1 March 2016

Subtract from Diet Month - March

Last month's success with removing caffeine and soft drinks from my diet work out so well that I figured I'd continue the process. To read all about that journey click here.

This month I figure I'd tackle the issue of snacks. Generally my main meals are well established and have the right balance of good food and some guilty pleasures. But snacks are a problem. I usually have a couple of yoghurt tubs as a morning snack but at night I grab whatever is in the pantry. This often includes all manner of snacks from the confectionery isle or packets of chips.

My rules for this month will be simple but important.
  1. Don't eat anything from the confectionery isles at the supermarket. This includes chocolate, lollies, chips and biscuit snacks such as Arnott's Shapes.
  2. Try alternative snacks that are healthier options such as fruit, veggies, muesli and tuna.

Arnott's shapes
A box of these bad boys is gone in minutes
They may seem simple but there are some roadblocks to avoid. For a start I am not the sole person responsible for purchasing food in the house. For this to work I need my wife on board and the simplest way to do that was to have her do this challenge with me. This serves multiple purposes. We can help each other stay motivated. We both commit to not having the bad snack options in the house. We are an external check on each other when temptation looms. We can lose weight together.

A second roadblock is the second rule itself. I am a fussy eater and a lot of healthy foods are not what I would describe as edible. So part of this challenge is to find not only healthy alternatives but ones that I actually want to eat. Healthy alternatives are also generally more expensive. It is very easy to grab a bag of lollies for a few dollars and eat them all over a few hours. Doing the same with a bag of nut mix usually costs double or triple that.

So my aim is to find snack foods that:

  • are comparable in price to the not so healthy snacks
  • are tasty or at least don't taste like styrofoam wrapped in cardboard
  • are filling or at least hold hunger at bay until the next main meal
  • are ideally long lived so they can be bought in bulk thus always being on hand and can reduce costs
Cold turkey
Going cold turkey isn't as delicious as it sounds
The ultimate aim here is for me and the missus to spend a month in cold turkey mode while researching replacements we both like. From there we can alter our shopping lists to suit. However part of the reason so many diets fail is that they remove all the foods you love. Chocolate tastes good and we want to enjoy eating. Without our decadent food we will slip back into old habits. So this month will be a difficult battle with our taste buds and decades of habit, once it is over we will slowly re-introduce things in a controlled manner.

I'll update as we go along but I foresee a potential crinkle this weekend. I deliberately deciding on this subtraction this month as March is a busy snack month for us. I have four nieces with birthdays in the span of three weeks, the chocolate holiday of Easter is at the end of the month and on Saturday I am going to a wedding where there will be lots of cake and nibbles. Fighting through temptation helps build mental toughness and solidifies the fact you can achieve your goals. It's like tossing yourself in the deep end to learn to swim, and with my wife involved we can prevent each other from drowning.

Update 7 March
So it's been a week and I've knocked over two birthdays and a wedding. By far the biggest test was the guest thank-you gifts in the form of a lollie bar. Having a lot of my favourites only heaped the temptations higher. My wife and I made the decision to put the bags in the car as soon as we got them, locking them away from sight. But the real test came on Sunday afternoon at the weekly gaming session with the boys.
Lollie Bag
Know your enemy
Instead of eating our spoils we offered them all to our guests. While the missus enjoyed watching TV in the other room temptation free, the lollies were staring at me all night begging me to eat them.
Thoughts of "only one won't hurt" soared through my mind at every opportunity and I struggled to keep forcing them down. I succeeded by following the technique I described in my motivation post (click here if you missed it) by mentally shouting NO, and thinking I can have a couple in April when I slowly add things back in.

While I succeeded this time, don't feel too bad if you are trying this and fail at one point. Accept you didn't quite meet your expectations but don't let it stop you. Try harder next time. Work harder at the gym to make up for the added calories. Do not skip meals either. Not eating hinders weight loss by triggering the body to store fat due to it not knowing when its next hit of energy will be. Obviously not eating for a week will have an impact but it is extremely unhealthy. Don't give yourself an eating disorder as it isn't fun for you or your loved ones.

As for new snacks I've been trying some old favourites from my school lunch box. Sultanas and carrots. I could eat bags full of them but they aren't too filling. Sultanas are mainly carbs from natural sugar and protein is what gives you that full feeling. They give you a great boost of energy and have lots of fibre so should be in your diet. While they are good they are not the perfect snack that I'm looking for.

While some people might be shouting to eat more fruit it isn't what I'm wanting either. Apples are pretty good at satiating hunger but go off quickly. I could eat a kilo of bananas and still feel hungry. Frozen berries are an option. I was thinking of adding them to Greek yoghurt, which is something I've never tried. It won't be a quick and cheap option however so I'll keep looking for something I can open and eat immediately and doesn't go off.

Update 18 March
So I think I found something that might be suitable in the snack rotation: air popped popcorn. Bags of this are under $2 and make about eight regular sized bags from the cinema. Popcorn at the movies are horrible for you health. The calories in a large bag are about the same as a large Big Mac meal. This is because they drown it in butter and cook in oil. Air popped popcorn however has no additions. You simply put the kernels in a bag, toss in the microwave for around 90 seconds and serve.
Just raw corn kernels

I grabbed 100 brown paper bags for a couple of dollars for this purpose. So for under $5 I had a dozen bags of air popped popcorn. Those bags are about the same as a can of coke, however instead of being 100% carbs from pure sugar, the popcorn tosses in some protein, fibre and carbs from whole grains. If you don't like the taste of raw popcorn add in cinnamon, curry or chilli powder, or for a sweeter option maple syrup. If you have to worry about your blood sugar levels eat this alongside a raw carrot, peanuts or a glass of skim milk.

I've been having this for about a week, with a bag or two each day at work. I have not put on any weight and have felt more satiated. I'll keep looking but I think I've found a contender for the title.

Update 24 March
Still haven't found anything better than the good old popcorn. I don't mind a tin of tuna but to make it filling I need to eat it with bread. Apples are quite decent but I can easily polish off a kilo of them in a day, meaning I have to visit the supermarket daily and increases the cost. While I will still include those in my diet, I need a staple that is readily available so popcorn is the winner in my book.

As for temptation, this week threw me a couple. Yesterday I did some training for work where each table of four had a bowl of snacks available. It included an entire packet of Tim Tams and a large assortment of jelly lollies. I found it much easier to mentally reject them that a couple of weeks prior. The habit of not eating them is kicking in.

The second temptation was again at work in the form of morning tea for Easter. Hot crossed buns may not be from the confectionery isle but are far from a healthy choice. After summarily rejecting them I went about my business and felt better for it.

As for the Easter extra long weekend I don't see there being much to tempt me. I have never celebrated it. I have no children. Even my nieces and nephews don't really care that much other than getting a bit more chocolate than normal. As such there are no chocolate treats in my house to taunt me with their sugar rush.

Final update
Well the month is over and its time to evaluate. I have lost just under 2kg this month. So by just removing junk food and caffeine and changing nothing else I have easily dropped weight.

I'm sticking to popcorn as a snack as it works nicely with my requirements. Please send any ideas for other healthy snacks, or share your own experiences in the comments.

I'll be taking a break from removing things from my diet and will slowly reintroduce things. You can't constantly limit yourself and expect to succeed indefinitely. So April will be about moderation and finding a level I'm happy with while working towards my goals.