During my second set of seated rows one morning, my personal trainer, Sarah Daly, asked an innocent question: “What did you eat before coming here?”
I tried to think of how to sugarcoat my answer, but quickly realized that wasn’t possible.
“Two Oreos,” I blurted out.
The look on Sarah’s face was something between confusion and shock. “Next time you should try to have some fruit instead,” she said.
Nutrition has never been my strong suit. My father put it succinctly when he said we come from a family of eaters. I’m not a religious person, but thanks in large part to my fantastic French-Canadian chef of a mother, I tend to worship at the altar of butter and sugar.
That said, my eating isn’t wholly unhealthy. Yes, I resort to the occasional fast-food meal, but I also love vegetables, nuts and fruit. I love the crunch of a raw piece of broccoli. I love the juicy meatiness of a medium-rare hunk of steak. And I love the slurp of an East Coast oyster. And when I say that I love this stuff, I mean I can’t imagine living a life without these things.
But I also understand that I must eat better now that I’m exercising more and need proper fuel for my workouts. So I consulted with Stefanie Senior, who is a registered dietitian with Athletic Edge Sports Medicine in Toronto.
“People are nervous to make dietary changes because they think they have to give up their lives,” Stefanie said. “But you can live a balanced life, eat out with friends and still see results.”
She suggested a few changes that would be easy to implement for anyone trying to rebalance their lifestyle and diet. Her first tip was simple enough: Start with breakfast. Preferably not Oreos. Fruit is an option, especially when paired with a protein such as a nut butter. I’m usually so rushed in the morning that I end up grabbing a muffin (which is more like a mini cake). But more often I’ve been grabbing an orange or a plum, instead of a cookie or a biscuit, on my way out the door.
Stefanie also suggested trying to eat veggies at both lunch and dinner to help reach the daily requirement of seven to 10 servings. This wasn’t too difficult, since at the beginning of this fitness reboot I signed up for a weekly delivery of organic produce. Now I have a tub of fruit and vegetables that I have to eat within a week, otherwise it’ll go to waste.
Her third piece of fundamental advice was to have one serving of lean protein such as white-meat chicken, legumes or turkey at every meal. To do that, I started cooking enough protein at dinner to have some left over for lunch.
Healthy eating is really about planning and organization, and if I can make time for my workouts, why can’t I find the 10 minutes every night to plan breakfast and lunch? There are tools out there to help. Stefanie suggested eatrightontario.ca for meal-planning tools and healthy eating tips.
So far, though, I hadn’t come across a tool to help me with my other dietary pitfall: sweets. I don’t just have a sweet tooth, I have a mouth full of sweet teeth. I need something sweet at the end of my dinner, otherwise it’s like my body doesn’t know my eating is over for the day. So I asked Stefanie how to manage this sugary addiction.
“Try setting a limit,” she said. “Say, ‘I can have something sweet after dinner, but only 100 calories.’ So that’s two squares of chocolate or a third of a cup of frozen yogurt. That way you’re not going overboard and most of the calories you’re consuming are from healthy food sources.”
But occasionally I’m going to buy a cookie or piece of pie from my local bakery. I know that. And that’s okay. Forgiveness is just as much an important part of healthy eating as fruits and vegetables.
“Part of the process of changing your lifestyle is making mistakes and learning from them,” said Stefanie. “You don’t have to be perfect.”