Shop Smart: Meal Prepping & Grocery Shopping for Success!

“So many aisles! So many signs! Where do I begin?!! Ohhh…samples? Yes, please!” Hold on, girl!! Pause. Before you get too excited, let’s rewind! Read this post first, because I’m going to be giving you my TOP tips to help you meal prep for success and shop smart!

First things first, go with plan. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. It’s cliché, but very true. If you walk into the store aimlessly, you may waste your hard-earned coins buying food you don’t need. So make a list first by deciding what you plan to eat the following week for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. When I am using a recipe, I make sure it serves between 4-6 people; that way I know I have dinner covered for the whole week. I typically eat the same foods for all my meals throughout the week. This may be boring for some, but this works for me. An alternative could be to prepare two different dinners so you have a couple of options during the week. Or you could prepare a few different veggies, lean proteins, and healthy complex carbs. From there you could “mix n match” your meals throughout the week. For instance, lunch on day 1 could be brown rice, baked salmon, and asparagus. Dinner on day 1 could be turkey meatloaf, mashed sweet potato, and broccoli. Day 2 lunch could be turkey meatloaf, brown rice, and asparagus. Followed by dinner that’s baked salmon, mashed sweet potato, and broccoli. Whichever method you choose, make sure it’s the right one for you. Consider which option will be sustainable for YOU over time.

Typically on Thursday evenings, I plan my meals for the coming week in a chart that has a space for me to write out what I plan to have for each of those meals. I then use that chart as my guide to help me create my grocery list. If I am following a recipe, I check my pantry and fridge first to see if I already have the ingredients. If not, I add them to my list. I usually go to the store Friday after work or on Saturday morning. I then set aside 2-3 hours Sunday afternoon to actually prepare my meals. That amount of time also includes me cleaning up the kitchen – washing dishes, taking out the garbage and sweeping the kitchen floor.

Before you even head to the store, ask yourself, “am I hungry”? If so, have a healthy snack BEFORE you go, such as a piece of fruit, protein bar, veggies dipped in hummus, a handful of almonds, or string cheese so you can stay focused on your list and you’re not tempted to buy un-healthy foods. Trust me! When you’re hungry, things you wouldn’t normally consider will start looking good. Like that cheap, greasy pizza. Fix it, Jesus!!

When I get to the store, I start with the perimeter and then work my way down the aisles. The perimeter is where I get a majority of my food, including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, almond milk, gluten free bread, gallon of water jug, cheese, and eggs. Down the aisles is where you will find many of the processed foods and refined carbohydrates, such as white pasta, cookies, and chips.

When I plan my fruits and veggies, I consider what’s in season. Purchasing seasonal fruit is more cost effective and it also means the fruit will be at its peak freshness. Depending on the store layout, the bulk food section may also be located along the perimeter. Since I am cooking for one person, buying in bulk is cheaper and allows me to get just the amount I need. In this section I get my quick oats, seasonings, gluten free flours, quinoa, brown rice, nuts and seeds.

My last stop around the perimeter is the frozen food section. I always grab some frozen fruit and vegetables for breakfast or my green smoothies. Frozen fruit is packaged at its peak freshness, so you can be sure the food will still have its flavor and nutritional benefits. You can also get a better deal buying frozen when you’re purchasing fruits that can still be pricy even in season such as raspberries, blueberries, cherries, mangos, and blackberries.

Down the aisles, I like to purchase condiments, such as balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, salsa, stevia, maple syrup, and reduced sugar ketchup. The aisles can also be a way to get low priced fruits and vegetables, such as canned pineapples, green beans or corn. If purchasing fresh produce is not in your budget, then canned is also a great option. When it comes to canned fruit, I typically stick with pineapple since that’s the one fruit I found where there is no syrup added. I would definitely try to avoid fruit that’s canned in syrup, even if the can says light syrup. Fruit is nature’s candy. It’s sweet enough on its own!

Even though most of the snacks down the aisles aren’t the healthiest options, there are still some good choices. Some of my favorites are rice cakes or popcorn. The Smart Food brand is my go-to, because it just contains corn, salt, and oil. Tortilla chips, portioned out, are a good option as well as protein/snack bars like Quest Nutrition Bars, Kind Bars, Think Thin, or Lara Bars, unsweetened applesauce, peanut butter with no added sugar or oil, and even crackers. The Mary’s Gone Crackers are the ones I really like!

When I can, I purchase the store brand since the quality is still there, but you’re not paying the extra markup for the fancy brand name. If there is no store brand option, I look at all the options and go with the cheapest one. I always make sure I keep freezer bags on hand. If I buy a package of meat and I don’t plan to use it all for the coming week, I will separate out what I need for my recipe, portion out the rest and stick that in the freezer. I also use freezer bags for my green smoothie ingredients. When I meal prep, I grab a handful of collards (or whatever green veggie I am using for the week, usually 1 cup), chop up a banana, and then whatever other fruit I am adding, and then freeze the bag. The evening before, I dump the smoothie ingredients in the blender along with my unsweetened vanilla almond milk, vanilla vegan protein powder, Greens, ground flax seeds and blend away!! Oh, and don’t worry. I plan to discuss green smoothies in more detail in a future post. So stay tuned!!

During the hectic work week is really when you will see the benefits of meal prepping! The small sacrifice you make to take a few hours one day a week is definitely well worth it. Having healthy meals prepared means I can avoid the vending machine and office treats. I don’t need to waste money buying lunch every day. Plus when I get home, all I have to do is pop dinner in the microwave, relax, and enjoy! Since my meals are prepared, I can’t justify picking up fast food on the way home just because I don’t have anything to eat at home and I don’t feel like cooking. When we’re tired, the last thing we want to do is think about what to eat and then stand over a hot stove to prepare it; especially during these warm summer months. If you decided not to cook and instead opted for your favorite fast food restaurant, you may tell yourself on the way there that you’ll get a salad. You start off with the right intentions. But…..once you get there, that one meal you told yourself you would stay away from, your trigger meal, is now staring you right in your face. Yep! That double bacon cheese burger, deluxe curly fries with some ranch on the side for dipping, and the soda to wash it all down! You devour it and then reality sets in that you’ve just pushed yourself further away from your goal for the week. You vow to get back on the wagon tomorrow. But the same thing happens the next day. You’re too exhausted to cook so you go for comfort. You go for what you know; what you’re familiar with and what will satisfy you in that moment. See where I’m going with this? Meal prepping leaves you with ZERO excuses to make food choices that are not in line with your goals. Meal prepping also means you’re consuming enough calories and nutrients throughout the day to sustain yourself. Some people still think eating 1-2 times a day will help them lose weight. The truth is that over time, your metabolism will slow down and your body will go into starvation mode and store fat because it doesn’t know when it will get more food. So it’s not about eating less; it’s about eating better quality food.

Weight loss and weight maintenance are 80% diet and 20% exercise. Your food choices play a huge role in either helping you reach your goals or pushing you further away from those goals. Don’t allow all of your hard work in the gym to be in vain due to consuming too many calories and by making poor food choices. Working out for an hour a day is the easy part. It’s what we do the other 23 hours of the day that can either really help us or hinder us. I hope these tips were helpful to you for the next time you make a trip to the store! I really hope you see the benefits of meal prepping and will give it a try!

Now, I want to hear from you! What are some of your top tips for shopping smart?

IBS: Diagnosis to Victory, Part III

If you’ve been following my journey, then you know from my March update that I started working with a Nutritionist. Even though I purchased The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet book, and it has been helpful, I wanted the guidance of a professional to help me through the elimination phase. I wanted some type of guidance with regards to where to begin and how long the elimination phase should last before I start re-introducing certain foods. She stated the elimination phase varies per person. For some it could take six weeks for their symptoms to improve; while for others it could take up to a year (Fix it, Jesus!).

At her recommendation, and the recommendation of the GI doctor I spoke with last year, I stopped drinking coffee at the end of March. This actually wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I realized most of the time, I was drinking coffee to keep warm (#TeamAnemia). So instead I drink hot water and lemon which seems to satisfy my need.

Most of the research I found regarding caffeine and IBS is that it is primarily a trigger for those with IBS-D (diarrhea) since coffee is a stimulant and can make the digestive tract work faster causing lose stool. I haven’t seen much in relation to IBS with constipation. However, I have noticed my movements are starting to become more regular (insert happy dance!). I’m thinking there is a correlation between coffee and my digestive system because when I would drink coffee, I noticed my stomach would make loud gurgling noises. That should have been my signal to stop drinking coffee, but, what can I say? I’m just stubborn like that!

Second Nutritionist Visit

On m second visit, she suggested I finish dinner 1-2 hours before bedtime, because when you lie down it makes it more difficult for your body to properly digest your food.

She gave me a list of probiotic foods, such as Kefir, Kimchi, Sauerkraut, or Yogurt with live active cultures. I probably won’t try yogurt since I had flatulence last time I tried yogurt. Probiotic foods can help improve digestive health. I just need to get over the strong smell of Kimchi!

She provided meal and snack Ideas. Some of the meal combinations I currently eat and some of the other suggestions seem appetizing! But, eating at home isn’t the challenge. What honestly causes me the most anxiety is when I eat away from home, because I can’t be certain how the food is prepared. I feel bad (although I shouldn’t) because I have to ask questions or request that certain foods be removed from the dish so I don’t experience IBS symptoms.

With that said, I have had some pretty good dining out experiences. I don’t eat out much, even before I started the elimination diet. When I have dined out, I tried to order from the Gluten Free Menu options. But….there were times when I assumed something was gluten free or safe to eat and that proved to be the wrong assumption. So I learned the hard way to never assume, ALWAYS ask!!

In addition to dietary changes, there are some medications and supplements that I began taking. The first being Dicyclomine, which helps reduce gas, bloating, and constipation. Magnesium, which is a natural muscle relaxer. The colon is a muscle, so if the muscle is more relaxed that will promote regularity. And I must say that an added benefit is that I have experienced AMAZING sleep since taking magnesium! So if you have challenges with getting better sleep, then definitely try this and you will be lights out!! I also take Miralax, which is a laxative and we all know what those do. Lastly, I take digestive enzymes to help me better digest my foods.

From my research, what was consistent is that it would take a combination of dietary changes and medications/supplements to help improve my symptoms.

After my March Nutritionist visit, she told me I don’t need to see her again unless I started feeling worse or until my symptoms have cleared up and I am ready for the re-introduction phase. Bring on the avocados! Lol

As sweet as she is, she doesn’t appear to be a specialist for this particular diet. Our visits were short (less than 30 minutes) and she didn’t provide a customized meal plan, which I was expecting to receive. She provided documents to me that were more generic. So I will continue to monitor my progress, try to adhere to the list of foods to avoid, read labels, research, take my medications/supplements, and seek help from various Facebook groups.

So, like Dori I’ll “just keep swimming!” 🙂

 

 

IBS: Diagnosis to Victory, Part II

I created my first blog post about my diagnosis in October 2016. It’s been a few months since then, so I wanted to update you all on how I am feeling these days and ways I am trying to manage my symptoms.

As of today, February 20th, I am feeling pretty good. I am still experiencing symptoms of distension and constipation. The gas hasn’t been nearly as frequent. So some of the changes I’ve made are working. But I still have work to do if I want to get closer to feeling like the old me. If you notice, I didn’t mention bloating. That is because, while reading up this condition, there is a difference between bloating and distension. Bloating is the feeling of increased of pressure in the abdomen. While distension is a measurable change in the circumference of the abdomen.

The most recent change I made is trying to adhere to a gluten free diet. I had no idea it would be this difficult. It seems like it’s in everything! So now, I am training my mind to be a label reader again. I say again, because when I was losing weight, I was reading labels and looking at the calories, sugar, and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat). Now I have to train my mind to read the label to make sure it says “Gluten Free” or read the back to see if it says “contains wheat.” Gluten is the main protein in wheat, rye, and barley.  I can definitely tell that eating wheat does not agree with me. I noticed my symptoms were triggered when I ate wheat. I just refused to believe that all of a sudden I couldn’t digest wheat properly. I had been eating it my whole like. Like, I grew up on Wonder Bread! But I do recall a rather thought provoking quote that stated something like “are we allergic to food? Or are we allergic to what’s been done to it?” I don’t believe I am allergic since I don’t experience any external symptoms when I consume it. But I definitely feel it internally. The quote makes sense because if you think about how a piece of wheat looks and then consider what process wheat has to go through to be turned into products like bread and pasta, it makes you wonder what they are either adding or removing during the production process that makes the end product difficult to digest.

As mentioned in my first IBS post, it is recommended that I follow a Low-FODMAP diet, which is an elimination diet. So removing foods from my diet that can trigger IBS symptoms and then re-introducing some items back into my diet. To help me better understand what is happening in my body, I purchased “The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet” book written by Sue Shepherd, PhD and Peter Gibson, MD. This book also contains recipes you can eat during the elimination phase. I haven’t finished the book yet or tried any of the recipes thus far, but I plan to do so in the future. For now, I am using recipes I already have and then trying to modify them to fit the diet.

To also help me with the elimination diet, I decided to visit a Nutritionist for support. I just didn’t feel comfortable going through this process without medical supervision. I visited her towards the end of February and have a follow-up appointment with her at the end of March. She also gave me background information on the condition and a list of foods to avoid. Some of the foods I don’t eat often, so I’m not bothered that I have to eliminate them. But there are some foods that I love, such as watermelon, avocado, mushrooms, cashews, blackberries, mangos, honey and peaches. Just typing them out hurts my soul!!  But I have to consider the bigger picture, which is identifying my trigger foods and working towards managing my condition. I should also instead focus on all the foods I can still eat.

I am going to do my best to stay positive because I know my situation could be worse. Even though there is no cure for IBS, I am thankful there are ways to manage the condition to the point where I can feel like I’m cured. I also know this experience is bigger than me. There is someone else dealing with this condition who may feel hopeless, but perhaps after watching my journey, they will be encouraged to keep going!

Low-FODMAP Diet Click here to see a list of foods that are part of the diet.

Getting Back on Track After the Holiday’s

One of the many pleasures from the holiday season was eating yummy food!! One of which was cookies J I had sooooo many cookies! As in…. RIP to ALL the cookies I devoured!!  But, going into the new year, my body definitely let me know I ate in a way it was not accustomed to. I started to beat myself up over it and feel like I failed in promoting a healthy lifestyle. I had to avoid my first instinct which was to be more restrictive with my food choices. But in reality, that wasn’t a solution since that would be a form of punishment. It would be like telling myself “since you over-indulged, you’re in trouble now and you have to make up for it!” When we allow our minds to travel down that path, we we’re setting ourselves up for a vicious cycle of over-eat, repent, under-eat, then the cycle repeats itself. So I decided to push forward and go back to what I was familiar with. I try to practice a lifestyle where I can eat what I enjoy, but in moderation. There is no one size fits all definition of moderation. Moderation looks different for everyone. The main point in practicing moderation is knowing you can have what you want; just not all of it, all the time. We are human and it is OK to enjoy life!

My typical lifestyle choices include drinking plenty of water – usually a gallon a day. Practicing portion control by using a food scale, measuring cups and measuring spoons. Eating clean, whole foods in the form of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. I also use MyFitnessPal daily to track my water, meals, and workouts. So the remedy wasn’t to go to the opposite end of the spectrum; but to get back in balance. Get back in touch with myself and my goals. To love myself and give my body what it needs to be healthy to support my goals.

None of us are perfect and we all make choices we aren’t pleased with, but the point is to be kind to yourself and re-focus. You cannot change the past. You can only propel forward and use the past as a lesson. So, yes, when the holiday’s roll around again this year, I plan to enjoy myself. But just be more mindful about what I am eating and how my body will respond.

I am sure I am not the only who needed a fresh start and a system re-set. So I created a 90 Day Wellness Challenge called The Comeback Season! This group will offer support, community, and accountability!! There will be weekly meal plans, weekly workout video’s that can be followed at home or in the gym. There will be live Q & A’s each week led group leaders where you can also receive product information. The group will be facilitated by a certified holistic health coach, a certified personal trainer, and wellness consultants, such as myself.  This is an exclusive VIP Facebook community for people who seriously want change and most importantly, RESULTS!! If you’re interested, we would love to have you! You may email me at sajenkins@live.com. In the Subject Line, please put “The Comeback Season” so I can provide you with more information. This challenge is not a diet, but a foundation you can use to build a healthy lifestyle. Diets are temporary; quick fixes. But, when you make lifestyle changes, you are making changes that are sustainable for you.

Happy New Year!! ( I think I have until January 31st to keep saying that, right?! Lol)

 

 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Diagnosis to Victory Series, Part I

I can be so stubborn and often get in my own way! I try to handle things myself without asking for help. But asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign that you’re human. About 2 years ago, I started experiencing gas and bloating with no known cause. It didn’t seem to matter what I ate; healthy or otherwise, I would still experience these symptoms. There would be periods where the symptoms would go away and then return. Again, I couldn’t pin point what made the symptoms disappear or what caused them to re-appear. I went about my daily life hoping it would just be something that fixed itself over time. But after experiencing these symptoms for a while, I experimented with different over the counter drug store products for gas and bloating, but none of them proved helpful in alleviating my symptoms.

So finally in December 2015, I was starting to get frustrated all over again, so I went to my doctor and told him about my symptoms. He gave me a prescription for acid reflex. I wasn’t sure that would work considering my symptoms, but I decided to trust him anyway. At a follow-up appointment, I told him there was no relief. So he scheduled a kidney ultrasound. And the results showed….nothing. Sigh. Back to the drawing board, I guess. I researched doctor’s that specialized in digestive issues (gastroenterologist) and asked for a referral. The GI doctor suggested a colonoscopy. Yikes! I thought that was only for people who are a little more “seasoned” in age. But I went through with it, because that was the best way for them to rule out more serious conditions, such as colitis, colon cancer, ulcers, and Chron’s disease. The GI doctor took a biopsy as well. During my follow-up appointment, he confirmed I didn’t have any serious medical conditions (thank you, baby Jesus!!). So based on my symptoms, he diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

I was relieved and frustrated at the same time. I know that may sound strange, but I was relieved I didn’t have a serious, life-threatening condition, but I was also frustrated because there is no cure for IBS. Since it is not clear on what causes IBS, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms so that I can live as normally as possible. There are prescription medications, but either their long-term effectiveness is unknown or they may help with one IBS symptom, yet worsen other symptoms. The condition is best managed through dietary changes, reducing stress, and using medications, such as fiber supplements, laxatives or peppermint oil. My goal is to manage this condition and not allow it to manage me!

So, what is IBS? How is the condition managed?

IBS effects the large intestine (colon) and can cause gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Your intestinal walls are lined with muscles that contact and relax in a coordinated rhythm to move food through your intestinal tract to your rectum. If you have IBS, contractions may be stronger, causing diarrhea or the opposite may occur. The contractions may be weak; slowing food passage and causing constipation. I’m experiencing the latter.

It is not known what causes IBS, which is why there is no cure and the condition is challenging to manage. According to the Mayo Clinic, one theory suggests there may be poor coordination between the brain and the intestines. While others suggest food intolerances can cause IBS. Stress also plays a factor in the condition. Stress does not cause IBS, but can worsen symptoms.

My GI Doctor recommended I follow the FOD MAP diet, which is an elimination diet. There are certain carbohydrates found in certain foods that can contribute to IBS symptoms. These carbs are (be prepared for the longest acronym known to man!):

Fermentable, Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols

There are certain foods that are high on the FOD Map list and fall into one of these categories. Their consumption should be avoided or reduced. For a complete list of low and high FOD MAP foods, check the link below:

http://www.ibsdiets.org/fodmap-diet/fodmap-food-list/

The diet seeks to eliminate foods that are difficult to digest. Not all foods will cause the same adverse reaction in all IBS sufferers. So I am going through this process now and trying to eliminate foods that have high FOD Maps, such as broccoli, apples, hot sauce, and onions. I also replaced my oats, bread, and pancake mix with gluten-free versions. It is also suggested, that I not drink coffee. I’m still working on the coffee and the gluten-free recommendation! Lol.

Other changes I’ve made include increasing my water intake. I aim to drink a gallon of water a day while I am at work. Some days are easier than others. Second, I added Psyllium powder to my green smoothies. Psyllium husk is straight fiber! And fiber keeps you regularJ. I realized I may not be getting enough fiber, because when you blend or juice fruits, you’re not eating the fruit in its whole form, so you aren’t getting as much fiber. Also, I went to a local naturopathic clinic and one of the associates was also diagnosed with IBS. She suggested I take digestive enzymes to help my body break down my food. She also gave me magnesium powder to promote regularity.

As far as stress management, I have been trying to focus on taking long, deep breaths when I feel tense or stressed. I also make sure I eat without distractions and avoid eating in a hurry.

So far, I am starting to feel better and I hope I stay on the up and up! I’m not 100%, but feeling better now compared to a couple of months ago.

I encourage you all to be proactive about your health. Don’t be stubborn like I was and wait until you’re fed up before you seek help. You know your body and you know when something is not right. I could have been diagnosed with a serious condition that required treatment. I am so thankful that was not the case! But had I sought help earlier, I could be that much closer to finding a solution to help me manage my symptoms.

I plan to use this diagnosis to create a series of blog posts on what I learn, my experience with an elimination diet, new food finds and anything else that I think would be helpful.
I hope you will come along with me on my journey!

“Irritable bowel syndrome.” Irritable bowel syndrome – Mayo Clinic. N.p., 21 July 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2016. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20024578&gt;.