Regaining Health: What I eat

So far in the Regaining Health series of blog posts, I’ve chatted about my story, how I got started with finding a “Why” and the all-important relationship with food. Now that communication is open on ideas about eating, habits and triggers with food, it’s on to the practical stuff. In this post I’ll talk about what I ate when I started this transition and what I actually eat now. 

My food journey

Most of my life I’ve had a less than positive view of food and my body. Despite always being active in some way and eating what I thought was healthy, I was always unhappy with how my body looked. I’ve never kept to diets long enough to be a yo-yo dieter, but I’ve always tried to eat “healthy” and then binged on something I knew wasn’t good for me. I would purposefully not eat the next meal or for a big part of the next day to “make up for it”. Sometimes I would exercise to burn off the excess fat but hate every moment. My understanding of how food and activity function together for our bodies was completely warped. I’m so grateful for what I have been able to learn since then. While I’m no medical professional, nutritionist or personal trainer I do hope that sharing what have learned may help someone out there.

Weight loss and maintenance are not the crux of this post- eating to feel like you’re thriving is. I have to disclose that my eating habits are roughly 90% plant based. This slowly started as I began respecting my body more and the pay off was losing weight and gaining muscle. The intention was simply to eat better to feel better.

A fast-tracked version of this story starts in 2014 when I visited my friend Talya Goldberg who’d gone vegan cold turkey. Hat’s off to Talya- also check her out on Instagram and Twitter. She’s not only very on point with the next big thing but she’s funny and gorgeous. She inspired me to start cutting down my meat consumption. As a former vegetarian- between the ages of  18 and 20, I thought it would be easy. I started eating meat every other day and after time, less and less until I was happy with 2 meals a week having meat. 

Eventually, I cut down on dairy for a month and I was pleased by the results because I felt better! My chronic sinusitis went away and I stopped using the daily medication for it, I lost 2.5 kgs and could see that my skin and cellulite was better. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. I remember looking at myself in a pair of my favourite pants which normally made me feel tall and elegant but instead, I felt like a ship in full sail. I felt awful. I was going out to a family celebration and feeling so uncomfortable in my own skin. From that moment on, I tried to learn something small about nutrition, the human body and the right ways to balance food with activity every day. 

How I ate to start getting healthy

To start with I looked at girls and women who were a similar age to me and had the same body shape, but who looked like they were thriving and eating ethically too. This kept the goal or outcome realistic and attainable. I know social media can be misleading, so people who very honest and real were important. There are so many amazing women working in the health and wellness field who share their knowledge freely. I have them to thank for what I know and where I am today. (Don’t worry, I will be sharing a comprehensive list of these Wonder women next week in my post on staying motivated.) 

Here is a list of the practical things that I wrote down and tried to stick to daily and weekly, which helped me feel great, lose weight and build muscle mass. 

  • Start the day with a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar or the juice of half a lemon in a glass of hot water. This will boost the metabolism and reduces sugar cravings. Wait for a minium of 30 minutes before breakfast.
  • Breakfast is so important. Start with a balanced combination of carbs, protein and fats
  • Chose water as your drink of preference. Flavour it with fruit like; apples, berries, citrus, cucumber and herbs of your choice. I love mint and lemon. 
  • Cook your own meals as often as possible (at least 10- 13 meals a week)
  • Learn about correct portion sizes*
  • Aim to eat 1 cup of dark leafy greens daily. Alternate so you don’t eat the same ones every week. 
  • Aim to eat 1/2 cup of legumes or beans daily. Alternating so you don’t eat the same ones all the time. 
  • Snack on fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, add in dips like hummus.
  • Take coffee black or with almond milk, one cup before 12 pm per day
  • Aim to eat whole food, non-refined carbs. Only eat refined bread or pasta 1-2 a week.
  • Aim to eat dairy 1-2 a week. 
  • Cut down alcohol consumption to 2-3 units a week. 
  • Cut down meat consumption to once a week.

*to learn about portion sizes control, I often referred to MeowMeix, Kathryn Gray and Sugar Free Sundays.  Sometimes I still do!

The Stylist's Notebook: Regaining Health- What I Eat

How I eat for maintance

Looking back, this quite a restrictive list. Diets work to help people lose weight quickly by being restrictive, they do not work in the long term because this restriction is unsustainable. When I started I was strict with myself but I did come to view these more like guidelines than rules as I went on. As stated previously, human beings need food for function and pleasure- that’s balance! It’s why the phrase “Aim for” is so liberally used and why I have allowances for refined carbs and dairy. I started out eating meat once a week most of the time, sometimes not wanting to eat meat for two weeks or month. Those were normally my meals eating out or socially with family and friends. They were generally “treat” meals. I honestly think you could do it with meat because during this process I cut it out altogether. To each their own.

I did not have a set “Goal Weight” and this important because, with my history, I have previously set goals that were not achievable or sustainable. I wanted to find a happy place where I felt strong and looked good too. For me, that was after losing 6kgs, a full dress size. The tricky part came when I didn’t know how to take my eating habits from the guidelines above so I could stop losing weight. I wanted to maintain my health and a positive outlook for the long term. It took some trial and error and I think it’s also different for every person. 

I’m currently less restrictive, I still focus on eating lots of vegetables in a wide variety and including fruit. Whole foods are important but I have integrated more refined carbs into my eating habits than I’d like. I  try a few new things on the market after I’ve read up on them but I do not believe in gimmicky, expensive supplements or other hyped products. 

On the whole, it’s happiest I’ve felt about myself and the least anxious I’ve been about food in my whole life. A bold statement, but true. And it wasn’t easy to get here, I still work on it sometimes daily, sometimes weekly.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the type of meals I have daily and mention that no day is perfect!

Breakfast is usually oats with a serving a protein powder. I alternate between oats, smoothies, toast with a big serving of vegetables like spinach, tomatoes or mushrooms (occasionally tofu) or protein pancakes on weekends. Sometimes I have a portion of homemade granola with 1/2 cup of fruit and some plant-based milk but this is for days that I don’t feel particularly hungry… So not most days! I know I mentioned not using expensive gimmicky products, but I’ve found that protein powder in smoothies, oats, baking or just as a shake has helped me so much. The boost of protein helps me make sure that I get enough and it keeps me fuller for longer. 

As a snack between breakfast and lunch, I usually have a piece of fruit with some seeds and nuts if I’m on the run. If I’m home it might become fruit and nut butter. If I’ve had fruit for breakfast, a vegetable instead of fruit. Carrots, celery, cucumber, sliced beetroot are all easy on their own or with a dip. 

Lunch in summer is usually a salad or bowl. I like to aim for about 1 cup of leafy greens, a 1/4 of grains which usually double as carbs, a 1/4 of plant based protein (or the recommended serving size on the product’s packaging) and then fill up the rest of the bowl or plate with seasonal vegetables. Sometimes these bowls are made up of left overs and during Winter it goes more towards soups, stews, dahls and curries. 

I normally get very peckish between dinner and lunch and I’m still learning to satiate my sweet tooth. So I try to have fruit or small portion of a clever swop like chickpea cookie dough balls or a brownie made with hidden legumes and veggies. If I want something savory, I try avoid craving chips by having popcorn, edamame beans, seed crackers or veggies crisps.

Dinner in Winter is easier than Summer for me. Stews, soups, curries and dahl are my favourite dishes, playing with different spices or flavours keeps it fun. In summer I like to base my meals on veg or a salad with plant based protein. Bean and lentil based patties or fritters on salads are a favourite, “meat” balls on veg noodles (or pasta every once and a while), stir frys topped with tempeh, tofu or seitan, a lightened up broth or a good old whole-food Buddah Bowl are all easy to make. For dessert nice cream, sorbet, 2-3 blocks of chocolate or a nutritionally balanced, baked at home treat is ok every other night. 

To recap

  • Diets or calorie deficits work to loose weight fast- but are not sustainable in the long term.
  • Opt for a meal plan that encourages long term eating habits and sustained health.
  • Chose a goal that is achievable- if you’re unsure seek a professional. 
  • Try to have a good mix of carbs, protein, fats in every snack or meal. These macros are different for every person.
  • Focus on whole foods over processed foods.
  • Lots of veggies, very little meat if any.
  • Striking balance is important- occasional “treats” are fine 2-3 times a week.

Once again, I’m not a nutritionist and this is by no means a comprehensive guide. Writing that would take much more than a single blog post! This is what worked for me.  I’ve managed to find a balance where I’m no longer obessively tracking every meal on an app (although that helped to learn) and I’m strong and healthy enough to be grateful for my body. I’m no longer telling my body hatefull messages but rather appreciating what it can do. And if sharing can help one other person out there, then it’s worth doing. 

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