Sunday, June 12, 2011

28 Day Challenge Reflection

When I went into the 28 Day Healthy Eating Challenge with Whole Foods, I outlined a few of my obstacles:
  • I have had a soda a day since college. The caffeine in Coke and Pepsi helps my chronic headaches. I only had four cans of soda throughout the challenge - one while out at a bar with friends and the other three near the end of my challenge. I can go without soda, but I did notice a negative change in my headache levels without the caffeine kick. And empty calories.
  • I will also be exercising - 20-30 minutes 5 days a week. Haha. I paid attention to how much I walk and I realize I walk A LOT! Living in the city without a car means I lead a very pedestrian lifestyle. I am disappointed that I never managed to take my bike out for a ride during the uncharacteristically summer days in the past month.
  • I'm skinny and cannot lose any more weight. Despite my best intentions and even with increasing my healthy-fat intake of foods like avocado and nuts, I lost 4.5 pounds in 4 weeks. I am currently at my adult all-time low and hope that at this point I can only go up.
  • I normally do not eat any breakfast or will snack on dry cereal from a plastic bag. I am happy to report that I did not eat any dry cereal from a plastic bag like a five year old on this challenge. I woke up early and ate breakfast or made a shake or smoothie every day.
  • I love white rice and haven't really enjoyed brown rice too much. I'm learning to like brown rice. The only time I had white rice was in my bowl at Chipotle and with my vegetable sushi rolls.
  • I need to be careful with so I do not accidentally eat any gluten. My last reaction was probably from the smallest trace of gluten and yet was so severe I had to leave work early. My only reaction came from nutritional yeast - either cross contamination from bulk bins or the yeast itself. I'm leaning towards the nutritional yeast being the culprit. At some point, I will probably give it another go before permanently ruling it out of my diet.
  • And I need to do all of this while working over 40 hours a week. Done.
One of the risks of going vegan is going heavy on vegan products, like meat replacements and veggie burgers and veggie sausage and such. This is the same for gluten free. It is easy to run to the grocery store and buy gluten free cookies that are five times the price of its wheat-filled counterpart and only have a third of the taste and even less of the nutrients. While I used the term vegan a lot the past month, it really was a plant strong meat-free diet. Going away from eggs was shockingly perhaps the most challenging - it is so easy and quick to have an egg or two for breakfast. Most gluten and dairy free baked goods contain only one allergen: eggs. I'm surprised at how easy it was for me to eliminate fish and meat products from my diet. I went the firefighter route for this - a drastic change in my diet rather than a gradual change. Figuring that I already was dairy (except for goat and sheep cheese) free, I had an advantage. The hardest thing though was going oil free. As soon as I saw a drastic change in my weight, I added oil back in my diet. I'm now much more conscious of how I use oil and like the freedom of knowing that it is possible to cook without it. Back in the day, I used to cook everything in butter and I only owned canola oil for baking purposes. Eliot showed me how to cook with oil instead of butter and that simple switch opened up another giant culinary door for me. Oil based pan frying is a staple in a dairy free kitchen. Even my fake butter is a vegetable oil spread. Now I have a few more culinary tricks up my sleeve and can add basic techniques such as sauteing and baking to my skillset.

My over arching goal was to diversify my plate. It was becoming very white and very boring. And expensive! I love cooking with fresh ingredients and there were several meals throughout the challenge where I looked at my plate and smiled because I was accomplishing my goal of "eating a rainbow".

For our last meal of the challenge, the bloggers got together at Whole Foods for a dinner of salad, fruit salad, vegan macaroons and perhaps the most impressive: lasagna. I was super excited to have a raw vegan lasagna earlier this year. It was tasty, but obviously cold and radically
different from the lasagna of my childhood. One of the first dishes I learned to prepare as a kid was lasagna. My mom had the clipped recipe on a little piece of paper and I would dutifully follow it, layering the uncooked noodles with the sauce and various cheeses. It was really my first all-by-myself-I-don't-need-your-help-any-more-thanks-mom recipes I made. And made several times for my family. When I needed to go off dairy but learned that I could tolerate sheep's cheese, I toyed with the idea of making a lasagna, but quickly realized that a lasagna with only four servings could easily add up to over fifty dollars with all the specialty products I would need to use. I had quite honestly given up on ever eating a hot lasagna again. Or at least until my budget would allow for such an extravagant meal. But then the Engine 2 book published a delicious, colorful, dairy free lasagna recipe. And it was heavenly! Loaded with fresh veggies, tofu, nuts and pasta carefully placed between brown rice noodles (gluten free so I could also enjoy the dish!), the lasagna was what I was missing. But presented in a new way. Just because I can't eat something in the traditionally prepared way doesn't mean I can't have it again. It just means that a little bit of creativity is the only thing standing in my way.

Overall, I think this challenge was the best thing for me. It shook up the colors on my plate, got me eating a lot more fruits, veggies, and nuts, pulled me away from being so meat-focused with meal planning, and helped make breakfast part of my morning routine. The cooking habits I developed are likely to stay with me. I only need a small portion of meat to feel satisfied and my cravings for vegetables are pretty strong now. I used to only eat two or three times a day. Now, I snack and can easily eat 6-7 times a day. I also started eating foods that were unfamiliar to me, like eggplant, and learned some more ways to add tofu and beans in my diet.

What are some of your healthy eating goals? Have you ever done something to shake up your plate? How did that go?

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