Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Challenge of a Different Sort

Older son and I are doing something called the 90 Day Nutrition Challenge. It's sponsored by our workout group, SEAL Team Physical Training. We missed out on the 90 Day Fitness Challenge, in which you work out daily for 90 days, because it started on the same day we started SEAL Team, and we didn't know we could have done it. Instead we're doing the 90 Day Nutrition Challenge which is not, unfortunately, just eating daily for 90 days.

Ninety days covers 13 weeks minus one day. The day after tomorrow, we will start the last two weeks of the challenge period. Up to now, there have been five two-week-long challenges and one one-week-long one. The first two weeks, we could eat anything we wanted to eat, but the only beverage that we could consume was water. Lest you think this meant giving up caffeine cold-turkey, coffee beans are not consumable only in liquid form. Caffeine-deprivation headaches aside, I enjoyed this challenge. I'd often told myself that I should stop drinking diet soda because of the acid on my teeth, and the numerous unrecognizable ingredients, and this was an easy way to do that.

The second two weeks, we were instructed to eat a fresh, colorful salad each day and have fresh fruit with or as one meal each day. Dressing on the salad was optional, though the SEAL Team director doing the challenge told us that he always had his salads dressing-free. Since I work from home and often make a salad for my lunch and already eat fruit multiple times each day, this one was no sweat at all. But wait! Older son suggested that we do the 90 Day Challenge cumulatively, meaning that we would continue to have water be our only beverage while adding the salad and fruit deal. Since it made sense to give up caffeine only once, I agreed, though with the thought of my approaching 57th birthday in the back of my mind.

Yes, a birthday, a day typically marked by the consumption of cake (or in the case of younger won, pie inside cake). The third two-week challenge was to give up refined sugar. We became the people reading the label on everything we picked up at the grocery store.  Sugar or brown sugar? Both are refined. High fructose corn syrup? Obviously bad. Evaporated corn syrup? Equally bad. Malto-dextrose? "Ose" is a bad word. Raw honey has become our go-to sweetener. The bread recipe I use only required one tablespoon of sugar, but honey does fine. In fact, I think I prefer the bread made with honey to that I made with sugar. Morning cereal became Shredded Wheat or the granola I started making in large quantities. Chicken dinner became Shake 'n Bake chicken for the husband and plain, unadulterated chicken for us. No more deli style sandwiches, because most deli meat I looked at contained sugar in some small amount. I discovered that there is sugar in things that you would not expect to contain sugar. Pure vanilla extract, not the artificial kind? Food Lion brand contains sugar; McCormick brand does not. Beef broth? Straight-up fructose rather than the high-corn-syrup kind.

I started to work on reconciling myself to no birthday cake or to one that I would have in August. Younger son had other plans, though. He located a recipe for a refined-sugar-free cake that was also dairy-free and gluten-free. He ordered some of the hard-to-find ingredients such as hazelnut and almond flours, and enlisted the husband to make the cake while the sons and I were doing a GORUCK Light at a ski resort about an hour away. They presented the cake when I came down from the shower, which is why I'm wearing a bathrobe in the photo below.
The cake is chocolate, the frosting is made with coconut milk, and there are strawberries between the layers as well as on top. While older son thought one helping was enough for him, I thought it was actually quite good. I have had vegan cupcakes before, and this tasted so much better. I don't think I'll need another cake in August, though I would not turn one down if someone offered.

As a family, we don't eat out often, with the exception of Friday night after martial arts or working out at the gym. When we hit the no-sugar challenge, we put that on hold. As a result, the next two-week challenge of not eating out (unless absolutely necessary as when traveling or at a business meal) really didn't change anything for us. It did remind us, though, how much we typically do not know about the food we order in terms of what really is in it or how it is prepared. 

When the challenge started, I figured that one of the two-week periods would involve no trans fats, and that prediction came true in the last of the two-week challenges. More ingredient list reading looking for the dirty words "partially" and/or "hydrogenated." Even if the nutrition information label says 0 (zero) for trans fat, that doesn't mean it's not there. It just means that there is less than a specified amount in one serving. With this challenge, I actually discovered how little trans fat we were consuming. With the no-refined-sugar challenge, I found lots of things in the pantry that I could no longer eat. I don't think I found one thing that I couldn't eat because it contained trans fat. 

Last up was the one-week challenge that ends tomorrow night, and this one is having a real effect on my life. It was also another one that I thought would be part of the overall plan: Don't eat in the two hours before you go to bed. I do karate or kendo every weeknight, typically eating a snack before I go and another snack when I get home. Since I don't get home some nights until after 9:30, eating that second snack would mean staying up until 11:30. Going to bed at 11:30 with the alarm set for 5:00 so older son and I could make our 6:00 workout? That would not end well. I've been eating a slightly larger pre-martial-arts snack. Some nights, I go to bed hungry, but it's hunger in a first-world problem sort of way and not at all a real hunger.

Starting the day after tomorrow, the challenge is to do all the one- and two-week challenges at the same time. Since older son and I have been doing the challenge cumulatively, nothing changes for us. We just keep on keeping on for the next two weeks, the same as we've been doing this week. 

A SEAL Team PT member not doing the challenge whether I would go back to my old ways when the challenge ends. Given that a dear friend of long standing (what some people would call an "old friend") wants to take me out to dinner in August as a belated birthday gift, I will certainly be eating out again. However, I expect to be a little more discerning about what I order. I do believe that I will enjoy the bottle of red wine that I was given for Christmas, but I will not start drinking soda again. In all honesty, I've about had my fill of salads and will be looking for other ways to serve vegetables. I've always liked steamed vegetables, for example. I'm going to keep making my bread with honey, and I plan to think twice or thrice about anything with high fructose corn syrup in it. I hope to limit my consumption of sugar to sugar-containing things that are worth it, like good ice cream or pie (I am known in some circles as a "pie diva"). The one that will likely be the most difficult? I love coffee and find that a cup of Joe makes reading the morning paper more palatable. I also find that a cup of hot tea on a cold winter's night really hits the spot. I plan to try to stick to decaf coffee and tea, and, if I can't stick to the decaf varieties, to limit the amount that I consume. 

Am I glad I did the 90 Day Nutrition Challenge? Yes, though I the 90 Day Workout Challenge would have been much easier. There, once you've done the morning workout, you're done. You don't have to think about it until the next day. With the nutrition one, you think about it virtually constantly. You want a snack? You need to figure out what it can be. The challenge is with you all day and every day. I'm not sure if I will do the nutrition challenge again should it be offered next summer, but I know at least some of what I've done this summer will stay with me. After all, didn't someone once say that we are what we eat?


Janet said...

A good snack with no refined sugar is hummus (I like Sabra), and Snyders makes some very nice whole grain tortilla chips for dipping (available in the natural foods section of my grocery--YMMV).

Va said...

Italian will probably be a shock to your system, but birthdays come but once a year - occasionally 13 months between them.