I have a very different approach to dieting. In fact, I never refer to it as a ‘diet’. Diet, to me, means I am changing my food habits drastically to get weight loss fast. Like I am punishing myself for past bad decisions. I try to always avoid negativity in life so look at my food choices in a different light. I consider food changes to be lifestyle choices. Choices I make so I feel better physically and mentally. I eat to fit what my body needs and wants and what gives me the most energy in a day. When my body feels strong and free of pain, my brain is happy.

I had been a very overweight teenager who put all the wrong things in my body. My mother would pack my lunch every day with a frozen cola product so it would still be cold when lunchtime came when I was in grade school. White bread sandwiches with processed meat and Twinkies were always in those lunches. And don’t forget that bag of chips! In the 5th grade, as I was taking the aluminum foil off my coke, a ‘popular girl’ said to me, “Drinking a coke every day for lunch is why you are fat. You can eat your lunch with us, but you can’t play with us.” This was the first time anyone had ever told me I was fat. I threw my lunch away. I was so upset that the ‘popular’ girls didn’t like me and went off to cry alone. I didn’t cry because she had called me fat, I cried because she and the other girls wouldn’t play with me but I knew it had to do with my food choices, but could kids really be cruel over a cola? Yes.

A couple of years later, a very nice basketball coach said to me, “Vanessa, you probably want to get fit before school starts.” He had said this in the beginning of summer. I was by far the heaviest and slowest girl in the basketball camp. That evening I got every book on running I could, I wanted to be just like my hero, Frank Shorter.

I tried to run the next morning at 5am and failed horribly. I went 22 steps the first time, but in 10 weeks turned that into 11 miles a day with major changes in my food choices. Out were the binges on candy and ice cream while I watched too much TV and read. Out was any soda, now it was lots of water and tea. In were the fresh vegetables and pasta dishes my mother copied out of Runner’s World Magazine. Now I ate with a purpose, to be able to run and feel better. I wanted to be lighter, (the fast runners, were always so thin) but strong enough to do a 70-100 miles a week and avoid cramping. And I realized something crazy that summer, without the sugar in my diet, I felt less depressed and moody. I didn’t know then if it was all the exercise, running and weight lifting, or if it was the food choices, but after dropping 60lbs in one summer, I wasn’t willing to give any of that up!

This has been slightly modified in the last 40 years but basically the same food ideas since I was a teenager.

  • 20 oz of water first thing in the morning before any coffee or tea. If I am running first thing when I wake up, I wait until after my run.
  • Protein and some fat for breakfast avoiding carbohydrates and sugar
    This could be an egg, an avocado, or plain yogurt with berries or nuts
    If I am starving, which happens after I run more than 4 miles, it could be a single piece of toast with butter or maybe even a sweet potato
    I try to avoid any kind of cereal; it has tons of sugar and carbs which will make me crash in a few hours. I may eat a bowl of berries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or blackberries with almond slivers on top to add crunch.
    Because I run before breakfast, I try to eat within an hour of the end of my morning run.
  • I try to never let myself get too hungry, it creates binge eating so usually will have a piece of fruit, apple, plum, pear or a couple of dates mid-morning or some hard cheese
  • Lunch is my biggest meal and It could be a protein, steak or fish or beans or lentils with a salad with tons of vegetables and balsamic or other light dressing or just lemon juice. This meal definitely avoids carbohydrates. I don’t want to be sleepy in the afternoon. I also don’t use store bought salad dressing, too much sugar.
  • 20 oz of water at 3pm
  • For Dinner, I will allow myself to have some carbohydrates, this could be pasta with a light sauce and vegetables (like broccoli, squash and carrots) or roasted potatoes and artichoke hearts. Some people were raised with eating bread at dinner, so if this is you and it makes you happy, just do a very small amount. For me, it was tortillas with butter, so I usually have one with my dinners. I try to keep this dinner to less than 500 calories. This would be difficult if I am drinking wine, another of my vices. Figure out that a glass or wine or other alcohol has 125 calories so keep it to just one if possible and this dinner has to be at least 2 hours before you fall asleep at night.
  • Desserts are usually trouble for me, because of the sugar, so I will have some only occasionally. I have a silly measuring stick—no bigger than my fist. And not any if I have had alcohol, consider it a trade since both are basically sugar.

I avoid anything processed as much as possible. No cookies, crackers, premade frozen meals, pre-sliced salads, etc. Basically, if the package has more than 3 ingredients or things I can’t pronounce, I don’t eat it. Example— of something I would eat

Barilla Spaghetti

  • I avoid eating out, prefer to cook my food to avoid high fatty oils and salts. I want to know what I eat.
  • I don’t fry food, I roast, poach, bake or steam.
  • I tried going vegan but it didn’t work for me. Most vegans have to take large amounts of supplements, especially B12 and it just seemed counter to avoiding processed foods to take large amounts of supplements and since most of my diet is plant based, it is just meat or fish once a week which works for me.

And that is about it. I love food, I used to work in the food and alcohol business and love cooking. I want to continue making food pleasurable and not a chore to figure out what to eat. I think if we concentrate too hard on it, don’t make it simple like ‘nothing processed’ then it becomes a bad obsession, and I don’t want to think of foods negatively.

Feel free to email me any questions.