Here are some strategies that have worked for me, many tailored to our unique circumstances in Senegal.
- Invest in a good food scale and several sets of measuring cups and spoons. These are essential for portion control. Do your best not to eyeball things. Be diligent. It matters.
- Avoid simple carbs as much as posisble, especially white bread. Baguette for breakfast, for example, isn’t the best choice. Not all carbs are bad, but, like I mentioned, try to get them from fruits. My favourite meal, post-workout, is a banana and a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter. Yum!
- Hunt down sources of lean protein and hoard them. 🙂 If you have access to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, buy them. If not, hopefully the rest of your family enjoys dark meat, because those breasts are for you! When lotte becomes available, stock up, and same goes for shrimp. Keep hard boiled eggs in the fridge. Another suprisingly good source of protein is “triangle cheese,” whether you splurge on “La Vache Qui Rit” or you cheap out on one of the no-name brands.
- Cook in bulk and freeze in individual portions, so you can pull out a quick meal for yourself as the need arises. If your family prefers pizza, mafe, and other mounds of greasy goodness, you may need some separate meals for yourself, especially if you’re hoarding the lean proteins that are at times hard to come by.
- While I’m on the subject of bulk cooking, this is the best way I have found to cook up ground beef here and make it as lean as possible. Prepare 2-3 kilograms at a time, with just onions and garlic (so that you can separate it into portions for different recipes and add spices then). Drain thoroughly.
- Find out where to get the best variety of fruits and veggies, and make that salesperson your new best friend. You Dakarois are blessed with a greater variety of nature’s bounty, so enjoy it. I haven’t gotten much into imported frozen veggies (the frugal zealot inside of me couldn’t justify doing so regularly). But if your budget allows for it, this can be a good way to add variety to your diet.
- You can still enjoy meals with Senegalese friends, you just can’t sit by that bowl till you’re in a food coma. White rice with sauce is always easiest to eat clean with, because you can tell how much grease your ingesting. A pure Wolof’s oily cebu jën, however, can kill your whole week of hard work! Either way, what I always do is that I kindly explain to my friends that I’m working on getting rid of my “jaay fonde” (big butt), and can only eat a little bit. Then, I pull out a huge cucumber (or other veggie that travels well) and ask them if they mind my eating it along with their delicious ceb (I usually offer some to those I’m dining with, who politely decline). I’ve never had anyone refuse, and that way I get to enjoy a small portion of their meal and fill up with my healthy side of veggie(s).
- Allow yourself treats. Some people prefer to limit their desserts to once a week or special occasions. If that works for you, more power to you. I’m not that person. I need a treat every day. So, I just save enough points/calories up so that at the end of the day, I can enjoy a sweet treat.
- Make it small and make it count. Savor every bite. Don’t waste it on mediocre cookies (Can you say Biskrem?). I brought back Lindt Lindor Truffles last March and enjoyed several a week as a reward for working hard and being good throughout the day. I just ran out, so if anyone wants to give me some of yours, I’ll glady take them off your hands! 😉
- Enjoy one cheat meal a week. Maybe two, if you can do it and still see results. If you decide to go with Weight Watchers, your points tracker will tell you if you have enough points left for more than one meal, depending on how many points you earn through exercise.
- Learn creative ways to get your veggies – grill, broil, sauté, steam, in soups, salads, au naturel. Double the veggies most recipes call for (adjusting for seasoning). It’ll make your meals more filling without adding many calories.
- Experiment with different spices. I’ve really gotten into Lebanese cuisine, as ingredients are readily available and it can be super healthy, when modified. Baked falafels, lowfat homemade hummus, tzatziki, chicken kabobs, taboule, you get the idea. If we decide collectively to start our own group on FB, we can share recipes, helpful websites, and the best places to find healthy ingredients.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand. Especially for nighttime munchies (if you’re anything like me). Cut up fruits or veggies, popcorn, plain yogurt, a few (and I do mean a few) homemade whole wheat crackers, etc.
- Decide what you’re going to do about the use of artificial sweeteners. Some say they will kill you. My thought is, you could feed a lab rat anything in those quantities and it would kill them. So, judge me if you want, but I’m not giving them up. But I use my Splenda packets from N. America in small amounts to sweeten yogurt and an occasional coffee. The same goes for using Maggi cubes. Considering how much I’m cutting back on delicious fats and carbs, I need something to enhance the flavor of foods, so MSG it is!
- Don’t drink your calories. When you think about how much sugar goes into the bissap or attaya here, you really don’t want that going into your body. I certainly don’t want to have to run an extra mile or two just to burn off the calories in that Coke! Ice cold water is my constant companion.
Check out Angie’s blog: http://ambassadorofreconciliation.blogspot.com