From Fast Food to Home Cooking: A Journey to Better Eating (Part 4)

After learning what our bodies need, we are able to begin fine tuning what we are eating to bring us in line with those needs. Having a health coach, friend, or community, such as Empower Real Life Wellness, to plug into to keep us accountable as well as help guide us on the way is invaluable for this. On my own I don’t know if I could have figured out what swaps to make or stuck with it long enough to see it truly develop into a healthier lifestyle and the same holds true today as I walked through the health issues and move toward recovering. The Empower community continually holds me accountable to how I think about and care for myself.

While I don’t remember my exact numbers from my original wellness profile all those years ago, based on where my body was at that time and my goal to gain better energy we set goals for Calories, Protein, and Water intake. I knew from my logs I needed to increase my protein intake (I was only eating around 50-70g of protein a day) and begin swapping out higher calorie nutrient deficient foods for lower calorie nutrient dense foods (I was generally eating 2500+ calories a day and no exercise!). You may find yourself thinking, great advice but what does that even mean?! I know I was!

So what is Real Food? According to the Nutritional Therapy Association (NTA), real food is properly prepared, nutrient dense, whole foods. Whole foods are foods that are found in nature with only one ingredient that are not processed. By focusing on getting more real foods into our diets we ensure maximum nutritional density. 

My college diet had consisted mainly of take out (Wendys/Burger King/Taco Bell/Chinese), boxed or frozen meals (hamburger helper/fish sticks/pizza), and snacky foods (chips/cheetos/cookies) etc. AKA highly processed hyper palatable foods. With the help of Tim we began making small changes to bring more nutritious foods into my diet (no small task as I was a full time college student with 2 jobs and 2 huskies! Talk about busy!) 

He showed me how to adjust the quality of the foods I consumed by teaching me to read nutrition labels. Check out this video from Susan Bowerman, Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife for more information on understanding nutrition labels. 

Here’s an example of one of the first switches I made. Swapping my beloved Jr Bacon Cheese Burger (which I often ate two of plus a side of fries) with a turkey burger and sweet potato fries using pre-made frozen patties and pre-cut frozen fries. 

Wendys Jr Bacon Cheese Burger

Bacon Turkey Burger (MyFitness Pal Data)

The ones I made at home were more satisfying plus they were way less calories and much better nutrition (nutrition info from my fitness pal app). Notice the turkey burger has only 18g of fat compared to the Wendy’s burgers with 23g. Only 5g of saturated compared to 8g! (Saturated fats are known to elevate cholesterol).  Has a whole 71.6mg less sodium, 3g less sugar, 2 grams less carbs and 12 more grams of protein! And I only needed to eat 1 instead of 2! Not only am I getting better quality nutrition, in reality I’m still saving 342 calories because I am only eating 1 instead of 2 burgers. Even though the Turkey Burger has 418 calories and the Jr Bacon CheeseBurger has 380 calories. (This was mind-blowing for me as it is easy to assume higher calorie is bad but we always want to consider the quality of the nutrition in the calories!)

So now, let us look at the fries then shall we? I would eat a large fry with my two Jr Bacon CheeseBurgers, I substituted Sweet Potato Fries. 

Wendys Large Fry

Alexia Sweet Potato Fries

Now we do need to again remember servings because let’s be honest, 12 fries?!, not happening! Lmao. I usually doubled up on the sweet fries. So my 2 servings of sweet fries was 280 calories, 10g fat, 280mg sodium, 48 carbs, and 2g protein. Compare that to 530 calories, 24g fat, 520mg sodium, 70g carbs. 

With this single meal swap I decreased my caloric intake by almost 600 calories (⅓ of my daily calories)! Decreased my fat intake by 42 grams (¾ of my daily fat intake). Decreased my carbohydrates by 50 gram (about ⅓ of my daily goal) and increased the nutritional value of the food I was eating!   

Let’s look at some other swaps we can make. 

Here is a snapshot of what my logs have looked like over the years to give y’all an insight into the small changes made and how overtime they add up to a whole new lifestyle.

Food Log Example (circa 2010)

Breakfast – Usually Nothing Or a Pop-tart

Lunch – Usually Nothing Or Hot Pocket/Ramen Noodles/Ravioli

Dinner – Take Out (Taco Bell/Wendy’s/Burger King/Pizza) Or Boxed/Freezer Meal (Pizza Rolls/Cheeseburger Helper/ Fish Sticks&Tater Tots)

Snacks – Chips/Oatmeal Cream Pies/Oreos/Popcorn/etc

Food Log Example (circa 2011-2012)

Breakfast – Healthy Meal Shake & Herbal Tea Concentrate

Lunch – Subway/Quiznos

Dinner – Salad @ Restaurant/Frozen Skillet Meals/PastaRoni with Chicken

Food Log Example (circa 2013-2014)

Breakfast – Healthy Meal Shake & Herbal Tea Concentrate

Lunch – Lunch-meat Sandwich/ Simple Salad

Snack – Trail Mix/Granola Bar

Dinner – Frozen Meat (Chicken Breast/Turkey Burger/Fish) with Instant Side (Rice/Potatoes/Suddenly Pasta Salad) and Canned Veggie (corn/green beans)

Food Log Example (circa 2014-2016)

Breakfast – Healthy Meal Shake & Tea/Overnight Oatmeal/Yogurt & Granola

Snack – Fruit & 2oz Nut Butter/ 2oz Hummus & 1/2 cup cut Veggies/ 1 Fruit & 1-2oz Nuts

Lunch – 4oz Chicken/Turkey/Fish & 1 cup Rice/Sweet Potato/Quinoa & 1 cup Broccoli/Brussel Sprouts/Corn

Snack – Beverage Mix & Tea & Active Fiber

Dinner – 8oz Chicken/Turkey/Fish & 1/2 cup Rice/Sweet Potato/Quinoa & 1 cup leafy greens

Foor Log Example (Circa 2016)

Breakfast – Coffee/Tea & Healthy Meal Shake/Overnight Oats/Breakfast Bake

Snack – Rice cakes & Nut Butter/Tuna Salad & Cucumber

Lunch – Chicken & Rice & Veg/Turkey Burger & Veg

Snack – Beverage Mix & Tea & Active Fiber

Dinner – Stirfry/Tacos/Flatbread Chicken Pizza

Food Log Example (Circa 2017-Present)

Breakfast – Coffee mixed with Tea & Healthy Meal Shake

Snack – Fruit & Nuts/ Apple & Cheese/Beverage Mix & Rice Cakes/Trail Mix

Lunch – Leftovers (Spaghetti& Brussels Sprouts/Butternut Squash Bake& Chicken/Enchiladas/Pulled Pork over spinach and rice with balsalmic vinegar)

Snack -Homemade – Protein Snack Bites/Gluten & Dairy Free Pumpkin Mini Muffin/Oatmeal Bars

Dinner – Homemade – Chicken & Wild Rice Soup/ AuGratin Sweet Potatoes & Herb’d Pork Chops & Broccoli/Lemon Garlic Talapia & Rice & Brussle Sprouts/Chicken Stirfry etc

Keep in mind these are not hard transitions. Its fluid. Although I gave specific years for each example there was a lot of overlap. The snapshots are just meant to give an overview of the transitions.

Notice the progression. Small changes. Baby Steps. First adding a few of the Herbalife supplements to get into the habit of eating regularly throughout the day. (Supplementation is not a cure-all and may not be for everyone, but for me and my crazy busy lifestyle it helps me fill nutritional gaps and get good nutrition even when I am on the go)

Swapping fast food for healthier fast food.

Starting to cook more at home with pre-made meals. 

Swapping those boxed and frozen meals for simple homemade meals as I gained confidence. 

Experimenting with fresh ingredients – this was quite possibly the most challenging stage as I struggled with what to do with them and learning how to efficiently use them without having them go bad! I can not tell you how many times I have had to throw away produce and meats because they spoil… it’s no fun (and quite smelly) but as I continued to learn more I have reduced the waste and now I rarely experience the disappointment of rotten foods (notice I didn’t say never though!) 

Exploring new spices and seasonings. Thankfully spices have a much longer shelf life than fresh meats and produce, but they can seem overwhelming and good lord some are pricey! Yet little by little I added to my ‘toolkit’. Starting with the basics of salt and pepper. Some of my earliest additions were Garlic Powder, Chilli Powder, and Paprika when I tried my hand at chili for the first time. Each spice I added brought new depth and possibility to my cooking and now I have a cupboard full of spices and enjoy endless variety in my cooking.

Notice also, the small steps followed things I already liked to eat, mexican, american, chineese, etc. 

Throughout the whole process I leaned on my health coach and community to help me learn more about nutrition and get ideas for healthier alternatives. I also frequently used other awesome resources like pintrest! Over the years I’ve accumulated quite the board, I call it my Culinary Creativity board. It has given me tons of inspiration in my day to day meals. Some of the things I have tried, some of the things I have not, yet ;). Regardless, everything on there has added to my knowledge of cooking.

There were mess-ups in the beginning, yet, little by little, you learn from those experiences. You pay closer attention to the details of recipes you want to try, purchase only what is needed, plan meals around fresh meats/produce that needs to be used, and slowly become more comfortable with the healthy swaps you can make, and how spices can be used different ways.

So there we have it. A basic guide from Fast Food to Home Cooking. Of course, your journey will be just as unique as you are, but remember the fun is in the process. Embrace it and know you aren’t alone. Lean on your health coach, the Empower community, and awesome resources like pinterest to help you along the way. And don’t forget, there will be mess ups, we will fall off the horse from time to time. When you fall down, get back up and keep trying to be the best, most healthy version of you that you can be! Its not about being perfect, its about effort and heart. <3

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