Over the past 5 years, I’ve tried a lot of different ways of eating and dabbled in different meal plan and diets. Some have felt good, some have worked, but most weren’t sustainable and most didn’t leave me feeling good for the long haul. Sure, we know that certain diets are pretty much dead wrong for everyone, but there are a lot of diet plans out there (using the term diet not as in to diet to lose weight, but just as a way of eating), that may work brilliantly for some and not for others. So this is my long-winded way of saying please take everything I write below with that in mind, and know that just because this is working for me, it may not at all work for you and your goals. Everyone has different goals and health issues they’re working through, so eat in a way that allows you to feel your best. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s move forward.
A reader recently asked me *how* I was eating these days, and so here is a rough outline of what I eat on a consistent basis, which allows me to feel my best both mentally and physically. Let me preface this by saying this is my ideal, and I mainly eat this way 70% of the time, but I am by no means perfect.
Let me also tell you a little bit about myself. I am an active 42 year old woman dealing with the ups and downs of hormonal swings brought on by perimenopause. I work out rigorously at least 4 days a week and burn on average 450 calories at each workout. I am 5’10” and weigh 145-148 lbs on any given day, which is up about 8 lbs from where I was 2 years ago. My goals are to eat enough and the right amounts of food to build muscle and sustain me during workouts, keep my digestion running on track (I have a super sensitive tummy and have for years dealt with chronic digestive issues), maintain a consistent weight, and balance out sugar levels and hormones so I don’t feel like I’m starving and I can sleep well at night. I’m slim but am not super ripped at all and have my mom pooch from carrying 3 babes. While it would be cool to look super hot in a bikini (ha!), I am not willing to put in the intense dietary sacrifice that would allow me to fulfill that goal, so I settle for strong and healthy and a mom pooch 😉 I undoubtedly feel the strongest I ever have and have the muscles to prove it, which is a fantastic feeling. And FYI, the Soma tummy control underwear do a heckuva job ridding any lingering feelings of self-doubt.
If it’s a workout day, which goes from 8:30-9:30, I wait to eat breakfast until right afterwards, by 10 am. The key I’ve learned to building muscle & strength is to eat within 30-60 minutes of working out. Eating past the hour mark is according to my trainer, voiding out any of the benefits gained from working out. Breakfast is typically a Fab 5 smoothie combo from the Body Love book, which consists of fat, protein and fiber. I typically drink the same smoothie every day: 1/4 cup of frozen blueberries, 1 serving of protein powder (I love Tera’s Whey grass fed protein powder, and so does my whole family), a handful of spinach, and 1 tbsp each of MCT oil and chia seeds. Like I said, if it’s a workout day, I’ll also add in a couple of eggs and a piece of toast. I don’t restrict the amount I eat post workout, but of course I don’t gorge either; I eat till I feel satiated. This combo helps fill me up and provides me all the macros I need to fuel my body.
If it’s not a workout day, I usually wait to eat between 9-10 am, and drink just the smoothie mentioned above, increasing the chia seed & MCT oil serving to 2 tbsp each. This fills me up until lunch at 1pm.
I focus on trying to limit eating tons of carbs in the morning, and start with fat & protein. When you eat a carb heavy breakfast, like oatmeal or a muffin, your blood sugar rises, and so does your insulin to help lower your blood sugar. This drop in blood sugar then causes you to feel groggy and hungry soon after eating breakfast. It’s amazing what our kids will pick up on when we teach them to know their body and the role foods play in helping them feel good. Taylor loves oatmeal in the morning, but she’s even come to realize it doesn’t fill her up, just this morning even saying, “When I just eat oatmeal for breakfast, I’m always hungry by the time I get on the bus.” So now she eats her oatmeal, adding in chia seeds, along with a couple of eggs to help her feel full for a longer stretch of time.
I’m boring and eat 1 of 3 things for lunch. My favorite thing to eat is a salad loaded with unlimited veggies, 1/2 cup of beans of some sort (chickpeas and great northern/cannellini are my fave), a tbsp of nuts and/or seeds (pumpkin, almond sliver or sunflower seeds are my fave), about 3 ounces of a protein (baked chicken, leftover ground meat or sandwich meat), and if I have avocado on hand, I’ll add in 1/4-1/2 avocado depending on size. If I add in avocado I’ll add in 2 tbsp or so of dressing, if skipping avocado, I get wild and do about 3 tbsp. Tessamae’s dressings are my favorite and I always have 2-3 flavors on hand.
A couple of times a week I’ll eat out and either go get a poke bowl where I do half rice half salad, and 3-4 scoops of seafood, loaded with veggie toppings, the imitation crab meat they always offer (I know it’s kinda gross but I love it), avocado, edamame, furikake seasoning which includes omega rich sesame seeds, sesame seed oil and soy sauce. Or I’ll eat somewhere like Panera where I’ll do a cup of soup and a salad with a protein, or 1/2 sandwich and salad.
The third thing I often eat for lunch is a mixed plate of snacks including sandwich meat, some cheese, a typical serving size of crackers, and some fresh fruit and veggies like berries, apples, carrots, cucumbers & peppers. Maybe I’ll do some hummus too if we have it on hand.
As you can see, I don’t shy away from carbs at lunch, and make sure that my meal includes at least 1/2 cup serving size of carbs, and that the carbs are complex carbs that aren’t quickly broken down. Remember, legumes and fruit count as carbs as well, so I make sure to round it out and not just think of carbs as bread or rice. I think that’s why I felt so crappy on macros when I first tried that way of eating; I was so excited I “could eat bread” at each meal that I just ate bread at each meal and passed on things like fruit and beans.
How I approach eating dinner is nothing revolutionary, except perhaps that I eat carbs haha! For years I have read the advice that women should avoid or really limit carb intake past lunchtime and I was somehow convinced that this was true and healthy. But the more I have researched and read in the past year, the more I am sure that for optimal hormonal health and balance, women need carbs at dinner. Sure, if you want to completely lean out and look super hot in a bikini, then you may want to rethink this strategy, but if you want to feel good and sleep well and not feel like a bag of nerves, know that carbs are a-ok 🙂
(I’m sure this goes without saying, but just to clarify, my super hot in a bikini jokes are just that, jokes. Women look hot in a bikini no matter what size they are, I’m just poking fun at the common and distorted views of beauty).
So for dinner, I eat a lean protein like chicken or fish, or even pork, plenty of veggies and a carb of some sort. If I don’t eat a balanced meal of all 3 macronutrients at dinner, I literally wake up starving at 4 am, and have to sneak into the kitchen to eat a handful of almonds or a string cheese. Or if I happen to make it through the night, I will wake up with a veracious appetite, which just isn’t a pleasant way to wake up. We love beef in this family, but to keep costs down, we eat it sparingly.
My portions are typically a 4 ounce piece of some protein, 1/2 cup or so of carbs, and as many vegetables as I want. If I’m eating steamed veggies, I’ll top with a heaping tablespoon of grass fed butter, or if I’m eating salad, I’ll make sure to toss in 2 tablespoons of of dressing. The key here is to make sure and get in some healthy fat at dinner time too!
You may be noticing that I eat a lot of protein, and for me and my workout schedule, I feel best when I eat plenty of protein throughout the day. If I do eat meatless at a meal though, I make sure to eat a combo of foods that will create a complete protein. A complete protein meal would consist of eating a combo of legumes, like black beans, with a whole grain, like rice or quinoa, or doing tricks like tossing in hemp seeds, a complete protein on its own, into a veggie salad.
The Summary: So to break it down, here’s what each of my meals look like:
Breakfast: Smoothie consisting of 1/4 cup blueberries, 1 serving of protein powder, handful of spinach, 2 cups of almond milk and 1-2 tbsp each of chia seeds and MCT oil or nut butter.
An egg scramble which includes 2 eggs, 1 egg white, plenty of veggies, 2-3 pieces of turkey bacon or 2 ounces of ground turkey, a small side of avocado and a small piece of toast with 1/2 tbsp of butter.
Lunch: Large salad with unlimited veggies, 3 ounces of a protein, 1/2 cup of beans and maybe a little sprinkling of feta cheese, 1 tbsp of nuts or seeds and 2 tbsp of dressing.
A small cup of soup and a salad with 3 ounces of protein, or a 1/2 sandwich with a simple veggie salad. If I eat at Panera, I often choose the apple as the side, but sometimes I’ll choose the chips instead and enjoy myself.
Dinner: 4 ounces of protein, 1/2 cup of carbs like rice, quinoa or sweet potato, unlimited veggies, and 1-2 tbsp of butter or dressing with my veggies or salad. Pretty basic.
Notes on Portions, What I Limit and Snacking & Drinking:
I usually don’t snack in the mornings, but if need be I’ll have a late afternoon snack like an apple and cashews, a string cheese and sliced turkey, hummus and veggies, or I love those bison meat sticks.
I *try* to limit drinking wine (usually Pinot Noir) to 3-4 nights a week and have 1-2 glasses.
I’ve noted the portions for the most part in each meal above, but what these portions all equate to is a macro breakdown of about 150-160 grams of carbs, 80 grams of protein, and about 65 grams of fat. I don’t count my macros, but when broken down, this is about what I eat. For my age, lifestyle and goals, this works out well for me. Keep in mind that these numbers will vastly differ depending on your age, goals and lifestyle.
I try to just eat intuitively, and I follow these guidelines about 70% of the time. I eat dessert and the week of my period I definitely crave and indulge in more salty/crunchy foods like french fries and potato chips. I also eat Chick Fil A and pizza and nachos, but of course try to limit them for no other reason than they wreak havoc on my digestion. And while I’ve never had any official tests done, I know my digestion doesn’t love gluten either, so I try to limit that as well. I do fine on Ezekiel sprouted bread and a few other homemade things, or the whole grain bread from Panera, but for the most part eating bread just doesn’t sit right with me. I’ve also stopped drinking green juices, unless I accompany it with some sort of fat and protein, like hard boiled eggs or nuts. I also rarely eat acai bowls, a one time regular breakfast for me. Just too much sugar. When I go somewhere and have a smoothie, I always pay for add-ons like protein powder and chia seeds, and have them eliminate the agave or the banana, otherwise the typical smoothie at most places are just chock full of sugar.
And that’s pretty much how I eat on a regular basis to look and feel my best. Please, please, please know that I am not perfect and I always feel good if I at least eat this way for 2 out of 3 meals, and I feel great if I eat this way for all 3 meals all week long, and indulge a bit more on the weekends. I want to enjoy and live life and this way of eating allows me to do just that. Oh, and I try to drink plenty of water and drink my coffee black, but stop drinking caffeine past 2 or 3 pm. At night I drink chamomile or some other type of herbal tea.
Please let me know if you have any questions about any of this; I know I’ve covered a lot! As always, thanks so much for reading and encouraging me along the way to a healthier way of life, into my 40’s and beyond!
Oh, and here are a few helpful resources!
Sign up for my emails because soon I’ll be releasing a couple of freebie resources, including a shopping guide and a simplified meal plan.
Your Hormones Need Dinner I recently discovered Lara Briden through a reader, and I have so appreciated her focus on hormonal health for women, especially as they approach midlife. She’s a great follow.
Body Love – Great science based book focusing on balancing blood sugar levels, although with that being said, she does recommend lowering carb intake as you approach dinner. I tried it and for me, I just felt too hungry in the evening and woke up hungry in the middle of the night.
Glow 15 While I don’t think her protein cycling diet plan is realistic and sustainable for the long haul, I did appreciate her research and focus on the benefits of eating a well-balanced macronutrient diet, with an emphasis on healthy fats
Cara Clark Nutrition – great meal plans that taste great!