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Why it’s time for an extreme diet makeover

Roger Hallett/The Globe and Mail

Crispy Crunch, mini Cadbury Creme Eggs, Almond Joys. Those are the mini chocolate bars that I strategically searched for in my tub of candy last Thursday between trick-or-treaters.

Halloween is my favourite holiday. It's also one of my worst nutritional days of the year. This is largely because my flimsy notions of moderation are totally thrown to the wind.

Somewhere around the 13th piece of candy, I felt like I had hit the nutritional bottom. It was time for reform.

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But not a detox or a restrictive diet. That's not my style. I know myself well enough to know that I can't go cold turkey on things that have been staples – albeit bad ones – in my life. Sweets are one of them. Fast food is another. Alcohol rounds out the unholy trinity of dietary vices.

Diet is my Achilles heel. Over the summer, I had successfully revamped my exercise habits (which I documented in my eight-week challenge column). So far, those changes have stuck and I am still following my fitness program. But even after four months of a vigorous increase in my physical activity, I haven't lost any weight. I had actually gained five pounds, much to my personal trainer's shock.

The unsaid answer to my mystery weight gain was that my diet was to blame. At the time, I silently poo-pooed this theory and chalked up the extra five pounds to new muscle growth. My body looked thinner, I told myself.

But as I continued to fish for Crispy Crunches, Snickers, Twix bars and, well, basically any chocolate bar as trick-or-treating wore on, I reconsidered my dietary predicament.

My eating habits aren't atrocious by Health Canada's standards. And my nutritional knowledge is so-so. I'm confident I know the basics. For example, I know I need to eat seven to eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And most days I get them.

And that's more than what 53 per cent of Canadians can claim. According to the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, just over 11 million (out of a total a little bigger than 27 million) can say they get five servings regularly.

I'm lucky because I like vegetables and fruits. My nutritional pitfall is poor planning. This wasn't always the case. There was a simpler time in my life when I was a balanced eater: It was called childhood and I didn't have to look after my diet. My parents did that for me.

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So my No. 1 goal in this DIY nutrition makeover is getting back to a point where I am managing my diet with a focus on portion size and cutting back on my vices.

Any weight loss will be gravy.

But why do this on my own? I had ponied up the cash to get a trainer, after all.

Hiring a dietitian or nutritionist did seem like the self-evident answer. But I have an appetite to do this myself. I have to conquer this new challenge because food has always been a symbol of my self-restraint.

And so far in my adult life, I had proven that I haven't been very good at providing my body with basic sustenance.

For example, when I was an undergrad, which was the first real test of my ability to feed myself like an adult, it was a short few months before I was diagnosed as anemic. This was a result of unconsciously cutting out any iron-rich foods and replacing them with subs, cafeteria garbage and virtually anything from Tim Hortons.

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Since then, though, I've been better at managing my food in-take. Meals are generally more nutritious, mainly thanks to my domestic partner, who is the master of the kitchen, as he is the better cook. Fruits and vegetables are centre stage instead of carbs. But sugars and fats still reign supreme. Oh, and I probably eat at least three meals a week that aren't prepared at home.

Taking charge of your diet without any professional help is hard. It's not just calories you have to consider but nutrients and appetite management. (PS – I hate – stress the hate – being hungry.)

I know this challenge will be harder than my fitness reboot. I've always liked to exercise. But I've never enjoyed limiting or changing my eating habits.

In my mind, changing my diet is much more than monitoring what I do (or don't) put in my mouth. It has become a challenge of self-discipline and a test of hard work that I hope I can accomplish.

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About the Author

Madeleine White is an online editor and reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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