Today is my third day on vacation while following my diet, and I thought I’d update you with a few tips I’ve accumulated:

  • Look for fruit and vegetable sides. Enough restaurants offer these as options that it’s not actually that difficult to find them. I was thrilled to find an epically awesome fresh fruit bowl (actually fresh and flavorful, can you believe that?) at a cafe in Portland with lunch, and a salad with dried cranberries and soup for dinner in the airport. Yesterday we went to a restaurant that didn’t have fruit sides, so I bought a bottled 100% fruit smoothie to drink instead.

Portland meal

  • Don’t look too hard. I was so focused on getting the seemingly elusive fruits and veggies that I ended up missing my protein goal for the first day by nearly half. Oops…overcompensated .
  • Try to choose low-sodium options. Every time I’m teaching about a low-sodium diet, I tell patients to expect to blow their sodium goal out of the water when they eat out. I did – the recommendation is for 2,000 milligrams of sodium each day, but I topped out at 3,300 on my traveling day (yikes!). The best way to keep that under control is to go for fresh options and avoid things like processed foods, breads, lunch meats, and soups. My biggest mistake? Soup for both lunch and dinner.
  • Pay attention. My body is really pretty good about telling me what it wants. I’m usually pretty good at ignoring it. My lunch portions, for example, were about the same as I might have eaten pre-MyPlate, but I got full part of the way through. I didn’t eat all the fruit and I gave my fiance part of my soup.
  • Work it off. If you expect to creep past your calorie goal for the day, find some activity to do to compensate. On my flying day, I was about 150 calories over. I carted my backpack and carry-on for a brisk lap around the airport during my layover and closed the gap some. Yesterday, Abbie wanted to take me to a delicious Mexican restaurant (with gargantuan portions) and I expected to be quite a bit over my calorie goal. But after snowboarding for 4 hours and a 40-minute hike with a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe, my calorie tracker actually put me at 500 calories UNDER my goal because of the activity I had done. And check out these views…totally worth it, right?

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You may or may not know that energy provided through our diets (measured in calories) comes primarily from three different substances called macronutrients. If you’re not sure what they are, I’ll give you a hint – check the post title! Carbs and proteins each provide 4 calories per gram and fats provide 9 calories per gram. I mentioned on Monday that the MyPlate diet was leaning me in a more carb-a-licious direction than I’m used to. Left to my own devices, I tend to focus more on protein in my diet. For healthy adults, the Dietary Guidelines recommend that 45-65% of our calories come from carbohydrate, 10-35% from protein, and 20-35% from fats. Here’s an analysis of what I ate Monday and Tuesday on the MyPlate diet meal plan:

Distribution Chart

My fat intake for yesterday crept up because I chose to use my discretionary calories on cookie dough ice cream (yum!), but you can see that I’m still within the ranges for everything based on the plan. That’s all well and good, but where do these percentages come from?

An excellent question. The ranges are based on the Dietary Reference Intakes (formerly known as the Recommended Dietary Allowances) created by the Institute of Medicine. The process for creating these is similar to that for creating the Dietary Guidelines: experts, committees, research, deliberation, gigantic reports, and finally, the guidelines themselves. The guidelines represent what the experts have determined to be a safe, healthful, and adequate intake of any given nutrient. Each macronutrient plays a different role in the body.

  • Carbohydrates are anything that can be broken down into sugar in the body. Most of that sugar ends up in the form of glucose, which is processed to create energy.
  • Proteins are often referred to as “building blocks”. They make up the cells of the body and act as transmitters and transporters. If dietary carbohydrates are restricted, they can also be used for energy.
  • Fats provide a concentrated form of energy as well as components of hormones and other vital goodies. They also provide a medium for delivering fat-soluble vitamins to our tissues.

Since it is the first thing I noticed about my newly-adopted menu (and for the sake of not deluding myself to think you’d read 10,000 words on macronutrients), I am looking into the carbohydrate recommendations first. According to a report by the Institute of Medicine, the recommendations for carbohydrates are a range between the minimum amount of carbohydrate needed to provide fuel for the brain and maintain weight and a maximum recommended amount to prevent weight gain and decrease risk of chronic disease. It goes without saying that obesity and the loads of diseases associated with it are a significant problem in our country, so I looked further into the weight aspect of the recommendation.

We have all heard of low-fat, low-carb, or high-protein diets being promoted for weight loss. Just for context, the “low” and “high” qualifiers here are in reference to intakes that are outside of the recommended ranges I mentioned earlier. In the Dietary Guidelines 2010 Report, the authors wrote that “no optimal macronutrient proportion was identified for enhancing weight loss or weight maintenance” and that “there is strong and consistent evidence that when calorie intake is controlled, macronutrient proportion of the diet is not related to losing weight.” Two paragraphs later, however, they reported that twenty research studies showed no difference in macronutrient proportion for weight loss, thirteen showed that low-carbohydrate diets were more effective than either high-carbohydrate or low-fat diets, and six showed that high-protein diets were more effective than low-protein diets. So you might be having the same issue I am here – what is strong and consistent about the evidence? Nearly HALF of the total studies included are in disagreement with the conclusion. Now granted, not all research studies are created equally. The DGAC has a scoring system that rates the impact of the study based on the quality of the research, which may have led certain studies to be considered more relevant than others. Still though, I’ll have to look into the research articles myself a little more to see how it all really pans out.

In other news, I begin my traveling tomorrow to visit my friend Abbie in Lake Tahoe for a weekend snowboarding excursion. As I will be continuing my diet through the trip I informed her ahead of time of my situation. Fortunately, Abbie is an excellent sport and fully supportive of my diet plans. Thus, I will actually be flying all of my groceries to Lake Tahoe with me (thank goodness Southwest allows a free checked bag). I am sure at some point that I will end up straying from the meal plan, but I will still aim to eat MyPlate meals and meet my calorie goals each day. After all, adaptability is an essential life skill, is it not?


Today is the first day I ever dieted, and (fortunately) I lived to blog about it. Following the meal plan wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was kind of nice to not have to think about what to make. We’ll see if I feel the same when I fly to Lake Tahoe to visit a friend this weekend – I suspect it won’t be quite so convenient. The weird thing is that the meal plan only lists ingredients, not recipes. I had to get creative and figure it out myself.

As far as the MyPlate meal plan goes, today was super carb-y and left me hankering for a little more protein. I had oatmeal w/brown sugar and raisins for breakfast, taco salad for lunch, and vegetarian spinach lasagna roll-ups (which the fiance RAVED about – I’ll post a recipe soon!) with a whole-wheat roll for dinner. Based on their recommendations I met my 5 1/2-ounce protein goal for the day, but I’m definitely over my 6 ounces of grains. One of my dietitian friends has always been critical of the high carbohydrate recommendations put out by the USDA. I will see if I can get him to do a guest spot about it in the next couple of weeks.

Sidenote: My meal plan calls for whole wheat dinner rolls throughout the week, so I made what a Pinterest post claimed were the softest whole wheat dinner rolls ever. And they are incredibly soft. The flavor isn’t quite as good as a regular white roll but with a spread on it I couldn’t even tell. Check out the recipes page if you want to try making them!


On Monday my three-week stent of following USDA MyPlate Guidelines begins. I’ve taken my starting weight and measurements, and my super-duper-firefightin’ fiance was kind enough to take my blood pressure. I’ve found a game plan, and I survived my first grocery shopping trip. It feels like I’m getting ready to run a marathon…does starting a new diet always feel like this?

The MyPlate website recommends that someone of my gender/age/activity level follow a 2,000 calorie per day diet to maintain weight, so that I shall do. That is slightly over the 1700-1900 calories per day I calculated using a couple of more in-depth standardized calculations. You can use these calculations to figure out your estimated needs here or here. In theory, I could gain up to three pounds following this 2,000 calorie plan for three weeks if I don’t change my activity level. Time will tell!

MyPlate sets out the following guidelines for those on a 2,000-calorie diet:

My Food RecommendationsThey have also been kind enough to provide a 1-week 2,000 calorie meal plan (check it out on the Meal Plans page). I’m not particularly trying to reinvent the wheel here, so I am going to use it. First thing I noticed as I made my shopping list was that this meal plan was not exactly designed for a single person. Seriously…one whole wheat English muffin, one serving of quinoa, and three ounces of chicken all week? Not exactly using up a whole package of anything here. So I quickly decided on the single girl’s saving grace. It’s not chocolate, it’s not wine, it’s – are you listening? – BULK-BIN FOODS. I bought exactly as much flour, yeast, rigatoni, cereal, beans, and pancake mix as I needed and not an ounce more.

Groceries smallAll that? $38. Not bad, eh?

 

 

 


Okay, so in order to evaluate the guidelines, I wanted to talk about where they came from. So far I have mentioned that the USDA is in charge of making the guidelines, but that’s about it. They are not, in fact, dropped from the sky in a little bundle by the nutrition stork.

  1. Every 5 years the USDA accepts public nominations for members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee (DGAC). They must be published, well-known researchers in the fields of nutrition or public health.
  2. The USDA and Department of Health and Human Services choose the members (who are, notably, unpaid for their participation). For the 2010 DGAC there were 13.
  3. Committees, subcommittees, etc. collaborate over the span of twenty months of reviewing research to answer specific scientific questions, all of which are available here, if you’re willing to dig through it.
  4. Conclusion statements, summaries, monstrous final report, and (TA-DA!) the Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines are used to advise all kinds of food-based programs including school lunches, inmate meals, WIC programs, and long-term care menus.

Critics of the guidelines like the Harvard School of Public Health and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) feel that since the process is overseen by the USDA (who is responsible for promoting American agriculture), the recommendations are biased in favor of promoting foods produced by agricultural titans (think dairy, grain, and beef). Because of this bias, the PCRM actually sued the federal government for only vaguely addressing foods to decrease in your diet by using a blanket term like “solid fats and added sugars” as opposed to listing the foods that contain them (meat, dairy, and junk food). The lawsuit also prompted the switch from MyPyramid to MyPlate that I mentioned a couple of days ago. This is the second time that PCRM has successfully sued the government over sketchy matters regarding the Dietary Guidelines and agribusiness conflicts-of-interest.

Harvard School of Health was so disappointed by the guidelines that they made their own version of the pyramid and plate, specifically mentioning foods high in saturated fats and added sugar as foods to limit:

I am now (slowly) working my way through the barrage of research cited by the 2010 DGAC as the basis for their recommendations – I’ll keep you posted. If I don’t write in the next three days, send someone in to check on me. Bring snacks.

P.S. The second meeting for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee wrapped up yesterday. They accept public comments/questions/concerns/rants about the process here.


Before I move on to diets designed for weight loss or managing chronic disease, I’m going to start with the basics: USDA recommendations for healthy Americans. These recommendations were formerly represented by the MyPyramid graphic.

 

 

The pyramid changed design a few times over the course of its lifetime. As of 2011, however, the USDA exchanged the pyramid for a more user-friendly graphic, MyPlate:

This plate model is designed to help keep portion sizes under control and encourage consumption of all five of the token USDA food groups. Personally, I think that the MyPlate graphic is easier than MyPyramid to translate into actual daily habits because it is simple to visually check when you fill your plate. The plate is accompanied by the following taglines from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines:

  • Make half your grains whole
  • Vary your protein choices
  • Switch to skim or 1% milk
  • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Enjoy your food, but eat less

So there you have it – the USDA Dietary Guidelines 2010. In the upcoming month, I will be reviewing the arguments for and against these recommendations, and (surprise, surprise) there are plenty. I mean, they’re written by the government…so obviously not everybody agrees. Even Harvard University’s School of Public Health shared their disapproval in this article. There’s plenty of fodder for the blogging…stay tuned!