Our #BOTSQUAD Fitness Challenge recruits were tasked to find a way to improve their diets this week. Sue Vanderlinden shares her thoughts on the importance of nutrition in her latest blog. You can read about Sue here.

Quality, not quantity.

I’m one of those people who gets super hungry.  And once I am, the whole concept of portion control goes right out the window.  So controlling what I eat becomes paramount.  That means eating the right things, and not being so limited to tiny portions.

In my case, that means avoiding red meat.  Yes, I eat it occasionally, but I don’t make a habit of it because it’s too hard to digest.  I also try to do the Mark Bittman “vegan before 6” method, where you eat vegan until 6 pm every day.  Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t because breakfast is either a yogurt, or nothing, and nothing doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Alcohol

Alcohol is nothing more than hollow calories.  But damn, it tastes good.  My liquid food crime of choice is wine.  But I try to stick to just one glass per outing, and then switch to sparkling water with lime.  It leads to fewer hangovers.  And it means fewer extra minutes (or hours) on the elliptical to burn off those extra calories.

Soda

A couple of years ago, I realized how much soda I was drinking, and frankly, it scared me.  So I made a commitment to cut out soda completely.  It was incredibly difficult, but now that I’m on the other side of it, I realize how worthwhile an effort it was.  I still love the bubbles, so I’ve transitioned to sparkling water, ideally with a wedge of lime.  And every time I take an inadvertent sip of soda now, it’s just so unappealing, and yucky.

Water

We all know we should drink more water.  I have two challenges when it comes to my water intake.  First, I hate constantly filling, and re-filling, and re-re-filling my water bottle.  So, I got a Camelback water bottle that holds 1.5 litres.  That way I only have to fill it once a day.

Second, water is boring.  To keep things interesting, I got a selection of Mio water flavor enhancers.  So now I can have berry, orange, lime, or a variety of other flavors to make the water a little more enjoyable, without adding calories.

Caffeine

I enjoy my morning coffee.  It has now become just that – my one cup of morning coffee.  I get the flavor, and don’t feel deprived.  But I don’t spend all day downing pots of coffee like I used to.

Carbs

I can do some damage to a plate of pasta.  That’s not the greatest nutritional choice.  But it’s soooooo delicious.  <sigh>  But instead of pounding through an entire plate of spaghetti, where the pasta is the entrée, I’m trying out a new tactic.  Lately, I’ve been using pasta as a side dish, of proportional size.  That way, I get my pasta fix, and don’t feel deprived.

I recently had an absolutely amazing homemade pasta, and found myself fully satisfied with a pretty small portion.  So I may pick up making my own pasta.  Hey, it’s a thought…

I grew up on dinner being a protein, a starch, and a green vegetable.  As I improve my (and my family’s) diet, I’m doing some carb substitutions where I can.  For instance, when we eat Indian food at home, instead of making rice, I make oven roasted curried cauliflower.  I haven’t figured out how to do that with every meal.  And sometimes, there’s just no substitute for a big scoop of butter-laden mashed potatoes.  But I’m doing what I can.

Fruits

I try to keep 10 pieces of fresh fruit in the house each week, so I can throw two of them in my bag each day when I head out.  It’s usually apples and oranges, but I’ll just about anything.

I also keep a good assortment of frozen fruits in my freezer to use in smoothies.  By using frozen fruit, it makes the smoothie more of a milkshake consistency.

Vegetables

With the summer drawing to a close, I won’t have the resource of the numerous farmer’s markets in my area.  During the winter, I rely on frozen, canned, and Wegman’s.

I’ve tried slipping a little celery or lettuce or something mild into the morning smoothie, but my foodie daughter can taste it.  Also, unless I’m making a blackberry smoothie, it’s hard to hide spinach-colored veggies because of their telltale color.  As a result, I have to tread carefully.

Proteins

Steak isn’t the only protein in the world.  My husband would disagree vehemently with that statement, but it’s true.  When it comes to animal proteins, I’m more of a fish and chicken person.   Given that I don’t go to the grocery store but once a week, that means fresh fish (like tuna, salmon, or sea bass) the day I go to the store, and maybe frozen shrimp later in the week.  The rest of the time it usually chicken.

There are also plenty of vegetarian protein options from tofu to quinoa to beans and lentils.  And I’m working to include more of these, like putting tofu in a fruit smoothie for breakfast.  We’ve also added a meatless day once a week, and these options will be our source of protein for those meals.

Junk Food

My real food addiction is Cheetos.  I can eat my body weight of those things in a sitting, or so it seems.  Yes, I’ve read the ingredient list.  And no, nothing on that list is actual food.  So I’ve made a commitment to cut out the Cheetos cold turkey – at least until the end of the year.  Hopefully I’ll feel the same way about Cheetos that I now feel about soda.  But we’ll see how that goes.  So far, so good.

Business Dinners

My line of work often comes with meals.  Presentations over breakfast.  Video conferences at lunch.  Dinners with people from the office.  They’re usually in steakhouses, or something similar that serves heavy, rich, red-meat laden, testosterone dominated fare.  When we actually go to a restaurant, it’s actually easier than when things are catered.  If an event is catered, I’m stuck with what the caterer brings with them.  When we go to a restaurant, I have the entire kitchen available to help me out.  So I go to the waiter who is serving us, and order things in advance.  That accomplishes several things.  First, I can make sure I get what I need and want (fish with a piece of lemon, not smothered in sauce).  Second, I can order a better dessert, like fresh berries.  It takes a while to get through all this, so ordering beforehand does a lot to reduce any potential awkwardness.  The funny thing is that when other at these dinners see what I’ve ordered, they ask for the same thing.

Be Realistic

I’m not going to the Olympics.  Honestly, I’m just hoping to get to Beginner Novice before the year is out.  So it’s a little excessive to try to go on an Olympic level training and nutrition program, just to do a 2’7” course.  While I’m doing my best, I’m also not crucifying myself for not sticking to a perfect clean eating plan.  For instance, I went out with friends last week, and thoroughly enjoyed two beers, and a pot of duck fat mussels.  I just don’t do that every week.

So What Now?

My life is pretty crazy.  My daughter just started at a new school, and we’re still working out our daily schedule of drop-offs and pick-ups and dinner times.  Add to that work, and riding, and it can get pretty overwhelming.  My way of handling the stress is to plan things out.

It’s easier for me to eat right when I don’t have to figure out what that is in the heat of the moment.  You know: running to get out of the house on time in the morning, or figuring out what to make for dinner after a long day.  I function best from plans and lists.

So on Sunday evening, I put together a meal plan for the week, covering breakfasts and dinners.  If I’m riding on a particular night, then it’s likely a crock-pot dish, so the entrée is done, and my husband and daughter can manage a vegetable to go with it.  Before you say “let your husband cook,” I warn you that having him NOT cook is a survival skill all its own.  I love him, but the man can burn water.

For shopping, I keep my lists in Cozi, an app for my iPhone.  That way I can keep a mobile version of our week’s meals, and the shopping that needs to happen to put those meals on the table.  My family also has Cozi on their phones.  And the deal is that if we run out of anything, or if you need something specific, then it’s your job to put it on the Cozi list.

Plans also include going out.  We try to eat out once a week.  And when we do, I focus on the benefits of that: not having had to cook, not having to do dishes, not having had to shop and plan for those dishes.  That way, it’s not all about having tons of super rich and decadent food.

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