Friday, January 27, 2017

Focusing on healthier eating

roasted broccoli, beets and sweet potatoes with couscous

I'm not big on setting new year resolutions, but I do often pick an area of my life that I want to focus on and improve. This year, I'm focusing on eating healthier.

This is a big challenge for me because I've never loved cooking and for the last few years I've barely cooked at all. Not that we eat out every night, mainly on weekends, but I've been living on salad, pita and hummus, canned soup, frozen pizzas and frozen dinners for far too long. Because I eat veggies and fruit pretty much every day, I always thought I ate pretty healthy. In reality, however, my diet was far from it and I was ready for a change.

My main inspiration for this change comes from 100 Days of Real Food. Blogger Lisa Leake advocates for a real food diet that includes lots organic fruits and veggies, full-fat organic dairy, locally-raised meat and whole grains. Read real food defined for details.

I've been eating pretty simple meals. A lot of roasted veggies, including sweet potatoes, broccoli and green beans with couscous or quinoa. Grilled chicken wraps with lots of veggies. A few stir frys. And of course my salad, pita and hummus habit, while reduced, is still going as it's quick, easy and is real food.

My little buddy Lucy loves my new frequent
dish-washing routine and has to supervise every. single. time.

This has been a big change and yummy though it's been, it hasn't been easy. Even with sticking to simple meals, cooking and then cleaning up most week nights takes up an hour or more of my free time after work.

I'm also taking a "small changes are better than nothing" approach, which is a challenge for this perfectionist. I'm aiming for real food 80% of the time, but I'm not there yet. Still, there has definitely been progress.

Positive changes:
  • Trying new recipes: I've gone from a menu rut to trying several great new recipes, including sweet potato and black bean quinoa bowls, roasted vegetables, white chicken chili and chicken stir fry (I love the sauce and not having to rely on the bottled stuff).
  • Eating new foods: I've gone from never cooking and thinking I didn't like sweet potatoes to eating them 2-4 times per week (probably too much, but they are delicious roasted). I've also tried beets and quinoa for the first time and found that black beans are a tasty and easy addition to dishes.
  • Less food waste: Even though I've been buying more produce than ever, because I'm cooking more very little of it is going to waste, which is a big change from before. 
  • No more added sugar: I stopped adding sugar to my morning coffee, opting instead for a teaspoon of honey and milk in my first cup only. As a result, the jittery low blood-sugar feeling I was experiencing during late mornings is history. I also cut out the sugary-filled flavored yogurt and cereal I was eating for breakfast, opting instead for plain greek yogurt with fruit, honey and granola. Although this week I caved and bought some flavored yogurt. It tastes almost sickly sweet.

Areas for improvement:
  • I haven't been able to quit my weekly frozen margarita pizza habit or my "more times than I should per week" ice cream habit. But, I'm not having pretzels as soon as I get home, candy and an ice cream every night so this too is progress.
  • Organic food only - Leake advocates for only eating organic food and especially organic, grass-fed meat. I'm experiencing sticker shock at the price of an all-organic diet, so while I'm buying more organic than ever (which was almost none), it's not even 50% of our food. And I haven't bought any organic meat which tends to be 3-6 times more than even the natural meat at our healthier grocery stores.
  • Whole grain breads - I'm also struggling to find pita bread, tortillas and bread with whole grains and five ingredients or less so I've been continuing to eat the standard stuff. I plan to make a trip to Trader Joe's tomorrow to see if I have more success there.
  • Meal-planning - The first week I committed to cooking only real food, I went to the grocery four times for this or that. Lately I've cut back to just two, but it would be nice to get down to just one trip most of the time.
  • Frozen lunches - I've been taking leftovers from dinner 2-3 times a week, but on the other days I'm still grabbing a frozen dinner for lunch, which doesn't meet the criteria for real food.
I'll also admit that I was hoping that if I switched to a real-food diet the extra pounds would just start melting off and, sadly, that hasn't been the case. I've been losing and then gaining the same 3-4 pounds since the beginning of the year ad not really making progress. Maybe it's because I'm not following the plan strictly. Time will tell.

Is anyone else trying to eat healthier these days? Any challenges or recipes to share?


  1. 100 Days of Real Food is what converted me too! While I am not as strict as them (especially with sugar), the site and the challenge were really inspiring for me.

    1. Interesting to know that they inspired you too!

  2. Oh yes... it's my annual "I will eat better" promise. I've been trying gluten free for a month or so with the hopes that it will help some digestive issues I've had... nothing spectacular so far, but I'm gonna stick with it a bit longer and see. I just polished off the last of the (gluten free) Christmas cookies from the freezer last night, so now I can start in earnest with my aim for healthier.

    I pretty much have to cook everything from scratch anyhow due to food allergies, but it's remarkable how much junk one can consume even with that restriction! Still, I know how hard it is to cook when you don't feel inspired - do leftovers still count as "real food?" I think I'd lose my mind without them!

    I've been pining for Norway, so potatoes have loomed large recently. Probably not the healthiest choice, but I made some yummy potato kale soup, and a potato, kale & egg scramble which was to die for. But, I've been reading about "gut health" in the past few days, and everything suggests that nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) aren't the best choice, so I guess I'm gonna try to explore some different options. Maybe radishes or rutabagas?

    Anyhow, hang in there... it sounds like you're doing great, and trust me, the cooking gets easier once you come up with some systems that work for you.

    1. Thanks Cat. :-) The other day the boyfriend said, "You realize you start a new diet every January, right?" Me: No, I do totally different things every year, it's not the same at all.

      But, he's kind of right and none of them have lasted and I hope this time is different. The fact that I'm not hungry, or craving carbs or going nuts counting calories is a bonus.

      I think if you're already cooking everything from scratch, you must be eating pretty healthy already. My idea of cooking from scratch was making tacos using packaged taco spice mix, shells, etc. I'm trying to change that!

      Funny, but food is one of the things I've never missed about Norway (well, the chocolate, bread, pastries and dairy perhaps, but not the fish in everything! Or the boiled potatoes. So. many. boiled. potatoes.). It really drives me nuts is when different groups debate about things like if certain types of real food are good or not, like carbs, whole grains, starchy veggies, dairy, etc. Just sticking to the real stuff is hard enough for me, so I'm starting there and then I'll see how I feel.

    2. Oh and yes, real food leftovers most certainly count as real food. I need to give batch cooking a try and see how that goes.

    3. It sounds like you're doing great. I'm WAY too lazy to do the whole batch cooking thing. I just do what some call "planned leftovers" ie: cook way more than you need for one meal. Depending on both the state of my fridge and how enthused I was about the way it turned out, I sometimes freeze it for later and sometimes just eat the same thing for a few days. Seriously, I'd be psychotic if I tried to cook every single day!

  3. If you want to lose weight by simply eating healthy - not dieting - Fat Girl Slim by Ruth Watson may be a good read. Even if you don't cook her recipies (expensive!). She explains very well how it works and why nothing is going to work if you continue to eat bad stuff.

    1. That one looks hard to find on this side of the pond, but I'll take a look, thanks for the recommendation.

      When I previously lost weight and kept it off for a time I found that following the diet (or eating plan or whatever) most of the time, but not 100% of the time, actually helped keep the weight loss going, but we'll see. I've been seeing some progress this week, we'll see if it lasts.

  4. Widely available on ebay uk. Sure many will ship overseas. Unfortunately my copy is a Dutch translation. Would gladly sell it as I found it in the trash and I don't need it. Lost weight slowly growing into a minimalistic diet, but that's another story and too long to explain here.

  5. I changed my eating habits (I don't use the word diet because it represents something temporary) in 2011. By 2014 - yes, 3 years later - after consuming 1500 calories a day and walking/exercising for one hour a day I had reached my goal by losing 52 lbs. I am in my 60's. What 3 years of calorie counting taught me was how to eat, when to eat and to realize that it's a lifelong journey. Today I am still at my goal weight and live by a couple of simple rules: walk/exercise for 1 hour a day and never gain more than 3 lbs. This year I'm eating plant based and am TRYING to eliminate seed oil. All of it takes time and work (cooking everything from scratch, exercising everyday), but when I was growing up there was no such thing as fast food so everyone cooked from scratch and we walked to school and back. We also didn't suffer from obesity like we do now. Set your goals, accept the difficulties and get on with it.


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