It was time for me to face it—I had to change my eating habits. It was quite a run, but my body was finally telling me, “no more”.
A year ago, if someone asked me to describe my diet, I could easily sum it up—picture the eating habits of a 5-year-old and you’ve basically got it. My favorite foods? Chips, fries, pasta, pizza, fried chicken, and all kinds of fast food. And let’s not forget dessert, something I “treated myself” to almost nightly.
But let’s back up a bit and learn a little more about me and my eating history.
I was always a skinny kid. I don’t mean just regular-skinny…I’m talking about the kind of skinny that you get teased about. I had toothpick arms and legs, and always felt self-conscious about my lanky body.
As I got older and hit puberty, not much about my body changed (except for my height). I remained rail-thin and wishing I had a few more curves to my frame. I rarely wore shorts because my legs made me look like spongebob square pants.
So, I never worried about what I ate.
In fact, I always hoped that I’d put on a little weight and lose my boyish figure. I developed terrible habits as a result. I grew up in a house where we ate hot breakfasts, prepared lunches, and dinners as a family. I was so picky though (read: I hated everything healthy that was served to me), that meal time was always a bit of a battle in my house. Oh, my poor parents and what I put them through most nights (sorry, mom and dad!)! I couldn’t wait to have the freedom to eat what I wanted to eat, and not have to eat anything healthy and “gross”. So, from the moment I went away to college, it was a free-for-all with food.
But I always stayed skinny.
I got married at 25, and had my first child at 29. My first pregnancy was largely uneventful, and my body bounced back pretty quickly and easily (special shout out goes to breastfeeding here). My second pregnancy was a slightly different story. I developed gall bladder issues halfway through and suffered from terrible attacks. These attacks were triggered by the type of food I was eating—high-fat, greasy meals. The only way to avoid the attacks and the misery was to change my diet. Did I do it? Only sporadically. It was too hard for me to completely make the change, so I’d eat the meals and risk the possibility of a terrible attack.
After my son was born, the gall bladder issues subsided. I once again breastfed my baby for a year, which significantly helped me to lose my pregnancy weight.
But I never got back down to my normal weight of 114 after that pregnancy.
Perhaps it was because my body had now gone through two pregnancies, or maybe because I was now (gasp) in my thirties and my metabolism was slowing down, but my body had changed. It was likely a combination of the two. No longer could I eat anything I wanted and have a flat stomach and thin face. No, those days were over (helluva run though!).
I was in new territory. I wasn’t self-conscious of how skinny I was anymore. Now it was quite the opposite.
I found myself deciding against the pool or beach because I didn’t want to get into a bikini. I would see a picture of myself and cringe—where did my jawline go? Is that really what I look like? I started buying only flowy tops to cover up my stomach. It was very limiting and became all-consuming.
But I still didn’t change my diet.
A few years later, I was pregnant with my third child. And if I thought my second pregnancy was rough, I gained a whole new perspective very quickly. My poor body was just not up for the challenge the third time around. It was physically miserable from start to finish. I was exhausted all of the time, everything hurt, my gall bladder issues returned, and I developed a frightening condition called cholestasis (there will be a future blog entry on that experience alone).
Just like the two before him, I breastfed my third child for a year. It did help to shed some of the baby weight, but I found myself plateauing early. I joined Orangetheory Fitness, and was determined to get my body back. I was a far cry from my original weight (before any kids) of 114lbs, but I was also nowhere near my new normal weight (after my first and second pregnancies) of 118lbs. I was now stuck at 128lbs.
Now, I realize that those weights are low, and some reading this may think I am completely off my rocker to be concerned about them, but I had good reason to be. I was not healthy. I had been unkind to my body, and it was finally showing the signs. My BMI might have been right on target, but that just goes to show how unreliable that simple formula can be. I was now what’s considered “skinny fat”, and I did not like how I looked or felt. I was certain that if I worked out regularly (something I had never truly stuck to in my life), I would get back to where I used to be.
Orangetheory is no joke. It is about as intense as it gets, focusing on a full-body workout with heart-rate monitoring and estimated calorie-burning of 500-1000 in just one workout. I was two months postpartum, completely out of shape, and exhausted from the sleep-deprivation that comes with a newborn. But, I was determined to stick with it and watch the weight come off. I worked out at Orangetheory twice a week for a year, but the number on the scale did not move. One year postpartum, and I was still 128lbs. I felt a huge difference in my strength and stamina, and I even had some bicep and calf muscles at that point.
But why wasn’t I losing weight? Why did I still have “problem areas”?
How many times have you read or been told that weight loss is 75% diet and 25% exercise? I heard it so many times, but completely ignored it. “Not for me,” I thought. “If I work out hard enough, I can still eat what I want.” I was especially convinced of this because I was never really someone who routinely exercised. So, certainly beginning to exercise twice a week, every week would produce some results! Wrong. Then I thought, “I’m just not working out enough. I just need to add another workout to my week, and I will see the difference.” Can you guess? Yeah…wrong.
But the thought of changing my diet paralyzed me with fear.
After a year and a half of working out like crazy and still eating whatever I wanted, I finally had enough. I learned the long, hard way that I was wrong. I couldn’t expect to lose weight if I continued eating the way I had been eating my entire adult life. I had to change. But could I do it? The thought was overwhelming and discouraging. I knew I would have to make drastic changes, and I was worried that I would not be able to stick to it.
I decided that I would commit to one month initially. Giant endeavors like this are so much easier to swallow (pun intended) when they are broken up into smaller goals. Committing to a lifetime of healthy eating from the onset? No, too scary and totally setting myself up for failure. Committing to just one month, and then go from there? OK, that I can do. If I saw a significant change in one month, I’d stick with it. I made it a New Year’s resolution for 2018.
I downloaded a calorie-counting app and started my journey on January 1, 2018. My husband decided to join me, and we both dutifully logged our meals throughout the day. The next day, we did the same thing. It was tough, though. I was already feeling discouraged. It was so tedious to look up and log every single thing I ingested, but more than that, I was constantly STARVING (even immediately after I finished eating). I found that I couldn’t think about much other than how hungry I felt, which made me irritable. “How on earth do people do this? How do they stick to this?” I figured I must be doing this whole calorie-counting thing wrong, so I googled, “How to properly count calories”.
That google search literally changed my life.
No, I didn’t find an article on how to count calories the “right way”. Instead, I found this article by Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE. It was an article explaining why I shouldn’t count calories at all! It was one of those lightbulb moments. I read her article and everything she said made perfect sense. I started clicking around her website and read several more articles. I was inspired and rejuvenated.
I deleted my calorie counting app that night.
Lily is not your typical dietician. She doesn’t tell you that “x, y and z” are strictly forbidden and should never be consumed. She doesn’t tell you that you should aim for “x” number of calories per day. She doesn’t tell you to count your macros or micros. She doesn’t make you feel bad or guilty about the bad habits you’ve developed. I loved that she backed up every single bit of advice and information with research, complete with citations. This wasn’t someone pushing a fad diet, or sharing anecdotal evidence, which is rampant on the internet, making it very hard to navigate what is true and what is not. Reading her blog was such a breath of fresh air. She suddenly made me realize that I can do this.
I submitted a form on her website requesting to work with her that night. I knew she was the person who could help me achieve this massive undertaking to overhaul my diet and finally, for the first time ever, be a healthy eater. Her homepage says, “If eating healthy seems complicated, boring, and unsatisfying…then clearly we have not met.” I felt like she wrote that to me! Complicated, boring, and unsatisfying? Yes, yes, and yes. “Can we also add impossible, depressing, and expensive?”, I thought. Nonetheless, I had a feeling Lily was going to be the person to finally get me to turn my attitude towards healthy eating around!
But someone like Lily isn’t just sitting around with tons of time on her hands, ready and waiting to take me on as a client. She is a published author, an educator, and a mom. She’s busy! She had a waiting list. I wanted to get started right away with her (like, tomorrow), so I was totally bummed. Patience isn’t really something I’m known for, so I reached out to her directly. I sent a message to see if she had any availability in the near future for just one quick session to get me moving in the right direction. I lucked out! She replied and said she could squeeze in one phone call at the end of the month.
In the meantime, I read more and more from her blog and began to put her advice into practice.
I started slowly. I made the most obvious changes initially, which included cutting out soda and fast food. Although they were obvious, these changes certainly were not easy. I was used to drinking soda and eating out almost daily (cringe), so I knew I was going to miss it. I had to find alternatives that I could maintain.
I researched “heathy substitutes for soda” and found a few good options to try. The first was Hint water, which is basically water with a little hint of a flavor (e.g., watermelon, blackberry, apple, etc.). This was a great option for me because I am terrible about drinking enough water, so I thought this might help me to not only kick soda, but also achieve my goal of drinking enough water each day. The other option I found was Bai, for those instances when I wanted a flavored drink that was a little more robust than Hint.
Next, I needed to focus on replacing my meals out with healthy options at home. I learned about Daily Harvest from a friend, which is a company that sends ready-to-blend organic, healthy smoothies directly to your door. I decided to give those a shot, and was very pleasantly surprised by how delicious they tasted. I began to drink them regularly for lunch, and usually added some almonds and cheese on the side to make it a filling meal. I also made sure to pack myself a lunch on the days that I knew I’d be out of the house in the afternoon, to avoid the temptation of eating fast food. This proved to be very effective at keeping me away from the drive-thru line. Initially I packed things like a PB&J, small bag of chips, a cookie, and a Bai or Hint. This wasn’t a great lunch, but a good starting point since it was way better than greasy junk food. Finally, I started making Dream Dinner meals most nights, which provided easy, healthy, delicious dinners at home as family (I will definitely be writing a separate blog post about Dream Dinners in the future!). As for my breakfast, I have eaten the exact same thing basically every morning for years (I know that’s weird)–a homemade egg sandwich (one egg, one slice of american cheese, and an english muffin) with a glass of orange juice. The only change I made to this initially was to eliminate the OJ and replaced it with a Bai juice instead.
After about three weeks of implementing these changes on my own, I had my first phone call with Lily. Prior to the call, I completed a questionnaire that Lily sent, and gave her a run-down of my goals and my eating history. It was embarrassing to confess to a dietician exactly how terribly I had always eaten, and truthfully, it was tempting to leave some information out! I didn’t do that, though, and instead gave her a very detailed history, and a clear understanding of how I wanted to change.
Actually writing down all of my bad habits was very eye-opening.
The call went very well. Lily put me at ease right away, and she wasted no time getting right into some of the changes I could make going forward. She started with my breakfast and I held my breath—“Please, please, please don’t tell me I have to change my breakfast,” I thought. I can’t adequately explain my love for my egg sandwiches, but the fact that I eat them every single day should illustrate my feelings pretty well. “I looked at what you said you eat for breakfast, and there’s one thing I would change,” she said. “Noooo, no, no, no, nooooo,” I thought. “Instead of eating just one egg, I’d go ahead and make two eggs for the sandwich. That will help keep you full longer and prevent a spike and crash.” <happy dance> OK, that was a change I could get behind!
She then moved on to my coffee. I was drinking only one cup a day, and it wasn’t even on my radar that there was anything wrong with my coffee-intake. She explained, though, that I was adding about 20g of sugar with my packets and creamer. That’s a lot! The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25g of added sugar a day for women, and I was almost there by 8:00am! She suggested I replace my granulated sugar with erythritol and my creamer with heavy cream or half & half. Another painless and easy change that I implemented right away.
Lily gave me several other awesome pointers during that call to help me wean myself off of the sugar and fried foods I had eaten daily for so long. I remember asking her questions like, “How many times a week can I eat chips? How often can I eat fast food?” and I couldn’t get a straight answer from her. She just reminded me of the importance of mindful eating, and assured me that I would start to crave those things less and less. “She clearly doesn’t know me,” I thought. I truly could not imagine that I would ever get to a point where I would stop wanting those foods. I thought I would just have to constantly fight back against those cravings and opt for the healthier alternative instead. I thought that these changes would always feel like a sacrifice, and like I was always having to resist.
But Lily knew better.
I will never forget the day I sat down for lunch, and thought I’d “treat myself” to a small bag of Cheetos. I could not finish the bag. They tasted so terrible and so chemically to me–I threw the bag into the trash. I immediately thought back to that phone call with Lily, and how she assured (a very skeptical) me that I would stop wanting the bad stuff if I kept eating the good stuff. She was right. That was a huge turning point for me.
Remember how I said I’d commit to one month of healthy eating, and stick with it only if I saw improvements? Well, I saw drastic improvements after one month! I shed about four pounds and I could see the changes taking place in my body. Additionally, I noticed an improvement in my energy and overall mood. I was noticing improved performance at Orange Theory too. I was sold. I was finally seeing for myself what the true culprit was all along–my diet. It wasn’t my age, or the fact that I had experienced three pregnancies. It was the fact that I had been depriving my body of the nutrition it needed for so long. No more, I was ready to completely commit to this process and give up my old ways forever.
I continued to improve my eating habits little by little, and became more savvy at reading labels and determining what was junk and what was not. It was mind-blowing to discover how many of my “regular” grocery items were loaded with unhealthy oils, added sugars, and chemicals. I started to replace all of these things with healthier alternatives, which included my ground beef, sour cream, bread, american cheese, pasta sauce, eggs, whipped cream, and chips, to name a few. For example, I started buying these chips at Target to eat with lunch occasionally instead of Dorito’s or Cheeto’s. Check out that ingredient list!
After about 2.5 months of implementing the changes on my own, I signed up to work with Lily again so I could fine-tune my new lifestyle. I wanted to learn more from her, and I also wanted to ensure that I was still on the right path. I often found myself wondering, “Would this be Lily-approved?”. Working with her once more helped to answer those questions, and gave me an even deeper understanding of nutrition and mindful eating. As always, she was extremely easy to work with and talk to, and was an amazing encyclopedia of information.
I started this journey with no specific weight loss goal in mind. I just wanted to eat healthier and to re-gain my confidence, and would be fine with any number on the scale as long as I met those goals. I did. I achieved those goals, and I am so thankful for the help I received along the way. Not only from Lily (who was the real MVP of this story), but also from friends and family who were very encouraging throughout this “eating transformation”. My husband was especially supportive, and essentially transformed with me (although his starting point was way better than mine in terms of healthy eating habits)–he lost 10lbs! In the end, I shed 2” off my waist and lost all 14lbs that I accumulated over the past 8+ years, after my first child was born. I returned to my pre-baby, normal weight of 114lbs and have maintained it since.
So, how would I summarize my new diet?
My big changes were: cutting out added sugar, reducing carbs, increasing healthy fats, eliminating fast food, and limiting eating out of the house to once or twice a week. I would say that I now subscribe to the 80/20 diet–80% healthy and 20% whatever I want. I think it’s important to not deprive yourself of the things you absolutely love to eat, because when you do, you set yourself up for failure. The key is moderation, and to get right back on the train when you temporarily jump off. You’ll find that getting back on the train gets easier and easier because you crave the healthy foods that much more after indulging in the bad a little bit.
Undoing a lifetime of bad eating habits took time, patience, and motivation. I truly believe that I was an addict who needed to be weaned; specifically a sugar addict. My transformation certainly did not happen overnight, and it continues to be a work in progress. I feel like I am still learning and experimenting, but I am past the biggest hurdles at this point. Healthy eating is a part of my day-to-day lifestyle, and it now feels more effortless. I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything, or sacrificing taste and enjoyment to be healthy (which was my expectation going into this journey). To those of you reading this who have your own dietary issues and want to make a change, I hope this story encourages you to go for it. If I can do it, you can do it. I can’t imagine someone with worse habits than I had, or a more skeptical attitude than mine. Start slowly by making a few changes at a time, and you will see the results and feel your body responding accordingly. Go for it, and feel free to comment below if you have any questions!