When devising this plan, my main goal was two-fold: to keep it simple and to be realistic. I really believe in playing to your strengths rather than fighting against your weaknesses, and when it comes to dieting, that translates to: it’s better to work within the realm of your taste preferences than to struggle to avoid them by forcing yourself to adapt to an eating style that’s less enjoyable. Not only will it be easier to adjust, but you’ll be much more likely to stick with a plan that you feel naturally suits you. Too often, I read diet plans that include recipes requiring a great deal of fuss—from the lengthy prep and cook time to the [sometimes pricey] ingredients that I wouldn’t ordinarily stock in my pantry. These are the plans that necessitate a complete overhaul of my kitchen and my palate before I even get started. That won’t work here. Not for me and not for Mom, who works two jobs six days a week. I wanted to avoid the fuss factor and instead, take a more realistic approach to meal planning. Now, knowing Mom’s unique eating style, I was able to tailor this diet specifically to her. The hardest part?
She’s a very picky eater. And as her switched-at-birth-daughter—someone who considers herself a wildly adventurous eater— it’s quite the challenge. The lists below are but a fraction of Mom’s likes and dislikes.
Dislikes: bananas, blueberries, yogurt, eggs, all fish except for canned tuna and haddock, cream cheese, goat cheese, blue cheese, beans in any form other than baked (and served with hot dogs)
Likes: cereal, grapes, potatoes (white and sweet), meat/poultry (a real meat and potatoes gal), Craisins, feta cheese
I joke, but truthfully, I respect her preferences; I have them, too (like: marshmallow fluff, dislike: mackerel). My aim will be to incorporate her likes into the plan as much as I can, while helping her to discover new foods she might enjoy as well.
Another unique aspect of this diet is that I do not intend to simply provide Mom with a meal plan and say, “Here. Go. Make. Lose.” I aim to teach her something in the process, as lofty as that sounds. About calories, about portions, about balance. I don’t want her to master the preparation of a set of meals and feel married to that particular batch of recipes for their magical weight loss effects; I want her to come to understand why I’d prescribed them in the first place. I want her to learn how to nutritionally structure a meal on her own, and to begin to believe that there is indeed a much-loved place for White’s Bakery cake in a healthy life at a healthy weight. I ask myself, when this is “over,” what do I want her to be left with?
And so. The plan.
Other than a focus on eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible and creating a caloric deficit, this diet places no restriction on meats, grains, or dairy. I do want Mom to focus on eating as many real, whole foods as possible, but I also understand that there are many foods that she loves that are highly processed and less than natural; this is fine. Similarly, Mom isn’t someone who wants to make her own dressings for salads, so I’ve worked with her to find brands and flavors that she likes—these, too, will not always be the most wholesome of options, but they may be the best for her right now as she transitions into healthy eating. As long as she’s doing her best to consume all things in moderation, I consider it a success.
Where we started:
In order to find out the number of calories I wanted to set as our daily goal, I first calculated Mom’s maintenance calories (how many calories she burns now, per day, given her activity level), to establish our baseline, using this calculator. (As a note, I have checked it’s accuracy against many other online sources.)
This means that Mom must eat 1887 calories per day in order to maintain her current weight. Now, since she’d like to lose weight, she needs to consume fewer than 1887 calories per day in order to create an energy deficit (where the body burns more than it takes in). To lose roughly 1 pound a week, she’d need to cut her daily intake by 500 calories since 1 pound is equal to 3500 calories (7 days x 500 calorie deficit per day = 3500). This math brings us to around 1400 calories per day, which for the moment, is what we’re experimenting with. If we find that this number feels too low by week’s end, we’re absolutely going to increase moving forward. Please note that I would not go lower than 1400 for Mom, nor would I recommend anyone dipping below 1200 calories per day. If and when Mom feels comfortable starting an exercise (walking) routine, we can see how her needs change and adjust if necessary.
So. 1400 calories per day, broken down accordingly:
Breakfast: 300 calories
Lunch: 400 calories
Snack: 200 calories
Dinner: 400-500 calories
Dessert: 100-200 calories
If you’re curious about my thoughts on calorie counting and why I believe in it so strongly, see this post.
Cereal is kind of Mom’s thing. Her list of dislikes limited our options. No eggs, no yogurt, no banana, no blueberries. Still, she needs something that is convenient and easily transported, doesn’t require much prep work, and can be eaten quickly at work. Cereal, for now, it is.
The night before day one, she asked me, “Can I have Frosted Mini Wheats tomorrow?” while eyeing the unopened box she had in the cabinet. I thought on it, knowing that, though completely delicious and fairly nutritious (say what you will about sugar, GMOs, and chemicals), the serving size would be small for the amount of calories she’d be consuming. I looked at her, hope in her eyes, and smiled. “OK,” I told her, hoping that this might be our first lesson: moderation. Together, we poured a serving into a Tupperware container for the next morning’s workday.
“It’s small,” she said, looking down into the 200 calories worth of 22 frosty squares.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Will it be enough, you think?”
In a separate, plastic sealable jug, we poured the milk—8 ounces of 1%. Even then, screwing the cap on the jug, I worried she’d find herself hungry mid-morning on her first day, and hate the plan. But then, perhaps, I thought she’d realize something about making choices—that sometimes the important thing to consider is not simply tastiness, but what will keep you satisfied the longest. Or maybe I was thinking it all over much too much, and she wouldn’t learn anything other than that Kellogg’s should really come down on those calories, man.
The worry wart in me went to the store the next day and found her a new cereal—one that would allow for a larger portion. Knowing that she likes Honey Nut Cheerio’s, I found an organic, natural substitute: Cascadian Farm Honey Nut O’s.
Mom called me from work to let me know how much she loved this cereal, which is a huge deal considering she typically buys Cap’n Crunch, Corn Pops, and Frosted Flakes. “I felt like I was eating it forever,” she said, “and I think it actually kept me full.”
Lots of vegetable-heavy and lean-protein-packed salads. See this post for how to assemble a 400-calorie salad. Recipes for more of them, along with wrap sandwiches and a new feature on “packed lunches” to come.
Snacks, at 200 calories, should have staying power to get Mom through a long afternoon. Nuts and dried fruit, as seen above, have the right balance of healthy fat, protein, and carbohydrate to keep her energized between lunch at 12:30 and dinner at 6:30. Now, even knowing the satisfying nature of nuts, I tend to think they’re a challenge on a diet since the portion is so tiny given how calorie-dense they are, but this has been a favorite of Mom’s so far. I have to wonder if it isn’t mostly due to the raisins, which are super sweet. Have I mentioned that Mom has a sweet-tooth the size of Texas? (Thank you, genetics, for that). I’ll share more of her snack options in the weekly recap post to come.
Dinners are the biggest of the day, which is how Mom and I have always operated. We look forward to dinner; we plan our day around dinner; it’s an event. Making it the largest meal allows her to eat a wider variety of things—for instance, those foods and recipes that are higher in calories—and also ensures that she’ll feel full until bedtime.
Almost all of my existing recipes here on the blog have around 400 calories or less per serving, which makes it easy to pick and choose among them. Most include nutrition information already, but if you should see one that does not, please contact me and I’ll calculate it. [email protected]
If a dish that I add to her meal plan has less than the 400 to 500 calorie quota, Mom is including a hearty vegetable side: roasted broccoli, steamed green beans with slivered almonds, grilled asparagus, salad, etc. For more reading on bulking up your meals with vegetables, see this post.
I will be sharing more of the dinner recipes (the exact ones I’ve used) in this week’s recap and in future posts.
Dessert is something we haven’t tackled yet, since Mom has told me that after dinner each night, she feels full enough to forgo it (what?!). However, I have allotted some calories for a nighttime snack, should she need it. 100 calories are guaranteed, and she can add an extra 100 calories (for a total of 200) if dinner happens to be only 400 rather than 500, which is likely to happen with some of the meals that I add to her meal plan. Sweet options and ideas to come!
So there we have it. On Monday, I’ll post the exact meal plan that Mom followed this week, day-by-day, meal-by-meal, and we’ll share Mom’s own thoughts on how things went.