By Tara Cushing (@TheBravoBlonde)
Ah the signs of spring…sunlit evenings, chirping birds in the morning, people dieting like crazy for the impending swimsuit season. Add social media to the mix and the diet game has achieved a whole new level. There are now Facebook groups devoted to challenges of all sorts where people can share photos of food, exercises, and bare midriffs to show their progress.
I’ve always been very self motivated when it comes to fitness, I’m also extremely competitive, so when a friend posted about an ab challenge I was all “Sign me up!” One week in and I started seeing a difference, at which point I got invited to do a clean eating challenge. Sure, my abs will really look awesome…”Sign me up!” About an hour later I regretted that choice. The group, lead by my friend and Beachbody Coach, Maria, came with guidelines, rules, and forms to fill out. I hate guidelines, rules, and forms. However Maria convinced me it would be fun, besides, it was only for 5 days. How hard could it be?
My first obstacle, I realized, would be my morning caffeine ritual. Healthy Tara starts her day with green tea, but on the way to work, unhealthy Tara stops at Dunkin Donuts for a Vanilla Chai. I know it has 330 calories, but I’m a runner, so I ignore that. My Vanilla Chai is my security blanket. I shuffle into work clutching it each morning. It is my lifeline. “Are you aware that it has 45 grams of sugar?” Maria texts me. ‘Killjoy’ I think. “Go ahead and have it,” she tells me “just be aware.” Ha, permission I think…or maybe it was reverse psychology, because by the time I pulled into DD all I could imagine was a syrupy cup of sugar. I reluctantly ordered a small skim unsweetened cappuccino. I saved myself 250 calories and 36 grams of sugar, and I actually enjoyed it. This may actually be an easy challenge. Later that day a colleague offered me a pretzel which I declined (no processed foods on this challenge) she shook her head and as she walked away I heard her say “Who doesn’t eat pretzels?” Lesson learned day 1, gain healthy habits, become the office weirdo.
Maria (who by the way tells me this is not a diet but my new Vanilla Chai-less lifestyle) convinces me that my daily breakfast of 1/2 a bagel with vegan butter is devoid of protein. I’ve been eating this same exact breakfast every weekday for at least 8 years. I want to tell her that Dr. Oz says that we should eat the same breakfast everyday, but I bite my tongue. Maria suggests I add an egg white. I get up 5 minutes earlier to fry an eggwhite. I then proceed to stress my entire commute that I might have left the burner on and that my beloved dog will perish in a horrible fire. For lunch I’ve made some random chickpea, pasta, basil salad. It’s surprisingly delicious, but I’m also hungry enough to eat my desk. Maria was worried that I wasn’t consuming enough food for my active lifestyle, I’m beginning to realize that Maria knows everything and perhaps I should have her pick my lotto numbers too. I come home to find that my dog and house are safe. At dinner I enjoy some baked french fries without any (sugary) ketchup. I feel like I just did something sacrilegious. I plan tomorrow’s meals wondering if there’s a way to convince Kraft to make egg white singles.
I’m starting to feel the positive effects of this diet, I mean life change, though I honestly thought I was a pretty clean eater before; except for the Vanilla Chais, tortilla chips, pizza, and nightly sinful dessert. While on the topic of dessert, I’m a diehard liberal, but at this point I may sell my vote to the Republicans for a cookie. Maria says I should make healthy cookies, like I have time to make cookies. Overall I’m tired from staying up late watching Tuesday night Bravo, and it’s raining which translates to “I’m the hungriest I’ve been all week.” I succumb to eating part of my lunch at 11am and having some multigrain flaxseed crackers and cheese after work. The crackers are the crunchiest things I’ve eaten all week and it takes all of my strength not to eat the whole package. But the positives, yes those positives, my pants are looser, I have no bloat, and I’m wearing a top that I usually think reveals bumps and lumps in all the wrong places, it only reveals the right ones. Ah, progress. Oh I’ve also learned to check the burner on the stove 6 times before I leave in the morning.
I’m hungry again around 11 am. I decide that the drastic reduction in calories from the way I ingest my caffeine is the reason. However, I’ve grown quite fond of unsweetened nonfat cappuccinos so decide I will from now on eat the fruit portion of my lunch at 11 every morning instead of reverting back to Vanilla Chais. Speaking of fruit it’s been a stressful day and I’m missing the liquid variety, but I’ve sworn off alcohol for this challenge. Tomorrow night can’t come quick enough.
I’ve made it five days without any processed foods, sweetened lattes, decadent desserts, or alcohol. I’ve surprised myself with how many meals I can concoct from a can of chickpeas, a container of grape tomatoes, and a package of basil.I feel less bloated and have more energy, but I ran 7 miles this evening and it’s pizza Friday. I compromise with a salad slice and half a banana for dinner, and I fall asleep before I even have a chance to pour the glass of wine I’d worked so hard for. Tomorrow I have a baby shower to attend. Free from the bonds of clean eating I might just throw myself into the cake. I’ve decided that calories consumed on Saturdays (or any opportunity to eat cake for that matter) just don’t count.
Despite all of my whining, clean eating really wasn’t that hard, or that different from how I normally eat. The changes I’ve made were easy enough that I believe I will continue to eat clean during the work week and indulge just a little bit on weekends. The results I saw in just 5 days are enough to keep me going! Many of you have asked for my meal plan so here is a sample of what I ate in a day along with recipes where necessary:
*1/2 whole wheat bagel w/ Earth Balance soy free spread, egg white, nonfat/unsweetened small Dunkin Donuts cappuccino
* 1 mandarin
*caprese/chickpea salad: 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, 1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes, 1/3 cup fresh mozzarella in bite size pieces, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tbs olive oil : layer all ingredients in lidded container & shake
*2 tbs peanut butter w 1/2 a fuji apple
*salmon burger (no bun) spread with goat cheese
*handful Alexia brand yukon gold baked fries (no ketchup)
*broccoli w/ garlic & almonds: package frozen organic broccoli, 1/2 c slivered almonds, 2 diced garlic cloves: in covered pan on low heat, heat all together until broccoli is thawed and warm
* mock caramel apple pie: 1/2 fuji apple, 1 tbsp peanut butter : chop up apple half into teacup, place peanut butter on top, microwave until peanut butter is melted and apples are soft (about 30-45 seconds)
*For more clean eating ideas, recipes, and to find out about Maria’s coaching please follow her @MariaPaulercio on Twitter.