Tag Archives: fast food

Options Everywhere

On my way to work last week, I stopped at the grocery to pick up last-minute essentials, like diet soda (cringe, I know) and a snacky food. Instead of pastries to share, I brought a bag of apples, which I knew I’d fruitlessly offer to others.  For some reason, people are reluctant to take apples from a woman named Eve.

I also picked up a bag of macadamia nuts, which I measure out before I eat. They are delicious, but they’re also a bit fatty and calorie-dense. You have to be careful with your fat when you don’t have a gallbladder to help you digest it. So I weigh out an ounce with the little scale I picked up at Target.

A food scale measuring one ounce of macadamia nuts

One ounce of macadamia nuts, about 200 calories. And never feed these to your dogs. Ever.

Even though I have a good lunch, sometimes my breakfast is a little less reliable. I may opt to buy eggs or a protein bar at the grocery or a gas station on the way to work. Sometimes, I have tuna. Sometimes, I am slightly grossed out when eating tuna straight from the can over the trash can in the work kitchen, and I discover a few errant fish scales in the can. Or in my mouth. And so, having a variety of options as safeguards in place to give myself healthy alternatives is a method I’ve adopted to help keep myself on the straight and narrow.

A bag of red apples, a baggie of macadamia nuts, and a cup of water

The stewards of my workday snackiness – hearty snacks, something a little sweet, and something to ensure I’m not just thirsty.

I haven’t counted calories much for the past several months, but overeating isn’t a problem as long as I have measured portions of more calorie-dense foods. And it’s hard to overeat on raw fruit. The water helps me test whether I’m actually hungry. It also cuts down on the amount of diet soda I drink. I’ll be in trouble when they start caffeinating the water cooler water.

In my adventures through the grocery store, I was also thinking about trying new coffee creamers – something without corn syrup solids, something low in sugar. I looked up suggestions for paleo coffee creamer on my phone while I was still in the parking lot, and I kept seeing the suggestion for coconut milk as a substitute for cream. I was skeptical and didn’t even know where I’d be able to find it in the store. I went to comparison shop for coffee creamers, when suddenly…

Several containers of coconut milk in a grocery cooler

Refrigerated coconut milk. I didn’t think I could drink a whole carton by myself before it went bad. Plus, there’s added sugar, which ain’t in my diet.

Oh, hi, coconut milk in the dairy section. Checking out the nutritional information, I wasn’t thrilled with the sugar content (I remember drinking chocolate soy milk like cold water in hot summer, probably also due to the sugar content), but it was nice to know there were options. “Well, I wonder where the canned coconut milk is. Probably too much of a pain to try to track down.” I turned around to check out the clearance shelves right behind me, saw these, and knew I should probably take the hint.

Several discounted cans of coconut milk on a grocery shelf

This coconut milk in a can has fewer additives, no added sugar, and is on sale. I transferred it to a mason jar when I got home.

Ok, FINE, universe, I’ll take home your stupid coconut milk. I tried it out in a cup of coffee with a little half and half, a little Splenda. I was not really impressed. But I’ve been used to drinking super artificially sweet coffee for so long, it will take me a while to get acclimated. I had black coffee with a little Splenda in it the other evening. Amazing how little coffee you can manage to drink when it doesn’t taste like a kind of liquid candy. It’s an ongoing experimentation, trying to find a combo that works for me. But I’m glad I went for it and explored my options there.

Finally, I didn’t bring my lunch last Friday and ventured all the way across the street from my office to get fast food for myself and a friend. I knew the restaurant had salads, but I’d always bought the greasy pizzas or greasy sandwiches. This time, I got a salad, and man, it was fantastic. I never knew.

A hearty salad from a fast food restaurant

A fantastic salad that’s mostly on my diet. Lettuce, spinach, avocado, tomato, feta cheese, ham, turkey, bacon, and black beans.

My meal was, altogether, about $8 with a drink. Amazing how a restaurant you’ve visited for years and dismissed for many years longer can still surprise you with gems like these.

It can be tricky to eat in a way that best suits your healthier diet, but if you look hard enough, take time to consider your needs, do some research, and trust to blind luck from time to time, you can be versatile, make most any situation work for you, and enjoy your lifestyle rather than endure your diet.


We Are Not So Different: Paleo-Ish and Vegetarian

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one: Paleo Eve and Vegetarian Eve go to a bar, and the bartender says, “What kind of drinks for you, ladies?” Paleo Eve says, “How about a vodka tonic?” And then, Paleo Eve’s friends gather around it and argue that no, potatoes are too starchy, and anyone trying to lose weight should stay away from vodka. Omg! Vegetarian Eve orders an O’Douls, and Paleo Eve says, “Ugh, that’s disgusting, how many carbs are in that thing?” Vegetarian Eve screeches, “Technically, there’s no meat in this! Get off my case! Gawd!!!”

I was a vegetarian for 8 years of adulthood and have been eating lower carb, paleolithic-ish for only the past 4 months. In all the reading done about the paleolithic diet and lower carb eating, I’ve come to realize that if you’re doing the vegetarian diet correctly, it resembles paleo a great deal, with the main difference of avoiding meat and substituting other protein-heavy foods like soy, peanuts, and a variety of beans, nuts, and legumes.

Technically, I knew that vegetarians could eat raw vegetables and seeds, too, but I was much less willing to eat fresh produce than I am now, and more willing to consume processed foods that often packed less nutritional punch and were ultimately worse for me. Oh, how I regret the Bartlett pears that have gone bad in my crisper drawer.

Poor Choices
I touched upon observing the letter but not the spirit of the vegetarian lifestyle in a recent post about my poorly executed erstwhile vegetarianism. I relied on a lot of soy burgers and fake meat products, anything processed that I could make into a sandwich or throw into stir-fry. Spaghetti practically ran through my veins. (Ok, that was a weird mental image.)

I still ate dairy and eggs, and many processed vegetarian foods are made with dairy and egg ingredients, so it was easier for me to get protein and fat than it would have been if I’d gone fully vegan and eaten more like the way I do now.

In the past, I saw meat, and meat substitutes, as the main part of the meal, and therefore the most essential part of the meal. A dinner built around something other than that kind of main dish was only a snack, or a sign of poverty of imagination (or literal poverty – I mean, who eats just rice and veggies for dinner?). This led me to choose the veggie burger and fries instead of a variety of mixed steamed veggies with a baked potato and salad if I was having dinner at the pub.

While I ate my share of unconventionally structured meals, sometimes that was just due to my misadventures in cooking rather than creativity or fluency in my chosen nutritional path. This thought pattern for every meal of “meat/facsimile and two veg” wasn’t intentional, but it’s something ingrained in a lot of people in the U.S., and it led me to make a lot of poor food choices.

Judgement of That Which Is Deemed Different
I wonder now how much of substituting fake meats but keeping the meal structure otherwise the same was also to downplay the “weirdness” of being vegetarian in a social setting. I had only a handful of friends who were vegetarian or ate with special dietary restrictions, with most of the people in my life enthusiastic omnivores, and little support structure. Most of the people I interacted with were all right with my food choices, because I didn’t throw them in their faces, but occasionally, I’d get hassled by an acquaintance or family member whose bemusement shone through as negative attention that I just wanted to avoid.

If I’d had a spine, I would have been much prouder of my choices. I was almost apologetic and ashamed sometimes about an aspect of my life that only I and the people who truly care about me had any right to meaningfully care about, my food intake.

I am still careful to explain my current diet couched in as many terms as my mind sees as necessary, but I find that people don’t find the details as compelling as they do the broader strokes, so explanation in depth is usually not necessary anymore. As soon as I say, “My doctor put me on this diet,” understanding clicks in, and it’s on to the next topic of conversation. I understand not everyone else who eats like I do has this luxury, and some people are going to be belligerent jerks about the dietary choices of other people no matter what. The old me would have rolled over and taken that kind of prodding (be it good-natured, thoughtless, or trolling), but the new me isn’t about that. All I have to do these days is pull up pictures of me from four months ago and tell them about shopping for new clothes, breathing more easily, and maybe being able to run again someday, and the only thing I’ve changed about my lifestyle is my diet.

Be proud of your lifestyle choices, especially educated and careful choices you make about food and fitness. Don’t let others with no real interest in your health talk you out of doing what is best for you and your body. And those of us who eat differently, remember to be kind and give the benefit of the doubt before you actively judge others. Better yet, don’t judge others at all, since you don’t know their struggles. Sometime when others are negative, they are defensive, feeling like your actions are a judgment of their own. Others may be embittered about their own lack of success and taking it out on you without realizing it (some realize it, and those people are poisonous and should be minimized in your life). Other times, they may have run into someone who made choices like you make and treated them poorly, and they have negative associations they haven’t been able to divorce from the food lifestyle you lead. Their poor reactions from other people toward your diet may be because they feel provoked by the things you say or the attitude you project. Do you brag about your diet everywhere you go? Are you vocally putting down people who eat differently than you do? Be awesome, lead by example, only tell when asked, and follow Wheaton’s Law.

Branching Out
While I still do go for a main dish surrounded by vegetables for many of my main meals, I am also content to eat weirder meals: almond butter with a sprinkling of seeds and nuts, or a bowl of snap peas with cheese (I still love my dairy, so I try to eat quality cheese in measured, reasonable portions). My lunch is usually a portion of deli meat in a sea of raw vegetables, the veggies taking up at least two-thirds of the mass inside my lunch container. During these months when I’m eating with the idea of weight loss, white potatoes are off the menu, but sweet potatoes can be eaten in moderation.

Any of these meals minus the lunch meat would have been perfectly acceptable vegetarian meals, if only I’d thought to branch out from my usual pasta, rice, or quinoa pilaf topped with sad boiled vegetables and a sugary sauce, breaded faux chicken on toast, pasta-riffic frozen lunches, etc. and try some real, unprocessed foods for a change. If I ever go back to vegetarianism, I believe my lower carb, paleo-ish diet has been a valuable education in the importance of the kind and quality of foods you eat.

A cartoon depicting a cavewoman and a hippie in a bar.

If they can get along over a bowl of carrots, then there may be hope for healthy future dietary endeavors.

Stand By Your Plan (Unless You’re Doing It Wrong)

I’ve intentionally embarked on reduced calorie diets off and on since 2006. The main thing they had in common was this: I was not good at sticking to a reduced calorie diet, ever, without eventually wanting to give up and cheat, giving in to small temptations, and being discouraged at the slowness of my results.

In the distant past (2010), I was a vegetarian subsisting mainly on fake meat products, sauteéd vegetables and quinoa, vegetarian frozen lunches containing sauces and a lot of rice and pasta, eggs and cheese, and spaghetti by the mile. When I was dieting, it was difficult to get “enough” calories in a day unless I was eating a lot of cheese, or a lot of carbs – and sometimes, the way I saw best to round out my calories was allowing myself a brownie, cookies, ice cream, whatever sugary thing was on hand.

As long as I was below or at (or maybe, oops, a little bit over) my caloric limit for the day, I was doing ok. I missed my protein intake, I always had more carbs than I thought, and I believed fat was the devil. Oh, and I could have one cheat day a week. Sometimes, that turned into a cheat weekend. Well, I was going on vacation and not working out again. Maybe I wasn’t going to try so hard to eat well for…a month, two months, half a year, besides eating technically-meat-free food that was often sugar and refined carbs. Yeah. I was doing it wrong.

An MS Paint image of a hand holding a 100% vegetarian snack with terrible nutritional information.

Nacho Banana Crisps. Is that such a bad idea when you think about it? Yes? Ok, I’ll just show myself out.

In the even more distant past (2006), I started seriously looking into fitness. I worked out in my office building’s gym with my friends from work and read the women’s fitness magazines one of them brought along. One publication in particular had monthly fitness features and recommended food plans with a week’s worth of meals laid out on its glossy pages. When I picked up a weightlifting book a couple of years later, I found that it devoted a chapter to a number of high protein recipes. These were surely the keys to weight loss. But only, as it turns out, if you ate meat. I remember leafing through them, vainly hoping that at least one of the meals would be vegetarian. How nice would it be to be told exactly what to eat, to have a system that took all the thought out of it?

I’m not a great cook. Because I grew up not wanting to waste food, I’ll eat almost anything I make, but I certainly don’t enjoy cooking the way some people do (baking is another story). Give me a recipe I can nuke in the microwave, or a magic loaf of bread that fulfills all my daily nutritional requirements and tastes like banana nut bread.  But please, I thought, no more recipes including salmon. No grilled chicken. No more soaking beans overnight to make an approximation of a burger that will be filled with oats and disappointment. The feeling of hopes dashed faded quickly to resigned expectation and acceptance. I guess I’ll just eat steamed vegetables…forever? And quinoa, I guess.

A complex, satisfying, easy-to-make vegetarian meal’s appearance on those pages was a rare enough event that if it happened, I don’t remember, which also speaks to how good the recipe might have been. Maybe it was an olive, mint, and sardine salad dressed in a peanut butter reduction! Mmm.

And now that we’re all no longer hungry, let’s talk more about my easier, more recent, and more balanced food choices.

It’s been much simpler to plan meals with my boyfriend since I started eating meat, starting with my post-gallbladder recovery, and we adapted dinner quickly to the lower carb, paleo-ish diet my doctor put me on several months ago. This time, I’m 3 months into my new diet with little sign of slowing down. For the most part…

A text message exchange about a cake that has been eaten.

Teamwork – my boyfriend supports me in my new way of eating, even going so far as to sacrifice his body and heroically eat all the cake in the name of keeping me honest.

I’m so lucky that I love all the food that I’ve been advised to eat right now, and that they’re all satisfying. That makes all the difference. My lunches vary from week to week, but as I scroll through photos of my food, I see recurring themes: raw vegetables, fresh and frozen berries, reasonable portions of meat, eggs, small amounts of cheese, select nuts, and very few breads, legumes, and grains. I’m not always scanning the horizon for the next miracle, and I don’t have to think that hard about what my choices will be in the grocery store with such simple ingredients.

I don’t miss bread, sweets, corn, or potatoes all that much, although occasionally, I do splurge. And I mean very occasionally. I’m making such great progress that I usually have to talk myself into throwing myself a curveball. That seems like humble bragging or a successful dieter problem on the order of first world problems. But I just don’t want to fall into bad habits again, and frankly, the things I’m missing out on don’t seem as vital to my life as they once did.

I had one piece of the cake that was mentioned in the above conversation. The piece was great, but I was definitely done after one, and it’s likely I would have been satisfied with just the icing. Then, last Friday, I made myself take a cheat meal at McDonald’s, where I got an Angus burger with an order of fries. That was a bad idea. Bad, bad, bad idea. The burger was just ok, the fries were not fresh and not very good, and eating them gave me gastric problems all weekend.

And yet, as not-great as those fries were, I automatically ate every last one of them down to the bottom of the carton, then rummaged in the bag for the end pieces and any strays. So much for moderation and portion control. Much better idea: sticking to what I know is delicious, good for my health, and satisfying to my palate and satiation.

A counter shows raw veggies, meat, and frozen berries. A beagle looks on.

“Your dinner looks great. But listen to this: it would look even better in my food dish.” – Beagles, nature’s sweetest con artists.

Dinner one evening consisting of mixed berries (in the bowl), mixed raw veggies on the plate, and pork loin stewed in carrots, onions, pineapple, and cranberry sauce. The dog would love to eat my dinner, if I let him. The onions could actually hurt him, but the other veggies are ok, and I usually sneak him at least one carrot or pea pod.

A car seat holding a small purse and two food containers of raw vegetables, strawberries, and deli meat.

I multitasked on the way to the bank one afternoon by eating my lunch in the car. Luckily, it’s mostly finger food. The veggies serve as soft cheese vehicles.

My usual lunch of deli meat, carrots, peas, soft cheese wedge, and strawberries. I’ve had it so often over the last three months, and I’m still not tired of it.

Sticking to my guns has paid off in spades. I weighed in this morning at 168 pounds. That puts me 5 pounds away from the target weight my doctor gave to me. Using the crudest of BMI calculators, I’m now at 29.8%, so I’m limboing under obese into just overweight. That’s pretty great. And allow me to display stats from September 2011 through this morning that show you the amount of weight I’ve lost as well as tape measure data.

A spreadsheet showing body measurements in Imperial units as taken with a tape measure.

This spreadsheet snippet shows my progress since mid-September 2011, when I first began tracking my measurements. The total at the lower right is inches I’ve lost.

This shows the change in my body over the last 8 months, and a lot of this progress has been made since February. I was barely treading water until I was given a plan that worked and that I was able to stick to so easily. It’s no miracle, and based on my dietary choices of mostly vegetables, fewer carbs, and fewer calories, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, either. The most surprising thing of all is the satisfaction I’ve found in my new habits. That satiety is stronger than all the self-discipline and willpower I’ve ever been able to muster.


Found fast food that fits my diet


I am visiting family this weekend, and I don’t have my staples on hand, so it’s nice to know I can still get a relatively low-carb dinner while I’m on the road.