Friday, May 4, 2012

Grain-Free Conclusion: Bring on the Pizza!

I had pizza last night for dinner.  It was awesome.  After 30 days of eliminating any type of grain, you do begin to miss certain things.  Ending my work week with pizza on the couch with my husband while simultaneously clearing out our DVR every once in awhile was definitely one of them. 

But I truthfully don't miss grains that much.  It's now five days past my challenge and the only things I've eaten are my favorite Kashi oatmeal dark chocolate cookies post-workout and pizza for dinner last night.  The truth is, I've grown to enjoy eating loads of vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and fruit.  Greek yogurt with strawberries and pecans for breakfast is much more appealing than eating tasteless whole wheat toast.  Cauliflower "rice" packs more of a nutritional punch than its grainy counterpart.  And I've discovered coconut oil adds a subtle flavor and healthy dose of fat to meals.  With every bite I take I know those foods are helping me stay lean, get stronger, and fight off disease.  Why would I trade that for anything less?

As far as my very unscientific experiment, I saw very little in terms of measurable results.  There were no changes in circumference measurements or body fat percentage.  My energy levels and sleep patterns were good before and I wasn't able to detect any significant differences.  However, I am holding steady at one to two pounds below my normal weight which I attribute to water loss.  That daily bloat that accumulates making your pants and sweaters a little tighter by the end of the day disappeared.  Can't say I didn't mind seeing a flat tummy morning to night.

I speculated prior to cutting grains that I am not a particularly carb-sensitive person.  The lack of measurable results only confirms this for me.  To learn more about what dramatic physiological changes can occur and if this is something that might benefit your health, check out these books:


One surprising aspect was the amount of mental focus it required.  The first week was challenging but it was amazing how quickly choosing grain-free foods became second nature.  There were definitely times in social situations where I had to resist something but successfully doing so was very empowering.  It got me thinking.   If I can give up grains for 30 days, what else can I accomplish if I put my mind to it?

In conclusion, I am happy I gave up grains for April.  I'll still enjoy a splurge every now and again.  Let's not talk crazy here.  It did solidify healthier habits I had been working on for some time, like increasing my consumption of vegetables.  It made me take ownership of my health and be responsible for what I put in my body.  And while my measurements didn't show the instant butt lift I had been hoping for, it definitely proved you can do anything if you put your mind to it.  That being said, I'm looking forward to issuing myself another 30-day challenge, whatever that may be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grain-Free Day 24: A Habit is Born

A little light bulb went off in my head this weekend about my grain-free challenge.  I don't think about it anymore.  The fact that I gave up complex carbohydrates for 30 days doesn't register in my daily consciousness.  When I make a veggie omelet I automatically crack an extra egg or two in place of whole wheat toast.  I pack two to three servings of vegetables and three protein sources in my lunch every day.  If I'm hungry for a snack, I robotically check the fruit bowl and see what kinds of nuts are in the pantry. 

What amazes me the most is that I don't miss grains at all.  I don't sulk over my eggs and wish there was a piece of toast on the plate.  I don't think "I could really go for some pasta for dinner tonight".  There have been little to no temptations either.  No unplanned calls for pizza delivery in a moment of weakness and no grabbing a granola bar because it's more convenient.  Even when a certain someone (aka my husband) literally waved a tortilla chip directly under my nose, I respectfully declined.

Holy crap, I formed a habit, haven't I?!

In the first few days, grains were on the forefront of my mind from every bite I took to every hunger pain that hit.  It took careful and consistent planning to be 100 percent compliant.  But eventually, it somehow slipped away from my conscious awareness and the autopilot kicked in.  This got me thinking.  What exactly did I do to create this habit?  A quick encounter with Google revealed some common characteristics:

Make a commitment
I chose to test drive this grain-free notion for 30 days.  Why that long?  Well, I planned to start on April 1 and there are 30 days in April.  It takes 21 days to make a habit.  And you should give your body at least four weeks to respond to change.  I could go on and on but the point is, set a realistic time frame and stick it out.  No exceptions.

Be consistent
I have honestly been 100 percent compliant since the start.  It helps that I've had ample practice in eating grain-free.  Eating is something we do every day, and usually six meals a day for me, so there has been plenty of opportunity for action.  When trying to build a new habit, I would recommend 90 percent consistency.  Let's say your goal was to eat whole foods with every meal and you eat five times a day.  That's 35 meals per week so to be 90 percent compliant you could splurge on 3.5 of those.  You could strive for more or less than that, but be honest with yourself.  Doing something well half the time is only doing something well half the time.

Replace lost needs
I was definitely hungry the first week until I found my groove.  That's because I made the mistake of not substituting grains with anything else.  I had removed them from my diet completely.  Eventually I caught on, adding in larger portions of protein, vegetables, fruit, and fat sources.  I even discovered some new favorite foods such as chicken sausage, plain avocados, and beets.  Problem solved.  It is important not to look at habit-building as a negative experience.  If you are eliminating something, replace it with something positive to stay balanced.

Eliminate temptation
Because I started this immediately after returning from vacation, my refrigerator and pantry were a blank slate.  I made sure not to purchase any foods that did not fit the protocol so I wouldn't be tempted during a spontaneous meltdown.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I had one Kashi dark chocolate oatmeal cookie left (my favorite) which I debated saving for a Day 31 celebration.  However, by that time it would probably be stale and every time I opened the cabinet it would be staring me in the face.  In the garbage it went.  Clear the pathway for success.  There will be enough to deal with from both the emotional and logical sides of the brain.  Don't involve situational obstacles on top of it.

Track progress
I did the whole nine yards with measurements on Day 1.  On Day 15 I re-measured and there will be one final round at the conclusion.  How am I supposed to know if anything worked otherwise?  Biometrics like I did are great indicators as are more simple measures like making check marks on a calendar for compliant days.  There should be some objective way to measure the outcome which will determine whether or not to continue with the method.

Create accountability
I put it out there on the internet that I was going grain-free for 30 days.  It doesn't get much more accountable than that.  My family and friends were also made aware, whether they cared or not.  Bringing others on board gives you someone to answer to, someone to keep you honest.  It's easy to have convincing internal conversations with yourself to justify breaking a habit.  The external conversations aren't always as lenient.

All six of these practices helped activate my cruise control.  While it certainly isn't an exhaustive list of methods, it's a good start.  Creating new habits are hard, especially in the beginning.  Few people honor the commitment, but those who do are usually happy they did.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Practice of Meal Planning

Have you ever made a trip to Home Depot for some random items and accidentally forgot your shopping list?  The list wasn't that long so you convince yourself you'll be able to remember everything without a problem.  You know lawn fertilizer was the first item so you pick that up right away.  Next was a new air filter but once you arrive in the aisle you can't seem to remember the correct size.  Was it a 20 x 24 in or 16 x 24 in?  Who cares, just pick one, because look at that awesome 50-pair shoe organizer that would fit perfectly in your closet!  Gotta have it, so in the cart it goes.  The thought of your shoes having a happy little habitat produces an instant high but it's time to come back down and get what you need to caulk the sink in the half bathroom.  Got it?  Good.  On the way to the check-out, the calming spa tones of the paint section beckon and lure you into a drunken state of relaxation.  Now's not the time so you shove a few samples in your bag and are on your way.  All in all, a successful trip!

Until you get home and realize you have the wrong size air filter, a giant monstrosity of a shoe shelter that doesn't allow for walking in your "walk in" closet, an awesome caulk gun but no caulk, and the sudden urge to repaint the entire first floor of your home.  The results are a far cry from the original plan when left unguided.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail," so the saying goes.  It holds true for trying to accurately navigate Home Depot sans list and trying to eat healthy.  You can't expect to to consistently make enough solid nutritional choices that produce significant results by just winging it.  Good plans make for good execution.  Without planning your meals, you're left to rely on whatever fast food chain is on the nearest corner, whatever pre-packaged food is handy, or whatever your craving is dictating at the moment.

When you prepare your food in advance you are in control of what goes into your body.  You don't have to worry about hidden ingredients or what your meal was cooked with.  You aren't left disappointed that the protein serving wasn't enough or that you're falling short on servings of vegetables for the day.  And you don't have to worry about a moment of weakness steering you in the wrong direction when there's a full, nutritious meal right in front of you. 

It takes some time.  It takes some effort.  But it produces results.  Here are a couple strategies to help. 

Post-Grocery Shopping Prep
Take a few extra minutes to sort and organize your groceries when you return from shopping.  Wash and cut all your vegetables and fruits.  Pre-portion items like nuts and dried fruit into smaller baggies.  Dish out some Greek yogurt or cottage cheese into smaller containers and throw some berries on top.  The only thing left to do is grab what you need when you're hungry or ready to cook. 

Always Cook for Leftovers
Automatically double up your dinner recipes.  Not only will it save you time from having to prepare something for lunch the next day, it will make you use up any ingredients unique to the dish that might otherwise go to waste.  When cleaning up the table, package the leftovers into single portion-sized containers to eliminate another step the following day.

Establish a Weekend Ritual
This requires a little more of a time commitment but can pay off for several days.  Take a few hours out on the weekends and make meals for the entire week.  Season four to five chicken breasts with different flavors and grill.  Try one to two new vegetable dishes as well.  As always, package everything into smaller containers so you can operate on autopilot.

I prefer to do a combination of all of the above on a weekly basis.  To give you an idea of how this can play out practically, here was my "to do" list for my weekend ritual this past Sunday:

  1. slice and cook all-natural chicken sausage
  2. trim and cook chicken breasts
  3. wash, cut, and roast vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and kale)
  4. wash, cut, and bake 2 yams
  5. wash, cut, and grill zucchini
  6. start meat sauce for zucchini lasagna

veggies galore
What it yielded:
  • two breakfasts from the chicken sausage
  • chicken breasts for four meals
  • five 2-cup servings of roasted vegetables
  • three 1-cup servings of yams
  • full tray of zucchini lasagna for that night's dinner, plus about 5 individual meals of leftovers for the week

baked coconut (top) and honey mustard (bottom) chicken breasts

Every spare inch of the fridge is taken up, but I can easily navigate it in my sleepy morning stupor to pack meals in my portable cooler for the day.  It saves me from selecting some edible mystery from the company cafeteria and the inevitable snowball effect one bad decision can have on the rest of the day.

In addition to a weekend prep day, I make a mental plan of dinners for the week.  Having this in place eliminates the temptation to order pizza upon walking through the door.  Don't forget, double the recipe and there's more meals to get you through the remainder of the week. For example, I made enough of a delicious bone-in chicken breast for dinner last night which produced another protein serving or two to fill up any free space in the fridge.

If you want to see some serious health improvements, you must take the time to plan.  Simply wanting to eat better is useless unless it's backed up by some preparation and action.  It's like dreaming of winning the lottery without buying a ticket.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Grain-Free Day 16: Over Halfway There

Yesterday marked the halfway point in my 30-day grain-free journey.  It was a good opportunity to monitor my progress so I went through the complete array of measurements.  Scale weight, a seven-site skin fold test for body fat, and circumference measurements of the chest/waist/hip/arm/thigh/calf - the works.  After the close encounter with the tape measure and feverishly scratching down an assortment of numbers, I rushed to compare them to the ones taken April 1st. 

Drum roll please...

fingers crossed





No change (other than a four pound weight loss that was acquired while in Cancun).

My weight held normal for me, my body fat is still 15 percent, and all my circumference measurements were relatively the same.  There have been no noticeable changes in my energy levels or sleep quality either.  However, I am happy to report I hit two personal records in my training.  I deadlifted 150 percent and bench pressed 90 percent of my body weight.  Not too shabby for a girl with a crooked spine who has to always play it safe!

Would I have completed those lifts if I were eating grains?  Probably.  Am I frustrated that I've seen absolutely no other results?  Not really.  My curious mind is treating this all like an experiment and I didn't have any great expectations.  Since nothing happened, am I going to give up?  Not a chance.  Dramatic results are unlikely in a mere 15 days.  Real results come in subtle changes that add up over time through consistent actions. 

Napoleon Hill once said, "Most people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure."   

Fourteen more days to go!