One of the best parts of summer vacation is getting to eat ice cream every. single. day. But of course, that comes with its own guilt and the certainty that all the sugar I’ve consumed is going to take 5 years off my life expectancy.
So, before leaving for vacation, I decided to eat as “perfectly” as possible for a week. Suddenly, I flashed back to the PE Labs from last year, which gave me the idea to try out MyPlate’s eating recommendations. I chose this plan mainly because I was curious; I thought it would be interesting to eat exactly as the government said I should - conspiracy theories, anyone?
Jokes aside, my main goals in completing this project included maintaining a healthy diet for the whole week and observing how changing my diet could impact other aspects of my life such as my mood, my energy levels, and maybe even my skin.
Research and Preparation
First, I decided to look at my typical eating habits. Unsurprisingly, they generally reflect my daily activities. For example, I eat more lunch when I swim laps in the afternoon than I do when I spend the afternoon binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. On a typical day, I eat cereal and fruit for breakfast, a light lunch (like a pb&j sandwich) if any, and a protein-and-vegetable filled dinner before my job and sports. I also eat healthy snacks to keep me energized throughout the day.
Although my diet could be worse, there is definitely room for improvement.
Instead of using MyPlate’s app, I chose to follow some food measurement charts on the website. I discovered that daily, a 14-18-year-old girl who exercises less than 30 minutes per day should eat:
1.5 cups of fruit
2.5 cups of vegetables
6 ounce equivalents of grains (at least half should be whole grains)
5 ounce equivalents of protein
3 cups of dairy
The website also states that those who exercise more than 30 minutes per day (the category I fit into) might need greater amounts of food.
I then realized that I might eat less than usual since the recommendations are geared towards girls who exercise less than me. Therefore, I entered this challenge knowing I would put my health first by allowing myself to exceed these limits if I felt very hungry.
Armed with this knowledge, my mom and I went to ShopRite, where we purchased tons of food for the week. We left pushing a cart that overflowed with bags of fresh produce, whole wheat bread, lean meat, and other ~health foods~.
Finally, it was time to start the experiment! There was only one rule: each day for seven days, meet or exceed the requirements for each food group in the healthiest manner possible.
One of my first observations was how many vegetables fit in 2.5 cups. I ate a tomato at lunch almost every day (they were categorized as vegetables despite being fruits), and that would only count as ⅕ of the daily vegetable serving! I was also surprised that I needed to cut down how much fruit I ate each day. I had to increase my servings of dairy and grains by a lot too. Overall, I ate a lot more than usual during the experiment.
One difficult part of the challenge was working my new diet around what my mom cooked for dinner. For example, if I knew that she was making a high-protein dish, I would eat more of other food groups during the day in order to “save up” my allotted protein for later. Each morning, I would find out what my mom was making at night and reverse-engineer a meal plan for the day.
I woke up on Day 1 with high hopes, positive that within 24 hours, I would be the most optimistic, energetic, and glowy person in the world. Obviously, this was by no means the case. By the end of Day 1, I was happy that the challenge was going well thus far, but I felt no actual differences.
On Days 2&3, I still felt the same. The only change I noticed was the annoyance that I, a person who enjoys vegetables, had to eat a full cup of raw string beans at night to meet the requirements… ew. Since vegetables are healthier raw, I refrained from cooking them. They tasted much worse. Seriously, plain broccoli is so gross.
Day 4 was tougher to plan. I had a family party at night, and since I didn’t know what would be served, I couldn’t plan my other meals around dinner like usual. I ended up counting a few fries as vegetables (they didn’t serve greens!), and while this was a nice break from raw string beans and too many tomatoes, I felt bad knowing that I had “cheated,” even if it was out of my control. Soon enough, I realized that this small instance didn’t affect the outcome of the challenge and remembered that it is impossible to complete anything absolutely perfectly.
On Day 5, I had a surprising realization -- I noticed that my mood had worsened consistently over the past few days. Although this was discouraging and even a bit confusing, I was determined to finish the week.
Day 6 came out of left field too -- I woke up in the morning and felt insanely cheerful out of the blue! In fact, my mood was better than it had been before I started the challenge, and I craved sugar less than I had in the previous days. This was surprising even though I had been expecting similar results to kick in around Day 3.
Throughout Day 7, the positive mood remained. It felt a little less intense than it had the day before (although that might be because the surprise was gone), but I was still cheerful.
To put it simply, the outcomes of this challenge were not what I was expecting.
Although my mood brightened, there was no difference in how tired I was or how I looked, and my eyebags (sadly) stuck around. Also, by the end of the challenge, I had gained 1.5 pounds. This was unexpected since my diet was supposed to be “perfect,” but in hindsight, I was eating a lot more. I just hadn’t considered this possibility because the extra food was healthy.
This challenge was an intriguing learning experience for me, and I would recommend it as long as you remember that this is not a diet or a detox - just a chance to take in healthier foods. By the end of the week, despite my improved mood and the sense of achievement that came with knowing I was taking care of myself, I was excited for the challenge to be over. It felt nice not to spend nearly an hour every morning meticulously planning meals and measuring out portion sizes. Nonetheless, I won’t pretend that I didn’t feel a small twinge of guilt the next night as I went to bed with a bit too much protein and less than three cups of dairy.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical or nutritional advice to readers. We are just students sharing our experiences and should not replace the advice of professionals.