Claiming that my eating habits are terrible is an overstatement because they are not quite as bad as they sound. (I hope you're kidding.) My strong relationship with food is the healthiest it can be. I have perfected every shortcut and easy solution that exists to satisfy my appetite while spending as little time as I can inside the kitchen. What about snack bars and items that come prepackaged? Indeed, I subsist on those alone.
Even though I'm just beginning early thirties, I feel like I should buy a rocking chair and learn how to crochet since my lifelong habit of avoiding everything related to the kitchen has now caught up with me and is having a negative impact. For the sake of my girth (which has, well, exploded), I need to do more than simply start eating healthier and cutting out useless calories; I need to reform my attitude toward food completely.
As a result of this, I made the decision to give the Mediterranean diet before and after a trial. This anti-deprivation diet is high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. It was awarded the title of "Best Diet Overall" by U.S. News & World Report in 2018, as well as the title of "Easiest Diet to Follow." In moderation (defined as no more than one glass per day), red wine, red meat, and sweets are all acceptable (twice per month or so). There are no forbidden foods or food categories; yes, I entirely meant the pun. It's also remarkable that the diet encourages the social and conscious components of eating food, like sitting down to meals (instead of wolfing down food in front of the television like I generally do), which is one of the things I struggle with the most.
According to Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, R.D., a registered dietitian based in New York, the Mediterranean diet isn't necessarily designed to help people lose weight. Still, it does increase the likelihood that this will happen. She suggests that putting an emphasis only on fresh, unprocessed foods might result in weight reduction. This is because you will no longer depend on packaged meals, which are frequently high in sugar and salt and include harmful fat sources. Consuming a range of plant-based proteins and complex carbohydrates derived from whole grains helps maintain a very steady level of blood sugar inside your body and makes you feel filled for a longer period of time, which reduces the likelihood that you will overeat. (We bid you adieu, cravings!)
The benefits of the Mediterranean diet for weight loss are also supported by scientific research: Participants in a study that was conducted in 2016 and published in the journal The Lancet who followed a Mediterranean diet lost way more weight than those who followed a low-fat diet, while participants in a study that was conducted in 2015 and published in The American Journal of Medicine discovered that following a Mediterranean diet is just as effective for long-term weight loss as following a low-carb diet.
In order to adhere to the Mediterranean diet, one needs simply follow general recommendations as there are no specific regulations to follow. This may be seen as both a benefit and a disadvantage. You are entirely on your own when it comes to determining the number of calories you need to consume in order to reduce your weight, how you will plan and carry out your meals and snacks, and what you will do to remain active. This makes it much easier to adapt the diet to suit your lifestyle, but if you're starting from scratch like I am (and your lifestyle is a catastrophe), it might feel daunting.
Because there is no certain limit to the number of meals that may adapt to fit within the parameters of the Mediterranean diet, coming up with new meal ideas can be a significant time drain if you are not cautious. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life looking for recipes online, so I searched by downloading a number of cookbooks focused on the Mediterranean diet and bookmarked the recipes that appeared to be delicious. The latter also included a list of snack suggestions ranging between 50 and 100 calories, which I printed out (and affixed to the refrigerator) to get ideas in between meals.
"Because the Mediterranean diet relies on mostly fresh foods and your ability to prepare them, a person with limited kitchen skills may have a steep learning curve when starting this diet," says registered dietitian Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, R.D., who is based in New York. "The Mediterranean diet has shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers." Apple cinnamon oatmeal, lemon orzo tuna salad, and fettuccine with parmesan garlic sauce are some of the recipes that I tried because I wanted to cook something tasty but didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Because of this, I opted for recipes that required as few ingredients as possible. In addition, in order to make the process of preparing the food easier on myself, I picked recipes in which the components were interchangeable as much as possible. It lessened the likelihood that I would give up on a diet and revert to my old ways of relying on fast fixes.
It wasn't so much learning different culinary methods that I found challenging because the recipes I picked only included really fundamental ones like boiling, sautéing, and baking. Instead, the thing that I found most challenging was learning new recipes. (Although I did understand how to bread fish to perfection!)
Some of the challenges I faced when cooking was learning how to recognize when certain foods, like pasta, were "done" and pairing main courses and sides in such a way that the process of making them at the same time was harmonious. My stove seemed to cook dishes much slower than the times that were recommended in the recipes. As an alternative to attempting to keep track of many burners of food, you might, for instance, make a salad or sauté some vegetables while the main dish is roasting in the oven.
Everything that I bought was fresh; there was nothing prepackaged or frozen, which was a massive step outside of my comfort zone. The preparation took an interminable amount of time (I am the slowest chopper in the world!). Still, it got more straightforward as the diet progressed since, after the first chopping extravaganza, you just have to prepare what you run out of as you go along.
That is not to suggest that any and all methods of reducing preparation time that saves time are wrong (I just tend to gravitate toward them). According to Beckerman, "If the prospect of preparing meals from scratch appears to be too challenging and stressful for you, you may simply acquire nutritious frozen meals to assist you in maintaining a Mediterranean lifestyle." To increase the proportion of your whole grain diet, you may even buy quinoa and brown rice in the frozen state. According to her, the key is to steer clear of frozen meals with a coating, additional sugar, or sauces. For a taste of the Mediterranean in your meal, choose the pre-made packets that are baked or steamed, and then simply add olive oil and lemon to the dish.
The most significant change for me was switching from purchasing prepackaged snacks to creating my own snacks at home; nevertheless, this was a shift I had considered making for some time. When I'm working and suddenly find myself starving, it's the single most disruptive factor to my regular eating routine. Because I don't want to lose my train of thought, I always resort to food that isn't very impressive when I need to get through a tough stretch. I relied on my tried-and-true snack list for my endeavor. Not only did the snacks taste better than my go-to snacks of the past, but they also kept me satisfied straight up until mealtime (and for a fraction of the calories I would've downed if I turned to a prepackaged snack). The snacks were an apple with almond butter, a hard-boiled egg, 30 shelled pistachios, and sliced tomato with grated parmesan. On paper, the snacks sounded boring, and their simplicity seemed too good.
In the beginning, it was an extremely challenging task to maintain the kitchen's cleanliness and order. The more dishes I had to do, the less I wanted to cook for myself and my family (after all, more meals equals more mess). I started doing the entire clean-as-I-go thing towards the end of the first week to maintain the kitchen while I cooked, and it made a world of difference. I also enjoyed each meal even more since I was confident that I wouldn't have to worry about cleaning up a mess after I finished eating.
But what struck me as the most startling was when I attempted to improve my eating habits, I found that I spent less time in the kitchen overall. This contrasts with the past when I would do all I could to avoid being there. (It Blows My Mind.) Because the meals I was eating kept me full for (a lot longer) than the instant-gratification eats I would normally turn to, it also freed up my thoughts to focus on other things; I was no longer preoccupied with whatever shortcut I could employ next to fight off the hunger pains that were unavoidable.
After only two days on the regimen, I started to see both instant and gradual benefits in my mental and physical health. There was no queasiness, no hanger, and no frothing at the mouth for a cherry cheese danish when I got up in the morning, and my body felt like it was actually operating correctly. I had a good night's sleep.
My regular desires for caffeine and sweets had entirely vanished by the second day of the cleanse. I was drinking one-fourth of the coffee that I normally would without even trying, and I suddenly realized that when I don't have coffee, I don't drink nearly enough of anything to be hydrated. In the end, I decided to switch from drinking coffee to drinking water that had infused with fruit practically instantly. Within the first week, I saw that my eating and hydration routines were improving, which resulted in an improvement in my energy levels, a reduction in the amount of brain fog I had, and a flatter stomach.
This does not imply that I have never indulged; obviously, I have treated myself to a drink now and again, and my mother's house is always a veritable treasure trove of pastries, cakes, and cookies. (I enjoy cookies.)
It didn't take me so long to realize that behind those distracting symptoms was a hella fatigued body. Changing up my eating habits helped get rid of many of the anxiety symptoms I often encounter, such as stormy insides, a monkey mind, and neurotic thoughts. It was like coming down from the longest adrenaline surge in the history of the planet, and the crash itself was beautiful. My slumber was ten times better than before; I didn't wake up feeling wired, my thoughts didn't go crazy, and I slept off almost immediately after resting my head on the pillow.
My life still held the same amount of stress, but instead of my body and mind behaving like squabbling married couple, my body was all like, "We've got this," and my mind was all like, "Indubitably." Consuming more foods that are high in nutrients such as vitamin D, magnesium, folate, and fatty acids is a necessary component of the Mediterranean diet. According to Beckerman, "all of these nutrients play an important part in the control of hormones and chemical nerves in our brain," which, in turn, may significantly impact and completely determine our moods and the way we think. My excitement level was up to the roof; all I wanted to do was find a field and spin around in it.
This diet may modify to fit your needs as you become more familiar with your eating habits and preferences: After spending an entire weekend developing a meal plan, I quickly concluded that I am more of an intuitive eater. As a result, I stopped following the plan nearly as soon as I had created it. (I had planned on having a Mediterranean omelet for breakfast on Tuesday, but I decided that I would rather have wild berry morning oats.)
It's possible that my aversion to making long-term commitments is to blame, but I find meal planning to be overly regimented. It takes the enjoyment out of something that I already don't enjoy, so I made the decision from that point on to buy ingredients for a week's worth of recipes, but not to schedule which recipes I'd make on what days; rather, I'd see what I feel like eating at the moment and go from there. This way, I'd have more control over my eating experience.
Because this diet doesn't seem like a diet, I didn't have those twinges of guilt and self-loathing that normally come with "breaking" on more stringent weight-loss regimens. Instead, I was able to lose weight without feeling like I was on a diet at all. I was no longer having cravings that were difficult to ignore depending on the day. Eventually, they went away completely. Because of this, when I gave in to temptation, I did it because I wanted to, not because I was giving in to it. This made giving in to temptation extremely pleasurable (and way easier to stay on track).
Although I made several servings and chose recipes that shared certain components, I still spent more money on groceries in one week than I typically do in three. (The cashier had to cool me down with a notebook when she had finished telling me my total.) I can never say that I was shocked because necessities like olive oils, spoonfuls of vinegar, nuts, seeds, and grains cost a fair price to buy, but once you do, you won't need to buy them again for a considerable amount of time. I viewed them as an investment in my future health, and I daydreamed about the future costs of medical care that I would be able to avoid thanks to them (while waiting for my panic attack to subside).
According to Malkoff-Cohen, one can do many different things to make the Mediterranean diet more appropriate for one's financial situation. Consuming less food and spending less money on food can be accomplished by cooking in bulk, freezing the finished product in individual quantities, and purchasing frozen fruits, vegetables, and meats. "You can also buy nuts and seeds in bulk and store them in the refrigerator (for up to six months) or freezer (for up to one year), where they are unaffected by fluctuating temperatures," she says. “The refrigerator will keep them fresh for up to six months, and the freezer will keep them fresh for up to one year.”
One other thing that I've begun doing is browsing the flyer. First, I look at what's on sale, and then I choose the dishes I'm going to make for the next week based on which recipes offer the most value.
The ironic and downright frustrating part about week two was that despite the fact that I was getting into a groove with my snazzy new eating habits and feeling better than I ever had before, I found that I was fighting the very real urge to self-destruct and then go back to my unhealthy ways of living. This was despite the fact that I was feeling better than I ever had before.
I feel like my biggest mistake was jumping in too quickly; rather than going from never spending time in the kitchen to practicing moving my office in there (kidding, but still), I should have chosen a more comfortable pace. I should have gone from never spending time in the kitchen to practicing moving my office there. I prefer to take things in baby steps.
This is one of those rare diets where, even when you do deviate from the plan every once in a while (like when I practically made out with a box of After Eights), you don't feel like an epic failure for doing so. But even when you do deviate from the plan every once in a while, this is one of those diets. During the second week, I had some trouble staying on track, but I did not try to be too hard on myself when I did slip up (my go-to mantra: progress, not perfection). I would create a smoothie as a bat signal to my brain that it was time to get a grip (minty peach and hemp heart, raspberry avocado chia, peach dawn), and after each misstep, I would pick up right where I left off.
The benefits of adhering to this diet extend far beyond only having a smaller waistline. The Mediterranean diet's influence on me, both in terms of my body and emotions, has been nothing short of transformative. My physical self and I haven't enjoyed such harmonious relations since, well, ever. Even while I still do not love cooking (or eating), I am now able to bear it, which is a significant improvement.
Due to the fact that my exercise habits are the only thing worse than my eating habits, I cannot comment on the influence that this diet has on my exercise. (Except if you regard grating parmesan as a form of exercise?) But worry, tension, and sadness no longer control the foods I eat or the quantity of food I consume. And because the quality of my sleep has (dramatically) improved, I've stopped relying on sugar and coffee as crutches to get me through the day.
I do not doubt that I will adhere to this diet for the foreseeable future; but, for practical as well as psychological reasons, I will go at a more leisurely pace, gradually expanding both the number of recipes I know how to make and the pantry essentials that go along with them.
The fact that I was also able to lose two pounds over this two-week experience without putting myself through any kind of restriction, deprivation, or portion control obsession was the icing on the cake (that I'm even past the point of yearning).