Eat More Good Fats: Erika’s 30-Day Challenge

Erika is a 39-year-old office administrator and receptionist who quit smoking cold turkey on January 1, 2000 and wishes she could apply the same willpower to her diet and exercise.

I asked Erika to give me a snapshot of her eating habits and in return I gave her some tips and ideas on how she could modify her diet during 30-Day Nutrition Challenge. If you missed our other posts and want to follow the challenge here are some resources to get you started:

What you can and cannot eat
Getting started and getting off coffee
Recipe ideas and resources

Healthy Foodie: What do you normally have for breakfast?

Erika: It varies. I’m big on having egg whites though!

HF – Breakfast can be a tricky one but I’m fond of recommending smoothies. Add some fruits and veggies to a blender with water and you’ve got yourself breakfast. Throw in rice protein, a greens supplement like chlorella or spirulina and some flax seed oil and you have yourself a superfood breakfast.

Eggs are a good breakfast too, as is porridge made of grains like quinoa or gluten-free oats. One thing about eggs, though: Eat the whole thing!. The media has done a great job of convincing us that eggs are bad for us, but they are not. I always recommend eating whole foods and that includes whole eggs! The yolk of the egg contains almost all of the nutrition including the essential fats, vitamin A, B12, D, E, K and folate. Don’t be scared of yolks.

HF: And what about your average lunch?

Erika: If I’ve planned ahead, I’ll bring something from home: a whole grain pasta or some sort of chicken. If I’ve been bad I’ll pick something up at the local deli. I try to make sure I have salad (no dressing usually, just lemon juice) and stick with things like veggie sandwiches with hummus. If I’m being bad it’ll be some sort of chicken sandwich (today it was a way too tasty, not healthy chicken salad on a pita).

HF – For this challenge, switch up pasta with rice pasta. Some brands are indistinguishable from conventional pasta so I recommend experimenting with different brands. Delis can be hidden sources of preservatives and additives, particularly MSG. Try to “be good” and plan ahead for the duration of this challenge so that you don’t have to resort to to this. It’s great that you’re not using store-bought dressings as they are loaded with harmful ingredients, but salads taste better and have more nutrition if you include olive oil with your lemon for the dressing. Veggie sandwiches are a good choice, but you need to find a gluten-free bread to use.

HF: And what’s usually for dinner?

Erika: I’m trying to stay away from beef or pork on a permanent basis. So there’s a lot of chicken on the menu, some turkey, occasionally salmon that has been prepared (like fillets from M&M), some sort of vegetable and potatoes or rice.

HF – This sounds good in the protein department, but try to avoid prepared meats and fish. The seasonings used on these prepared foods are inevitably sources of food additives and preservatives. It’s really simple to get plain meats from the butcher of fish monger and sprinkle on spices and sea salt – much healthier. You might want to try some other types of fish, too, for variety.

Get adventurous with your vegetables. Cut up an avocado, tomato, some cilantro and a squeeze of lemon to go over your fish. Slice a sweet potato into wedges and bake them. Stir-fry some onions, garlic, broccoli and peppers. Go crazy with leafy greens like collards, chard, kale or spinach – they are so good for you it’s mind boggling.

HF: What does being healthy mean to you?

Erika: It means learning to manage stress. Knowing when it’s really worth it to get worked up over something as opposed to just getting worked up over nothing. Learning to balance! It also means not feeling bad if I have a bowl of ice cream, but not eating the whole tub. I guess it means being smart, knowing that the bad habits I have now didn’t just happen over night so I can’t expect them to just go away that quickly and therefore not beating myself up about it.

HF – This is a great attitude to cultivate. Also, know that once you get yourself back into balance, cravings for things like ice cream simply don’t happen. These indulgences that you beat yourself up over don’t seem like indulgences anymore – they seem like what they are – unnecessary foods that make you feel bad.

The stress issue is big and you might want to consider some ways to relieve it. Meditation or yoga are great as are forms of light exercise like walking or light jogging. Try to visit nature regularly. Anything you can do to put your stress into the proper perspective is beneficial.

HF: Do you exercise?

Erika: No, but having said that I have recently joined another challenge that lasts six weeks. The idea is to get you back into exercising and to try new physical activities, and most importantly, have fun with them. I’m using that as a solid foundation to get me off my behind and really make a “lifestyle change.”

HF: Thinking back, when in your life did you feel at your best? Why do you think that was?

Erika: Before I would have said when I was 16, because I weighed 140 pounds. But I’m thinking back to when I felt my best and that was in my early 20’s. I probably weighed a little more (I could fit into a size 12/14 back then), but I cycled a lot and went out dancing a lot and was full of confidence! I don’t know that I had the best self-esteem, but I had “something” back then that made me feel amazing. I think I still have that something, but it’s currently buried under a lot of bad health and habits.

HF: Do you cook?

Erika: I sure do! I am the Queen of vegetarian soup.

HF: What is the most daunting part of this challenge ie., where do you anticipate having difficulty?

Erika: For me, this is a jump off point: I may not give up all of these things after 30 days, but I want to see how my body feels without a lot of the junk that’s in my diet. Having had a bowl of Mini-Wheats the other day I felt horrifically ill afterwords! A bagel today? Oh big mistake!

I suspect the elimination of gluten and dairy will be the hardest things for me. I do like cheese after all! And gluten (now that I’m looking) seems to be in everything. Those two will be daunting for sure. But alcohol is no problem, as I don’t drink. Caffeine? Well I’m on a one-a-day caffeine allowance. While I do like my mug of tea or a hot chocolate, I also know that there is a lovely Earl Grey green tea I can drink and be happy with.

HF – Based on your answers, it appears you are yet another fat-o-phobe. Remember that fats are an essential part of our diet and that, as long as you’re getting the right kind of fats, there is nothing to fear from them (and as long as you’re sticking to the right fats they will not increase your waistline).

The main problem in avoiding fat is that it tends to lead to an increase in sugar or refined carb consumption. There’s no point at all in avoiding olive oil on your salad while indulging in cookies and Rolos. Good fats, not processed fats or hydrogenated oils, are not an indulgence – they’re a health food.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto. Doug specializes in private in-home holistic cooking lessons.