Monday, March 24, 2014

The DASH Diet: Our Experience

Where oh where has the blogger been? She was going along strong and posting consistently. And then BAM she disappears out of nowhere. What. is. up.? 

Well, what is up is a great big pause in our culinary questing in order to diet. That combined with longer, busier work days, and more happening outside of work as well. All good things, but as these life tends to go, when some things increase, others must decrease. Alas, that has meant neglect of the blog.

But. I am excited to share a bit about this diet we started 3 weeks ago. 

But let me back up.

Neither my husband nor I have ever dieted. We have both always been very physically active and as a result haven't had to pay quite so close attention to our food intake. But the year of 2013 was filled with much travel, celebration, dessert baking, and little exercise. All of this amounted to both of us ending 2013 at our heaviest weight ever and each desiring to lose about 15 pounds. In 2014 as we settled into married life, grad school/work, and our new home State, we made an effort to eat healthier and be more physically active. And while we weren't gaining any weight, we also weren't LOSING those extra 15 pounds. As such, we decided we needed to go on a more structured diet.

And so the search for a diet began. We didn't just want to choose something that was popular at the moment without knowing the underlying rationale for, or evidence behind the diet, nor did we want to choose something that was unsustainable. So. After much reading and searching on the part of my sweet husband, we decided on the DASH Diet. This diet has consistently been ranked as the Best and Healthiest Diet plan, so that's a plus. And there is lots of great evidence backing it up. Also a plus. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. So, this diet was designed specifically for people with high blood pressure, and (if you find this kind of things important) there are randomized controlled trials supporting this diet in that realm. And it just so happens that eating in such a way as to lower your blood pressure also helps shrink your waistline. Win, win!

There is a really clear and easy-to-read book that goes through all the specifics of the DASH diet and has loads of helpful meal plans and recipes. But here's the basic idea- Phase 1 of the diet is a 2-week intensive phase where you reset your metabolism and get your blood sugar at a stable level, and then Phase 2 is a maintenance phase "to infinity and beyond" where you add back a number of foods that were off limits in Phase ,1 and maintain certain eating and lifestyle patterns to continue to lose and/or maintain your weight (and blood sugar and all that goodness).

Right, so Phase 1 as a "reset" phase pretty much means no sugar or grains. And let me just tell you- it's really hard, because it amounts to detoxing from the wonderfully addictive drug of sugar. But let me also just tell you, it's so very very good and stabilizing. You can have unlimited (nonstarchy) vegetables in Phase 1, moderate amounts of lean protein, and moderate amounts of light dairy and nuts. But you cannot have fruit, starchy vegetables, or any type of grain (i.e., potatoes, corn, rice, pasta, bread, barley, quinoa- none of that). Interestingly, you can have practically unlimited amounts of sugar-free Jello, which they suggest you eat after lunch and dinner to in some ways satisfy the craving for fruit and sweets. The point is not to count calories but to stay within ranges (depending on your size and appetite) of certain types of foods (vegetables, proteins, dairy). The big thing they say is to focus on what you CAN eat rather than what you CANNOT eat, and focus on taking it one day at a time and remembering it's only two weeks. Quite frankly, the other thing I focused on was the fact that I was losing weight like crazy. Something like 7 pounds in the first two weeks. I was tired and cranky and detoxing like a true sugar addict, but I was eating healthy and losing weight, dagonit.

And let me just say, we ate some pretty great meals in Phase 1. I took some pictures of them just to share some of the goodness. I linked to any recipes I got online. 

Grilled tilapia with lime and peanut coleslaw, homemade guacamole, and pepper slices (dinner)

"Mexican salad"- lettuce, tomato, red pepper, black beans, grilled chicken, avocado with cilantro-lime dressing (lunch)

Two fried eggs with black beans, salsa, and cheddar cheese (breakfast)

Grilled tilapia with an Indian tomato/ginger/garlic/onion/spices sauce and oven roasted cauliflower with turmeric and ginger (dinner)

Grilled cod  (with a delicious marinade my husband made) and grilled vegetables

Asian pork tenderloin, green beans with red pepper and garlic, and a side salad with soy ginger dressing (dinner)

Chicken parmesan, using Spaghetti squash instead of pasta and a homemade pasta sauce, plus a side salad (dinner)

Our little twist on "huevos rancheros"- fried eggs, grilled peppers/tomatoes/black beans, and cilantro (breakfast)

Grilled sirloin steak (5 ounces), with a whiskey mushroom sauce (adapted from here), grilled vegetables, and a wedge salad (dinner)

Roasted eggplant with a (low fat) yogurt tahini sauce (adapted from here) and spicy oven-roasted chickpeas (dinner)

As you see, this isn't one of those diets where you have to eat terrible foods all the time. We tried to think of it as a another type of culinary adventure, and worked to make really interesting and fun dishes within the boundaries of the diet. They are very clear that you need to eat all three meals and a snack in between each, so you aren't feeling hungry all the time. There are helpful guidelines for snacks too, which for us most often amounted to lots of light string cheese, hummus and vegetables, kale chips, and raw almonds. Interestingly though, in Phase 1 where you have virtually no sugar, despite eating very healthy foods, you feel tired and icky because your body is getting rid of so much accumulated gunk. Alas. Interestingly, this also effectively amounts to a Gluten-Free diet, so for those who need to or choose to go GF, the DASH Diet has great recipe options. 

I will say, this phase was considerably more expensive in terms of our grocery bill than our normal eating habits. We did not eat out during this phase, so that accounts for some of the excess grocery bill. But, to be honest, it's just more expensive to NOT eat processed foods and to eat primarily vegetables and lean proteins.    

We've now been in Phase 2 for a little over a week, we feel great, and I've lost another 2 pounds. I don't constantly crave sugar or junk food. In fact, I actually crave healthy foods, and I get a stomachache even if I eat more than modest amounts of rice, pasta, or bread. Apples and bananas taste incredibly sweet (and satisfying!) to me. I get full faster. I have more restraint and self-control with food. I have more energy. So, yes, I've lost some weight, and yes I hope to lose a bit more, but more than that, I've "reset" to healthier habits overall. And that's a win.

If you want more information on the DASH diet, the Mayo Clinic website has a good overview, as does this Chewfo page that clearly outlines what foods you can and cannot have in the two phases, as well as quantities and portions. 

Oh, and I do have a few Italian recipes in my Draft Post folder that we ate prior to The Diet but I did not have a chance to write about. I'll hopefully post those in the coming weeks. 

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