Last year was a struggle for me. It felt like the exit interview of my twenties. Awkward and uncomfortable challenges blocked the door to the next phase of my life. It was the first time that health became a true focus for me. I had no choice, really. I woke up one morning and couldn’t breathe. That shortness of breath led to the inability to speak and I was soon inundated with hives. Suddenly, I was allergic to everything. Eggs, grass, trees, cats, dust all set off my radar and I was under attack.
My body was out of control. Weekly visits with a slew of specialists concluded that my immune system no longer liked me. It overreacted to something I did and had been throwing a tantrum ever since. All meds thrown my direction didn’t help. No one had any answers.
I learned a very valuable lesson last year: when things don’t add up, start subtracting.
To get to the bottom of this, I started a food journal. I called it “The Moody Foodie.” Using a mobile app, I kept track of everything I ate and wrote down how I felt afterwards. Full and full of hives, I realized I wasn’t exactly a healthy eater. My love affair with cheese and all things dairy spilled over the pages of my little diary and the discomfort I felt was actually not from stuffing my face. It was lactose intolerance. Traitors! No eggs, no dairy, no fun.
What was I going to put on my meat if I couldn’t have cheese? At that moment, I realized I didn’t actually like meat. So, I cut that out, too. Down to fruits, veggies, beans and nuts, I started to think I was nuts. Could I live off of this? Would this help?
Months later and 20lbs lighter, I could breathe again. I felt happy, energetic and most importantly in control. While I still continue to have the occasional hives episode every so often, it no longer visits every day. And while this new Vegan lifestyle is the strictest diet change I’ve ever made, it feels right for me. I like knowing what I put in my body and how it contributes to my overall health. I never realized how important it was to “eat your veggies” and stop swimming in salty, saturated seas.
Take time this New Year to take care of yourself. Whatever that means for you. Since my battle ended in the kitchen, I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve used to help me transition to a healthier diet.
10 Healthy Tips for a Healthier Diet
- Keep a food journal. I like using the mobile app version of one since I can carry it with me wherever I go. It also does the math for me to determine what nutritional goals I need to hit and helps me decode scary labels.
- Use a food scale. You’d be surprised at how much smaller portion sizes actually are once you take the time to measure up. If you have a favorite snack, portion it out and put the bag away before you dig in.
- Give juice a try. If you have nutritional gaps to fill and lack the appetite to accommodate, try juicing your fruit and veggie servings. I use a slow juicer to preserve as much nutrients as I can, but find a juicer that works for you.
- Use a small (1.5 quart) slow cooker. If you’re not a big fan of cooking, are too busy or don’t care for leftovers, try cooking in a small slow cooker. I purchased a cookbook specifically for this method of cooking and only have two servings to deal with at a time. Throw something together in the morning and it’s ready when you get home.
- Buy a cookbook. You know what kind of food you like. Try to find a cookbook geared towards those types of meals. Find one with nutritional information, too. With any luck, you’ll get excited to be in the kitchen and be more aware of exactly what’s on your plate.
- Get a fun gadget. Buy yourself an appliance or gadget that you’ll have fun using and you’ll find yourself cooking more often. My new fun little toy is an ice cream maker. I like to try out Vegan ice cream recipes and sneak in a little dark chocolate with my fruit. Win-win.
- Eat less, more often. While this may not work for everyone, I find when I purposefully eat less, I have an easier time listening to my body. And when I eat more frequently throughout the day, I am less likely to feel starved.
- Try healthier alternatives or substitutions in your favorite recipes. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, each “Foodie Friday,” I post a recipe here that has at least one healthy ingredient in place of something that was originally less healthy. The recipes themselves may not be as wholesome as a big bowl of salad topped with salad, but that one healthy switcheroo, is one step closer to a healthier you. (I post Vegan and non-Vegan recipes, by the way, as not everyone in my life eats like I do).
- Drink more water. Add a little lemon. Someone once told me to drink a glass of water before a meal and that will help you feel full. While that may work, I’m more in favor of drinking water in place of things like pop (soda), coffee and tea. Personally, I don’t dig liquid calories. What a waste! I’d rather save them to satisfy my appetite.
- Pre-plan your meals out. Skim the menu before you head out the door so you have time to make a healthier choice. Don’t be afraid to ask for your meal to be altered if you need it. If you see the portion sizes are huge, ask for a box when you order and place a portion of your meal inside before you dig in. Skip the sides and/or the pre-dinner bread rolls, or order your meal after you eat the bread to help determine how hungry you actually are at that point.
Looking back on these changes that I made last year, I’m pretty proud of myself and have seen a huge difference in my attitude towards food. Plus, I feel like I finally learned the secret password and had the ‘aha’ moment that graduates me to my thirties. Yikes. Did I just admit I’m ready?