While I was growing up, my mom was always trying out the latest diet plan du jour. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Slim Fast. There was the grapefruit diet and the cabbage soup diet (that was pretty memorable), and probably a few others I'm forgetting.
So when I became a teen, it was only natural that I would dabble in those fad diets too. We were both plenty active. She'd take me along to her aerobics classes. We'd sweat along to Jane Fonda tapes in the living room. We lifted weights at the gym. I played soccer. But leanness isn't in our gene pool and an abiding love of sugar is, so those completely unsustainable diets probably hurt more than they helped, as we'd both inevitably go off the wagon and back on the treats, starting another cycle of guilt, weight gain, and dieting.
Turns out, though, that this early experience with dieting essentially inoculated me against doing it as an adult. By the time I hit college, I was so done with abstinence and counting calories and guilt. Instead, I fully embraced my love of food and set about making a career out of it.
But in my 20 years on the job I've learned that having a career in food isn't an excuse to ignore the one "diet plan" that actually works: everything in moderation. This is the mantra I try to live by. So, when I read about the Scandi Sense diet, also called the "simplest diet in the world," which pretty much revolves around moderation in everything but vegetables (eat all of those), my knee-jerk "no diets!" attitude gave way to "hmmm… maybe I should try this." So I did.
Wait, What's the Scandi Sense Diet?
The Scandi Sense diet is essentially this: Eat three meals a day (no snacks, at least for the first two weeks), and at least two of those three meals should have one (but preferably two) servings of vegetables, one serving of protein, and one serving of starch or fruit. Servings are measured simply by handfuls — no weighing or calorie counting. Meals can include up to three tablespoons of fat, so dressings and sautés are just fine, and dairy is somewhat restricted to 10 ounces per day.
The "diet" is really just a commitment to mindful, healthy eating rather than a detailed plan full of dos and don'ts — just fill your plate with veg, go easy on the sugar and fat, and use your hands as a visual guide to keep portions in check.
I Tried the Scandi Diet for One Week — Here's How It Went
For one week I ate according to the Scandi Sense plan to see what was up. It was mostly pretty easy since it didn't require the fuss of weighing and counting and following specific recipes. Here are some of my observations and struggles.
1. The Scandi Sense diet requires a lot of planning ahead: Practically everything grab-and-go is something I was supposed to limit — granola bars, fruit, yogurt. I couldn't fill up on them like I used to, so I had to make sure I had enough vegetables and lean protein prepped and ready to keep from hungrily succumbing to carb-heavy convenience foods at the last minute.
2. Sticking to the three-meals-a-day plan is hard. I'm a big-time snacker and grazer, so being forced to limit myself to three actual meals took some getting used to. The first day I had a scrambled egg and some spinach for breakfast, knowing it was within the plan, even though the meal didn't contain all the handfuls. I quickly learned that the meals are supposed to include all those handfuls for a reason. I had underfed myself and was starving well before lunch.
By the third day I had gotten better about making sure I was eating enough at each meal to get me through the day without snacking. But even though I wasn't hungry, I still had the urge to snack. Old habits die hard.
Then I watched this video and realized I could break those big meals into smaller meals and snacks. Technically you're supposed to wait until you've followed the plan for 14 days, but I started early. Limiting myself to three big meals put me in that thinking-about-food-all-the-time, dieter frame of mind that I didn't like. Obsessing about what I'm eating makes me obsess about what I can't eat, and then the cravings come with a vengeance.
3. I had to get a little more imaginative with the handfuls concept. The above video also helped me conceptualize each meal as a box of food. Put the requisite handfuls in the box, eat from it at will. When I didn't want to eat a big breakfast or lunch all at once, I put the leftover handfuls in a literal Tupperware box just to help me keep track. However, the meals given as examples looked like crudité platters with a piece of bread and ham thrown in. That's a little too acetic for me, so when I wasn't cooking the vegetables into a dish, I made salads with vinaigrette or paired the veg with hummus. I also made sure I had some hard-boiled eggs on hand for an easy, quick protein option.
As for dinner, the adjustments were easy, even though I was in the middle of developing fried rice recipes. I cooked extra of whatever protein and veg was going in the rice and served it with just a handful of the finished rice.
4. How you substitute sweets in for a meal is a little murky. The video made it clear how wine or beer can fit in — just remove a serving of starch/fruit and add more veg if you need to fill up. But incorporating sweets was a little murky. The video suggested sacrificing a half to a whole meal. In other words, a piece of cake means no lunch. Yikes! Luckily, I don't eat a whole piece of cake very often. But what if I just want a small scoop of ice cream? What if it's low-calorie ice cream? How much do I give up out of the meal box for that? I ended up playing it by ear. Basically, I'd skip a starch portion and made sure not to max out the fat allotment.
My Big Takeaways from the Scandi Sense Diet
Ultimately, the Scandi Sense diet made me a lot more mindful about what I put in my mouth. As soon as I was tempted to toss a couple of my kid's Cheez-Its down my gullet for no reason at all, I'd remember the plan. And instead of letting hunger sneak up on me and push me to desperately grab yet another yogurt or a protein bar to get by, I'd reach for my prepped vegetables.
By the end of the week, though, the scale stayed the same and I was pretty tired of planning ahead and thinking so hard about what I was eating. And I was definitely tired of my daytime menu. Clearly, I was going to need to shake things up with different dressings, dips, and flavors, which would require even more planning ahead. It's one thing to plan a week's worth of dinners, but breakfast and lunch too? Exhausting.
I was happy to get off the plan, and of course I immediately wanted to go out and get a big bowl of chow mein or pad Thai or some other heavily noodled dish. The reins were off! But I didn't, mainly because it didn't fit into our schedule. And the craving passed, mainly because deep down I knew it wasn't "forbidden" anymore. I could have it tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, and pretty soon I had forgotten all about it.
In the end, I think even an un-diet like Scandi Sense isn't right for me. Any semblance of restriction and I chafe. But I definitely like how easy it is to use the philosophy to get more vegetables on my plate and be more mindful about snacking. My goal is to implement it on a part-time basis. If I can Scandi-Sense at least half my meals each week, I'd consider that a success.
Have you tried the Scandi Sense diet?