Next step in your ready-for-new-year-and-new-diet: Figure out now what your lunch plan will be.
If you eat out for lunch:
- Research the online menus at your favorite restaurants and figure out what you can eat that’s as healthy as possible. Things to avoid: sweet salad dressings (Caesar, blue cheese and, to some extent, Ranch are usually safe — unless you’re avoiding dairy — and Greek is usually low sugar or no sugar), anything “glazed” (will have sugar), anything breaded and/or deep fried (wheat and trans fats), fries, chips, an excess of bread or pasta, anything smothered in cheese or cheese sauce. And, of course, dessert and sweet drinks.
- Chain restaurants with generally healthy choices: Chipotle, Jason’s Deli, Panera
- See my post on eating Paleo when eating out. Even if you’re not doing strict Paleo, there are still good tips here for avoiding sugar and carb overload.
If you pack lunches:
If you’re up for some weekend meal prep, take notes from this guy.
If you eat lunch at home:
Figure out a few lunch templates you can work from. I tend to develop two or three favorites and rotate them till I get tired of them, or the season changes. Lots of salads in summer (especially this mayo-less tuna), lots of soup and hash in winter. But there are endless variations! Here’s some inspiration:
- My go-to lunches at home
- My friend Jess’s go-to lunches – no cooking required!
- My recipe for freezer burritos – make a batch on your day off for super easy lunches all week
- Find some Instagrammers to follow for inspiration. Just search #paleolunch, or #cleanlunch. Or follow me! #janalovesrealfood — I often post what I threw together for lunch that day.
Told you these days would be short and sweet!
Follow me on Instagram for more quick, easy healthy food ideas.
“Choose your poison? Wait, what? I thought we were picking a diet?”
Yeah, here’s the thing: Some foods are kinda like poison.
In some instances, there are the food problems that vary from person to person: allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities.
But there are also some foods that are just plain bad for everyone, and others that look like they may be problematic for most people, but the scientific jury is still out.
There are two food items that pretty much every diet agree on as bad: refined sugar, and trans fat.
I’ve already discussed how getting rid of sugar should be your first step, so let’s talk about trans fats. The Harvard Medical School has stated that “for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%…. there is no safe level of consumption.1”
The easiest way to avoid trans fat is to avoid factory-made food. This doesn’t just mean junk food like chips and fries, but also includes bakery goods like bread and muffins. Also, check labels for the words “shortening,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil;” these mean trans fat. (Note: Seeing “0 grams trans fat” on the label is no assurance that it is really trans fat free. If a “single serving” — which is often smaller than what you will actually eat — has 0.49 grams or less of trans fat, they can legally say that it’s has no trans fats. But remember: Harvard says there is no safe level of consumption.) Think that granola bar is healthy? Check the label.
What other foods might be wise to try eliminating from your diet? And how do you know?
I’ve lost faith, by and large, in medical studies. Too many of them are on too small a population, for too short a time, and/or underwritten by someone with a vested interest in the outcome. (Prime example: This “study” done at UCLA, which suggests that eating probiotic yogurt “may” [and I quote] change the way our brain reacts. Surprise, surprise: the study was funded by Danone/Dannon yogurt. My first clue was that there were no cautions regarding the sugar content in flavored yogurts.)
I do think there’s validity in looking at historic population trends for clues as to where we went wrong. I find this chart particularly interesting, showing the rapid increase in autoimmune diseases since 1950.
I haven’t found a chart on it, but just among my own acquaintances, I’ve noticed an increase in new diseases that no one has ever hear of before. Idiopathic angio edema for one; pain amplification syndrome for another.
What’s causing all this? I readily admit that the answer is complex, involving a combination of factors, but the purpose of this post is to focus on what you can do, starting today, in your own life. And changing your food changes what you’re made of, so it makes sense to start there.
There are a number of things that shifted in the American food supply in the last part of the 20th century, but probably the single biggest change is this: We’re eating more factory-made food, and less homemade food. Main dishes, soups, breakfast, and baked goods (except for bread) used to made almost exclusively at home. Now we get most of those from the freezer, a can, a restaurant, or other convenient, ready-made, factory-made source. It’s easy for ingredients to sneak in without our knowing it.
The currently-hot Paleo diet is based on the presupposition that our Paleo-era ancestors were healthier than we are because they hadn’t started eating grains, beans, or dairy. I disagree with the assumptions and the conclusion, but I’ve heard enough stories of people who had radically improved health on the Paleo diet — especially with autoimmune conditions — that I think there’s something to it. We may not fully understand the mechanism yet, but the results suggest there’s something valid to at least part of the Paleo prescription.
However, I think that going from no diet to a strict Paleo diet is a recipe for failure for most people. It’s too much change at one time to allow you to adapt your habits and your tastes in a sustainable way. (And the Whole30 is just 30 days of super-strict, no-cheats-allowed Paleo.) That’s why I recommend that you wean yourself off of sugar and refined carbs first. Once you’ve done that, what might you try next?
From there, I would recommend greatly reducing all of the wheat, corn, and soy in your diet. Why? Because:
- They make up a disproportionate amount of the standard American diet. Corn, in particular, finds its way into a disturbing percentage of our everyday foods. Read more about how corn sneaks into our meat and soft drinks here.
- A lot of people are reporting noticeable improvement when eliminating or restricting these items. Myself included. When I did Whole30 (after already being sugar-free for several months), my brain fog and heart palpitations went away.
- You’re going to be replacing all that bread and pasta with vegetables, which are almost always lower in calories and higher in nutrients than grains. Plus, less likely to kick off cravings.
- Both corn and soy have been bred to be resistant to RoundUp — ya know, that weed killer that kills anything it touches? — so that these crops can be sprayed with RoundUp without killing them! (Sugar cane and sugar beets have, too.) Supposedly, none of that makes it into our food. I’m not so sure I’m willing to take the risk, though.
- These foods have been rebred and/or genetically modified so much in the last several decades that they are significantly different than they were several decades ago. (“Theoretically [GMOs are] just the next level of agricultural advancement. What’s different is a new gene is being inserted into a crop which otherwise wouldn’t be there.”2) Between 1996 and 2013, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops increased by a factor of 100.3 Does this mean that these changes are definitely bad for us? No, but I’d rather not be a lab rat until we find out.
At first, the thought of giving up your bread, bagels, muffins, chips, crackers, and pasta (PASTA?!) sounds like a death sentence! And it’s a challenge, to be sure. But once you adjust to this new way of eating and cooking, it really becomes easy.
And in the next three days’ posts, I’m going to show you just how easy.
Later today, I’ll post a grocery list, then Saturday you’ll go shopping, and Saturday and Sunday you’ll do some easy-peasy cooking! I’ll introduce you to a couple simple, versatile meal templates.
The hash method:
And the soup method:
You won’t believe how many possibilities these two techniques will open up for you, OR how quick and simple they are!
I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or any other health professional. You should always check stuff out for yourself!
Okay, time to process the last couple days’ assignments. By now you should have:
- Taken these two quizzes: Sugar relationship and Food sensitivity, and
- Created your short list of reasons to change your eating habits.
Now to process what you learned there.
But first, a note. To keep things upfront, I want you to know that if you buy any of these books by clicking the links on this page, I’ll get 4-6% of the price — but that doesn’t affect your cost at all, and it helps keep this blog viable. So if you decide to do that, thanks! 🙂
You certainly don’t have to buy any books to start a diet, but for me anyway, understanding the “why” behind something — and knowing that other people have found success with a certain approach — goes a long way toward helping me really engage in the process.
Sugar quiz results
If sugar is your captor:
If, after taking the Sugar quiz, you discovered that sugar is your Jabba the Hut…
…then I recommend checking out this book: The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program, by Kathleen DesMaisons. DesMaisons proposes that some people have what she calls “sugar sensitivity,” making them biologically more susceptible to having an addiction-like response to sugar and carbs.
I was already living pretty sugar-free when I was introduced to this author, so I can’t speak firsthand about how her plan works, but the friend who told me about this book had good success with it, and the reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive. (And DesMaisons’ advice about eating potato at bedtime did wonders for my insomnia!)
A little about the author’s background:
As Kathleen DesMaisons neared 240 pounds, she thought losing weight was simply a matter of willpower: develop enough discipline to keep the pounds off, and everything would be fine.
But as time went on and things didn’t change, DesMaisons felt like “a slug who couldn’t get it right.”
Her work as the head of a treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts caused her… to see her compulsive use of… sugars and carbohydrates, as an addiction. When DesMaisons lost weight through a friend’s protein and vegetable diet — and kept it off — she returned to school, obtaining the first degree in Addictive Nutrition. (Source)
She recommends that people with “sugar sensitivity” not rush to cut sugar completely out of their diet, and she lays out five other steps to complete first, to make the break-up with sugar easier and more successful.
If sugar is your “frenemy”:
Maybe you have some difficulties with sweets and carbs. You’re in friendly company; most of us do!
If sweetened drinks (including artificially sweetened ones), other sweets, and/or carby foods such as chips, crackers, pasta, and bread/bagels/donuts/muffins/etc. are currently a regular part of your diet, you might do best to just concentrate on reducing or eliminating those items for now.
One book that I think does a good job of this is The 21-Day Sugar Detox, by Diane Sanfilippo. Again, this isn’t a book I’ve walked through myself (I was already sugar-free when I started Paleo), but I kept hearing about it from others. Now I’ve read a good deal of it and it all sounds very solid! She explains the whys and hows of nutrition in simple, easy-to-understand language, and lays out a plan to get sugar and processed carbs out of your diet.
A little about the book, from Amazon:
Use the easy-to-follow meal plans and more than 90 simple recipes in this book to bust a lifetime of sugar and carb cravings in just three weeks. Three levels of the program make it approachable for anyone….
By focusing on quality protein, healthy fats, and good carbs, this program will help you change not only the foods you eat, but also your habits around food, and even the way your palate reacts to sweet foods…. After changing your everyday eating habits, you will begin to gain a new understanding of how food works in your body–and just how much nutrition affects your entire life.
So, if you’ve never eliminated sugar completely from your diet, or if you have but have backtracked, I think this would be a really solid place to start.
Let me repeat that, I want to make sure no one skips over it:
If you haven’t already eliminated
sugar and refined carbs from your diet,
start working on just those!
I’ll give you some specific direction later.
Already free from sugar?
Lucky you! If sugar and carbs aren’t a big deal for you, but you still have some issues you think may be diet related — such as fatigue, allergies, joint pain, digestive problems, mood swings, adult acne — you may want to consider eliminating some other foods from your diet. Read on…
About food sensitivities
If you scored high on the food sensitivity quiz — or even if you just have one item on the list that is particularly bugging you — you may benefit from trying an elimination diet.
That means eliminating one or more types of food from your diet completely for a specific period of time, watching to see if your symptoms improve. Usually, this is two weeks at the very minimum, but four weeks is better. Then at the end of the abstention period, you add back one type of food (if you were eliminating more than one) and watch to see if symptoms reappear.
Giving this proper attention would make this post reeeeeally long, so to keep your reading for today short, I’m going to continue this topic tomorrow.
Are you thinking about starting a new diet — excuse me — a new way of eating at the beginning of the new year? Good for you!
Why not stack the odds for success in your favor? Instead of just diving in unprepared on January 1, use these last three weeks of December to gird your loins for battle! I’m here to help.
Every day, I’ll be posting an activity or two that will help you mentally or physically prepare for a fresh start on January 1. The weekday assignments will usually be pretty light; the Saturday and Sunday assignments will involve a little more time. But this is time that will pay forward to bring you greater success next month.
And since we’re starting on Saturday, we’re going to dive right into it! Your assignment for today: make a grocery list then do some shopping.
Get groceries for healthy salads
One of the things that can make or break your efforts to stick to healthy eating is knowing a few easy meals that you can throw together based on things that you always have on hand.
Salads are an easy meal, and can be a healthy choice that fits into almost any diet plan — as long as the dressing isn’t full of sugar, corn syrup, and other sugary things.
Here’s my equation for creating a delicious salad:
Greens + onions + something sweet and tangy + something crunchy and maybe salty + cheese (optional) + protein (optional) + dressing, including some healthy fat!
Your greens can be spinach, romaine, kale, mixed baby greens, or any combination. Iceberg lettuce contains few nutrients, though, so you’re better off with something else.
Onions can be white, yellow, green or red, or they may be blended into the dressing. If you’re concerned about onions overpowering your salad, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes or so, then drain them before adding to the salad.
Sweet and tangy is usually fruit, but can also be vegetable. Tomatoes are popular, as are craisins or other dried fruit. Consider other possibilities: fresh berries such as blueberries or sliced strawberries; diced apple or pear; or chunks of mango, orange, tangerine, or grapefruit. Diced cooked sweet potato is another nice option.
Avoid relying on croutons for your crunchy item. Nuts are gluten-free, low carb, and higher in nutrition. Skip anything candied or sugared; use raw or toasted pecans, walnuts, cashews, pepitas, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, almonds slivered or sliced… You get the idea! Crisp/crunchy veggies also work well: celery, jicama, cabbage. Crispy bacon is another solid option. Cuz bacon makes everything better! And a few crumbles of real, good quality bacon is not a diet breaker.
If you’re not avoiding dairy, cheese makes a nice addition to many salads. Popular choices include feta, blue cheese, and goat cheese. Parmesan and cheddar are appropriate for certain salads. Anything is possible, though. Except Velveeta. Please: never Velveeta!
If you’re going to make your salad a meal, some thinly-sliced, already-cooked meats will bring the protein you need. Chicken, steak, pork, shrimp, tuna, leftover salmon or crabcakes are all fair game! Eggs are another possibility: hard-boiled and chopped, or fried and laid on top! (Just look up #putaneggonit on Instagram!)
We’ll talk more in the coming days about the error of low-fat thinking, but for now, please just trust me on this: your salad needs fat! Lack of fat is one of the things that will make you hungry again in an hour or two. (Sugar is the other.) So replacing those low-fat, sugar-filled, store-bought dressings with healthy, whole-food, homemade dressings is going to make a huge difference in the frequency and strength of your cravings.
While there’s great controversy about which fats are healthy and which are not, pretty much everyone agrees on these: olive oil and avocados. Bacon, cheese, eggs, and nuts are other possibilities, but more controversial.
So make sure you have a good quality 100% extra virgin olive oil on your grocery list. (My favorite everyday brand: California Olive Ranch. Because it’s made in America, I figure it’s fresher, which is important. You can get it at Dillon’s and World Market. Possibly other places, but I know those two for certain.)
Oh, and this is not a hard-and-fast rulebook (except for the low-sugar, some-fat rule); just a few parameters to get you started. There are no salad police!
Not sure how to combine these? Study some online restaurant menus for inspiration, or search for salads on allrecipes.com, or your other favorite food blog.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Chicken Club Salad
- Tex-Mex Salad
- Antipasto Salad
- Spinach Salad with Strawberries
- Coconut Shrimp on Spinach Mango Salad (special occasion)
Sugar-free salad dressings
I have several sugar-free salad dressing recipes on this site. Peruse these and pick out two or three you’d like to try:
- Sugar-free Strawberry Poppyseed
- Creamy Italian
- Dump Ranch (dairy-free! requires a blender or stick blender)
- Tex-Mex (has dairy; the recipe is in the salad instructions)
- Caesar (has dairy)
Now make a grocery list of salad and dressing ingredients based on what you’d like to try, and hit the store! (If Creamy Italian is one of your picks, go ahead and make it today; it tastes better when the ingredients have had several hours to mellow and blend.)
Want to follow along for the rest of the countdown? You can do that by…
- Visiting oh, that’s tasty! every day. (But then you’ll have to remember. Too much work!)
- Following oh that’s tasty! on Facebook.
Like this page? – Please pin it!
As a hobby, Eric Holubow seeks out abandoned architectural spaces — like old factories, churches, theatres, and prisons. The spaces are usually in some state of decay, and Eric photographs them as an art project, but with a journalistic feel.
Here is one example, from the original article:
Designed in an inspiring Neo-classical style… the massive Richmond Power Station in northeastern Philadelphia was built in 1925…. The plant’s Turbine Hall, one of the biggest open rooms ever designed, once housed the world’s largest Westinghouse turbo-generators, which provided power to the city’s bustling industrial and residential sectors. Closed since 1985, the plant has been used as a set in a number of Hollywood feature films. Ironically, crews that use the structure have to provide their own power generators, as the dormant plant is… no longer connected to the region’s electrical grid.
I share his fascination for things crumbling, rusty, and history-laden — but that’s not what this post is about.
It’s about you.
Changing your diet comes down to some really practical things. And if you can break it down and look at it as a series of small changes, it becomes much less daunting.
I love these seven strategies that Dr. Mark Hyman suggests for revolutionizing your eating habits. And I think the number one item is especially smart:
1. Change your mind about cooking. When you view cooking as an act of love that you share with your family, you strengthen bonds, teach important life-extending skills to your children, and enrich and nourish your bodies and your souls.
This has certainly been the case for me! I used to view cooking dinner as drudgery; now I see it as a creative outlet, and a way to thank my husband for working hard all day! And to bless any friends or family who might be joining us.
(Yes, I work too, but I have more freedom in my schedule than he does, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. Creating a healthy, enjoyable meal is one of the ways I show that gratitude. When he retires, there will be more sharing of the load!)
2. Keep staples nearby. …3. Choose frozen. While fresh foods in the produce aisles are ideal, frozen berries, vegetables, and other foods make longer-lasting alternatives. You can stock up and have [them] on hand in your kitchen for healthy, easy meals when you can’t get to the market or these items are out of season.
Some items I try to always have stocked in my kitchen: a bag of onions, fresh spinach and/or romaine, carrots, celery, cooked/diced sweet potato, tuna, one or more kinds of already-cooked meat, eggs, avocado (or Wholly Guacamole singles), and coconut milk. In the freezer: more meat (cooked or not), mahi mahi, shrimp, frozen berries and/or cherries, green beans and other veggies. More detail in my how I stock my kitchen post.
4. Reclaim your kitchen. Establish your kitchen as the ground-zero family meeting place and establish it exclusively for cooking and socializing.
This one challenges me! I think we (me and the hubs) need to kick the laptops out of our kitchen. The clutter we accumulate nearby quickly takes over. (True confession: I tidied up a bit before taking the above picture of my end of the kitchen table!)
5. Re-evaluate your time. Time is the biggest excuse why many of my patients don’t cook. Keep a journal for one week to monitor your time. You might be surprised at how you spend your time.
I highly recommend this! I think most of us would find ourselves much happier and healthier if we gave up a few rounds of Candy Crush or a couple hours of TV or internet or “retail therapy” on the weekend to spend a little more time planning and prepping meals for the week.
6. Make mistakes. If you’re new to cooking or your skills have gotten rusty, don’t aim for perfection with your first recipe—aim for experimenting and practicing. Start with… basic recipes with few ingredients and work your way up to something more complex.
Yes, yes, yes! Just try stuff! Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t come out great. Learn and move ahead!
7. Get everyone involved. Enlist help from family members—drag your kids away from their video games and ask them to measure ingredients, pull food from the fridge, or even chop veggies if they’re ready to take on this task. Decide on meals together to get everyone excited about what’s in store.
Again — Amen! If you don’t have kids, make it time with your spouse, friend, or sister. Or, if you’re an introvert, choose your favorite music, crank it up, and relish the alone time!
If you do have kids, and if having all the kids in the kitchen at once is a sure recipe for chaos and bickering, take one kid at a time and make it a special one-on-one time for the two of you. Let them choose the music. Infect them with a love for preparing good, healthy food! (Spoken from one who wishes she’d done it this way early on. Oh well, maybe with grandkids.)
Start kids (or yourself) off with something fun and easy, like cookies (they could be Paleo! like these coconut cookies), and work your way up to healthier, more complex stuff. My daughter’s love for cooking began early — mostly in her grandma’s kitchen!
By the time she was twelve, she was able to make chicken noodle soup from scratch, all by herself. Ten (fast!) years later, she’s now married and easily handles the day-to-day cooking. (I’m so proud of you, Sweetie!)
So don’t make changing your diet overly complicated. Start with learning a little more about prepping and cooking food, with simple dishes, and with changing your mind about creating meals!
(One way to learn? Follow me on Instagram. I often shoot a quick pic of my easiest meals and post them there with brief notes about what went into them. @janalovesrealfood )
“Changing your mind” typography by dudebeawsome on Instagram
Ready to cut refined sugar and/or grains out of your diet –
but still want to enjoy sweets?
Check out my cookbook…
by illustrator/cartoonist Will McPhail