Tag Archives: diet

food diaries: the secret weapon

30 Nov

You know, I have read the following piece of advice roughly six million times: You should keep a food diary. And it never convinced me. Not for years. I read it and thought, “Eh. That sounds annoying, plus I already know what I eat.”

But I finally started doing it. And you know what? It is amazing.

It’s not just a matter of knowing what you eat (although of course most of us are not as aware of that as we think: when you look back at your day, it’s easy to forget about that half of a cookie that you shared with your toddler or the handful of crackers you munched while you cooked dinner). It’s also about seeing the patterns of when you eat, whether you miss meals or snack all the time or wait until dinnertime to try to cram in all of your vegetables. For me, the most interesting thing about it is that it shows me how my nutrients break down–lunch is my biggest problem, it turns out, both in terms of eating empty calories and of failing to eat vegetables or protein. It’s much easier to eat some crackers or pop some popcorn than to make a real lunch, especially since I’m only at home for lunch a couple of days a week (a lot of the time I’m eating that meal in between teaching classes).

Seeing that pattern encourages me to improve it. Even if I’m not likely to start making gourmet lunches 7 days a week, it does help me remember that I could be eating an omelet with some vegetables instead of cheese and crackers, for example. Seeing it in print reminds me that if I cook a bit more dinner, I could be eating leftovers instead–a leftover lunch that’s already packed and easy to eat, and one that’s balanced and healthful.

I’ve been using SparkPeople (www.sparkpeople.com), but any of the food-tracking services out there will work (Daily Plate, for example, is another). You could also just use a notebook, especially if you’re not counting calories/nutrients or if you eat the same things often enough that you’ll memorize those foods. I like knowing the basic breakdown of protein/fat/carbohydrates; it helps remind me to eat enough protein. I also really like having an idea of how much sodium I’m eating. All of those things help me remember that every bite I put into my mouth counts; every bite matters. That’s not to say that I can’t eat what I want–one of the other benefits of the food log is that I *do* feel able to have treats, as long as I can see on paper that my general habits are still pretty good.


The 100 Days of Real Food Challenge

27 Jul

Just as a disclaimer: I have no intention of embracing 100 days of totally unprocessed food! However, the 100 Days of Real Food website has a wealth of great information, including the guidelines for a 10-day Real Food Challenge. We have houseguests right now, but after their departure, I plan to try the 10-day challenge, just to shake up our habits a bit and give me the extra kick in the pants to look for alternatives to the few highly processed foods that we eat.

This challenge adheres to most of the nutritional ideas that I think are most important; it’s heavily based on the writings of Michael Pollan. Essentially, you eat what you can make yourself. If you buy convenience foods, you avoid the highly-processed ones and look for those that have few (and recognizable) ingredients. She emphasizes local foods, too, which I think is a nice ideal but not necessary for good health. If you can do it, great.

The best parts of the site, though, are the sections with recipes and meal plans and the list of “mini-pledges”–small steps you can take, either permanently or temporarily, to improve the healthfulness and sustainability of your diet. Check it out and get some ideas!

Finally, one last word about this: I think that it can be inspiring to read this kind of thing, but don’t get discouraged if it’s not totally for you. You don’t have to embrace the whole set of rules to make your diet better. I know that we’re very unlikely to give up flavored yogurt in this house, for example. It does have some sugar in it, but my kids love it and it’s high in protein. We just buy the healthiest kind we can find and limit it to a cup a day. If there are things in your life you’re not willing to give up, just find the ideas on the site that DO work for you.

quick overview: the glycemic index

16 May

Since many of the most-recommended eating plans for PCOS patients are based on the idea of glycemic response, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss a couple of things about the glycemic index (and debunk a couple of other myths). Here are a few basic facts about glycemic response, the glycemic index, and how this idea can help you eat better and reduce your PCOS symptoms.


The glycemic index is a measure of the effects of a certain kind of carbohydrate on blood sugar. Foods with a high GI are the sugars and simple starches that make your blood sugar spike and then plummet (all of those baked goods we love), plus things like potatoes (although these are not as bad as some people have suggested!), and juices or sodas or other sugary drinks. Lower-GI starches include whole grains, beans, some kinds of vegetables, or certain kinds of breads like pumpernickel or rye.

When you hear about “good carbs” vs. “bad carbs,” the difference is the GI. Higher-GI foods set up a number of bad outcomes: the spike in blood sugar causes increased hunger and cravings when it bottoms out, and this eating pattern–over time–can wear out your pancreas, raising your risk of diabetes (especially if you are already insulin resistant, which many PCOS patients are).

In other words, the lower-GI carbohydrates fuel your body without causing drastic ups and downs in your blood sugar–which makes you feel better and is easier on your pancreas. (Eating those lower-GI carbohydrates instead of the sugary or starchy foods can also help you lose weight, especially if insulin resistance is at the root of your difficulties.)

What to Eat
The best books on the glycemic index don’t advocate a radical eating plan. Rather, they mostly suggest reducing carbohydrate portion size and exchanging high-GI carbs for low-GI ones. You can easily find lists of foods by GI on the internet, but it’s really mostly simple (with a few surprises, such as the variation in GI between types of rice). Just choose whole grains, less-processed carbohydrates, and more vegetables instead of starches. (Hey, I said it was simple, not easy.)

The Glycemic Load
You might also hear doctors or nutritionists discussing the glycemic load. This is basically a formula for how much carbohydrate is in a food, multiplied by its GI. The reason it’s useful is that some foods have a high GI, but don’t contain that much carbohydrate, so they don’t affect your blood sugar much. (Carrots are the classic example here.) A food that has a high GI but is low in overall carbohydrate is usually a good choice to eat.

Is this the same as low-carb?
No, it is not. None of these eating plans are low-carb. Atkins, for example, is low-carb, and I do not believe it is a healthful diet at all. But these plans–which have more in common with, say, the South Beach Diet–all emphasize higher-quality foods, better nutrition per calorie, and a balance of macronutrients (that is, a balance between carbohydrate, fat, and protein).

Finally, a Myth
Just because I hear this all the time and read it all the time: no, pasta is not particularly high GI. It’s fine to eat pasta if you can do so wisely and in moderation. It is moderate GI and should be eaten with a low-GI accompaniment. The main reason that so many people struggle with pasta is that Americans tend to eat a lot of it–it should be a moderate serving size, not the only thing you eat at your meal. Also, many people use jarred pasta sauce, which can be a source of a LOT of sugar. Read your label! One sauce that I really like is Victoria marinara (available in most grocery stores, at least on the East Coast, and at Costco). It has no added sugar and it’s delicious.

That said, we eat much less pasta than we used to, because I do find it hard to eat just one serving of it. The main reason I used to cook it was that it was easy: boil noodles, add sauce, and there you have it: dinner! The truth is, though, that it really needs to be just PART of a balanced meal, with more vegetables and possibly a protein source, and at that point I’m cooking anyway and it might be just as easy to cook a whole grain or vegetables instead.

Recommended Reading
My favorite books on this topic are those by Jennie Brand-Miller (she has an assortment; choose the one that reflects your goals or situation!) and the Insulin Resistance Diet. I do also like the South Beach Diet, in many ways, though I find that it is too focused on artificial sweeteners for my taste.

book review: The PCOS Diet Plan

23 Mar

I just read The PCOS Diet Plan: A Natural Approach to Health for Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, by Hilary Wright. The title is a bit misleading, because this is really a book that covers many aspects of PCOS (diagnosis, treatments, the mechanisms of insulin resistance, etc.). That sounds like a compliment, but it actually isn’t: in trying to be all things to all PCOS patients, this book loses focus. It’s not a long book, and so the coverage of most topics is fairly cursory.

Wright does a good job of wrapping current research knowledge into her text, and she provides footnotes to document her source material, proving that she has done the research on her topic. The book ends up being a sort of PCOS primer, which is fine if that’s what you’re after; however, if you’ve already read up on the basics about the syndrome, this is not a must-read. She emphasizes diet and exercise as the best treatments for PCOS, which I think is great, but there is nothing new in her “diet plan” that you won’t find in The Insulin Resistance Diet or the New Glucose Revolution, both of which are more useful and detailed books about managing your glycemic response and eating well if you have insulin resistance.