze me. (Immediately after childbirth, new moms are continually hounded by the nursing staff as to whether they’ve had a bowel movement; certainly a lot harder when the only fruit you’re served comes wrapped in jello and veggies are canned and overcooked. But I digress.)

Source

So I did what I usually do when I’m out of the house for the day. I pack my cooler in the morning. Lots of fresh veggies, cut and washed. Two servings of low sugar fruit. Cooked chicken breasts and hard-boiled eggs. Some unsalted nuts and a bit of brown rice or sweet potato to fill me up. And water, of course. Plenty of water. (And my sister brought me a ME-approved protein bar which I absolutely loved; thanks sis!)

I ate my planned meals and snacks when I was hungry, as opposed to when the clock said I should. I drank lots of water (why are hospitals always so dry?) and minimal coffee (if it’s not Italian espresso, it’s not worth sipping :)). Most nights I went to bed a wee bit hungry (can’t remember when the last time that happened was).

At the end of the week, I came home and hopped on the scales. Down 3 pounds in 6 days.

Pretty sure that it’s neither water weight (light colored pee, you know) nor muscle (no measurable change in strength according to Sunday and Monday’s workouts). Plus, my belly is flat(ter).

What happened? I know exactly what I did differently.

Without continuous access to my refrigerator and pantry, I ate only the foods I packed for myself in the morning. In the morning. When I have complete control of my faculties and am determined that ‘today’ is going to be the cleanest day yet.

There was no opportunity to grab another handful of nuts or a (home made) protein bar or a piece of bread. Those little extras are never consumed mindfully; sometimes I catch myself eating without even realizing that I’ve opened the refrigerator or cupboard door. Without ever having felt hungry in the first place. Without thinking about how those additional calories would impact my fitness and nutrition goals.

This week, back at home in my kitchen, I’m taking extra care. I’ve returned to planning my nutrition a day in advance. Packing up single servings of leftovers to eat for lunch the following day. Thinking hard about whether or not I’m hungry when I venture into the kitchen for a snack.

Thankful to a hospital stay for the reminder to eat mindfully again.

Have you ever found yourself eating something and been unable to remember the act of preparing it or removing it from the fridge or the cupboard?

What time of day do you find it most difficult to be mindful of your nutrition? 

Do you have any strategies that you use to reduce mindless eating? I’d love to hear them!

The thing about willpower

For the last two weeks I’ve been participating in the ‘No sugar challenge’. Attempting to increase my awareness of the ingredients in the products I buy and rid my diet of unnecessary, added sugars.

All in all, it went pretty well. I have more energy, my mood is more even, the ‘afternoon slump’ has disappeared and I’ve signed up for another round just to make sure the changes I’ve made get a chance to become habits.

What’s been most surprising about the challenge are the responses I get from others when I tell them about it.

“But I can’t drink my coffee without sugar”

“I need a cookie or a ____ (insert your vice here) mid-afternoon to get through my day”

“I wish I had your willpower

Balderdash.

The words ‘can’t’ and ‘need’ imply that some terrible fate will befall you if you don’t indulge. Yes, your coffee might taste different without the sugar, but give yourself a week to re-train your taste buds and you won’t miss it (trust me, I just gave up a 20 year addiction to chocolate syrup in my morning coffee and the world didn’t come to an end). No, you don’t need that mid-afternoon treat, try a piece of fruit instead; in a few days it will seem sweet enough and as an added bonus, they’ll be no pre-dinner sugar crash!

As for ‘willpower’, it’s not some magical virtue that you either have or don’t have. We are all tempted by something, be it food, alcohol or expensive yarn. It’s simple impulse control. Making a thoughtful decision about what you will or won’t do, knowing that your decision has consequences and may hinder or help you to reach your goals.

We expect children to control their impulses to hit their friends. As adults, we practice impulse control on a daily basis. We refrain from telling our boss what we really think of him. Although we may be tempted, we don’t ram our car into the vehicle that just cut us off. We don’t tell our best friend that her new boyfriend is a cad. Yet when it comes to food, we blame our inability to curb those impulses on ‘willpower’.

The thing about ‘willpower’ is, it’s just a word we use to rationalize poor decisions.

This week, practice making mindful decisions about nutrition. Think about the consequences of your actions before you indulge. Make a habit of controlling your impulses. Join me in the two week no sugar challenge.

Before you know it, your friends will be commenting on your ‘willpower’!

Can I really go 14 days without sugar?

Last week I mentioned a great clean eating blog I found on the web; The Gracious Pantry (wonderful, clean recipes and fabulous food photography). On Saturday, I followed a link from this website to another inspirational site; Fit Fabulous Forever (more wonderful, clean eating recipes and lots of tips about exercise and weight loss).

Not sufficient with being incredible mentors on their own, the authors (Tiffany and Gale, respectively) of these two sites have teamed up to create ‘The 14-day No Sugar Challenge‘. The goal of the challenge is exactly as it sounds; eliminate all forms of processed sugar (including, but not limited to white sugar, brown sugar, glucose-fructose, honey, maple syrup and agave nectar) from your diet for fourteen days.

Always up for a challenge 🙂 , I decided to join in!

Now I knew where my weaknesses would be; Hershey’s chocolate syrup in my morning coffee, a handful of chocolate chips mid-afternoon, dessert on Fridays and Sundays. But it’s only two weeks. I don’t anticipate that I will go completely sugar-free once this challenge is over; I really look forward to and enjoy dessert nights with my family. For me this challenge is more about finding those extras that I can live without.

I started by taking a look in my pantry. Since I don’t tend to buy candy or packaged baked goods (I bake my own, often cleaning up old favourites by subbing in whole wheat flour, bran and flax seed for white flour, applesauce or pumpkin puree for the fat, and brown sugar for white) and make a habit of reading product labels before I buy, I figured that my cupboards wouldn’t reveal too many forbidden items.

Was I ever wrong.

All of my favourite “healthy” products (you know, those ‘low in fat’, ‘high fibre’, ‘good source of protein’ ones?) contained added sugars.

Kashi Go Lean Crunch; evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup and honey; 15 g of sugar per serving
Kashi Seven Whole Grains and Almonds Chewy bars; evaporated cane juice syrup, honey and cane juice molasses; 5 g of sugar per serving
President’s Choice Blue Menu Omega-3 almond vanilla granola; brown sugar, sugar and honey; 10 g of sugar per serving
Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle mix; sugar, dextrose, glucose solids; 3 g of sugar per serving
Nature’s Path Organic Instant Oatmeal; granulated organic cane juice; 11 g of sugar per serving

Now I realize that these sugar counts are relatively low (as compared with say, 3 Oreo cookie or a small bag of red Twizzlers; 14 and 28 g, respectively), and in all likelihood, when this no-sugar challenge is over, I will go back to including them in my diet (perhaps less frequently…). But for me, this exercise is more about increasing my awareness of the presence of added, and unnecessary sugar, in my diet. Given the link between sugar consumption and weight gain, this is surely a good thing!

I’ve slipped up a couple of times; hubby made chocolate chip cookies (the un-clean kind) and even though he tucked them away, out of sight, I could still smell them and had to have a taste (but I stopped at just one!); the remainder of my daughter’s after school granola bar; a beer during the hockey game (Go Canucks Go!). But I’ve given up my morning mocha for a non-fat latte and don’t miss the chocolate in my coffee at all.

You can follow my daily progress and updates on Facebook (go ahead, ‘friend’ me, Tamara Grand, I won’t bite!) and what the rest of the challenge participants are up to on the Fit Fabulous Forever forum.

What have you got to lose (other than your sweet tooth?)!