Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Food for Thought: Finding Aloha in Meal Planning

You've probably heard the phrase "you can't out-train a poor diet."  Well, I have a confession.  I've been the poster child for "poor diet" for the last couple of years.

Here are the facts:
1.  I love to cook.  Love.  There is nothing better than taking a bunch of ingredients and making something fantastic to feed to family and friends.  Food is love, after all.  I used to spend hours poring over cookbooks looking for something new to try.  At least one new recipe each week.  Sometimes more.  Not everything I made was great.  Not everything I made was edible.  But everything I tried was an adventure.

2.  I haven't seen my kitchen in... well, years.  (sad face).  I am often gone from my house by 430 am, arriving home sometime around 7 pm, and fall into bed by 8 pm.  That gives me roughly 60 minutes to eat, unwind, and get my shit together for the following day (rinsing water bottles, laundry (ha! j/k), bags packed, etc).  Sadly, my schedule had gotten so out of hand that I was literally eating from a drive-thru two meals a day, and then eating a bowl of cereal for dinner at night.  Snacking on anything I could get my hands on in the break room in between meals.  Totally not kidding.  And totally not cool.  So not cool.

3.  I have had conflicting feelings about how and what I eat.  I love the idea of a plant based diet but in practice, right now,  it feels overwhelming, and condescending.  I know, right?  How can food be condescending?  Several years ago I committed myself to eating plant based (vegan) for 30 days.  I was very strict for this 30 days and you know what?  I felt fantastic.  (This was also back when I had time to cook).  I told people I wasn't doing it for "political" reasons, I just wanted to see how my health might change by eating plant based.  After that 30 days, I followed a "less religious" plant based diet.  Meaning I wasn't "that guy" when I went to eat with family or friends.  I didn't turn down an invitation to a holiday meal with friends.  And I didn't beat myself up if I ate a piece of bacon or sushi.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped having time to prepare food and so I was driving through Taco Bell for a bean burrito, cause there's no meat in that.  Or grabbing a veggie pizza from the place down the street.  We joked about how much pizza I was consuming, but it truly was 5-6 times a week.  Often 3 meals in a row.  Ultimately, my brain tied my lack of being vegan and my poor diet together, and I stressed about it even more.  I felt horrible because I was eating crappy food.  And even more horrible because sometimes it was In N Out Burger.  *gasp*  The horror of it all!

I would still go grocery shopping once a week.  And out of guilt and a feeling of obligation I would buy fruits and vegetables which inevitably got thrown out at the end of their life span- untouched.  I felt worse wasting food and throwing so much away.  The smell of rotting produce in my fridge shamed me every time I reached inside.

I tried a couple of meal delivery services.  What I found was that the portion sizes were much smaller than I would normally consume and sometimes I just didn't like the food that was delivered.  Some people can choke down something they don't like because it's good for them or they paid for it.  This is not me.  So this wasn't a realistic long term solution for me.

During my training for Arizona, I listened to a podcast during which my coach talked about her transition to a plant based diet.  She said that she did it abruptly and her training did suffer the effects of "trial and error" because it wasn't necessarily the healthy plant based diet that she follows now.  In the podcast she speculated that for someone to switch to a vegan diet there would be an adjustment period, potentially up to a couple of years, while said person was figuring out how to eat the right amount and types of nutrients.  When I heard this it was kind of an epiphany.  I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself and this helped me to realize that what I was feeling was probably pretty normal.  At that time I started to think about other options for cleaning up my diet.

I had already decided I needed to address my diet last fall as the next step in the process of #findingkona when I qualified for Hawaii in November.  At that time I had nailed down my race nutrition strategy but my daily diet was still a disaster.   A friend of mine had worked with a dietitian last year during her preparation for Kona and gave me a referral.  I held off on contacting her because she is not based in Arizona and everything would be done online or via phone consult, and I wasn't sure how this would work.

I sat down with a couple of nutritionists locally last fall to talk about what I needed.  I got a similar response from each which was something along the lines of, I don't write meal plans, I am going to teach you how to eat properly.  *sigh*  I know how to eat healthy.  I just don't do it because I lack time to plan to eat healthy.  I almost signed on because my preference in life is to support local.  But in the end, I went with what was going to be best for me and I called Katie of OWN Nutrition.

Over the course of a couple phone calls and email correspondence I gave her my deal breakers.  I don't have time to "cook".  I want someone to tell me exactly what to eat (and when?!) and it needs to be assembly only.  And I don't eat poultry.  Ever.  I breathed a sigh of relief when Katie was excited to help me and encouraged me in the process.  She assured me that after a few months, I WOULD learn what my body needed, but for now she would handle the thinking part of it.

Boiled eggs:  10 min prep.  A week's worth of snacks.

My first meal plan arrived in my inbox.  7 days, with detailed meals and snacks.  A shopping list (hallelujah!).  "Recipes" for any meals that required some assembly.  And a handout on portion sizes.  OK, I admit, I didn't print out the portion sizes handout.

My first trip to the grocery store was a little bit overwhelming.  I was still learning and hadn't yet compiled a concise list so I was running back and forth between different departments as I read down my list for the week.  I have since learned and now spend 10 minutes making a list for produce, meat, frozen goods, dry goods, etc.  Now I can be in and out in 30 minutes.

Week 1 I had something on my plan called the "side salad".  When I set out to prep my side salad I was shocked to find it was anything but a "side"!  4-5 cups of greens (spinach, arugula and romaine), with tomatoes, almonds, and protein (some days this was salmon, others it was beans and quinoa).

Peppers and zucchini wrapped in strip steak with sauteed spinach.

Most of my assembly is done on Sundays and Thursdays when I have an hour in the evening to prepare meals.  I prepackage my lunch and dinner for the week, including all snacks.  Once or twice a week I'll throw all my protein on the grill.  I'll have a big salmon filet going on one burner, and a couple of filets on another.  And my husband (who is not following my meal plan) let's me grill up some pork or chicken for him along with a big batch of quinoa once a week so that he's not scrambling for healthy options either.  And every once in a while, he'll eye something that I'm eating and offer to share it with me.  Among our favorite is an avocado-tomato-cilantro salad (with protein of choice on top!)  It has been no trouble at all to transition to this meal plan.

I'm past the 30 day mark now and I'm as happy as the day I hired Hillary to coach me.  I have eaten more vegetables in the last month than I have in the last 2 years combined.  I have more energy.  More stable energy-- no spiking and bottoming out in the middle of the day.  I have been trying things I've never made before.  Pork carnitas in a crock pot for example.  Everything is super simple, but tasty and satisfying.

Carnitas!!  In the crock pot!!  Prep time:  10 minutes.  *Boom*

And the best part is, I don't find myself craving sugar all the time.  I find myself content with what I've eaten, and when I do get hungry, instead of ravaging the junk food pile at work or at home I find myself looking for something more satisfying.  Yogurt and berries is a big favorite.  Apples with peanut butter.  Trail mix (homemade!).  I'm not a dietitian, but from my observation my diet is chock full of vegetables, protein and good fats.  Lots of fats.  I think moving away from 95% carbs has helped a lot in the reduction of cravings and blood sugar spikes.

Big ol' salad!  This is my mainstay! 

Once a week I have a phone consultation with Katie.  And if I email or text her with a question I usually hear back within a couple of hours.  She has helped me to realize that being ravenous on Monday means that I'm not fueling and re-fueling on Sunday appropriately after my long day.  We made a few adjustments and I no longer wake up hungry, and Monday is just like every other day of the week-- steady energy intake and output.  It is nothing short of amazing!

I think someday I would like to try moving more permanently to a plant based diet, but for now, I am eating healthy and feeling great.  Even my stress level has improved dramatically.  I don't know if it's all the good fats allowing my brain to function appropriately, or just the fact that I'm not eating drive thru meals 10 times a week.  I still eat pizza.  Just not every day.  And I still eat sweets.  Just not every day.  I'm eating slower and finding pleasure in food again.

Food is love, and I'm definitely on the road to being happier with myself and how I'm treating myself.  And this move is central to my theme of #findingaloha in 2016.  Love my food, love myself.


Unknown said...

Thank you soooo much for sharing. I love working out and could run all day but my struggle is with my diet. Everything you said, I could relate to; I just kept nodding as I read, lol. I know that if I want to improve and really reach the hard goals I have, I have to get serious about my diet. You give me hope :)

Trail RN'n said...

Mary- Jen shared this with me because this is my huge downfall!! I am just now starting to attempt to be an athlete again, and I am restarting at 42. I am old. What you asked for and what you described is exactly my struggle. I know how to eat, but some days I am still struggling to work my 12 hour shifts and workout. Food is what "gives".
Keep up the amazing work. I can't wait to hear all about Tahoe and look forward to seeing you in October :)