What does 1800 calories look like on a whole foods, plant-based diet?
I’ve tried calorie counting, and I’ve tried focusing on whole foods, but I never combined them until now. So this morning I decided to figure out how much of the types of food I was eating (when I stuck to my current “diet”) added up to 1800-2000 calories.
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Since I posted in May about how I lost 1 pound in a week and shared what I ate that week, I’ve continued to lose weight but not as quickly as I want to, so I’m doubling down on accountability. When I share here with you all what I am doing, it really helps me to stick to my plan. I also thought this would be a great opportunity to show you what I eat in a day when I’m following a whole foods, plant-based diet. It’s not perfect, but it’s sustainable with a small amount of effort, and that’s the whole point. I’ve tried vegan and vegetarian in the past and what I liked most was a term I ran across: flexitarian. This means that you’re eating close to a vegetarian diet, but for health reasons and in a way that guides you to a healthy lifestyle without burdening you with strict rules. It lets you maintain a balanced life, which often involves including sources of meat and dairy that you feel good about. It also means sometimes indulging in alcohol and dessert, but that those are saved for special occasions or weekends.
A whole foods, plant based diet is just one of several different diets that I’ve tried, successfully, over the years. But it has become my favorite go-to for losing weight, especially when I need a jump start, want to feel better, and have minimal time for food prep.
In the photo is everything I’m eating today (Aug 20, 2017). This is the main strategy I’ve been using so far this year, but this is the first time I’ve really counted calories. The food in the picture totals 1800 calories. It’s a bit heavy on carbohydrates, just right on fat and a bit low on protein. I honestly would have noticed this and adjusted the protein before snapping the photo, but I was trying to take a picture before my kids noticed what I was doing and started asking for my food! (lol) My 7 yr old asked what I was doing, and I kept shushing him so the toddler wouldn’t notice; of course eventually he did and only waited impatiently to touch anything when promised one of the Dove dark chocolate squares even though all he’d had for breakfast so far was some cinnamon toast.
Here is a detailed list of today’s menu: 1 cup of cooked old-fashioned oats with 1/3 Tbs honey, and 1/4 c almond milk; coffee with 1 Tbs half and half, no sweetener; 1 c homemade yogurt with 1 c strawberries, 1 mango, 1 banana, 1 c carrots, 4 Tbs hummus, 1/2 c cherry tomatoes, 1 ProBar Meal Bar, 1 pickle, 1 c bing cherries, 2 Dove dark chocolate squares, 1 sweet potatoe, 1 Smart Ones meal
Today as I fixed and measured the food, and looked up the calorie counts I was surprised by how calorie dense the hummus and cream were, and by how few calories were in the pickle.
Adding a Protein Bar
Since the protein is a bit short, and I’m planning to exercise today, I’ll add a thinkThin High Protein Bar. Their Creamy Peanut Butter Bar has been my favorite go-to for awhile. I researched protein bars a couple of years ago, the last time I was trying to lose the baby weight, and found the thinkThin High Protein Bars to be a great way to boost my protein intake and satisfy my chocolate tooth without adding much sugar. Experimenting with new products helps keep it interesting, so I got a variety pack of the ProBar Meal Bars and have enjoyed them so far. My other favorite are the Pure Organic fruit and nut bars. I especially like the Cherry Cashew Bars, but sometimes I buy whichever flavor is currently cheapest on amazon.
A quick note on budgeting and weight loss: when you’re ramping up for a weight loss push, there is real psychological advantage to spending some money. While I normally don’t buy bars and I’m not crazy about the expense, I find that it is worth it when I buy them in bulk and then make them a fun part of my daily diet routine. Investing some money helps you feel more compelled to follow through, since you don’t want to waste the investment of time and money. This is why it is also a good reason to plan a date at least a few days to a week in the future to start a new nutrition and/or exercise routine, and then spend time on a plan and if you have a small budget, spend it on some key items. Each time I do a new weight loss push I add a few items to my home gym. This makes in interesting and gives me some new bars or exercises to add to my routine. I usually order from amazon, and if they come early I make myself wait to use them so that the first day of the diet feels real and significant.
Back to today’s totals, adding the bar takes my daily calories and nutrition intake to: 2,050 calories, 73 g protein, 314 g carb, 46 g fiber, 116 g sugar, and 61 g fat. In January 2013 I joined a gym for the first time ever. I joined a new type of private-training that my gym was offering; it was a group model that combined a typical gym course with personal instructors. It had several elements similar to Cross Fit, and I learned a ton about exercise and nutrition. What I learned from my instructors blossomed into an entire personal research project about nutrition. I also began collecting my favorite light-weight, portable fitness tools to create my home gym. After a year and a half of gym membership I canceled reluctantly for financial reasons, but knowing that I had acquired the skills and knowledge I needed to continue on my own. Of course then I got surprised with our fourth boy and spent 2016 eating whatever was easy or sounded good, and letting my gym equipment gather dust.
There are real benefits and disadvantages to calorie counting. I recommend doing it from time to time so that you realize what you are eating, but not as an everyday long term routine.
Depending on your temperament, lifestyle, and goals, watching calories and nutrition can be a really useful tool in healthy weight loss, especially when you are making some big changes in what you eat, trying to lose more weight than can be lost in a few weeks (ie. more than 5 lbs), or have certain foods that you struggle to remove from your diet. When I watch calories, I use MyFitnessPal. I have the app on my phone and I love it, even though in recent years they’ve added more advertising. The paid version has additional features but the free version has everything you need. You can easily scan bar codes or search for foods. It adds them and does all of the math and you can see your nutrition totals for the day. If you have a unique recipe you make a lot, you can add it. I used to take the time to add recipes back when I was calorie counting as part of my program at the gym. I went to use MyFitnessPal again this year and they now have an easy recipe look-up feature you can use to pull in recipes from any website.
I recommend identifying a few processed or convenience foods that you feel okay about, and adding your favorite grains (oatmeal, rice, quinoa) and then adding fruits and vegetables. Pick a protein to cook for dinner with vegetables and a starch. Depending on the day I may eat more or less processed foods, but I like to have them on hand because as a mom I often have to fall back on Plan B.
When you shop with a diet push in mind, buy fresh produce and your choice of meat and dairy, as close to whole food state, and with as little sugar and fat as possible. Then also add some processed food options by companies you like, that while not optimal, will give you a back-up option so that when life surprises you, you can still stay on your plan. I like to have Plan A, B, and C, and I record in my daily fitness journal what level I was able to accomplish, knowing that it’s not about perfection, but continued effort and commitment to a long term process.
I think the most crucial step to getting started, right above planning ahead, is believing that eating a certain way is worth the effort. So here are some books and a documentary to get you started. I also recommend making a list of reasons you want to eat a certain way, you can read my 30 reasons to lose weight as an example. It’s really important to keep in front of you what is motivating you to eat healthier. I need to add some more reasons to my list that I’ve thought of since I wrote it and hang it up on my fridge.
Awesome Resources by Michael Pollan
If you want a quick awesome how-to guide to eating a whole-foods, plant based, flexitarian-type diet, you should buy Food Rules by Michael Pollan. I keep it on my shelf next to my writing rules book. They’re both great for pulling out and opening to a random page. You read a few tips, feel inspired, put it back on the shelf for later.
If you have time for a read, I can’t recommend his other books highly enough. Of all the books I read on nutrition, these are the ones that changed my life immediately and profoundly. They changed how I think about what I eat, but in a gentle, natural way, not in a shock and awe scare-you-to-give-up-hot-dogs kind of way.
He sums up his food philosophy in three phrases: Eat (real) food. Mostly plants. Not too much.
Those three phrases provide the framework for his book, In Defense of Food, of which Food Rules is an abbreviated guide.
He explores the basic methods of cooking in Cooked. There is a fun Netflix documentary series about this book. Check it out and then read the book if you want more material on the topic.
The first book I read of his was The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, in which he identifies four very different types of meals and then takes a journalist’s journey tracing back all of the ingredients of each meal back to their source.
Update: I did it! I realized I had calculated two servings of oatmeal, but ate one. I didn’t have time to exercise, but still ate the peanut butter ThinkThin bar. So I came in at 1850 calories for the day. The following few days I didn’t have time to calorie count, but did successfully avoid desserts and sugary foods and a few days later I lost another pound!