Tag Archives: diet

The Five-Food Plate: a template for healthy meals

steak salad with balsamic vinaigrette

Since losing more than 30 pounds two years ago, and because I’ve kinda become known as a food guru in my social circles, people often ask me, “So, how do you eat?”

I’ve had a hard time answering that. It took me a long time and much trial and error to arrive at what works for me, and even when I found it, I was too close to it to be able to articulate it for others.

But this week it hit me. It’s just this simple five-part formula:

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20-day diet prep plan: Day 11 – Plan your lunch strategy

meal prep: freezer burritos

Next step in your ready-for-new-year-and-new-diet: Figure out now what your lunch plan will be.

storytime coffee seattle

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.

#mealprep - lunches

If you pack lunches:

If you’re up for some weekend meal prep, take notes from this guy.

antipasto salad

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:

Told you these days would be short and sweet!

Follow me on Instagram for more quick, easy healthy food ideas.

20-day diet prep plan: Day 14 – Choose your poison

We are eating food-like products.

“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.

chart; rise in autoimmune diseases since 1950I 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.

We are eating food-like products.

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:

breakfast on vacation - eggs + hash

And the soup method:

easy soup: sausage and veggies

You won’t believe how many possibilities these two techniques will open up for you, OR how quick and simple they are!



1 http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good

2 http://www.medicaldaily.com/brief-history-genetically-modified-organisms-prehistoric-breeding-modern-344076

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_crops


I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or any other health professional. You should always check stuff out for yourself!

20-day diet prep plan: Day 17 – begin the process of choosing a diet

Book covers: sugar addict + 21-day sugar detox

Okay, time to process the last couple days’ assignments. By now you should have:

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.

Sugar Addict's Total Recovery ProgramI 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.

21 Day Sugar DetoxOne 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.