Is Your Diet Eating At You?

As a Health Psychologist, I know a thing or two about diet, exercise, stress management, and most importantly behavior change. However, even I needed a little help getting back into shape after a stressful few months. So I enrolled in a 12-week wellness class. Follow my journey on the new Wellness Wednesday feature as I summarize what I learn each week and how I implemented it into my own life. Week 1 is Nutrition Basics during which we learned about the SAD Standard American Diet.

Previously I wrote about the 10 leading causes of death in the USA and how lifestyle factors (including diet and exercise) can contribute to them. We also discussed how medical debt is the #1 reason for bankruptcy in this country. But it’s important to note that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not only important for our physical and financial well-being, but also for our emotional wellbeing.

When I feel stressed, I am less likely to take care of myself. Not only do I tend to stop exercising and meditating, I also crave fatty and sweet foods. Although I have the time to cook and plenty of ingredients in my pantry, when I am stressed I choose to eat pizza. Not only has this caused me to go way over my food budget, but I also found myself becoming overweight. Then, I felt even worse about myself and more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle!

To break this cycle I set a goal to lose 8 pound by my birthday. And I was doing really well! I at least maintained my weight through the holidays. Then came birthday season. All 3 of my kids and I have birthdays within two weeks. My house was filled with chocolate and (my true weakness) ice cream. Not to mention that we went out to eat on each of our special days.

And so it happened. My Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation went from normal to  overweight. I had to take action.

12 Week Wellness Class

Having a goal to lose weight by a certain date wasn’t enough. I know better. I need to create SMARTER goals and to also have some accountability. So I signed up for a free wellness class at work. The class is 30 minutes a week for 12 weeks. While the goal is to live a healthier life (not just lose weight), for someone like me who crossed into the overweight BMI, weight loss is one measure of my progress.

Week 1: Nutrition Basics

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

During the first class, we discussed how the Standard American Diet is just as its abbreviations read, SAD. Processed foods are everywhere! To eat healthy, we need to get back to basics.

Eat Food

Most of the popular diets (Mediterranean, DASH, South Beach, Paleo, Vegan) have a commonality: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, olive oil.

In other words, whole or minimally processed foods, mostly plants, and all colors of the rainbow.

Rather than thinking about what to eat less of, it may be helpful to think of what to eat more of. For example, rather than telling myself that I won’t order pizza on Friday, it’s more helpful for me to think about preparing a healthy, veggie-packed meal for Friday that I enjoy (such as a wrap with spinach, tomatoes, onions, grated carrots, hummus, and grilled chicken breast).

A Healthy Diet may include:
Photo by NRD on Unsplash
  • 2.5 cups of vegetables (whole veggies, not juicing which often removes the pulp)
  • 2 cups of fruits (whole fruit, not fruit juice which lacks the fiber)
  • 25 grams of fiber (eating more whole grains)
  • 64 ounces of water

Why Focus on Diet for Weight Loss, not Exercise?

When talking about weight loss, many people think about exercise. Exercise is important for strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and overall physical and mental wellbeing. However, when it comes to losing weight diet can be even more important factor to address.

You may have heard that 3,500 calories = 1 pound. To lose one pound of weight, one needs to consume 500 fewer calories or burn 500 more calories a day than the body needs.

In real-world terms, to lose 500 calories, one can either forgo 1 cup of ice cream (which is roughly a serving the size of a fist) or walk approximately 5 miles a day. As much as I love ice cream, it’s more realistic for me to skip my nightly dessert (which, by the way, is usually more than 1 cup) than to find the 65-85 minutes (depending on speed) to walk 5 miles every day.

Another problem with focusing on exercise is that exerting more energy can make one hungrier. Many people think that they can (or should) eat more if they workout.

But keep in mind that briskly walking 1 mile only burns 100 calories for someone who weighs 180 pounds. Those who weigh less will burn even fewer calories (e.g., walking 1 miles only burns 65 calories for someone weighing 120 pounds).

Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash

My Week 1 Progress

For the first week, my assignment was to keep a food log and be mindful of what I was consuming.

Drinks included:
  • Coffee with milk and sugar (1 cup a day on weekdays, 0 on weekends)
  • Wine (1 glass on 3 nights, part of my pantry declutter)
  • Water (1.5 liters of water a day)
Snacks included:
  • Toast with butter and cinnamon sugar
  • Carrots and ranch dip (made with light sour cream)
  • Homemade popcorn (made with kernels popped in peanut oil)

(I did not eat any chocolate or ice cream this week!)

meals included:
  • Chicken enchilada soup (made with homemade broth)
  • Portabella mushroom sandwiches
  • Quesadilla with homemade pico de gallo
  • Margherita pizza*
  • Chicken nuggets*
Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

*I did go out to eat twice this week. Although I had pizza while at lunch with a friend, the fresh mozzarella on the Margherita pizza was much less cheese than the greasy take-out pizza I typically order. And when I went out for lunch with my family, I did not order my usual sandwich and fries. Instead, the 5 of us split  30 chicken nuggets. (This not only was fewer calories, but also saved me money!)

Week 1 Results

The only changes I made in week 1 were becoming more mindful of my eating and being accountable to myself (by recording what I ate) and my instructor (to whom I report my weight each week).

In the 1st week I lost 4 pounds. More importantly, I am back within normal BMI and feeling better about myself! As an added bonus, I am back on track with my food budget.

During the Week 2 Wellness Wednesday feature, we will get moving with physical activity basics. Week 3, we talk about making sense of nutrition labels and the 5 and 20 rule.


Over the next week, try logging everything you consume and becoming more aware of what you eat and drink.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *