By Louise Kennedy
Sometimes I wonder why it’s so hard to lose weight when, really, we all know what it takes: Eat less, move more. I mean, that’s all it is, right? So why don’t we just do that and be done with it?
Well, I’ve spent a fair amount of time so far thinking and talking about what gets in the way of moving more. That can be fun and interesting, because I’m trying new things, setting new patterns, learning new ways of getting my body to be stronger and more flexible.
But when it comes to food, it can feel like … right, I know what to eat, I’ve known it for years, I just have to do it, and now it’s time to go to the grocery store. Again. And cook dinner. Again. And pack lunch. Again. Where’s the novelty in that?
I’ll be honest with you: So far I haven’t found much novelty. But I do have a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years, and I’ve been finding that – when I actually use them, consistently, every day – they really do make a difference. They also seem like the kind of gradual, permanent change that my coach, Allison Rimm, recommends. Building on my initial pledge to “eat more vegetables” and my more or less consistent embracing of the DASH diet, following these habits is helping me change my diet for the better – and for good.
Eat the same simple breakfast every day. I am, to put it mildly, not a morning person. So I don’t like thinking about food when I first wake up. For years this meant that I skipped breakfast, grabbed a bagel or a granola bar on the way out the door, or succumbed to the office pastries when I was starving mid-morning.
Now, instead, I have a piece of whole-grain toast with a little peanut butter, tea, and a piece of fruit. It’s not exciting, but I’m not looking for exciting. And if I get bored, as I occasionally do, I have a soft-boiled egg instead of the peanut butter. Or maybe go really wild with oatmeal, topped with a few almonds.
One meal down, two more to go.
Embrace the Salad Bar in a Bag. Salad is an obvious choice for lunch, but I never feel motivated to make it before work – and chopping vegetables at night, after cooking dinner, doesn’t seem like much fun either. But now, thanks to my fabulous assistant, Jessica Coughlin, I’ve been eating salad for lunch almost every day.
Every Monday, Jess brings in a grocery bag filled with lettuce, cucumber, carrots, dressing and whatever else strikes her fancy. I contribute the odd grape tomato, chickpea or leftover veg. We’re lucky to have a refrigerator at work, but you could use a small cooler, adding ice as needed. Bring a knife and a plate, and then, when you get hungry, chop up whatever you want that day and dig in. I find it’s a lot easier to compose an enticing salad when you’re actually hungry for it, rather than trying to imagine good combinations at home in the icy, hurried dawn.
Because of DASH, which calls for me to eat six servings of grain every day, I try to add a pita or some whole-grain crackers to this, but sometimes I forget. I’m thinking I should start carrying in some bulgur, whole-grain pasta or other grain to solve that problem. A little dairy wouldn’t hurt either – low-fat cheese, or yogurt for “dessert.”
Occasionally I eat lunch out; on those days, I look for a salad or a lean protein, knowing that the protein means I’ll be going vegetarian at dinner, which is fine. Or, if monotony looms, I get a Chipotle veggie bowl or bring in a thermos of soup. Lunch solved … and that leaves the working mom’s bugaboo, the family dinner.
Plan, plan, plan. On the weeks when I plan dinner for every night and prep as much as I can on the weekends, things go pretty well. When I don’t … well, as much as I try to tell myself that veggie pizza or Chinese takeout can work for my diet, the scale has other opinions. (The Chinese options would be fine, probably, if my family weren’t addicted to dumplings and General Gau, and when they’re on the table I just find it impossible to say no.)
So I try to think about the week on Saturday or Sunday, then shop, then chop. On a really good day, I’ll also make a big batch of soup, dried beans or “turbeef” – ground beef and turkey mixed together and cooked, then stored for use in chili, pasta sauces and whatever else I need. (A little bit of beef gets the family eating a lot more lean turkey than they would otherwise.) Or I roast a big pan of vegetables to eat that night, with leftovers for lunches, soups and sides during the week.
If you hate planning or just need some fresh ideas, I find that Leanne Ely’s Saving Dinner website can be a lifesaver. She gives you a week’s worth of menus, with shopping lists and recipes. No thought required! She also offers menus for meals you can make ahead and freeze, and I’m always happy when I have a few of those in the freezer.
But what about snacks? I never thought of myself as much of a snacker, until I realized that sticking my hand in a bag of chips when I’m hungry after work, or finishing off the kindergartner’s tortellini, or taking spoonfuls of ice cream from someone else’s bowl, certainly does count. So I’m working on that too.
Snack smarter. Now if I get hungry between meals, I see it as an opportunity to fill in some of the food groups that I tend to skimp on in the DASH plan: dairy, fruit or veg, and grains. That translates to a Greek yogurt with fresh fruit stirred in, an apple or some carrots, or a handful of reduced-fat Triscuits. Hey, they’re whole grain! And they’re not Cheez-Its.
Readers, what works for you? Do you have any nutrition tips you'd like to share, or problems you'd like help solving? Ask your questions here, and Louise will consult a nutritionist to get them answered.