COMING CLEAN: Week 5: Meal Planning

One of my favorite discoveries in the past few years was Google calendar. I came to it a bit late (as I do with most technology), but I quickly embraced it.

I love planning and calendars and organizing my life into blocks of time. I’m very detailed, breaking down when I will work out, when I will get ready for the day, even when I will eat. I tend to be so scrupulous in my planning that I even give myself reminders in my notes for just how to carry out those tasks. Extraneous, yes, but for me, so satisfying.

I previously used Franklin Covey planners, noting all my tasks and to-dos and daily appointments on paper. While I’m still a fan of Stephen Covey’s system, I found I was becoming discouraged when I had to erase a chore because I ran out of time. I switched to pen, but found I was making a mess of my calendar by crossing off items I couldn’t complete — was I not getting anything done? Or more accurately, was I not getting anything I truly cared about done? Of course, at the time I was asking myself these larger questions, I was too swamped with work to make a change, so I switched to Google calendars where now, if I don’t get something done, I simply delete it. Less guilt up front, perhaps, but overall, I still don’t accomplish everything that I value.

This came to mind for week 5, when we were packing healthy meals, because I found I needed to add a block of time to my Sunday nights: planning my week’s meals. More specifically, planning and preparing the ingredients I would need for the week, and packing meals and snacks in Tupperware so I could add it to my bag and go. Any “diet,” no matter how off base, suggests a set plan for meals, because this is the way to success. Based on my experience with dieting, I agree with this finding completely.

My Weight-Gain Story, Part I

After my high-school graduation, I was looking forward to my first year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was young and in love with a boy that went there, so, not knowing where else I wanted to attend school or even what I wanted to do other than write, I had applied and been accepted to Michigan the previous year. The spring before I graduated, I winnowed “write for a living” to journalism, which seemed like a good fit — I could make a little money while doing something that I enjoyed, and could move with my work, wherever in the world it took me. Once I discovered that Michigan didn’t have a formal journalism school, I started to reconsider my options (and my relationship — was I going there for him or me?). When I learned I could still attend my safety school, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, which has an acclaimed school of journalism, I made the choice to stay close to home. It took me a few years to realize the U was the best school for me (far from a “safety school,” what was my back-up application encouraged me to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined), but at the time I made that life-altering choice, I was devastated. My college plan shifted in a matter of weeks — I had made a major decision and I was terrified, and I was going through a break-up. I needed comfort, and I found it in food. I quickly gained 40 pounds that summer and fall.

Lady with a Plan
Now, there were a lot of lessons I learned about that first big weight gain that I’ll share later, but the most enlightening, which pertains to this week’s Take Action Challenge, is: When I don’t have a plan for food, all hell breaks loose. I eat anything and everything in my path like Cookie Monster, usually because I haven’t eaten at regular intervals so when I do, I’m ravenous. I’ll go to the drive-thru at fast-food joints — it appears to my food-consumed mind as a beacon of light in the distance to which my car inevitable steers off course. Or I’ll go to the grocery store, where I head to the deli or frozen-food section, seeking anything warm and creamy and cheesy and ready in an instance, with little prep work required. When I go into my kitchen to prepare a meal, I stare blindly into the fridge while Kyle searches the pantry only to conclude that we don’t have any food. We have all of the ingredients, mind you, but it hardly seems like food yet — the effort to make it into something tasty seems too exhausting. I give up easily. And in the end, delivery or takeout wins.

BUT, when I did loose weight successfully the first time, I was packing all my meals the night before. I was in my last year at the U, but I toted an extra-large refrigerated lunch bag with an ice pack and lunch, snacks — even dinner sometimes — with me all over campus. I ate smaller meals of lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits every two to three hours (I was missing two important food groups, healthy fats and complex carbs, but it was a flawed diet, hence why I gained the weight back and then some). With all that baggage and walking (I also started a light circuit-training program with resistance bands), I lost the 40 pounds in about 4 1/2 months.

Like I said, that’s a little unrealistic — and unhealthy — for most people, and my metabolism is much different now than it was when I was 22, but packing those meals on the go was key to my success. It allowed me to control what I was eating and, unlike my Google calendar, I won’t “delete” a meal — I love food too much to waste it.

When I didn’t pack snacks this week, I would stop at the grocery store and seek out vegetable-broth-based soups, fruits such as bananas or organic apples, unsalted nuts, or sugar snap peas. In a pinch, I found hard-boiled eggs at the gas station (yummy with a little sea salt and pepper or sriracha). If I did stop at the grocery near my work for snacks, I’d grab several to store in our work refrigerator to eat all week.

While it may seem like one more thing on my to-do list, I’m finding it’s the most important task I have. If I can plan and pack my meals for the week, I have a better chance of eating healthy meals and keeping the Cookie Monster within at bay.

Disclosure: I’ve fallen a bit behind with my updates, so those of you on my email list will be getting a surge of updates all at once. They are posted to the corresponding Take Action Challenge week to make sense to future readers.

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