Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to Eat Clean When Surrounded by Free Food and Curbing Temptations

Truffle Salt, my free food remedy.

Sticking to a clean diet has been a huge challenge for me, especially because I am surrounded by free food almost all day, everyday.  I am a Software Engineer in Silicon Valley.  I have a hard time controlling myself, especially since food is so convenient.  For example, if there are jalapeno poppers laying out, all cooked, warm, and smelling delicious, I will start by eating one (hey, it's just one), then two (it's just one more), and then before I know it, I have devoured at least 20 of them.

I was in denial for awhile.  I claimed that I eat "mostly Paleo," except on binge day, once a week.  However, I would "cheat" every few days with a small piece of white chocolate.  Few days turned into a couple of days, and then turned into every other meal.  Those white chocolate pieces were getting larger and then I was adding ice cream, fried food, rice, and occasionally pasta.  All those "cheat" meals added up and soon enough, I had performance issues at the gym.

So how does one stay Paleo for more than a couple days straight?  What about minimizing fructose temptations?  This is what worked for me.

  1. Realizing that my diet was far from clean.  Cheating is cheating.  This took a long time.  For awhile when people asked me what kind of diet I was on, I would reply "clean everyday except for Saturday, my cheat day."  However in reality, I would sneak in just a few cheat items. It started with allowing myself one piece of white chocolate every week, to putting "bad" food on my plate to "develop self control," and then to allowing rice and other high GI items in my diet (hey, my metabolism is fast).  I had a million reasons for justifying any food at any frequency.  As I "allowed" more items into my diet, the portion size started getting bigger too.  I truly realized my diet was problematic when I started performing poorly during CrossFit.  Though my intentions were good, my diet was far from clean.  If I cheat every couple of days, I cannot expect amazing results.

  2. Go Paleo for at least two weeks.  Create a well-defined goal and make it public.  Outline what level of Paleo you intend to try, what types of food you will "ban" and "allow", and the duration (give dates!).  I told some friends I was going to give my best effort at eating Paleo for two weeks and will record what I eat in my food log post.  After telling people about this goal, I cannot disappoint them now.  The banned items included: refined sugar, gluten, grains, wheat, all dairy, legumes, and soy.  Also, limit to two pieces of fruit per day.  I ate everything I could possibly dream of eating the weekend before starting the challenge to purposely make myself feel sick by satisfying ALL my cravings.

  3. The food plan.  Before I started the challenge, I roughly outlined what I was going to eat for the week: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  I came up with a list of recipes I could cook during the week, and backup meals in case I run out of leftovers and do not have time to cook.  My backup meal was roasted veggies with meat.  I bought the necessary ingredients, washed all the veggies and chopped them up on Sunday to save prep time during the week.  I planned the days I was going to cook and the days I was going to eat leftovers.  I felt like I would get sick of eating the same thing everyday so on the first day I made two meals and planned to alternate.  Turns out that was not a big issue.

  4. The food log.  I kept a food log of exactly what I ate everyday, in order, and how I felt that day.  It also help me eat more of what I wanted myself to eat every day.  For example, if I logged fruit twice in day already, that meant no more fruits for the rest of the day and concentrate more on protein and fat sources.  This is also good for reflection purposes afterwards.

  5. Create a new obsession.  Avoiding the smell of free food was the hardest part of staying Paleo for me.  The first week was the worst.  It took a lot of mental discipline to avoid it and at times I thought of just sneaking a tiny bit in.  Since smell was the biggest issue, I made a list of savory foods (it did not have to be Paleo).  Truffles (the mushroom) were on that list, but since they are so expensive and rare, I searched "truffles" on Amazon and discovered Truffle Salt.  I bought the salt with the highest truffle content (10%) and after that the smell of free food did not attract me anymore!  I sniffed the Truffle Salt like I was on crack and started putting it on almost everything!  This is probably crazy, but I think it helped me break my free food habit and curb my cheat cravings.  If I were to cheat now, the item better smell as awesome, if not more awesome, than truffles.  Otherwise it isn't worth it.

  6. Do not let myself go hungry.  Before this challenge and in the beginning of it, I would sometimes prolong eating, even though I was starving, in order to finish a task.  In the past, this resulted in me getting so hungry that I would go to the kitchen and pick up some free food.  When I got so hungry during this challenge, I would get upset at how I had to go to the kitchen (when I was trying to minimize my visits near free food), and make time to go heat up my food and wash and dry the container.  Visiting the kitchen during a starving state made it even more difficult to resist the free food in front of me and made me very moody.  Therefore, I started making Primal Energy Bars, inspired by Mark's Daily Apple.  These are Paleo, convenient, tasty, and have a great protein to carb ratio.  After I started making these and sniffing Truffle Salt, staying Paleo became manageable.  It became a habit.

  7. Keeping a variety of snacks (plural) with me at all times.  I feel like it is even easier to get hungry when on Paleo.  I was always hungry.  When I first outlined my food plan for the week, the only snack I planned on having were meatballs.  What I did not realize at the time was that meatballs would require me to visit the kitchen and heat it up.  I had some nuts at work but eating the same kind of nuts and nuts all the time got boring.  What I really wanted was an energy bar.  However, the only meal bar out there that would fit into my challenge was LaraBars, which I had at my desk, but did not like very much (too sweet).  Therefore, mid-week I made Primal Energy Bars (my favorite!) and stocked up on some other non-refrigerated snacks like roasted seaweed, jerky, nut varieties, sunflower seeds, and kale chips.   I also put these snacks everywhere: at work, in my car, gym bag, purse, and sometimes even my pockets so that I would literally be surrounded by "approved" food at all times.

  8. The buddy system or the support group.  I feel like this challenge, at least initially, would have been easier had I done it with a friend or even better, a group of friends.  Making it social would have been fun.  People could alternate cooking dinner, host Paleo dinner parties, and help motivate each other.

The hardest time during the Paleo challenge is the first week, and the hardest part is curbing those cravings.  Paleo or not Paleo, just learning to avoid sugar and grains, or any food with a high glycemic index, makes a huge difference in both appearance and performance.  It's a big, challenging first step, but after that it is not too bad.

For me, two weeks was long enough to make eating Paleo a habit.  I am at approximately 3 weeks of eating strict Paleo, and it is much less of a hassle now.  I talked to some people and some said it took them over a month to really get used to it.  Check out my food log and my reflection of the Paleo challenge.

Hope this helps.

Related Posts: Recipes | Strict Paleo for 1/2 Month | A Day in Jes' Belly | Paleo Food Shopping with Jes | Binge Day