After I announced my first 20 lbs lost in 11 weeks, I had several people ask me what I was doing to see that result. The next five sections are what I sent in reply. But I also emphasize GREATLY the importance of judging the calorie and macronutrient intakes on a 7-10 day average instead of obsessing daily, not freaking out if every single food doesn’t meet every single one of the goals, and being incredibly forgiving with myself in terms of where I’m at emotionally because that is going to get in the way at times. There are just some times it is going to be harder or go slower. And that’s okay.
POINT ONE: STARTING OUT
The first thing I did (on advice from a friend who also dealt with pre-diabetes) was cut out potatoes and drinking milk (I still cook with it occasionally). The starch in potatoes spikes blood sugar and you’d be surprised how many carbs and sugars are in a glass of milk. I drink milk now like I drink a fancy cocktail – only on occasion and often as dessert! I also tend to switch out sandwich bread for whole wheat pitas half the time. And I started with steel-cut oats in the mornings. This was a big help with keeping my energy up in the mornings.
I did a ton of online research about diabetic diets and did an online pre-diabetes course through Kaiser Permanente and consulted briefly with a KP nutritionist who basically confirmed that my research was on the right track. (Thank you, ObamaCare!).
POINT TWO: THE BIG FOUR
To keep the blood sugar down and lower my cholesterol, my diet consists of monitoring what I call my Big Four: carbs (under 180g per day), saturated fat (16g p/d – I don’t worry about general fat, just the saturated kind), cholesterol (280 g p/d – cholesterol is often related to diabetic issues) and added sugar (20g added sugar p/d – I don’t count natural sugars in fruits and vegetables). If a food hits the targets on 3 out of 4, I’m good to go.
The result of eating like this is I’m automatically eating a lot of foods low in the glycemic index like whole grains, high in complex nutrients like beans and lean meats, I eat less bread and dairy than I used to, and go vegetarian more often. I also have a new love affair with hummus. Seriously.
BTW – this is very similar to a ketogenic diet, but this is far less extreme and way more forgiving. I’m all about the forgiveness!
POINT THREE: FEED ME, SEYMOUR!
The OTHER thing I found when focusing on the BIG FOUR is that for the first several weeks, I was having trouble getting in ENOUGH calories. I still have to be pretty strategic about it, but it is less of an issue now. By eating a lot of brown rice, beans, and lean proteins, I was eating foods that satisfy me longer, leveled out my blood sugars and my energy, and I was less prone to stress eating. (I still stress eat, just not as often and not as much.) But these foods are usually very low in calorie.
During the first month, I actually had trouble clearing that 1200 minimum calories per day. When I needed to clear that hurdle, Trader Joe’s “Handful of Almonds” became a go-to. It is now part of my regular snack regimen – as are multigrain pita chips and hummus.
But it also becomes pretty obvious after a several days of low-calorie eating, that something must be done. My body basically turns into Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors and screams “FEED ME!” So, I do. And I don’t worry too much about what I’m feeding me on that day, but I DO record everything I’m feeding me. No matter what.
POINT FOUR: RECORDING TOOLS
I pay the $50 per year for the full My Fitness Pal (MFP) app so I can track calories and each of my Big Four on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I don’t kill myself if I’m a little over on one day or another. As long as my weekly averages are below the limits, I consider it a solid week. (Again, forgiveness!)
I had used the free version of My Fitness Pal in earlier endeavors to just track my eating. But I find that paying the $50 a year (not month, YEAR) is worth it. It gives you so much more data that is both encouraging and eye-opening. Each day, week, or month, I can click on SUGAR or SATURATED FAT and see the foods I’ve eaten that contributed these to my diet, and how much they contributed. Same with over a dozen other macro and micro nutrients.
Let me tell you, this last week, when I only lost 1 lb after several weeks of losing 2 lbs, I was like, WTF? Then I went to MFP and looked at the Big Four. Lo and behold, I had had a week filled with Mexican food (and forgiveness). I had been in rehearsal for two weeks, so feeding Audrey II queso and margaritas or getting Robertitos bean burritos two or three times was a coping mechanism. It didn’t completely kill my week, but it definitely slowed things down. And there it was, in the antiseptic blue and white of the app, staring me in the face.
So yeah, it really helps me get a handle on what foods are problem foods for me and where I need to find some solutions. (Like finding better options on a Mexican menu!).
But it ALSO tells me what I can have that’s a surprise. When I found out how friggin healthy hummus was, I was looking to put it in everything! I also discovered that I can still have small amounts of sour cream in my chili beans or a tsp of brown sugar in my oatmeal and it won’t kill my day.
POINT FIVE: SUNDAY PREP
The old-fashioned tradition of a Sunday Dinner has been replaced in my life with Sunday Food Prep. Especially with rehearsals involved, having a refrigerator full of already prepped foods really helps. So often the decisions are already made for me.
What I prep:
- Brown Rice – 6 cups (after cooking) total.
- Steel Cut Oatmeal – 2-3 cups.
- Chicken Breasts – 2-3 large. One or two get split in half for dinner portions. One will get shredded or cubed for chicken salad or pita/hummus bowl filling.
- Steamed vegetables – 4-6 cups.
- 3-4 hard boiled eggs – these are just in case of emergency, when I need a snack or a super fast breakfast (with fruit). Jaguar can make egg salad sandwiches or I’ll slice and add to a spinach mix for salad.
- Fresh Fruit – 4 cups of sliced/cubed melon, strawberries, pineapple, watermelon. Apples. Always apples. Now adding peaches and nectarines in the latter part of the summer. And grapes for snacks.
- Beans with chili seasoning – 6 cups.
This amount of food can last Jaguar and I well over a week, really. It is perfect for when we’re both busy and we’re not sitting down to a prepared meal every night. If we’re disciplined, grocery store trips are cut down to the basics, saving us some money, too.
All of this then gets divided into various 3-6 cup food containers – a few of which are complete meals so I can take them to work for lunch or grab for a fast dinner before rehearsal. I also tag what everything is with post-it notes AND put a list of what’s in the fridge on the fridge itself. So I scan, make a decision, and don’t think too much about it.
Meals I prep in a 3 cup food containers:
- Chicken breast, brown rice/quinoa, and steamed veg. (The classic prepped meal for weight loss).
- Beans w/ steamed corn or Beans and Brown Rice.
- Chicken salad pita with fruit on the side.
- Leftovers: ususally stir fry or whole wheat spaghetti marinara
- Four morning portions of steel-cut oats
- Hummus bowls – I read about this on a MFP blog and gave it a shot. It almost instantly became my replacement for Mac and Cheese for lunch. A hummus bowl is bascally a 1/2 c – 1 cup of brown rice and 2 – 3 tbsp of hummus as its base. Then you can add in anything else that suits you. I add shredded chicken or steamed vegetables as I have them. Leftover steak or taco filling has also gone into hummus bowls. Beans? Yep. Anyway, add what you want to the base, zap it in the science oven for a minute or so, stir and eat. I add a little garlic and cumin or Lebanese spices as often as not. But it is filling, low in calorie, low in the Big Four, and I find it a decent comfort food.