Eating properly in American society is often a difficult task. Fast food restaurants line the streets everywhere you go, advertising hot, delicious food with no fuss or preparation time. For the average single college student, the idea of going to the grocery store and choosing appealing, yet healthy food, then going home and having to pull out pots and pans to cook a meal for one person is simply ridiculous. The fast food usually wins out. Recently, the media has begun to tell us how important it is to follow a healthy eating plan and the impact of diet on health and longevity is a hot topic.
I began to take a look at my diet and found that it was lacking in several areas. Due to a medical condition and my desire for a healthier lifestyle, I decided to undertake a plan that would lead me to an improvement in my overall health and lifestyle. After assessing my diet through the United States Department of Agriculture, “My Pyramid Plan” website, (USDA; http://www. mypyramid. gov), I was able to determine how my diet compared to their recommendations. I found that I was lacking in the consumption of dairy foods, proteins, vegetables and fruit and that I was eating more than the recommended amount of grains.
I ate only when I was starving with no real mealtimes. My food choices were typically high in carbohydrates with any fruits or vegetables consumed, just as secondary ingredients. According to the USDA website, I require 2,800 calories per day. I had no idea how that translated into the foods I ate. I began by entering the food that I ate for one day into the USDA’s menu tracker, before I made any changes in my diet. The site analyzes each food entry and places data into the correct food categories.
It then shows you how many calories, fats, proteins, dairy, vegetables and fruits you have eaten, and how many more you need to eat to meet your recommended daily requirements. It only took one day to see what I needed to change in my diet. I had consumed 2548 calories, 78 grams of fat, and 3998 mg of sodium, while the acceptable range is between 1500 and 2300. I drank three sodas for a whopping 860 calories. I had eaten no fruits that day, and the only vegetable I ate was lettuce on a submarine sandwich. I was doing worse than I thought.
I decided to cut out sugar on the next day, and to eat three regular meals and a snack, as recommended. Breakfast was fairly easy because cereal was already a part of my diet, but I had very little idea where to go from there. I planned to have a salad with turkey, crackers and a banana for lunch, an apple and some yogurt for a snack, but dinner had me stumped. I finally just had a sandwich and some carrots and decided to call it a day. I realized that I was going to have to get more creative to stay with my food plan. My diet for colitis recommends cutting out carbonated drinks, so I planned this as my next step.
I wanted to reduce sugar in my diet as well, so I began drinking water. I never realized this would be so difficult. I drink water when I am exercising and very thirsty, but water, just as a drink, is very bland. I considered adding some type of flavoring, but drink mixes that don’t have sugar in them, like Crystal Light, have sweeteners that are known to exacerbate colitis, so they were not an option. I decided to add ice and just try to get used to it. My food for the second day was a little easier. I knew that cereal, fruit and milk worked for breakfast, and I could eat a sandwich, vegetables, and a fruit for lunch.
A snack of a protein and a fruit or vegetable was pretty easy as well with cheese and crackers and an apple, or peanut butter and apples or celery. Dinner was my difficult meal. I went back to the grocery store and tried to figure out healthy foods for dinner that I would actually cook for myself. Cooking is not one of my favorite things to do, so the easier, the better. After wandering around the store for awhile, I realized that a possible option for dinners could be frozen meals. I found a brand called Healthy Choice that is already structured around the USDA pyramid plan. I picked up a few of the better sounding ones to try.
When I tried the Beef Stroganoff and liked it, I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. The meals fit everything I needed; they were good tasting, healthy, and they were easy to prepare. One Healthy Choice meal and a salad or fruit would fulfill my dinner requirements. I also began an exercise plan by walking for a half hour. I actually enjoyed the walk and felt much more like eating healthily afterward. I remembered that when I used to swim, it was easier to make good food choices along with the exercise, and I realized that when my body burns fuel, and then needs refueling, it is hungry for foods that are healthier.
It becomes obvious to my brain just what my body needs. I decided to continue walking every day, and I plan to slowly add other activities, like swimming or biking. I will also add pushups, sit-ups, lunges, jumping jacks, and stretching. I know that my tendency is to add too much at a time and then do nothing, so I want to take this slow and steady. The following days were much easier. I knew what I was going to eat at each meal, and although my tendency was to put off eating until I was starving, I made myself eat at designated times. Cutting out sugar has been trying, but I have managed to substitute fruit when I have a craving.
And I have begun to enjoy drinking water! I have decided to weigh myself weekly, on Monday mornings, so that while I am monitoring my weight, I am also not obsessing about daily fluctuations. My most recent day entered into the USDA’s menu tracker, I ate 2605 calories, 60 grams of fat, 35 grams of fiber and was within range for all required nutrients. I had more fruits and vegetables than required and on target with milk and proteins. My sodium intake was slightly high, but otherwise, I ate correctly for my height, weight and activity level.
My body feels better and I have had no problems with my colitis since I began eating healthier. Many people who have colitis often have lactose intolerance issues, so I will be conscious of any difficulties that might arise, having increased my dairy intake. I have read that adding lactase supplements might prevent any irritation so this might be an option if I experience any trouble. I am pleasantly surprised at how much better I feel already. I am sleeping more deeply and feel more rested when I awake, I don’t feel the afternoon slump that I usually feel, and I have more energy all around.
I have learned a lot about myself, my eating habits and nutrition in general and have been able to apply what I have learned to my life in a positive and constructive way. An additional perk from eating healthier that I had not foreseen is the fact that my mind is clearer. I am more able to study and retain information than I was before. Making the decision to improve my health and practice self-care has been one of the best things I have ever done. I look forward to continuing in my routine and only getting better and better.