I’m still here! Moving apartments and starting a new position at my school has been running me in circles. This is a hectic time of year for a teacher and the move and the new classes have added an extra element of stress.
This said, I have continued to work to maintain my health. I have been following the Healthy Solutions program closely, and made a firm commitment to exclusively follow the program starting last week as my HMR center is hosting a “Blitz” for members of Phase Two. This has given us a chance to hit a “reset” button and refocus on healthy and supportive behaviors – so far I have been “In The Box” for 6 days and Day Seven is off and running!
Despite the extreme levels of stress that I have been dealing with, I have managed to control my diet reasonably well through pre-logging my meals each day. This has forced me to write out a plan every single day before the day starts. It means I know I am getting in my fruits and veggies. It also means, now that I am on the Blitz, that I am also fitting in my entrees and shakes.
I tend to overplan. I pack more food each day than I will probably eat. And now that I am settled in my classroom, I also have a stocked cabinet full of supportive meals, shakes, condiments, zero-calorie beverages and all of the tools and utensils I need to prepare them.
By over-planning, I can be a bit more flexible and listen to my actual hunger levels. I avoid the anxiety of making a decision from outside foods but I can play safely in my box for the day. A health educator last week relayed a message from another HMR member who called it “making friends with the box” and I really embraced this. I think this is where I had problems in my transition because I wasn’t necessarily seeing all the flexibility I could afford myself without risking the gains I had made in improving my health.
Pre-logging also means I can eat everything I bring if I am having a hungry day without reaching for outside food. And all I have to do is delete the items I don’t eat.
Finally, let’s say I do feel like breaking out a little. I want an HMR lasagna and not the chili I had planned. It’s a minor change in my log and I can still visualize how it fits into my overall day.
I have logged for 31 days on MyFitnessPal (I’m “HealthyAcademic” if you want to be my “friend” and view my diary – I have made it visible to my friends for added accountability and I love reading other food logs for ideas) – this app is working great for me in terms of pre-logging. It’s taken me a very long time to figure out a consistent way to log my food, but I think this has been my most successful method for meal-planning and ensuring I get everything I eat written down.
I have been working hard to focus on high-volume lower-calorie meals in order to stay full for fewer calories. And this week we were given a homework assignment to replace a meal with a high volume meal option from a list. Perfect for my own personal focus!
The one item on the list that I haven’t done since Decision-Free was to essentially turn an entree into a soup. Adding liquid ups the volume for sure!
This was the experiment I dreamed up on my drive home from class and it worked out really well. You can sub in fresh veggies and also change up the amount of water for your desired thickness.
The version I made was pretty thin, so you may want less water if you prefer a thicker soup. I like having the extra soup and I think the flavor was still relatively intense for being a thinner soup.
- 1 HMR Chili Entree
- 2 HMR Chicken Soups
- 1 bag of Trader Joe’s fire roasted bell peppers and onions (no added oil)
- Mrs. Dash Fiesta Lime seasoning to taste (I probably added between two and three teaspoons)
- Fresh black pepper to taste (less than a teaspoon for me)
- 8 cups of water
Cook the frozen vegetables in the water with the seasonings (I bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer for 10 minutes). Add soup packets and chili and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and blend in small batches.
Makes a GIGANTIC bowl which is clearly 4 or more servings unless you are ridiculously hungry. The entire giant storage bowl was only 570 calories. It made six servings for me – so less than a hundred calories a mug!
It’s been a LONG time since I posted but I spent the last three weeks in China (and was a bit stressed getting ready for the trip before that) — I want to write about my experiences soon (after I finish catching up on work!) but tonight I wanted to share a “recipe” I threw together this week that’s super delicious and filling but low in calories (and cost!). The measurements are approximate and I totally could imagine adding some different spices to change it up.
It all started when I picked up a 6 pound bag of frozen “Asian Vegetable Mix” at a restaurant supply store…
Miso Ginger Soup
- 6 cups frozen “Asian Vegetable Mix” (mine was 25 calories a cup!)
- 8 cups water
- 4 tbsp miso paste (I buy Eden Organic because I use Miso to flavor a lot of things – warning miso adds all the salt you need!)
- 2 tbsp low sodium shoyu/soy sauce (adds a great umami flavor)
- 2 tbsp crushed ginger from a tube (you should use less if you don’t like strong ginger flavor or are using fresh ginger!)
- 1 tbsp granulated garlic powder (different than the fine powder so measurements might vary)
Put all in large pot. Cover. Bring to boil and let boil for 5 to 10 minutes. Then reduce to a simmer and let simmer for at least 40 minutes. It’s even better portioned out and reheated later!
Made 10 servings for me at about 25 calories each (although I tripled up a couple to quench some hunger and sodium cravings while I have been sick since my return).
Processing Phase Two: An Academic Exploration of Life Outside “The Box” and the Creation of a “New Box”
I lived inside of a bubble for almost a whole year.
It wasn’t a real bubble. That would be a little bit strange. But it was a world where I had protection in the form of a very strict diet called HMR Decision Free. For those who have been reading for awhile, you probably already figured that out. But it still amazes me that for a whole nine months, I lived in such a confined world of food choices and after so long inside my bubble, I think I had forgotten what existed outside of that world.
As I transition from my bubble world to the real world, I have found that a lot of academic texts that were shared with us in health class have become much more salient for me. I wanted to use my journal (blog) today as an opportunity to explore my transition while linking some of these texts as well as next texts to help me connect my personal experiences with broader research. Because I have learned a lot in the last several months but it helps me know that I am not alone in this world full of food that we call “The Gap.”
Cornell researchers Brian Wansink & Jeffery Sobal found that we make more than 200 decisions about food every day. While we learned about this study in our HMR health classes, I dismissed it at the time, because those were not choices I needed to make at that moment. My choices were much more limited. Did I meet my daily minimum of shakes and entrees? Which of the limited selection was I eating next? Since everything was tasty and nutritionally calculated, it was rare I really felt compelled to make a clear decision.
When I transitioned to Healthy Solutions, the number of decisions increased. Suddenly I needed to decide how to get my fruits and veggies in. I needed to go into grocery stores to acquire said produce. I needed to prepare them and write them down and it became more complicated that just jotting down the same several items in my journal each day.
And because I thought I missed variety, I quickly delved into produce diversification. However, perhaps I should have stuck with buying only what I needed each day to minimize choice and over-consumption. Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink found, in the Journal of Marketing Research, that stockpiling food leads to over-consumption. And so while I thought I was saving money and time in buying in bulk, I have since realized that I consumed even more produce just because it was there, not because I was hungry.
Fruits and vegetables are not the worst things in the world to overeat. However, the habits created could possibly transfer to other items. And so by discovering this in Healthy Solutions, I was able to minimize the total amount of food in the house and as I transitioned to Phase Two, I had to keep this in mind. Because even frozen dinners, that would soon supplement my HMR meal replacements, could be abused.
As I have transitioned to Phase Two, I have worked hard to keep my home environment and work environment as clean as possible. But I have learned a lot in the transition.
I learned quickly that I couldn’t be trusted to just show up in the school cafeteria to select a meal on the fly. The temptations of everything around me would add up. And even if I grabbed small portions of lots of healthier options, it would still add up to way more calories than I needed in a meal. And because I was now socializing at lunch instead of eating in my classroom, I found that I consume far more despite the fact I could have done with less. And I am not alone. According to John M. De Castro, a professor at Georgia State University, in the British Journal of Nutrition, “Simply eating with one other person increases the average amount ingested in meals by 44% and with more people present the average meal size grows even larger.” And so I either have a shake about an hour beforehand and strategically plan which stations I will go to and which I will avoid, or I bring my own meal and bypass the cafeteria entirely.
The social pressures to consume “normal food” have led me to stray from guidelines we are encouraged to follow in Phase Two of HMR. While traveling, I worked to fill my plate with mostly vegetables. I used shakes and produce and entrees to offset hunger, and I walked when I could. But eventually, I found myself caving to the pressure to consume the “special homemade meals” that were offered near where we were sitting. The food was free and the families were so eager to share. And it was delicious. But I have struggled to pull myself back into real life day to day living. It is so easy to justify everything as something special. And yet I lived for nine months where nothing was special enough to eat and I had a few events that probably were once in a lifetime events where I resisted!
I know it is easy to justify my choices. Not just because I teach debate, but also because in the Gap we are handed justifications to make bad food choices every day. However, although I may have had trouble with defining my life after Phase One, I am able to bring myself full circle. Brian Wansink writes in Physiology & Behavior:
“This Laboratory of Life experience – trying to change mindless eating in the real world – brings lessons of both discouragement and encouragement for those of us interested in helping change eating behaviors. On one hand, some results are discouraging because they show how some of our most robust academic findings are often not implemented by people because they do not recognize their relevance, they lack the motivation to make them work, or they lack the step-by- step encouragement and direction they might need. If we fear we are often talking only to other academics, perhaps we initially are.”
While I had some trouble with motivation during some of my initial weeks in Phase Two, I think my health educator helped me assess what a bigger problem was for me. I still hadn’t figured out what my new box was. I had done so much work to stay in the HMR defined box, and now that I “could have” things, I was having them because there wasn’t a box I had clearly laid out.
In the past few weeks, I have figured out my triggers. I also know that severely limiting myself forever won’t work, and I do need to eventually allow for life events to happen. But I also need to write out a box for myself that I can stick with day to day.
I am writing out my Phase Two box here. In published form. To hold myself accountable. While I know that eventually it may change, this is how it need to be for the moment. In order to continue my weight loss efforts and prevent the Gap from consuming me.
I will continue to allow shakes and entrees be a part of my life. The definition of a meal replacement being 300 or fewer calories with more than ten grams of protein. I will allow myself one bar a day but bars must be under 200 calories with at least ten grams of protein and cannot be consumed in my house (in other words, bars should be used as portable meal replacements when necessary, not a daily requirement). I will continue to enjoy fruits and vegetables as these are important for my nutritional health but also to practice “more is better” with. And I will limit myself to no more than one serving of lean protein outside of prepared meal replacements each day. Finally, I will allow myself no more than 200 “other” calories. This might be popcorn. It might be a small cookies. It doesn’t have to be limited in scope (variety) but it does have to be limited in magnitude (calories) and I must ask myself “is this worth it? will it keep me full? if it won’t, why am I eating it?” and if I am satisfied with the answers, I can have it.
I was asked as I transitioned where I saw myself in five years. What is my five year plan. And the truth is, I am still thinking about it. But I know I don’t want to regress. I want to move forward. To better understand and support my health with healthy behaviors. And I will continue to contemplate this as I learn to live inside the box again. The white board has returned. And I look forward to building up those numbers because I am #HMRStrong!
Every week in HMR class, we are given assignments. And I have wanted to write about this particular assignment for weeks but get anxious whenever I try to confront it. Today, coming from a class, I finally feel strong enough to share.
Funny. My writing stopped again for 24 hours. See, the assignment that got my nerves in a bundle and me from writing? We had to log calories in addition to what MR we were eating. I became aware of what I was trying to forget.
The first week on HMR, I kept calculating calories. But it was all in my head. Before the end of the week I had committed to memory how many calories each MR was. It took at least another week before I had stopped the mental calculations, to try to embrace the “more is better” and avoid depravation.
So when this assignment was initially given, I was hesitant but committed to it as fully as all of my other class assignments. I refused to give anything less than 100% to my homework.
However as the week went on, I began to notice how hungry I was. Instead of choosing a higher calorie entree, I would opt for a lower calorie one — even though I really wanted the original entree and it was only a fifty calorie difference. I was avoiding having the extra shake, because it was another 160 calories.
The point of the assignment was to figure out water math. And to show us how a few extra MR in order to stay satisfied and “in the box” would not have an adverse impact on our weight-loss. However, even though I knew what the purpose was and I understood the positive elements of the assignment, I found myself restricting my caloric intake to my bare RX of meal replacements. I was starving and cranky and anxious.
I am incredibly good at limiting calories. Initially. But upon reflection, the restricting always ended in a binge. A derailment. And then the end of that bout of dieting. My anxiety over numbers would end in my hands flailing and waving a white flag. I would give in… and then the numbers and the feelings of failure would haunt my dreams.
Doing this assignment brought back the anxiety and the old behaviors, with one exception. Attending class that week and talking to others in my class and to the nurse and health educator… I realized that while I can’t handle the numbers now, I can handle the HMR diet. Because those 50 calories don’t matter in the long run if it keeps me from the 500 I would pick up at a drive-through.
I don’t have to count calories any more. At least not for now. And that relieves a lot of my anxiety. I know there will come a day I will have to live outside of the HMR meal replacement box but by then I will have the tools I need to do so confidently and will be able to face my fears and conquer my restrictive habits. I am working towards a balanced approach to health and I am proud of all that I am learning and doing in the process.