We didn’t have a particularly cold winter here in Brooklyn, but I still managed to eat my way through it as though in hibernation. I feel it—and it shows, too—which is why I recently decided it was time to change my diet.
When I’ve made this decision in the past, I’ve jumped into major changes. Juice cleanse! No carbs! A points system! Some have worked for me, but only for a short time before I slipped back into old patterns. So this time, instead of making diet changes driven only by my goal state—to eat healthier and lose weight—I decided to make changes based on the reality of my day-to-day life.
As a busy, work-from-home mom who loves food and cooks for a living, and who is also in desperate need of more sustained energy to get through my packed workdays, I decided to make 5 small, manageable changes to my diet instead:
1. Commit to breakfast within one hour of waking up every day.
2. Eat protein at every meal.
3. Start every snack with fruits and/or vegetables.
4. Drop all sugary drinks.
5. Incorporate probiotics into my daily diet.
In fact, I’m pretty amazed at how my five dietary changes played out, and what they’ve meant for my eating habits overall.
Here’s what happened after only one week:
Diet change 1: Eat breakfast within one hour of waking up every day.
I’ve heard that eating within an hour of waking up helps boost your metabolism, so why not give it a try. Anything to rev your engine, right?
I’m not one of those people who can wake up and eat right away, so this was a hard one. My usual pattern is to wake up, drink coffee, pack lunches, drink more coffee, see the kids off to school, get dressed, and then eat. (Sound familiar, fellow parents?)
By the time I’m thinking breakfast, I’m starving, and also far enough into the morning that I feel rushed to get something down quickly so that I can start work. For me, the combination of feeling starved and rushed means that I default to toast, cereal, or some other quick-hit carb, which is not exactly a healthy, complete breakfast.
Now, I admit that I really had to force myself to eat within an hour of waking, because like a lot of my friends that I’ve talked to, even the thought of eating right away makes me feel nauseated at times. But, as it turns out, eating right away in combination with my commitment to protein (more on that below) ended up being the most significant of all my diet changes.
During my trial week, I started each day with one cup of oatmeal plus either a tablespoon of nut butter swirled in or a yogurt-protein powder smoothie on the side. On the smoothie days, yogurt in combination with protein powder ensured a really big hit of protein.
I cannot believe the major difference these two simple oatmeal breakfasts made.
The first thing I noticed is that eating right away actually made me eat less the rest of the day. I wasn’t starving and, amazingly enough, that one cup of oatmeal that never quite satisfied at 10 AM turned out to be more than enough at 7:30 AM, I think, in part, because of the protein boosts I added.
Even though I was still eating a relatively small breakfast every day, I was full for way longer than when I ate later. I didn’t even need a snack—or to pretend that I wasn’t hungry, ha—between breakfast and lunch.
My behavioral change was minor, but the effect it had is major for me, and one that I will definitely keep up.
I mean, eating less by starting right? Why didn’t I do this earlier?!
Diet Change 2: Eat protein at every meal.
Whenever I go into diet mode, I end up eating tons of fruit and veggies and tiny portions of everything else. That may sound good in theory, but I always end up feeling starved by 5 PM. I wondered if eating a hearty dose of protein at every meal would keep me feeling full, helping me to eat less overall.
As I already mentioned, this habit made a huge difference at breakfast, though admittedly less so at other meals. That is, until I shifted the kind of protein that I was eating.
See, I love cheese and always thought of it as a perfect source of protein, especially at lunch. But in reality, on my diet days, I would also be watching my fat intake. I’d eat such a small amount of cheese that it didn’t add up to much protein at all.
The same goes for deli meats: Lean turkey and ham can be great sources of protein, but only in serving sizes greater than I had been eating at lunch.
So I went easy on the cheese and deli meat and started looking up other ideas. A few options that worked for me:
– Combining a small amount of cheese with a whole bunch of chickpeas in a chopped Greek-style salad.
– Adding chicken breast or tuna to a salad.
– Eating eggs; two of them always felt like they gave me the right balance of protein.
I found that all of these filled me up much longer than my previous choices, and kept me from constant snacking between 2 PM and dinner time, when so many of us tend to go astray on our best-laid diet plans.
I do have to admit that lunch meals like this require more planning. Without planning, you’re bound to be in trouble. In fact, by day 7, I’d absolutely fallen off at lunch and gobbled an English muffin with veggie cream cheese—and the rest of the afternoon went downhill from there.
So at the beginning of next week, I’m going to plan my lunches along with my dinners, and I’ll also look to the supermarket for help. On the top of my list: A rotisserie chicken and market-made tuna salad that I can grab and go.
Diet Change 3: Eat fruits and/or vegetables with every snack.
Oh, the snacking. Always my downfall. Could I change that if I made sure to start every snack with fruit and/or veggies? My hope was that adding more good fiber would fill me up and, if I wanted more snacks after a big helping or fruits and/or vegetables, I’d be inclined to eat fewer of the kids’ cheddar bunnies.
When I initiated this change, the goal was two-fold: To fill myself up with healthy food before diving into the snack foods, and also to get myself eating more fruits and vegetables throughout the day. This strategy totally worked on both fronts. Yay!
Since my new breakfasts were keeping me full until lunchtime, I only snacked once a day (around 3 or 4 PM) the whole week. Because of that and the fact that my appetite for snack foods was less ravenous after a hefty dose of produce, I allowed myself a few favorite healthy snack time indulgences—no donuts, basically—without regret.
The real takeaway for me is that when I snack on healthier, more fiber-rich fruits and veggies, I can enjoy slightly more indulgent snacks, too, because I won’t go overboard on them.
Diet Change 4: Drop all sugary drinks.
This is a big change for many people, which is why I wanted to incorporate this as one of my own diet changes, even though sugary drinks aren’t a major issue for me personally. I tend to stay away from sodas and don’t gravitate to sweet drinks (except maybe on margarita nights, ahem). However, I do have a big issue with drinking enough water overall—and that’s where other people tend to substitute soda, juice, sweetened iced tea, or lemonade. Instead, I tend to drink nothing (I know, terrible, right?) leaving me dehydrated on a regular basis. I knew it was crucial to address this, especially to maintain my energy and overall health.
Confession: This was the one change to my diet that was a flop for me.
Though I was able to drop the one small glass of juice that I drink each day, I did not increase my water intake significantly. In fact, it was pretty dismal—and I think I know why: This was the only change for which I did not prepare.
I just figured, okay, I’ll focus on drinking more water! But I didn’t get a new reusable water bottle to carry around with me, I didn’t create any new habits in terms of keeping a water bottle or full pitcher of water at my desk, I didn’t use any apps to track my water intake. I simply expected to change my habits just because—and failed at that.
I know that drinking more water can increase energy, flush out toxins, and even lower overall calorie intake. So now I have a plan.
It’s funny because I make infused waters like the Pomegranate and Strawberry Infused Coconut Water at Going Coconuts (above) for the kids all summer long. It’s as if my brain hasn’t adjusted to seeing them as something that I can drink, too, and all year around. So I’m bookmarking more recipes and ordering a nifty water bottle with an infuser to keep at my desk as a constant reminder to drink more frequently. I really think that the fruit flavor will make drinking water a little bit more appealing.
Diet change 5: Add probiotics to my daily diet.
I’ve always been a believer in probiotics for overall gut health, but have never been consistent about taking them as supplements. I wanted to see what would happen if I stayed the course, making sure to get a healthy dose of probiotics everyday, without fail.
I have always loved yogurt, but as someone who has tried dieting using a point system (yeah, you know what I’m talking about), my choice of yogurts has been limited. This time, I let go of points and chose to stock my fridge with yogurt based on taste (yay!), provided my choice fit with my 5 planned changes.
As I understand it, probiotics are a long term investment in your digestive health, so I can’t honestly report on any real changes after taking them consistently for just a week. But I will tell you this: I’m committed to them, and knowing that I can blend probiotic intake with snacking makes me more likely to stick with it than if I were relying on supplements alone.
The final word…
I have to say that I’m pretty amazed that just a few small changes have led me to eat less food overall without feeling nearly as hungry or restricted as I have when I’ve tried more rigid diets or counted points. Now to be sure, this is not a diet; in fact, so-far I’ve only lost a half-pound. I suspect a lot of that has to do with not exercising at all this week, much beyond walking. I will probably also cut back on some of the carbs, and be sure I’m sticking with healthier fats like nut butter and avocado.
As a result, weight loss might come slower, but my overall health, energy, and well-being will improve and that was really the goal of this exercise.
So while yes, I’d love to be bathing suit ready in a month, I’m so glad to discover that there are small, manageable diet changes that can help keep me feeling satisfied, which in the long run is more sustainable for me.
Plus, overall, I’m definitely eating way healthier in the form of more fruits, more veggies, and lean protein.
Given how busy I am these days as a full-time working parent, I’m feeling good about making a commitment to my health and energy first—and then patiently (or patiently as I can) waiting for the weight to fall off. In other words, these changes: They’re to stay.