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Changing to a whole foods diet

It is now two years since I made significant changes to my diet. I just want to preface this post with how I use the word diet. I use diet as defined in the Oxford dictionary:

diet: noun

1 The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats

I think we are accustomed to equate diet with restriction and with the choices some people make with their diet, it can be. I would also like to state that this post in no way offers advice, guidance or tips on how you should be eating or any nutritional matters, it is simply my experience.

The main reason for me writing this post is because I receive so many queries about my eating and running, that by having it written up here, I can answer the questions and have it as a reference point.


When I first made changes I moved to traditional Paleo guidelines. I eliminated dairy, grains, refined sugars and processed foods. I made the change as I needed to start eating more whole foods and less processed foods, I didn’t have any known allergies.

For me sometimes when I need to a make a change, I need to make it big to stick and in a way that works with my personality. Gretchen Rubin is a New York Times best selling author and also writes a blog called The Happiness Project. A number of years ago I read a post on her blog that enabled me to understand my own personality/behaviour to a greater degree. Understanding your own personality and behaviours is key to making sustained change.

Rubin studies human personalities in a number of different areas and contests that we are either moderators or abstainers. These are Rubin’s definitions:

You’re a moderator if you…
– find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure–and strengthens your resolve
– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something

You’re an abstainer if you…
– have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits {source}

After reading this I knew instantly I was an abstainer. When I finally stopped smoking for example, while I never felt like having a cigarette, I made a commitment to myself that I would never ever touch on again and I never have and have never felt like it. When I was pregnant, I had no issues giving up certain foods or alcohol, it was just part of being pregnant.

In hindsight looking back at how I changed my approach to my diet, I unconsciously chose an abstaining model. I set up rules and I stick to them. I have had no trouble doing this and I do not feel at all that I am missing out nor do I crave any of the old foods I ate. This is just now how I eat.

Changes in my diet

What I have done however is modified my rules to suit my body and my lifestyle. I took on much of the feedback from Katie180 when she analysed my day on a plate last year and have made additional changes to suit my lifestyle and needs:

More carbs

Matcha green tea smoothie
In Katie’s feedback she wrote:

WHERE are your carbohydrates Nicole? There’s 2 cups of rice, some sweet potato and a bit of carrot.

I wasn’t necessarily aiming to be low carb, but my food choices did make my diet quite low carb. While this potentially could work for someone with a relatively sedentary lifestyle, I found it did cause me issues with the intensity and volume of exercise I undertake (marathon running and CrossFit).

It took me some time to work out how to increase my carb intake and through what sources. My main sources of carbs are fruit and veg particularly sweet potato and bananas. If you follow me on the PWK Facebook page and see my weekly food preparation photos, you might have noticed that shredded sweet potato makes a weekly appearance. Even if it isn’t in the photos I make it every single week. Most days I would have at least one large sweet potato and quite often two.

In the peak of my marathon training I also include white rice in my diet. I adore sweet potato, but even someone like me who is very happy to eat the same foods on a daily basis needs to mix it up!

Love the good fats

I consume lots of the good fats. I eat an avocado almost daily, cook with plenty of coconut oil and butter and enjoy nuts in moderation. My approach to eating nuts has changed since last year. You often find many people who transition to a Paleoish type diet hit heavily on nuts as an easy snack. As Katie pointed out in her analysis of my day on a plate last year I was definitely consuming too many nuts:

You’re eating at least two cups of nuts here, which is a lot of nuts (and nut fat, although it IS good fat!)

I used to make this amazing nut cereal but haven’t made it for over 9 months now as my abstainer personality truly came to the fore with this delicious dish. I simply couldn’t moderate my consumption of it. I would have some for breakfast – quite a large serving and that was okay. What wasn’t okay was every time I felt even a little bit hungry I would find myself at the pantry eating it by the spoonful from the canister. I worked out I was better off not making it and I was also better off only having minimal nuts stored in the house.

Now I consume nuts only as an addition to meals not has a snack, for example:

Sweet treats

When I first transitioned to whole foods, I also baked lots of sweet treats with natural sweeteners, nut flours and the like. I would make cakes, muffins and biscuits for snacks. What I found however was that these snacks weren’t that filling and in reality I knew I could be having far more nutritious and satisfying snacks without all this baking.

I still bake cakes etc on special occasions, but other than that the only sweet treats I make regularly are my Larabar inspired recipes. They are perfect for an abstainer like me. I make them up and freeze them in batches, so I don’t over consume them. I will have some pieces of this if I feel like I need a little sweet hit or grab one quickly if I have to head out unexpectedly and need something to tide me over.

Breaking my rules

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While my abstainer nature makes it easy for me to stick to the rules I have created, I am now more comfortable breaking my rules as I see fit. I do however tend to make this decision in advance, so it is a conscious decision, not just a knee jerk reaction.  The interesting thing is that I really don’t feel like doing it very often, but do it more so I can enjoy the company and socialise with others.

When eating out with friends and family, I try not to be that difficult person asking a thousand questions about what is in every dish. I stick to gluten free and dairy free because I find these are the things that are likely to cause me upset and then choose from the options available that suit my personal preferences.

At home I still bake a lot for the family which contains gluten, sugar and dairy. I am never tempted to eat this food, but am very happy to prepare it for the family. While the family still eats everything, there has been a natural decrease in the processed foods they consume which makes me happy and it is a continual work in progress. You can read more about it in these posts:

I will still have the occasional drink of alcohol, but in general my abstinence from alcohol is due to spending so many early mornings running more than anything else!

My day on a plate

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So what does my day on a plate look like now compared to this time last year? You can check back to my post from this time last year to see how it compares here – Changing my plate – my journey. There are a few key changes to note:

  • I would be eating a greater volume of food – I don’t count calories, so couldn’t tell you in terms of that measurement. But in terms of volume of food for a similar time in my running training, where I would have been having one sweet potato a day, I would now have two. Where I was having one banana in my smoothie I now have two. When I first started increasing my food intake I put on a couple of kilograms but my body fat percentage stayed the same. Most importantly though, I feel better in my running, I recover better and feel that I am fuelling better for both pre and post exercise.
  • I am eating three main meals and no snacks – this is the norm for me now, but there are odd days where I will snack. I do love a good big meal and love feeling comfortably full after a meal. Not snacking also works for me in terms of meal preparation; I don’t have to think about snacks and it something less I need to prepare. I wasn’t great at moderating my snacking either, so this is taken out of the equation too.
  • I listen to my body more – with the above said as to how my day generally looks, if I am hungry I eat. Some long runs (or heavy strength sessions) take it out of me more than others. I make sure for the next couple of days after, I listen to what my body is saying and focus on nurturing foods for my body.

At the time of writing this post, I was in the peak of marathon training, so my day on a plate reflects that.

Exercise – strength training 30 minutes and then 70 minutes running (easy pace)

Supplements – fish oil, magnesium

Drinks – homemade ginger kombucha, green tea

Breakfast –  Matcha green tea smoothie

Drinks – Pukka three ginger tea, peppermint tea, through out the morning

Lunch – 1 large sweet potato, 1 avocado, 3 eggs, dukkah and kimchi – this recipe, but just a lot more food.

Dinner – Roast beef and roast veggies – potatoes, carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, tomatoes and onion

Drinks – Pukka peppermint and liquorice tea (Best tea ever! You can read my reviews on some teas here – 7 delicious teas to taste.)

Water – would drink about 2 litres across the day. Sometimes more on days with long runs.

I do eat lots of the same meals and I oscillate from thinking I should add more variety, but then I think I am actually really happy to have the same thing for lunch most days! I will just switch up the protein (for example left over taco meat for eggs at lunch) or change the main carb (switch rice for sweet potatoes).

I have three favourite smoothies that I choose from to start my day with, but again I am really happy having a smoothie each day for breakfast. Dinner is the one meal that changes the most as there are many preferences to take into account and hypocritically I want the kids to have a varied diet and try new things!

I am sure there is more I can do to improve my diet. It is a work in progress like all things with me and I will continue to make changes as I learn more and work out what works best for me.

What about you? Has the way you eat changed over the last 12 months?

PS. This was a long post! Thanks for reading all the way to the end 🙂