About two years ago, I went through a major change in my life when I decided that the gym wasn't for me, so I began to live by a less obsessive, laid-back approach to health. I didn't focus too much on what I thought I should be doing and I just did whatever felt good. If that meant eating a bowl of ice cream after dinner, so be it. I was happier than I'd ever been before. Just a few months ago, though, I decided I was ready to take a more mindful approach to my nutrition.
I started to use MyFitnessPal to track whatever I was eating and see whether I was getting enough of the right nutrients every day. What I saw the first few days was honestly shocking: I was eating about 4,000 calories a day on average (all those snacks really add up, don't they?) and from then on, I decided to pay attention to what I was putting in my mouth. Here's what I learned.
My breakfast wasn't filling enough
A few hours after breakfast, I noticed that I'd started snacking on whatever I could get my hands on, and let's face it: the office is really not the best place to try healthy eating. With all those doughnuts and cookies just lying around and my stomach grumbling, no wonder I was eating so much!
When I poked around in my nutritional stats, I found the problem. My breakfast, usually a bowl of oatmeal or pancakes if I'm feeling extra special, was carb-based, without any healthy fats or protein. I started to ramp up my breakfast with more filling meals that included nuts and seeds, and soon, I could last until lunch without any hunger pangs.
I wasn't getting enough protein
I'm vegetarian, which means that it's a bit harder to get my protein in since the major sources of protein are usually meat. When I went through my stats, I found out that I'd gotten less than 10 percent of my calories from protein while the recommended amount is between 12 to 30 percent. However, when I researched plant-based protein sources, I realized that all wasn't lost for me. Tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soybeans all became regular additions to my diet.
I wasn't eating very mindfully
I'd always prided myself on being a mindful eater, but when I started tracking each and every bit of food I ate, I realized that my mindful eating strategy only stuck with me during meals when I forced myself to sit down and actually focus on what I was eating.
Between meals, however, was a completely different story. I was almost blindly throwing food in my mouth, and most of the time, I couldn't even remember what I had eaten when I was trying to track everything down. From then on, I promised myself to always sit and eat. And trust me, that was a game-changer.
I had no idea what portion control meant
Did you know that only about 15 almonds equals 100 calories? And less than a tablespoon of olive oil equals about the same? And here I am, with this huge handful of nuts in my hand, happily drizzling olive oil over the stove as I scroll through my nutrition stats, my heart sinking as I realize that this isn't going to cut it.
After this experiment, I went out and bought myself a few portion-control cups, and now I dutifully measure out my snacks before heading off to actually sit down and eat.
I always went through an afternoon slump
Ah, the dreaded afternoon slump: you can barely stay awake, your eyes are drooping, you're cranky, you think you're hungry, you're hangry. We've all gone through that, haven't we? Well, it turns out this isn't just in our minds. The afternoon slump is actually a phenomenon caused by the combined effects of a carb-heavy lunch along with the absence of the caffeine in your bloodstream and slight dehydration.
The solution? Well, for me, the minute 3 p.m. struck on the clock, I zealously guzzled water until I could no longer even think about food. This held me off for an hour or so and ensured that I fulfilled my water quota for the day. I also ramped up my lunch with protein and fats to keep my fuller and prevent that sugar crash.
If I was feeling like it, I would go for a walk during my lunch break to get some light exercise and some sunlight, which is proven to reduce drowsiness. 99 percent of the time, this worked in making sure I wasn't shoveling food into my mouth when I didn't need it. The other one percent of the time, I was actually hungry and allowed myself to take a few bites of these amazing energy balls I bought from home. I can't even feel the crash anymore on good days.
Well, three months later I'm still tracking my food using MyFitnessPal and really enjoying that sense of accountability it gives me. I check in with myself every once in a while to make sure I'm not getting obsessive about my calorie limit or hitting my nutrient goals.
Fitness is an incredibly personal journey and each and every one of us is unique. Just because tracking worked for me doesn't mean it should for you too. Whatever you do, be sure to listen to yourself and love and respect your body for what it can do. After all, the most important thing to remember is that you are more than a number: you are your experiences, your beliefs, and your actions. And that's what truly matters.