Sometimes, going to the grocery store to buy healthy food can feel like a super tough boss battle in a game where you had absolutely no tutorial level. You’re just tossed in and expected to know what to do. I recently recruited a Nutritionist to help me figure out what I should be eating each day as far as Carbs/Fat/Protein. The methods she used to come up with my numbers are based on some complicated formula I don’t understand, but based in some sort of science. Unfortunately, it SUPER wasn’t working for me. In 3 weeks of following this eating plan (which included a jump from my usual 1400-ish calories daily when left to my own devices, to 2000 per day. I felt like I was constantly shoving food in my face, and despite her reassurance, it seemed really counter-intuitive.), I actually ended up putting on 5 lbs. It had me feeling like maybe this wasn’t the plan for me, since it had previously taken my weight months to creep up that far.
At this point, I’ve decided to go it alone. This is pretty scary, but I think that I’ve read and researched enough that I can find a nice balance of diet and exercise that will work for me, without making me feel like I’m having to constantly plan out my next 8 meals so that I can get my “score” right for the day.
Some tricks I’ve figured out…we’ll call them Cheat codes because that’s what it feels like.
Know your weaknesses.
If your life was a video game, you’d likely have a handy list of character weaknesses and strengths laid out right there on the screen. Unfortunately, we humans don’t get that luxury. Through a process of self observation (something we nerds are extremely good at), you can pretty much figure your weaknesses out on your own, though. For example, here are some of mine:
Anything covered in cheese.
Cheeseburgers and pizza especially, but you can put cheesy goodness on pretty much anything and it gives it +10CHA in my eyes. Cheese can be a nice healthy way to get in fat and protein, but it can also be a trap! It’s really easy to justify nomming down on cheesy goodness when it’s poured all over frozen veggies that you just nuked, for example…I’m less good at making myself stop after nomming down on a recommended serving size of something that is covered in cheese. It doesn’t matter if it is real cheese, fake cheese, or powdered cheese flavored crap. It’s all my kryptonite.
I can’t emphasize this enough. You could offer to hook an IV of the stuff into my veins, and I’d likely be game. I’ve been on roughly 20oz of the brown elixer daily since high school…over half my life at this point. I’ve tried quitting. Last time I attempted to kick my caffeine habit was years ago when I was working on quitting smoking cold turkey. My brain said that coffee makes me want a cigarette, so I should quit drinking that as well. this was a BAD idea, and I was asked in no uncertain terms by everyone who has to spend time around me in the mornings to never ever quit coffee again.
I usually just drink strong drip coffee with some of that powdered nonfat “creamer” dust in it, which really isn’t all that bad nutritionally, but I occasionally fall prey to the lure of the Dutch Bros drive thru, and that is where the calories really sneak up on you.
Now, I know that most people crave sweets. This is a normal thing. Normal people can also typically ignore these cravings. Unfortunately, I have PCOS. This means that my hormones are completely out of wack, and I crave sweets and carbs like crack. For reals! It’s a documented thing that ladies with PCOS have. They don’t really seem to know why (something to do with our insulin levels, likely), but it is a super common issue. I try to avoid sugar as a rule since quitting soda years ago, but every once in a while, I just can’t hold it back any more. When this happens, if I don’t have healthy alternatives on hand, it tends to look like someone set the Tasmanian Devil loose in a candy store.
What is the usefulness of knowing your limitations?
If you are playing an old top down dungeon crawl type game and you can see a baddie that you know you can’t beat in the corridor ahead, you can avoid it. The same holds true for mastering the Supermarket level boss. I know I can’t resist candy and sweets, so I avoid that aisle like the plague. I know that once I start eating a cheesy snack, I likely won’t stop until I reach the bottom of the bag, so I buy individually portioned snacks. Sure, they may not be as cost effective, but it means that I won’t lose hit points to the Cheese Monster. You see where I’m going with this? Once you know your weaknesses, you can work around them! That’s what I’ve been working on over the past couple of weeks, and I found some secret weapons (that I’m totally not getting paid to talk about, but if the respective companies should see fit to do so, I wouldn’t argue!) that I’m going to share with you guys now 🙂
Basically anything by Quest Nutrition.
The day that I first discovered the tasty awesomeness of Quest products, Dustin had apparently just listened to a podcast about the company. Their goal is to make healthy snacks that don’t suck. They succeed with bonus points in my opinion.
I first tried their Chocolate cookie dough bars. Obviously they aren’t going to taste exactly like the real thing. If you expect them to, you are nuts. That said, I’ve tried a lot of protein bars, and these are by far my favorite. They taste good and have a decent texture without tasting too “proteiny.” (If you’ve never encountered that taste, you are a lucky human and I don’t even know how to explain it. It bugs some people like me, but not others.) They also manage to pack in that nice flavor without compromising on carbs, or coating the bars in chocolate unnecessarily. They do offer a line of coated bars for those who prefer it, but it’s not really my thing. This last time around I ordered a Pumpkin Pie flavored bar, and was a bit disappointed to discover that they were coated. That’s just personal preference though, and they really taste good otherwise. The only other flavor I’ve tried was Cookies and Cream, and it was pretty dang tasty as well.
Quest also makes these utterly fantastic Protein Chips. When I first found them on Amazon, I was a bit hesitant. At over $16/8 bags, they certainly aren’t cheap. I went ahead and ordered a box of the Cheddar and Sour Cream flavor anyway, because if they taste as good as they sound, they could be a lifesaver for when I get my crunchy cheese snack cravings. Let me tell you, I’m SO GLAD I gave them a shot! The texture isn’t quite right compared to regular chips, but just barely. For the nutrition they offer (120 Calories, 21g Protein, 2g Fat, and a mere 5g Net Carbs), and the flavor they pack in, I will 100% be trying all the other flavors as well!
You can see on their website that they offer a huge array of tasty healthy snacks for people who want real food. I just found Protein Peanut Butter Cups on their website. you guys. Protein. Peanut Butter. Cups. (Insert “mind blown” noise here) If the quality of their other products I’ve tried is any prediction on how these will be, I’m pretty sure I’m in love.
Kay’s Naturals Products
I’ve been seeing these pop up on my recommended Amazon products, and finally decided to give the mixed “Grab N Go” box a try. It’s intended to be a 3 day meal plan that you supplement with other foods, but I’m using it as more of a sampler pack. These products are a little higher in carbs than the Quest Products, but really great for someone who craves starchy foods. It just arrived this morning, so I’ve only had the Cinnamon Almond protein cookie bites (with breakfast), and the White Cheddar protein Kruncheeze, but both were delicious and had reasonably balanced nutrition. The Kruncheeze (I hate spelling that name) had 130 cal per serving, 12g protein, 4g fat, and 14g carbs. They were really tasty (like Pirate’s Booty puffs), and had quite a bit in the bag. I am definitely planning on buying those again going forward.
Bonus level: Extra tips
The first thing that the nutritionist I mentioned earlier said to me was: Don’t drink your calories.
This is actually quite funny to me, because even though I know that she was talking about booze, soda etc., a very large portion of my daily nutrition comes from making smoothies, or drinking premade protein/meal replacement shakes. I ordered some slim fast that arrived with my Kay’s Naturals box, and even though they are a bit high in carbs and frankly don’t taste great, they are a great weapon for my inventory. I tend to get caught up doing things on the weekend and forget to eat. Like, every weekend an entire day will go by and I’ll say “Oh, crud! It’s 3 and i haven’t had a bite to eat yet!” I usually notice this when my stomach starts growling so loudly that it sounds like I’m being snuck up on by some awful baddie from a game. At this point, I tend to grab whatever is fast, and that is RARELY the same as what’s healthy. Keeping quick and easy meal substitutes on hand will help prevent me from falling prey to the “LETS ORDER PIZZA” trap.
Here’s my favorite smoothie recipe currently 🙂 I call it my Mean Green Protein Dream smoothie.
2 scoops Muscle Milk vanilla whey protein powder(this tastes way better than any other brand I’ve tried, and costs about half as much)
2T plain pumpkin puree (can you say fiber bomb?)
2T plain greek yogurt (because, you know…PROTEIN! plus probiotics)
1T Chia seeds (these are a great way to add protein, healthy fats, and fiber into your drink, but I cannot express enough that you need to make sure that you get them ALL out of your cup and blender before you run them through the washer, or they will get all over all of the things.)
Hefty sprinkle of cinnamon
1C raw spinach (Super good for you, tasty in smoothies, plus they make the whole thing a super funky green color)
1-2C Vanilla (or plain) soy milk (now, I’ve been told by some people that soy messes with hormones, but it’s my favorite milk substitute. I’ve been eating a lot more dairy since I started trying to be healthy, and it really wreaks havock on my guts so I substitute when I can)
blend the whole thing up and enjoy! I can’t finish a whole one of these in one go, so I tend to save the rest for later 🙂 This makes a super thick smoothie, so you may want to add in more milk than you think you’ll need.
Anywho, I think that I’ll leave things there for now. We’ve covered weaknesses pretty well 🙂 I’ll hit on working around dislikes (let me tell you, trying to be on a high protein diet when you don’t like fish is a tricky one), and share some more recipes and products I’ve found helpful next time.
For now, I leave you with this advice:
Make sure to work around your weaknesses! If you are trying to eat healthier than usual, you are already making a BIG change in your life, and your character can only level up so far in one go. Don’t set yourself up for failure! If you know you can’t resist something, don’t keep it on hand. If you’re bad at portion control like I am, spend the extra couple of bucks to get snacks that are already packaged up in portion sizes for you.
Have any other tips to share with other nerds trying to Level up themselves? share them in the comments below!
Love you guys 🙂 take care of yourselves.