After an extremely long delay, here is my second post on eating a healthy diet. I've been eating a relatively healthy diet over the years, but for the past year or so I have been more consistent and made some pretty significant changes that have made a huge difference in how I feel. It's not easy, but if you plan ahead and really make a decision to give it your all, I think you'll really be happy with the results. And, personally, I noticed a big difference in my energy levels (ie they tanked) when I "fell off" my daily green regimen and ate too many processed foods over the holidays.
And remember, it's not magic, so it's not going to work instantly. You have to commit for at least 10-14 days to feel the true benefit of a clean diet. For the first several days, you may actually feel worse as you “detox” from all the addictive substances that we put in our body, like gluten, processed foods, and sugar. So stick with it for at least a couple of weeks, even when it’s unpleasant in the beginning (you should start feeling less tired with less headaches around day 4 or 5), and then you can start feeling “lighter” and having much more energy. And with those of us with an illness, every bit of energy makes a difference! So once your energy starts to improve, the amount of work required to eat a clean diet will become easier as well and will be something you crave, instead of a chore.
So what have I done? Well, I first based some of my changes on the recommendations of Terry Wahls, MD, a women with severe progressive MS that was able to reverse her disease through diet. Pretty amazing story and if you haven't heard of her, I'd recommend you check out her TED talk and this article online at the Huffington Post for more information on what she recommends. I also used (and highly recommend reading) The Blood Sugar Solution by Mark Hyman, MD. I have personally tried his diets, and they are very sound scientifically. He is also great about giving you most of the information online, not just so that you have to pay or buy the books. Other books by Dr. Hyman include Ultrametabolism, and The UltraSimple Diet.
- Eat as many greens as possible. I eat at least 3-5 cups of greens a day, including salad greens and kale or spinach. This part is what I think has made the biggest difference for me. I try to have a huge salad for lunch and add in a green smoothie with kale at some point during the day. Kale is a nutrient powerhouse and well worth finding a way to work into your diet. It takes about a week of doing this consistently, and you should notice an improvement in your energy levels. And, yes, it is possible to make a kale smoothie that you will actually enjoy! I feed them to “nonbelievers” all the time. :)
- Add vegetables to everything! The more vegetables you can eat, the better you will feel. Try to add vegetables to every meal and snack. Your dinner plate should be 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 starch or grain, and 1/4 meat or protein. Add them in to anything you can think of…for example, if you’re making tacos or chili, add in finely diced carrots, peppers, tomatoes, and chopped spinach at the end. You won’t notice the taste as much as you might think, and your body will thank you for it.
- Eat the rainbow. The more colors you can eat, the better. Colors=antioxidants!
- No more sugar. I know, it's really hard. I have been a sugar addict my whole life, so this was tough for me as well. You may feel worse for the first few days without it because it really does act as an addictive substance, but it will improve as you stick with it. I use fruit for "dessert" now, and may mix it with nuts and coconut, and that's a pretty satisfying dessert or snack that will help with those sugar cravings. A program that people swear by is the 21 day sugar detox. I haven't tried it specifically, but a lot of people have found it to be helpful for them. Also, watch out for those "hidden" forms of sugar in everyday foods that you wouldn't think have sugar...like bread, salad dressing, mayonnaise, ketchup, etc. Always read those labels!
- No gluten. Another tough one, but again very worth it. I have been obsessed with bread for most of my life, but after being off of it for a while, I find that I really don't miss it that much. The part that's hard is training yourself how to eat without bread, crackers, cereal, etc. But once you do, it's really helpful, especially if you are someone who is prone to bloating as I am. Being off gluten and sugar has made a big difference in how bloated my stomach is (and when I fell off my diet for a few days over the holidays, the bloat came right back!) and I feel lighter and less sluggish.
- No processed foods. If you're getting rid of gluten and sugar, that will eliminate most processed foods from your diet. The components of processed foods are not good for you and can make you feel sluggish, not to mention the number of chemicals that they contain. It may be easy to stuff your face with crap, but it won't help your health at all.
- Stick to whole foods. The less a food is processed, the better it is for you. Less flours and sugars, more vegetables, meats, eggs, and fruits. The closer your diet is to natural, the better.
- Reduce grains. I admit it, I was also addicted to grains. When I looked at my diet, I saw that grains made up the majority of my diet...every meal had grains. Cereal, bread, crackers, rice, etc. I'm not someone that says that you shouldn't have any grains, because I find that having some grains in my diet has helped me feel satiated. I bake a "bread" with millet (see recipe link below) that I often have in the morning, and sometimes add rice to my meals. Just don’t have it be a part of every meal.
- Reduce or remove dairy. Dairy has caused minor problems for me over the years, so I made a decision to get off of it, and it has been helpful for me. I'm not sure how much it has contributed to my increased energy levels since I did everything at once, but I think it has helped me, so I'm staying off of it. There are lots of substitutions out there now that make it much easier to get off of dairy: coconut yogurt, coconut milk, almond milk, coconut oil (for butter), etc.
- Don't stress about every gram of fat. If you're reducing your grains, you're going to want to eat more fat to keep you full. I eat a lot of nuts, seeds, nut butter, coconut, and coconut milk and that really helps to keep you full. I was always obsessed with "low fat" growing up, but now I realize that most of the time low fat just means that they increase the sugar to take out the fat. And sugar is WAY worse than fat! And I have an easier time losing weight with higher fat than I ever did with low fat.
- Try to go organic or grass fed whenever possible. When you have existing health problems as we do, the last thing you need is added chemicals in your food. Focus on organic foods and pastured meats. Spend the extra money here that you won’t be spending on all those processed foods.
I'm sure you're completely overwhelmed by this now! It seems like a lot, and it is, but you can do it slowly if that works better for you. First remove sugar and wheat, then work on the rest. Or, if you think there's no way you could ever do this, then at least reduce your sugar and processed food intake as much as you can and add as many vegetables and whole foods to your diet as possible. But I really recommend that you do it all because it makes a big difference for me! Below are some recipes that I have found to be useful for me in this health journey. And don’t forget about those tips and tricks in Part I of Diet and your Health!
Recipes I use:
- Easy Baked Chicken Thighs. Very easy, very good. Easy to make a ton and then keep on hand for several days.
- Meat and Spinach Muffins. A bit of a pain to make, but they freeze very well and are a good way to have greens for breakfast.
- Balsamic vinaigrette. (1 part balsamic vinegar : 2-3 parts olive oil, then salt, pepper, and dried shallots or onions. Place in a jar and shake). I like to make a big batch of this and keep it on the counter to use throughout the week.
- WHOLEmade bread. It's quite a process to make it, but I try to avoid yeasted breads so this is the best option for me. It also doesn't use flour at all, just the whole grains soaked and blended over 2-3 days. I’m sure there are other recipes out there that are less work though if this is overwhelming.
- Pumpkin custard. Good for a satisfying dessert when you really need it, and it’s good without the sweetener too.
- Green smoothies. Try to work your way up to having more greens than fruit in the smoothie because too much fruit can cause problems of its own. Coconut water helps add natural sweetness without needing to increase the amount of fruit. I’m at the point now where I can use ½ cup fruit and 3-4 cups greens. You can even add a few drops of vanilla stevia if you need more sweetness without having to add more fruit.
- Baked Oatmeal To Go. For when you want to have a bit of grain and a fast way to have breakfast, and good without the sweetener too.
- Healthy Snack Bars. Like Larabars, with some whole nuts; good for emergencies.
- Raw Chocolate Brownie Bites. Great when you need chocolate for a snack. They keep well in the freezer.
Good luck and healthy eating!