In part one, our Best Health Challenge featured participant, Kelly Mathews, got a custom-made fitness plan from personal trainer Bruce Krahn, and after working at it for just a few weeks, she is already seeing the pounds drop off. (You can try it, too!) Now, it’s time to layer on a nutrition makeover.
A typical day for Kelly used to begin with a caffeine kick: no breakfast, just coffee. Another java mid-morning would be her only sustenance as she powered through her busy workday, not eating until afternoon. Then, sometime between 1 and 3 p.m., she would give in to her hunger’in spades. ‘I’d have a massive sandwich, usually tuna, then donuts or cookies to keep me going,’ says Kelly, a project manager who has been doing work for Reader’s Digest (which publishes Best Health). ‘The real problem began when I got home’I’d snack on everything: cookies, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, and then eat dinner around 7 p.m., which was often takeout because my partner, Kevin, and I are often too busy to cook. Hey, when I get to that ravenous state I’m not reaching for a salad’primal instincts kick in! And that usually means simple carbs that will give me a sugar boost.’
When Kelly, 34, started the Challenge, her caloric intake was all over the map. On some days she ate as little as 850 calories, on others well over 3,000. What she should have been aiming for if she wanted to lose weight was about 1,500 to 1,600 each day. As well, her typical daily fat intake was close to 100 grams (much more than the recommended maximum of 60 grams for her age, according to Sue), and she was not getting enough fibre, vitamins or minerals.
Most importantly, Kelly’s inconsistent eating had affected her metabolism. ‘When we skip meals,’ says Sue, ‘our bodies go into ‘save’ mode, holding every calorie we eat. Retraining your body is like breaking an old habit. I needed to get Kelly into the routine of eating at regular times to keep her blood sugar levels in check, because blood sugar is the main source of fuel for our brain and body, and having steady, not spiking, blood sugar helps us feel energized and productive.’ And the fact that Kelly’s dad had recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was certainly another reason Kelly knew she should be concerned about her weight.
Her starting point? Breakfast. Research shows eating breakfast in the morning is a major factor in promoting weight loss. ‘Breakfast kick-starts your metabolism, helps prevent you from overeating later, and provides mental alertness for your day,’ says Sue. Following Canada’s Food Guide, she designed Kelly’s meal plan with three meals and three snacks daily. She also pointed Kelly to eatracker.ca, the online calorie tracking tool from Dietitians of Canada.
Sue encouraged Kelly to adopt the 80/20 rule: Eat just until you are 80 percent full, not stuffed. ‘Eating this way encourages you to be more mindful and gets you in touch with your internal cues for hunger and satiety,’ says Sue. ‘Babies have an innate sense of when they don’t want to eat any more, but as adults we override that sense. The 80/20 rule forces you to slow down and savour every bite.’ Says Kelly: ‘It’s amazing to realize you don’t have to inhale food or finish it; just wrap it up and eat it later.’
From her teens to early 20s, Kelly ate whatever she wanted’including carbs. That wasn’t a concern for her because she played field hockey competitively, training for hours each day, so she easily burned it off. But when she stopped doing sports, she continued eating the same quantities’and packed on the pounds. ‘I thought I would be athletic my whole life, but when I didn’t have an end goal’such as winning a medal or a tournament’I had zero motivation to exercise, so the predictable happened: Food became my sport! Instead of the endorphin rush from running a fast 5K, it would come from a chocolate peanut butter cup.’
Now, Kelly wants to be able to enjoy her life while still pursuing her weight-loss goals. ‘I love the comfort of pasta, bread, cookies and croissants.’ And though she isn’t a big drinker, she attends many functions with her partner where she has the occasional glass of wine. So Sue made sure Kelly’s plan included healthier versions and portion-controlled sizes of some of her comfort foods, and incorporated alcohol by swapping it for snack calories.
Once Kelly began following Sue’s plan, changes started happening. ‘I had to force myself to start having breakfast’I wasn’t hungry. But I scrambled an egg, then put organic salsa on it,’ says Kelly. ‘And it was yummy. I kept this up, and then on the fifth day I woke up wanting food.’ Within one week Kelly noticed her moods had stabilized, and within two weeks, combined with her new fitness regimen, she had shed over 10 pounds. Wow!
‘Until recently I couldn’t have seen myself having breakfast every day,’ admits Kelly. ‘But I am so ready to change my eating habits ”I want to take advantage of every bit of advice I get during the Challenge, and I want to make new recipes.’
Not only that, she’s excited that she can fit into smaller clothing sizes. ‘When I’m overweight, I’m conscious of how I look, and the negative thoughts are there. When I’m at my right weight, I’m in the moment. That’s where I want to be. I still have to lose more than 20 pounds to meet my goal, but I’m already feeling great.’
Register for the Best Health Challenge to get tips and advice on how to live your healthiest life. Plus, follow Kelly’s journey on her weekly blog, Diary of a Challenger.