Writer :: Mother :: Lover :: Freedom Fighter

Lifestyle Nutrition :: Amber

I’ve recently started exercising regularly and eating a more nutritious diet. Honestly, the biggest change I’ve made is to think of healthy living as a lifestyle and less of something that I’m going to do for 30 days or until I hit my “ideal weight” (whatever that is!).

While I feel very confident and happy about the changes I’ve made, there are days when it’s difficult to make good decisions and I could definitely use some encouragement. Because of this, I decided to seek out women I know who have maintained a healthy lifestyle for years and to ask them how they do it. I hope what they have to say is as encouraging to you as it was to me!

We’ve already heard from Shaylea and Suzanne, and this week I want to introduce my good friend Amber Spiel. I have witnessed her journey toward healthy living and have seen small changes in her life become big changes that have become a lifestyle. I love seeing her family’s commitment to healthy eating and was so pleased that she agreed to shine a little light on her process ::

What’s your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?

Ugh. The “B” word. Breakfast is a struggle for me. There are a lot of foods we choose not to eat (all the meats), and it feels the most limiting when it comes to breakfast. I need a pretty decent amount of protein first thing or I feel sick all day, so I usually have scrambled eggs for breakfast. Super lame, I know. When we get really sick of our usual breakfasts we will buy a package of Naan bread and make breakfast pizzas, and that is definitely my favorite: Naan bread, egg, tomato, avocado, cheese.

What are some good snack foods to keep around?

A few things you’ll usually find in our kitchen: cashews, carrots, almonds, bananas, Organic Clif Bars, and chocolate chip cookies (healthy ones, of course ;).

Have you always been a healthy eater? Was there a moment in your life when you decided to prioritize nutrition? If so, what caused it?

I definitely haven’t. I probably never ate a vegetable until I was in college and started having dinner at other people’s houses on a regular basis (which was terrifying, by the way). Making healthy food choices has been a slow process for us. About 5 years ago we cut out red meat because of some health history in Matt’s family. About 3 years ago we decided to go as vegetarian/whole foods as possible. About 2 years ago we started cutting out gluten and refined sugars. Last year we added chicken back into our diet on a regular basis (we prefer free range and hormone free). As we’ve made each change we would notice how much better we felt (or rather, if we ate something we hadn’t been eating, we noticed how terrible it made us feel) so we’ve kept it up!

I’ve found that when I start eating more healthfully, it’s often for a certain amount of time (e.g. no sugar or caffeine for a month, Whole30, etc.). How were you able to shift your mindset from dieting to making nutrition a lifestyle?

I’ve always felt like diets are so sudden and restrictive, and it always seemed like people rarely did them because they wanted to, but because they felt like they had to. I never felt like I had to, so I never did a “diet.” I operated with an “all things in moderation” mindset (and still do, to an extent). For us, making small changes that we wanted to make over the last few years has been key. If we had tried to jump from how we were eating when we got married 6 years ago to how we are eating now, it never would have worked. We would have gotten way too overwhelmed and given up. Simply educating ourselves about nutrition played a pretty big role in this as well.

The other thing I find that makes a huge difference in continuing to make healthy food choices is exercising on a regular basis. When you are making time to exercise and seeing results it is a lot easier to pass on dessert or choose water over soda. Once you start looking at how many calories you burn in a workout and how many calories some of your favorite snacks have, you get a different perspective about them!

If you could cut one thing from everyone’s diet, what would it be?

Sugar/High Fructose Corn Syrup. It’s hidden in so many packaged foods (even “healthy” ones!). We try to eat as few packaged/processed foods as possible, but with 2 small kids it’s impossible to avoid them altogether (what would I do without cheerios and goldfish?!) so I am the lady standing in the aisle reading the ingredient labels on everything. Typically anything with more than 10 grams of sugar per serving goes back on the shelf (6 grams per serving if it’s for the kids). But I will confess: Dr. Pepper was one of the hardest things for me to give up having from time to time!

Where do you like to shop for your groceries?

Matt and I call them “The Big 4”: Aldi, Sam’s Club, Food 4 Less and Fox Farm (a local health food/Asian food market). On the rainy/windy/cold days that I have to grocery shop with both the kids I hate myself for going to so many different places, but there is no one-stop-shop that works for us.

Is it more expensive to eat healthy food? If so, how do you manage your budget?

Definitely. Especially in this part of the country, because it’s not the cultural norm. I have really struggled with our grocery budget in the last couple years, because each change we make in our diet does require us to spend a little more. We have decided as a family that eating as healthy as possibly is a priority and our budget has to reflect that. We are making an investment in our health now in the form of clean foods in hopes that later in life we won’t be spending tons of money on doctors and medicines. I’ve also found this report to be incredibly helpful.

I think that because we shop at multiple stores, we save a little here and there. If I leave the house knowing I’m going to four different stores, I won’t pay more for quinoa at Fox Farm when I know I can get it cheaper at Aldi. There is also a balance we try to keep between using as many affordable ingredients as possible (black beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, chickpeas) versus the things we feel like it’s worth spending more on (eggs, chicken, avocado, baking ingredients).

Any tips for encouraging your family to eat well, too?

I’m not sure I can be much help here. All the changes we have made have been mutual decisions by Matt and I, so one of us isn’t having to convince the other to be healthy. And Oliver (4) has grown up eating the things that we eat, so he doesn’t know any different. I do think that it’s important for everyone to be on board with any changes you want to try to make.

How do you handle special occasions like going to a dinner party or when someone gives you a box of chocolates? Do you have any rules you follow? Do you turn down unhealthy food when it’s offered to you? If so, any tips for doing this politely?

It’s impossible to go out to eat or to go someone’s house for dinner and completely stick to your food preferences. There are only a few places in town that we will go out to eat. And I actually feel like it’s getting pretty common for people to ask about dietary restrictions/preferences when having someone over/taking someone a meal. In these instances we let people know we don’t eat red meat or dairy (besides cheese), because these are the only foods that actually make us feel sick if we do eat them. All of the other things are preferences, and we definitely don’t want to make people feel overwhelmed by trying to do something nice for us. And if someone gives us something, we will always accept it and be really thankful. Any time someone thinks of you and either buys or makes you something, it’s a blessing, and I don’t want to empty someone of the joy of being a blessing to us because we don’t eat certain things that most everyone else does. Granted, we may not end up eating what we’re given (unless it’s chocolate cake), but we will always be thankful! I think the only time we turn things down is when the kids are offered candy, and that’s a pretty easy one. We just say “no thanks” and move on.

What are your favorite resources for finding good information about nutrition and diet? Any books, websites, or experts that you recommend?

A lot of my knowledge comes from my degree (Biology) and the classes I took in college. I don’t have any good recommendations for a go-to resource. If I want to learn something, I Google it and read articles (scientific research-based ones if I can find them), until I find out what I want to know. We find and keep track of all our recipes on Pinterest.

What do you find most challenging about maintaining a lifestyle of good nutrition?

Snacks are definitely the hardest. It’s hard to find things that you can just grab and go with that aren’t too processed or sugary. Even the healthy versions of snacks that we buy sort of bum me out from time to time. I would love it if I had the time to bake everything we ate, including our snacks, but that’s just not my reality right now with two little ones.

What do you find most rewarding about maintaining a lifestyle of good nutrition?

Watching Oliver make great choices about what he wants to eat is definitely the most rewarding. It also feels good when your food makes you feel good! When you eat a clean diet your exercise is more effective. During my last pregnancy I didn’t gain any extra weight, and I’ve had a pretty easy time getting back in shape because my food isn’t bogging me down. It’s hard work, and you have to learn to say “no” to things that you sometimes want, but it’s worth it!

Any other comments or tips you’d like to share?

Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick one thing you would most like to change and work on that. If you try to make a major diet shift (going vegetarian, Paleo, baking healthier) I would suggest that instead of trying to modify recipes you already have, just find new ones altogether. We tried modifying our existing recipes and it never worked out for us. I have definitely passed the point of no return in regards to healthy baking. Not kidding, there are 9 different kinds of flour in my pantry. And psyllium husks. And nutritional yeast. All that to say, if baking is an area where you would especially like some tips/recipes to make some changes, I would love to help! It’s definitely the most daunting change to make, but it’s been my favorite! I fed a bunch of super healthy treats to a room full of dudes at a Super Bowl party and they didn’t even know ;).

Here are a few of my favorite go-to blogs for recipes ::

And here are a few of our very favorite recipes ::

Thank you so much, Amber!!!


Posted by Aanna on Friday, May 20th, 2016


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