Week nine: Help! I live with a meat and potatoes lover!

Medium rare Grilled T-Bone Steak with potato wedges

This is it.  You’ve finally made the decision to change your lifestyle and get your daily diet on the healthy eating track.  You can envision your future self with more energy, healthier and happier.  You throw yourself into healthy eating with abandon and begin studying recipes and cooking meals with labels such as low-fat, high-fiber, protein-loaded and heart-healthy.  Foods you had once avowed to hate forever and wouldn’t think of letting into your kitchen you find you now love.  You shudder at the thought of the quantities of junk food and refined sugars that used to pass your lips.

The problem?  The people in your life – especially in your household – that are just as committed to the old way of eating as you are to your new, healthy menu.  They’re hanging on to it with the tenacity akin to super glue, as skittish as a shy colt when you enthusiastically down a plate of kale and lentils.

I understand, truly I do.  I have been in the position where my husband looked at me like I was an alien-in-a-Kim-suit when I served a meal that wasn’t loaded with meat and potatoes, and nary a fried item in sight.  If there are kids in the house, they’re not fazed by the new-you-alien but rather by the broccoli steaming in the serving bowl.  And kids will trick you.  I clearly remember that as a child, one of my stepdaughter’s favorite foods of all time was broccoli and cheese.  Then the preteen years hit and instantly (and I do mean instantly, it was overnight!) she was transformed into a hater of vegetables of all kinds.  There ensued years of trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle while dealing with a picky kid addicted to junk food and a husband that wanted meat and starches only.

When we commit to making changes to our lifestyles, especially to how we eat, it makes a major impact on the people in our lives.  It’s one thing to say, “Honey, kids, I’m going out for a jog!” vs. “Honey, kids, I’m overhauling the way I eat and I’d appreciate it if you’d join me!”  It gets a little more personal when you bring it to the dinner table.  The reaction you hope for is that they throw their support behind you whole-heartedly and join you.  On the other hand, they may support your efforts but decide to let you go your own merry way while they continue with the old eating pattern.  They may also get defensive and let you know in no uncertain terms you’re on your own and have no intent of even trying to incorporate a few healthy things into their diet and make small changes.

The good news is it’s completely possible to live an intentional, healthy life and include the people you love without your household turning into a battle zone and keeping everyone happy.  It takes a little compromise and a good deal of commitment on your part to stick to your healthy eating regardless of the path your loved ones choose.  Listed below are some tips that will help to introduce the people in your life to healthier eating habits, keep the peace and promote a healthy home environment as well.

  1. Make small changes. As with any fitness or diet plan, if you make huge changes in the beginning you’re setting yourself up for failure.  It’s the same with your loved ones.  If they’re used to things like spaghetti and garlic bread or pork chops and mac and cheese for supper, they’re going to balk if you suddenly quit serving it all together and hit them with brussel sprouts and tofu.  Make the tweaks small; make minor changes a little bit at the time.  If you have a lot of starches in your meals, such as both bread and potatoes, replace one of them with a green vegetable.  Take several weeks and cut back on soft drinks and sugary tea a little at a time.  Make one tiny change per week, too small to raise alarm, but they’ll add up and introduce a healthier approach to eating almost without notice.
  2. Don’t label it. It may be a healthy diet, but don’t refer to it that way.  Most people don’t like change and are instantly on guard when the words “healthy” and “change the way we’re eating” are used.  They will immediately associate the new way with rabbit food, tasteless, bland and boring and as having to sacrifice good stuff like junk food.
  3. Lead by example. Regardless of what others around you do, when you begin making changes to your diet and accomplishing health goals left and right, you will have more energy and feel amazing, which positively affects your interaction with others.  Others around you will notice the change, want the same thing and just may follow your lead.
  4. Dispel the myths. Most people associate low-fat, sugar-free or gluten-free with healthy, but this isn’t really the case.  It can be tastier, lower-calorie and healthier to use a little bit of flavorful, regular products than a larger amount of the low-fat, sugar-free or gluten-free stuff. If your loved ones see you eating a slice of regular cheese vs. rubbery, tasteless, low-fat cheese, eventually they’ll realize healthy eating isn’t quite so bad after all!
  5. Involve them. If your loved ones turn their noses up at anything that doesn’t resemble pizza or say “bleh!” if it isn’t loaded with sugar, get them involved in the meal planning and preparation.  Ask them what fruits they’d like for you to purchase or what meat they want one night for supper.  No one likes to be forced into anything, but if they have a voice in the matter and request certain foods they’ll probably eat it.  Allow them in the kitchen to help with the meal preparation.
  6. Make easy swaps. You can make simple swaps to cut back on fat and sugar-laden foods that will mostly go unnoticed.  Swap Greek yogurt for sour cream, quinoa or farrow for pasta or rice and turkey or chicken sausage for pork sausage.  Instead of a bagel or white toast in the morning, scramble eggs, add veggies and roll in a whole-wheat tortilla.  Know your loved ones’ preferences and work with those to make their favorites healthier and keep them from feeling deprived.
  7. Start with snacks instead of main meals. If you mess with supper too much you may have a war on your hands and alienate everyone from the get go.  Changing snacks is a little less drastic and an easier way to introduce healthy foods to your loved ones.  Instead of chips, try a little peanut butter on apple slices or celery sticks.  Make turkey or fruit wraps and cut into slices for snack time or larger portions for a quick lunch instead of sandwiches.
  8. Don’t throw in the towel!  It won’t go perfectly, especially in the beginning.  You may hear the words “gross” or “not in this lifetime!”  If you’re ready for a lifestyle change but your household isn’t, don’t talk about it constantly or push the issue.  They will watch you and possibly start to pick up on a few healthy habits as they begin to see the changes in you and how great you feel.  No food is prohibited; have potatoes with your steak but only occasionally and grilled instead of fried.  As with any food you want to limit, keep portion control in mind and only have one serving available so no one will be tempted to gorge later.  Give it time and stay committed to your plan; even if you’re the only one eating healthy you’re on the winning side!

Week eight: A super-sized world

Juicy cheeseburger

For those of you out there who remember the days when there were relatively few cooking shows on television (yes, I remember, yes, I am dating myself).  As a matter of fact, I remember when there was no cable or satellite tv, but we’re not going to go there.  Not today, anyway.

Anywho, one of my favorite cooking shows that I tuned in for whenever I could (in the days before DVR) was Justin Wilson’s Homegrown Louisiana Cookin’.  Justin Wilson, a true Cajun from southeastern Louisiana, had a flair for comedic storytelling, politics and cooking.  As a budding foodie, I was especially intrigued by a talent that he would display on just about every episode.  Justin would say, “Now, we just need to add a little salt to the pot, ‘bout a teaspoon!”  He would pour a little salt directly into his hand and, to prove that it was actually a correct measurement, transfer the salt from his palm into a teaspoon.  Boom, a perfect teaspoon, right on the money every time.

Have you ever tried to do that?  I have, and with years of cooking experience behind me it’s still kinda hit and miss.  I have found that most people are notoriously bad at estimating measurements, especially when it comes to meal portions.  For example, try to pour what you think is a serving of breakfast cereal into a bowl – don’t cheat and look at the nutrition panel first!  After your estimated serving, take a look at the serving size and measure it out into another bowl.  I’m willing to bet that your estimated serving is much larger!  But just why we are terrible at it is really not that big of a mystery.

How many times have you gone to a restaurant and completely finished a meal without being overly full?  In the past 30 years, especially so in the last 20, the average portion size has grown so much that one plate is enough to feed more than one person, mostly two and sometimes even three people (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/distortion.htm).  With restaurants offering enormous plates of food, drink cups in huge sizes, snacks sold in king-sized packages and super-sized meals, it can be hard to know how much to eat sometimes.

Before we get into serving sizes, let’s first understand the difference between portion and serving.  Simply put, a portion is how much you decide to eat or drink at any given time, and a serving is a recommended measured amount of food and drink.  A portion is your choice, but the serving is what you’re nutritionally supposed to have at that given time.

I’m not only going to pick on restaurants and blame them for people eating more; it has become the standard to eat more at home as well.  Dinner plates have grown, cars have larger cup holders to accommodate the drink sizes stores sell, even muffin tins are much bigger.  As everything increases in size, bigger starts to seem like the norm, distorting how we think about a serving size or the “right” amount.  Also, at every meal you increase the portion sizes and you’re getting a lot more calories than you need per day.  Even if you just add an extra 100 calories per day that can translate into an extra 10 pounds in a year.  If you do that every year for five years, you’re 50 pounds overweight before you know it!

To underscore just how much portion sizes have changed over the years, here’s a link to “Portion Distortion,” an interactive quiz comparing portion sizes and calories from 20 years ago to today.


To further understand just how much portions sizes have changed, the image below compares a few fast-food item sizes from 20 years ago to today.


Another sobering fact directly related to serving sizes and portion control is that the obesity rate is on the rise.  Obesity rates for men and women in the U.S. had been roughly the same for about a decade. But in recent years, women have surged ahead and now just over 40 percent of women are obese, compared to 35 percent of men.  In addition:

  • About 38 percent of all adults are obese.
  • About 17 percent of children are obese, which is the same as earlier reports.
  • Obesity rates have been steadily increasing in adolescents since 1988 and now are at 21 percent, but have been stable in kids ages 6 to 11 in recent years at 20 percent.


So just what are you supposed to do, carry measuring cups and spoons everywhere you go?  You could, but there’s a much simpler way that’s easy to remember.  It’s called the “helping hands” chart, which helps you to visualize measurements by comparing it to your hand.  For instance, a ½ cup measure is roughly equivalent to what you can fit in one cupped palm.  A one-cup measure is equivalent to the size of the average fist.  The entire chart is below; print it out and keep it in your wallet or purse for reference.

hands measuring chart

Other than practicing portion control, there are some other ways that you can cut your portions down to size.

  • Read nutrition labels for the exact serving size of the food/drink. Most fast food restaurants have this information posted for convenience.  Even if you’re eating out and choose a salad, remember the nutrition label does not include the dressing.  If you’re given a packet, remember this adds calories and saturated fat.  A handy way to look up a portion size and nutrition information, whether at home or in a restaurant, Google it!
  • Use smaller plates. Don’t eat from oversized dinner plates; use a salad plate which typically will hold the recommended serving sizes.
  • Slow down! Feeling full doesn’t come from your stomach; it comes as a result of your brain reacting to the chemicals released when food or drink enters your stomach.  It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register and react to the chemicals.  Eat slower and give your brain time to send the “full” signal.
  • Don’t serve meals family style. You’re more likely to overeat and take unnecessary second helpings if the food is on the table.  Bring the plate to the table with the correct serving sizes and don’t go back for seconds.  If you do want to go back, take seconds of vegetables or salads.
  • Avoid the mindless munch – don’t eat in front of the television or computer. Most people eat almost 30 percent more while distracted by television or the computer.
  • Don’t skip meals. If you’re starving to death, you’ll probably eat more than you should quicker than you should.  If you have regular meals (breakfast, lunch, supper and two snacks) you’ll be more satisfied and less likely to overeat.
  • Repackage bulk items. Large bags of items can be more economical, but they can also lead to overeating.  Repackage them into smaller, serving-sized containers or bags.
  • Share! If you’re eating out, split a main course with your dining partner.  If you’re eating alone, eat half and take the rest home for another meal.  You’ll keep your portions under control and save money at the same time!

Keep in mind that not only do the calories you take in per day affect your weight, they also affect your overall health.  The combination of choosing healthy foods and keeping the portion sizes under control will help you eat what you need, at the same time keep you at a healthy level both physically and spiritually!