Chuy is a 28-yr old free-lancer looking to lose weight. He has made a lot of progress with nutrition, but when work and life get busy it’s easy for him to fall into old, convenient habits, including lots of seamless and quick foods like sandwiches. What’s more, as hanging out with friends becomes a welcome contrast to work, it’s easy to get carried away with alcohol. Let’s have a look at his 5-day food log.
Thursday - Dec 27
PB&J on whole wheat bread
Bowl of homemade Japanese rice with egg, mixed vegetables, chicken breast, and soy sauce.
Ham, mayo and cheese on wheat bread
Friday - Dec 28
Ham and 2 eggs
Guacamole and chips
Chicken enchiladas with rice and beans
Fried chicken with fries and cup of soup
2 fried chicken sliders, half a slice of red velvet waffle, 1 chicken strip
2 margaritas, 3 shots tequila, vodka pineapple, tequila pineapple, tequila soda, random spicy tequila cocktail, stella
Sat - Dec 29th
1 slice of whole wheat with PB
6 servings of popcorn with light butter
3 chicken strips with BBQ sauce, some white rice with red beans
Sun - Dec 30th
Banana, strawberry & PB smoothie (2% milk)
Chicken caesar wrap
Mon - Dec 31st
Eggs with sausage, left-over Japanese rice
Hamburger, fries, & soda
3 slices of pizza
6 shots tequila, 1 shot vodka, 4 beers
Chuy does a good job of including protein in his diet, and in a few meals we see fruits and whole grains or legumes. By and large, though, most of his diet is made up of processed, refined-flour based carbohydrates like bread, wraps, and chips. And we also see a lot of fried foods. We don’t see a lot of vegetables or healthy fats, both of which are essential for ensuring all cells in our body function optimally.
Opportunities for Change
Chuy already had some ideas of what he was interested in changing when he gave me his log. He, too, noticed how much bread is in his diet, and immediately decided he could cut back. Remember one of my key principles: focus on the positive. So instead of simply, “Eat less bread,” a strong habit will focus on what he is choosing to do instead of what not to do. Chuy had switched to sprouted grain bread in the past and remembered not only that he liked it, but that he automatically used less of it. Often he would have an open-faced sandwich instead of a regular one. Sprouted grain bread has more protein and fiber, and is processed by our bodies more like a whole food as compared to bread made with flour (even whole wheat flour). Would I like to see him eventually cut down on all bread? Yes, but going back to our principles we remember: no step is too small. This step allows him to make space in his diet for healthier foods without feeling like he’s taking on more than he has the time, energy, and palate for. We set a plan right then for when Chuy would have time to go get a loaf, including a back-up plan if the store was out.
Another thing Chuy noticed was how good he felt when making his own smoothies. Peanut butter, banana, and strawberry tasted delicious, was easy to make, and kept him full throughout the morning. Sometimes he doesn’t even finish his smoothie in one sitting. Here’s a really easy opportunity to make something good even better. By throwing in a handful of vegetables like spinach, kale, or sprouts- or even a high-quality vegetable powder- Chuy can get in some much-needed vegetables (and not even taste them!). In addition, by making sure he uses a peanut butter that includes ONLY peanuts (no sugars, syrups, or oils), he can cut down on sugar.
For most people I would advise simply working on these habits, or even one of them, at first. However, Chuy had some other ideas of what he could improve, so we talked through how that would look.
Chuy goes out to eat a lot, especially with friends. This social time is valuable to him, and he doesn’t want to have to say no to going out or worry about finding healthier restaurants. We talked through healthier choices he could make just about anywhere. Most restaurants have the option of substituting fries for a side salad or vegetables. Chuy felt confident that he could do this least some of the time, and committed to 2x/ week to start.
Finally, Chuy wanted to cut back on alcohol. This is a really smart choice, both for overall health and for weight loss. Alcohol is essentially liquid sugar, and excessive amounts are damaging to your immune system and vital organs, in addition to being highly caloric and leading to higher amounts of visceral fat (the fat surrounding your internal organs and showing in your midsection). The easiest step to take initially: only drinking when out with friends. For Chuy this means only drinking 2 nights per week most weeks. At some point in time, Chuy may feel ready to work on the amount he drinks and the type of drinks. Moving forward I would like to see him drink 1 glass of water for every alcoholic drink, and choose spirits plain or with soda instead of sugary cocktails and beer.
Putting it Into Practice
Adopting new habits is challenging, especially at first. It's important to be gentle and patient with yourself. I encourage clients to approach nutrition work as scientists. Gather data, observe without judgment and then make adjustments based on what you learn. Put another way, think of the first week as the first week of rehearsals. It's going to be rough. The second week will be better, but it's normal to take some time to rewire your brain. Chuy and I will check-in after two weeks to see what's working and what's challenging. From there we can troubleshoot and/or decide on the next baby steps forward.
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