In July 2014 program dietitian Vicki Bovee and her husband, Bill, committed to do a weekly challenge for a year to improve their health and lifestyle. Vicki and Bill decided to tackle a variety of challenges to eat better, eat and live more mindfully, and improve physical health and emotional well-being because there is always room for improvement. They successfully completed a year of challenges but that didn’t mean they were finished.

Challenge #56 The Mediterranean Way

The Mediterranean Diet is more of a way of eating than a diet plan. It consistently rates as one of the healthiest eating plans to follow. But it is more than just what one eats, it’s also a lifestyle. There are 16 countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea and all of them contribute to the eating and lifestyle patterns.

In 1958 Dr. Ancel Keys, who lived in Italy, conducted a 20-year study that looked at the impact of diet on heart disease in seven Mediterranean countries. He found that people who followed this eating pattern had lower death rates from cardiovascular disease, and thus the Mediterranean Diet was created. He discovered that people in these areas ate fewer saturated fats and more healthy fats. It was not a low fat diet. The Mediterranean Diet Food Pyramid was developed in 1993 by The Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the World Health Organization.

The major components of the diet include:
• Eat minimally processed foods.
• Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh.
• Eat whole grains. (Stay away from the white flour products.)
• Eat legumes, nuts, and seeds. Cook vegetarian one night a week.
• Eat moderate amounts of fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, or other lean meats. Eat very little red meat. Eat fish or seafood twice a week.
• Eat moderate amounts of dairy products, preferably low fat.
• Eat healthy unsaturated fats from olive oil, avocados, and canola oil. Avoid butter, margarine and other saturated fats.
• Use herbs and spices to season food and cut down on the salt.
• Sweeten with natural sugar like honey. Sweets are to be eaten less often.
• Drink red wine in small amounts with meals. If you don’t drink now, don’t start.

But wait, there’s more. Your Mediterranean Diet also includes a healthier lifestyle.
• Eat breakfast every day.
• Do more meal preparation at home and eat out less often.
• Eat at the table with family and/or friends and eat slowly. (Savor your meal.)
• Look to become more physically active. (Eating more healthfully is good, but it’s not enough.)
• Work to reduce stress.
• Drink your water.

Bill and I went over the guidelines and figured out where we were good and where we might run into difficulties. And you know what? With some problem-solving we really didn’t have any big issues.
Our biggest concerns and remedies were:
• Breakfast- we always eat breakfast but usually it a protein shake made with the Bariatric Advantage (BA) meal replacement. Nope, that was too processed for us. We made our own fruit smoothies with nonfat Greek yogurt, Fairlife nonfat milk, fruit, spinach, honey, and some ground flax thrown in. It took a bit more time but it wasn’t a problem. We varied our breakfasts by eating muesli with the nonfat Greek yogurt and Fairlife nonfat milk. I used the muesli recipe I posted as our Recipe of the Month last October. Easy.
• Mealtime- Well this could have been a lot more cooking for me but we ate Fuel Packs from BFF Café for dinner two to three nights a week and I took them for lunch three days a week. (If you’ve had bariatric surgery, BFF has customized the Fuel Packs for the appropriate portions and foods.) Our remaining meals I cooked and made enough for leftovers. We did not eat any frozen meals or convenience meals. I made pizza and used whole wheat crust. There are lots of great recipes online and it was not difficult to find recipes we liked and didn’t take all day to cook. We ate dinner out once and ordered shrimp cocktail with a side salad, hold the white bread basket.
• Snacks- We both eat bars from our Health Store. Nope, no bars. Too processed. Our snacks switched to raw almonds, walnuts, and fruit. The bars are convenient, without a doubt, but a little snack bag of nuts and gogi berries was easy to carry around in my purse or in my desk drawer.
• I have to admit, we could have done better with eating dinner slowly at the table.

Vicki’s observations:
• I welcomed this challenge. Back in challenge #11 we followed the anti-inflammatory diet and I felt great. That diet was very similar to the Mediterranean plan. I like eating this way.
• I figured out the nutritional value of our smoothie and although it was close to the BA shake it didn’t stay with me as long. The overnight muesli carried me through the morning and I’ll stick with that on busy days.
• I realized I was eating the bars for two reasons: #1 it was convenient on the weekends while running around, and #2 I was using it as a transition from clinic to desk time at work. #2 sounds like emotional eating to me. I was so looking forward to that bar on March 1. I took a bite and guess what? It didn’t taste as good as I remembered. As I keep saying, “If you don’t eat something long enough, you will lose the desire for it.”
• I switched to nuts for snacks. I was concerned this would be trouble for me since I really enjoy nuts and thought I might have a problem with portion control. Well, eating four almonds here and a couple of walnut halves there was enough. I habituated to the nuts. They are not a big deal for me now. Again, I was eating the raw, unsalted nuts. Not the ones in the can with salt and spices or sugar.
• I intend to stick to this way of eating. I feel better, the food tastes good, and I do not miss processed foods.

Bill’s observations:
• I gave up, or should I say I stopped, eating ice cream the last three days of January. When we stated the Mediterranean Diet I knew I was going to have to make it another 29 days. Not a problem. I am now on day 40 and I really haven’t missed it that much. Will I have ice cream again? Of course, but I just don’t need it every night like I was having it before the challenge. We did have frozen yogurt a couple of times with the grandsons and I was OK. That wasn’t the same to me as eating a bowl of ice cream in front of the TV.
• I was eating two bars per day prior to the challenge. I was really missing my bars, especially after my morning workout. Once the challenge ended I couldn’t wait to have one of my “health” bars and, like Vicki, it just didn’t taste like I remembered it. I like my bars but I too think I eat them for emotional eating reasons (mostly boredom) rather than when I am actually hungry.
• The other thing I did miss on this diet was my morning protein drink. Vicki made us these protein drinks but they did not have our shake mix and I found myself hungry about an hour later. I am back drinking my regular protein drink and I am much happier. The muesli stayed with me too.
• Like Vicki, I am now eating raw almonds, walnuts and gogi berries and more fruit for snacks. I do have a bar once in awhile but I don’t crave them like I did before.
• Trying healthier alternatives was good for me and I discovered new foods to replace foods I thought I couldn’t live without.

There are many resources out there to help you out. I found “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mediterranean Diet” to be very helpful with some great recipes. A website I visit frequently is Oldways. They have good information and lots of recipes. Even if you make some of the changes over time, you’ll be better off for it.

I just bought a new best seller and we are working our way through the book. In March we are working on changes in our lifestyle with guidance to make us more balanced…something we can use.

Eat Smarter…
Vicki Bovee, MS, RDN, LD

Want to catch up on our past challenges? Click here. You’ll find the challenges at the bottom of my blog.