During 2017 and 2018, two years of pretty consistent disaster, I found solace in food and booze. I do not have a drinking problem, for which I am very grateful, but I certainly overindulged, as well as making some not great choices on the nutrition front. I put on weight and felt sluggish and sore, which I attributed to just getting older and having a physically demanding job. It’s not like I went from a size 2 to a size 22. I’ve never been petite, and the weight gain was marginal, and as I’m 5’10”, it was spread out over a lot of height.
But I felt it. And I saw it in photos.
And then Elvis came into my life.
Elvis isn’t small—16.3 and well sprung. But I am very, very tall, with very, very long legs. And I think a healthy body is a beautiful thing across a spectrum of sizes, but mine was bigger and clunkier than I wanted it to be, particularly perched on top of a horse at the bottom of the size range I can sit on without making him look like a pony.
I started working with a nutritionist at my sponsors, InForm Fitness of Leesburg. And I started chronicling my journey to better eating habits on my Facebook and Instagram pages, and a few people reached out to ask great questions and learn more about what was working and not working, particularly as someone with long hours and a wild travel schedule. So I thought I’d share some thoughts here.
First, let’s get a few things out of the way. I am not a medical professional, and you should consult one before beginning any new diet or exercise program. Next, for all you body-image warriors, you do you, and let me do me. I love my body, and all the neat things I can do with it, which is why I’m taking good care of it by keeping it in lean, healthy form. This is about my personal journey, and if it resonates or is helpful to you, great, but I understand that lean doesn’t equal healthy for everyone.
I began by meeting with Nicole, my nutritionist, at the InForm offices, where she had me step onto a fancy machine that measured lots of things: visceral fat level, skeletal muscle mass, intracellular and extracellular hydration. It gave a picture not only of what percentage of me was fat versus muscle versus water, but also some good ratios. I learned that I’m well hydrated, which is great news all the way around, but that I was also dealing with a generally high level of inflammation in my body.
We then talked about my lifestyle and also what I like to eat. I filled out a lengthy questionnaire about what’s going on, both in my body and in my head. I wasn’t sleeping all that well. I tended to be sore. I don’t eat a lot of bread or pasta, but I do have a hard time saying no to sugar in general. I was doing a nutritional system with shakes for breakfast and lunch, and I was hungry all the time. A lot of that stuff wasn’t new. I’ve never been a good sleeper; I’ve always loved to eat. I didn’t know what was connected to my diet and what was just who I was.
And with all that, Nicole designed a plan. She thought the keto diet would be appropriate for me, to mostly eliminate carbs from my diet, and to focus on eating healthy fats and proteins. I liked the portability of shakes for my crazy lifestyle, so I get one for breakfast and lunch. She then assigned me “macros,” targets to hit for the numbers of servings a day of nuts, fats, veggies and lean protein. The end result is a 1600-or-so calorie day, with 70% of those calories coming from fats, 20% from protein and 10% from carbs. No fruit. No sugar. No grains. No legumes. The plan is to stick with that for three months, and then transition over to a more Mediterranean diet, as subsisting on that much fat long-term has some less-than-desirable health effects.
What does that look like on any particular day? I’ve got my shake for breakfast, plus my morning cuppa joe, into which I put some cream (if you’re a non-dairy person, Ripple is amazing; if I want a splash of sweet, I use Kitu Super-Coffee creamer) and a smidge of coconut oil, and I blend with a little milk frother. I know that oil in your coffee sounds gnarly; it’s really been amazing, but it is way better blended.
I snack on nuts—I personally do macadamias, cashews or pistachios, which aren’t the lowest carb nuts out there, but I have some environmental issues with almonds, and I just don’t love other kinds—nut butters with celery, avocados or guacamole, and a few different recipes I alternate between that get me some healthy fats and some veggies at the same time. Lunch is another shake, into which I’ll stick some powdered peanut butter (but if you do this, watch your brand; most of them have added sugar, boo), with a few more snacks in the afternoon.
Keto dinner isn’t hard. My very much non-keto boyfriend hasn’t objected one bit, and some of our favorite recipes that include things like sweet potato or beans I instead serve over cauliflower rice. (Pro-tip on cauliflower rice: Make it in an air fryer. Keeps it a bit on the crisp side, which I prefer over the soggy pan-fried version.) I personally don’t snack much on proteins, even though I desperately want to, because it means I get to eat more for dinner.
Staying keto on the road isn’t terribly difficult. Nuts are really portable. So are nut butters, which lots of companies make in single-serving packages now, though again, watch for added sugars. There’s a lot of prepackaged keto stuff out there, and I tend to stay away from it, because a lot of it is keto versions of unhealthy things like cookies and cake, and it’s just better for my headspace if I consider things like cookies and cake an indulgence instead of an acceptable phenomenon. The one packaged food I have started taking with me when I travel is “SuperFat nut butters,” particularly the cacao coconut flavor, which has a LOT of fat in a handy squeeze tube, and it’s super tasty and not terribly sweet. If I’m somewhere with a fridge, I can take single servings of guacamole and eat them with celery instead of chips. And if I need protein on the go, I can always pack jerky (check your labels for sneaky sugars!) and cheese.
I’ve become the person who has to ask the waiter what’s in everything when I dine out, but they’re always happy to tell me. Salad dressings that are made in house are less likely to have added sugars than stuff that’s store-bought, but I always ask. Mexican and American restaurants tend to be easy. Asian and Italian restaurants tend to be tough, but nothing is impossible.
And some amazing things have happened along my journey, in addition to the original goals of taking some weight off. I’m sleeping better. I’m drinking less coffee, and I’m not crashing at 2 p.m. like I was. And I’m not as sore as I used to be on a daily basis.
The biggest thing is just the planning. Planning ahead for the week, when I spend much time on my day off meal prepping. Planning ahead for the day, if I know I’m going to be in the car or away from home, and so the things that need refrigeration have to be coordinated. Planning ahead for trips, so I know I’ve got what I need, because eating healthily out of a gas station at a horse show in North Carolina isn’t easy on any eating plan. But it’s working, and it’s worth it. Elvis is worth it, and so am I!
A few tips and tricks to those thinking of going on any sort of eating journey:
1. Work with a nutritionist. Having an experienced professional to guide me was crucial.
2. Don’t go in half-cocked. Take time to prepare before beginning.
3. Have a list of shelf-stable snacks you can easily reach for. It’ll keep you from grabbing things that you shouldn’t.
4. Meal prep and get thee to Pinterest. My day off is Monday, so I spend part of my day making things that I can have as snacks that are Some Assembly Required, as well as at least having a plan in place for dinners for the week, so I’m not getting home at 6 p.m. exhausted and starving only to have to make food. And Pinterest has been my bestie for creative recipes, especially for doing the keto thing and wanting to hit my fat macros without just eating straight cream cheese. You can have a peek at my crazy recipe collection here, including an entire keto board, which has a few yummy snacks that I make for the week.
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver & bronze Medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, her and Beverley Thomas’s Ellington, and her own Gretzky RV and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook.