Over the better part of the last 15 years I have read my fair share of diet and food related books. Most lost me half way or were too complicated to actually affect change. In recent years, as many of you know, I’ve been working on improving my eating and workout habits. I have come to really believe in the effect food and exercise has on the way you feel, function, sleep and so much more.
Truth be told I never really ate for fuel or sustenance until the past year or so. And today I am still not the healthiest eater on the planet but in recent months I’ve become much more in tune with the output I get from what I eat and drink. In early April I listened to a podcast that was interviewing Dr. Mark Hyman as he promoted his new book “What The Heck Should I Eat?” and I really liked what he was saying so I decided to order the book expecting to not really get a lot out of it and boy, was I wrong.
The book has a lot of science and research in it which I will admit I skipped some of but what it does brilliantly is break down every food group and list the items that fall in that food group in order of, essentially, best to worst. So, for example, when it comes to vegetables, what are the best and most nutritious (and least problematic to your digestion) in order of value. Then there is a secondary section detailing what vegetables you should try and avoid and why. I learned so much as Dr. Hyman debunks misconceptions about certain foods and also works to educate in understanding how what we eat can help to reverse certain chronic diseases or things we may never have realized were pretty problematic (i.e.; bloating).
Before I get into the changes I’ve made as a result of reading What The Heck Should I Eat, I want to share the somewhat healthy eating habits I already practiced before 2018:
- I don’t drink any soda. I may have a Sprite if I’ve tied one on the night before but that is a very rare circumstance.
- I only drink one coffee a day. (Usually a size that’s equivalent to two cups).
- I drink a lot of water. (And carrying a 32oz bottle around with me is key to this. I drink 10 8oz glasses almost every day).
- For the past year or so I *generally* don’t eat gluten or sweets during the week. This has been the biggest improvement I’ve made in recent years. That being said, if I meet girlfriends at a burger place on a Tuesday, I’m having a burger with a bun. I make exceptions here and there but my rule of thumb is a guiding principle in the choices I make. The more I subscribe to this, the more my overall diet improves. I make healthier choices on menus and on the weekends I’m allowed indulgences here and there. I have a major sweet tooth but have found keeping sweets to the weekends ensures I don’t keep any in the house. If I feel the need for something sweet Monday-Friday I’ll instead reach for some pineapple or strawberries.
- I limit my alcohol during the week. I pretty much only have a drink out during the week if I’m dining out. I’ve eliminated the casual glass of wine at home.
Now, here are the changes I’ve made / am making as a result of What The Heck Should I Eat?:
- I’m buying more organic fruits and vegetables. Dr. Hyman talks a lot about why organic matters and spends a lot of time educating on the history of pesticides and what’s being used in our country on our food. I used to never buy organic but now for things – especially things you don’t peel – I’m spending an extra few dollars.
- I’m trying to make at least half of my dinners at home be veggies. Dr. Hyman recommends 3/4 of your meals be veggies but I’m working up towards that.
- I’m prioritizing fruits and veggies that have more nutritional value. This means more blackberries and less bananas. More leafy greens and less potatoes.
- Speaking of fruit, I’m saying adios to orange juice. The orange juice from Trader Joe’s was such a treat but Dr. Hyman notes that drinking a glass is pretty much having dessert. It is pure sugar.
- I’m not relying on instant oatmeal as my go-to breakfast anymore. Dr. Hyman writes “if you start your morning with oatmeal you can pretty much count on over eating the rest of the day.” Why? Because the carbs break down into sugar and make you hungry.
- I’m buying only low-sugar yogurt. No more yogurts with fancy (and sugary) mix-ins or loads of fruit added in. (Siggi’s has become my favorite as you may have read).
- I’m working to eat more red meat. Dr. Hyman talks about why it gets a bad rep but then discusses all its value. I hardly ever eat read meat so I’m going to sub it in in place of my usual Chicken or Turkey here and there.
- I’m limiting beans in my diet as I learned they contain a lot of carbs. They are a stretch carb which mean they function like chains of sugar – just like grains. They spike your blood sugar and don’t actually have as much protein as we try and tell ourselves. (There are a lot of other things with more protein).
- I’m increasing my seed and nut intake. They both offer great nutritional value.
- I’ve started reading labels way more. Dr. Hyman talks a lot about added sugars in things you wouldn’t even expect and in starting the practice of looking at labels more before I put things in my cart, I even discovered my favorite Trader Joe’s pesto has traces of cashews which I have a mild allergy to! Yikes. I now look heavily at labels to see what not only the calories and fat are but also the carbs, sugars and fiber included. This exercise is eye-opening!
- When I’m eating at home, try and eat dinner earlier in the evening. This allows your body to fast while you sleep giving it a chance to repair, heal and stimulate weight loss.
- I’m going to begin using avocado oil and ghee to cook vs. always relying on olive oil.
Also as a result of some other podcasts and articles I’ve been listening to, I have also implemented the following:
- I’ve started drinking my coffee black and I’ve stopped ordering the occasional latte or cappuccino. The reason being is that apparently milk can undo the nutritional benefits of coffee (enhancing your memory, lowering risk of developing liver cancer, delivering antioxidants, etc.) Milk can bind coffee’s beneficial polyphenols that deliver nutrients and since I used to only just add a few drops I decided to eliminate the milk addition entirely and I have to tell you, I don’t miss it!
- I’ve all but stopped drinking sparkling water. I read about how it breaks down into carbonic acid and can cause inflammation and bloating. It apparently isn’t that hydrating either so I’ve stuck to regular H20 that past few months. (RIP San Pellegrino addiction!)
- I’ve started to limit my spicy food intake. I used to put so many red pepper flakes or so much hot sauce on things but have recently been hearing how too much spice can affect your sleep and cause acid reflux (the latter of which was never much of a problem for me but had started to creep in here and there and be very uncomfortable.)
- I’m eating GG Crackers a lot. (You may have spotted them all over Instagram. Helena was the one who convinced me to pull the trigger though!) While these aren’t gluten free, they do more good than bad so I have been having a GG cracker-based meal nearly every day. These “appetite control crackers” have loads of fiber so they fill you up (and clean you out) and are helpful in trying to lose weight or maintain your current weight. Each cracker is only 12 calories and 2g net carbs and I’ve got to say, they aren’t nearly as cardboard-esque as I had expected. My favorite toppings so far are lite whipped cream cheese with sliced avocado and also some yogurt with fruit and a bit of honey. Also good is baked sweet potato with a bit of goat cheese and avo. If you decide to buy these be sure to drink lots of water on days you’re consuming them. (It’ll help with your increased fiber intake.)
. . .
Now I don’t have any crazy before and after photos to show you guys and I am still about seven pounds from where I want to be but I do think I am more toned and thinned out overall given diet changes and work outs 4-6 times per week. I hadn’t taken my body measurements in three years and in writing this post decided to do it for comparison sake to 2015 and was so happy to learn I had lost 1.5 inches from my waist and 2.5 inches from around my hips. Also in looking at photos from this time last year I can tell my dedication the past year or so (and certainly the past few months) have made a difference. It reaffirmed the dedication I’m currently showing to making small but impactful changes (vs. trying to follow a strict diet or do some intense detox.)
Better yet? I feel better all around! I’m less bloated and heavy-feeling and rarely feel “stuffed.” I’m sleeping better and don’t feel sluggish. I feel more confident and my clothes fit better.
If you’re looking to get more informed and make baby steps when it comes to improving your diet, I really recommend this book. If you end up getting it, I’d love to hear about your takeways or “aha! moments”!