I never considered how my food is made until I gained an awful load of kilos in my first year living in the US. The year was 2008. I was sixteen and living with an American host family in mid-west. I knew little about how to cook with the American pantry staples, and missed my mother’s home cooked food. Result? McDonald’s sandwiches, buttery packet popcorn, and frozen pizza as my everyday meals.
When my friends and family criticized my new “appearance,” I was quick to realize this lifestyle couldn’t continue. That realization was my first step towards healthy eating and nutrition. I taught myself how to cook on a student budget and with the ingredients I could find in the local grocery store. Shortly after, I went back to my normal weight.
Fast forward ten years, I am working fulltime in a fast-paced industry, traveling for work (and otherwise), taking a Dutch language course, blogging as a hobby, and trying to grow my social circle as an expat in Amsterdam. Budget is no longer an obstacle, neither is the availability of international food items. But finding the time to grocery shop and cook has become my real struggle.
The last two months of 2017 were pretty hectic work-wise. I was providing cover for a sick colleague and traveling for work more than usual. Being disorganized about my meals and eating out led me to gain 5.5 kilos. I went from weighing 58 kilos to 63.4 kilos. With my 5’6” height, 63.4 kilos is still within the normal BMI, but I do not feel good. There is a lot of bloating, some love handles that were not there before, a general feeling of being tired—honestly, it feels like living in a body that is not mine.
So, after I returned from my holiday to Karachi last week, I started finding ways to be more organized about grocery shopping and cooking. I also decided to track the foods I eat, so that I can assess whether or not I am meeting my daily nutrient requirements. I was recently diagnosed with iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 deficiencies, so the motivation to track my food was not only for losing the excess weight but also for assessing my intake of all critical nutrients. Another motivation factor was to evaluate how super is the nutrition of the “super foods” that are blatantly advertised on social media.
I tested a few apps that would provide me an overview of nutrient goals for my weight & height, as well as allow me to track these goals. I had briefly used MyFitnessPal before, so I tested that and Cronometer more closely. Both are excellent apps but in comparison to Cronometer, MyFitnessPal has an extensive food database (huge benefit for someone who cooks fusion food) and a user-friendly layout in both the mobile app and website. You can input your current weight & height. The app also requires that you add a “Weight Goal.” Taking these three factors into consideration, MyFitnessPal gives you a daily calorie requirement (mine was 1200). You can then maintain a daily food diary, which counts your calories, as well as carbs, protein, fats and other nutrients. The app allows you to enter unlimited recipes and also tracks your steps. Your daily exercise can also be logged into the app.
One thing to keep in mind while using an app like MyFitnessPal is to use the calorie requirement as a guide not divine revelation. Starving yourself is the worst thing you can do to your health, so listen to your body’s needs and make sure you respect them. More than the calories I have consumed, I like to look at whether I met my protein, calcium, and iron goals. One early benefit of tracking nutrients is that I realized I was not meeting my daily calcium requirement, and that’s because I was barely eating any dairy—most common source of calcium. Based on that observation, I have switched from unsweetened almond milk to cow milk (until I find another non-dairy calcium source).
When I shared on my insta story that I will be starting a mini weight loss journey, many of you requested that I share my meal plans. In all honesty, sharing what I am eating every day in this much detail makes me nervous, but at the end of the day if my eating plan helps you improve your nutrition, I am happy ignoring the few negative comments I might receive. 🙂 So, I am adding screenshots of my food diary for every day of last week besides Monday. This should allow you to see the whole foods I have incorporated in my diet for each meal. The foods I am avoiding are full fat dairy, refined sugar and flours, excessive oil, and processed junk items. As for the recipes, the Shrimp & Broccoli one is on my insta profile. The remaining ones will be posted soon on this blog! If you have any questions about the foods mentioned in the screenshots, comment below or send me an email.
In addition to tracking my eating, I am also recording gym time (more on this in another post). With my one week of exercise and a healthy meal plan, I have already come from 63.2 kilos to 61.4 kilos. The initial drop is usually high, which is great for boosting motivation. I also feel less bloated and tired. Keep in mind that everybody is different, so how this meal & exercise plan impacts me is not necessarily how it will impact you. 🙂 Since this is my first meal plan, it has a ton of room for improvement. So feel free to customize it as per your needs, but please make sure you’re eating at least 1000-1200 calories everyday—that’s the number recommended by the National Health Institutes for women (1200-1500 for men).
I am truly delighted to see the results of tracking my meals and exercise last week, and I cannot wait to do the same this week with new foods and recipes! If you have any ideas for healthy foods and fun exercises, do let me know. And if you would like to get a daily sneak peak of this weight loss project, check out my Instagram page.