I’ve never liked the term “diet” as it is so often used. The concept of carefully planning out each meal and worrying about what ingredients are used not only seemed like a waste of time, but an active attempt to limit a source of pleasure. Now, in my mid-20s, I’ve reluctantly decided to give this whole healthy eating thing a shot.
The decision to start working on my eating habits did not come easily. It’s almost been a source of pride for me throughout the years to know that I could eat whatever I want, whenever I want and I’d still be able to get out there and run for miles. No, something dramatic needed to happen before I was going to give in to the world of nutrition. That happened after one particularly tough workout.
For a little over a month I’ve been working with a personal trainer at the Lincoln Park Athletic Club. It was during my second week of working with Brandon Yates, my trainer that something changed. The workout was rough, I hadn’t worked that hard in a while, but it didn’t seem like anything I couldn’t handle. The hour long workout was a mixture of different exercises and muscle groups, by the end of it I was moving slowly. However, it wasn’t until I got to the locker room and sat down that the full weight of the work hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt dizzy, nauseous, and could barely move. Needless to say, this all culminated in me getting physically sick.
I have never been sick after a workout before, no matter the heat, the sport, the intensity. This was a wake-up-call for me. I knew right away that it had very little to do with the training, but instead what I was putting in to my body. So that night I reached out to a friend of mine Valerie Bannos, a dietetic technician and registered nutritionist. Bannos and I scheduled a time to meet up and go over some nutrition guidelines and plans I could start to implement in my day-to-day life. The meeting, ironically, was set for a neighborhood bar. This ended up being a good thing as by the end of it I needed a drink.
To say that my eating habits were bad would be like saying the Titanic was unfortunate. Thankfully Bannos took it slow and walked me through not only the suggested intake of food and nutrients, but exactly what kinds of food to enjoy and what to avoid. This was obviously going to take a complete 180 on my part to get back together. Each of us seemed scared as the other one talked. While she covered the different vegetables, fruits and fish among other things that I would need to introduce, I thought I’d be ok. Then I started asking questions. Apparently giardiniara and ice berg lettuce covered in cheese and ranch dressing doesn’t cover all of my nutritional needs. When she brought up cheese, I thought “Ok, now this I have covered.” Then she told me I should probably eat less. She was excited at how much I love breakfast when I can eat it, especially cereal. Then I told her what cereals I eat.
Then it was my turn to describe how I eat on a regular basis. Honestly, the look on her face would best be described as terror. My Oreos, Doritos and ice cream intake was apparently slightly above average. I drank about enough water to keep a cactus alive and my definition of a snack didn’t quite line up with hers. I don’t know who took more convincing that this could work, but either way we made the deal to try and fix my diet.
During our meeting, Bannos noticed a few very helpful tips that could get the process started. First off, my bad dietary choices seemed to be a direct result of what was readily available. I’ll go weeks or even months without eating cookies or chips just because they aren’t in the house. However, the minute I buy them a shot clock gets put on. Rarely do they last more than a week. Also, some of these previously thought poisonous vegetables, nuts and legumes didn’t actually taste all that bad and could be seamlessly swapped in for other, less nutritious snacks.
The first step of just making the decision to set up the meeting was difficult, but following through with the plan didn’t seem too rough, at least to begin. Bannos and I met on a Friday and Monday afternoon I was patrolling the local grocery store loading up on my new diet. The first week was a home run, I’m not going to lie and say every meal was nutritionally perfect, but I was taking noticeable steps in the right direction. Breakfast was full and semi-nutritional, gone was the Cap’n and the leprechaun. Lunch was planned out, fresher and full of wheat and vegetables. Dinner was a chance to try new things and experiment a little.
I had made solid strides to improve my eating habits, and I could notice the difference. I had more energy for longer periods of time. I felt restored after eating and rarely sluggish. The workouts were improving as well and felt better already.
Then, the dreaded backslide•..
Like an ex’s phone number you just can’t delete I couldn’t help but reward myself with a box of Oreos the next week. The weekends came and with it came burritos and deep dish pizza. All of a sudden this turned into a fight being held within my body for nutritional control. Bannos had warned of this, even talking about a “cheat day” where I could enjoy some of the things I have loved for so long (this has been adjusted to a cheat day and a half lasting from Friday night to Sunday afternoon). As I type, I’m starting to get things back on track.
No dietary changes are ever easy, and I know that sticking with these new habits will help me in the long run. I’ve decided to stick with the plan and hopefully try to keep improving slowly as I go on. With that said, I could really go for a cupcake right now•