Thanks to the natural health experts at Bastyr University, who have generously sponsored this series, the eighth challenge of our Working on Wellness Series had us following a Mediterranean diet for 14 days.

Problem: How We Felt

Olivia: When I started my health journey with Bastyr in June I was interested in improving my overall health. Over the last few months my journey has transformed and I found myself battling occasional breakouts, fatigue, and a bloated feeling despite working out on a regular basis. Once I expressed these concerns to Dr. Harding it was recommended I follow a Mediterranean diet with a few extra restrictions. I have to say I was a bit overwhelmed with the proposed adjustments but optimistic because of the great things I've heard about the diet and lifestyle. How about you, Maria?

Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

Maria: I am always struggling to overcome fatigue, inflammation, and feeling bloated. I mostly looked to this challenge as an opportunity to boost my intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains, while reducing refined sugars, grains, and red meat. All in all, Bastyr made it easy to understand the Mediterranean diet.

Solution: A Mediterranean Diet & Lifestyle

According to Bastyr University, a Mediterranean diet is made up of whole, unprocessed foods including grains and starches, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and small portions of meat, fish, and sweets. In addition to the types of foods eaten, lifestyle is an important component of a Mediterranean diet. Daily exercise, social time with friends and family, and adequate sleep contribute to the health benefits associated with what is essentially known as a Mediterranean lifestyle.

Here are five ways to follow a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle:

Fill half of your plate with vegetables. Choose from cooked or raw options in a variety of colors and textures.

Recipes for inspiration:
Florentine Grilled Vegetables with Hazelnuts and Bright Vinaigrette
Warm Spring Radish Salad with Balsamic Vinegar
Grilled Harissa Eggplant and Tomato Skewers with Mint Yogurt

Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash
Photo by Benjamin Ashton on Unsplash
Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash
Photo by Benjamin Ashton on Unsplash

Cook with meat as an accent to a dish instead of the focus of a meal. Limit meat to a 3 ounce portion and incorporate fish at least twice a week and red meat to only once.

Recipes for inspiration:
Spring Greens Salad with Kumquats and Fennel Sausage
Simple Orange-Scented Cod with Fennel and Tomatoes
Breakfast-for-Lunch Hot Smoked Salmon Salad
Seared Ahi Tuna Rainbow Salad

Focus on healthy fats. Use extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado, and olives on a daily basis.

Recipes for inspiration:
Avocado and Beet Bejeweled Salad with Ginger Dressing
Winter Citrus Salad with Olive Oil and Honey
Easiest Ever Chili-Lime Avocado Salad

Photo by James Harris on Unsplash

Choose whole grains and starches. These provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals essential to a healthy diet.

Recipes for inspiration:
Extra Herby Tabouli Salad
Lentil & Kale Salad with Pumpkin Seeds & Hard Boiled Egg
Peanut & Fresh Herb Vegan Bulgur Protein Bowl
Wild Rice & Broccoli Salad with Pistachios

Select fruit for snacks and dessert. Satisfy your sweet tooth and get a dose of fiber and antioxidants.

Recipes for inspiration:
Watermelon "Nachos"
Strawberries with Balsamic & Basil
Hawayij-Poached Pears with Mint and Pomegranate
Autumn Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad

Result: How We Feel Now

Maria: I’m at a stage where I don’t feel confident enforcing dietary restrictions on myself by completely eliminating things that are not recommended, plus there is too much occupational temptation so I settled for cutting back instead.

While there were a handful of cheat days during the two week challenge, I remained focused on eating more of the good stuff. I do feel less bloated and clothes are fitting a little better. The issues I experience with fatigue are still coming and going, but I think this also circles back to maintaining proper hydration and managing the regular stresses of life. Despite the fatigue, I’ve been motivated to increase physical activity and even started jogging a few days a week. Prior to starting the challenge, I was also experiencing some abnormal acne outbreaks, which have reduced significantly over the past couple weeks. I feel good enough that I’ve continued sticking to my Mediterranean meal plans.

Olivia: That's great news, Maria. I'm also really happy with the results I'm getting from following a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle.

Photo by Sabine Thissen on Unsplash

I had been tasked with eliminating wheat, dairy, sugar, and fried foods on top of the usual recommendations and actually found the additional challenge easier than I thought. Of course I had some deviations, as you mentioned, it's an occupational hazard. What I found interesting is that by eliminating some foods I was able to take stock of how they impact me when they are reintroduced into my diet. Twice I had a breakout after eating dairy which made avoiding it much easier. I've also felt less bloated and have more energy throughout the day. Overall, I love the results I'm getting from this new lifestyle.

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About the Contributor
Maria Hesse
Maria Hesse is the executive editor and designer of Edible San Diego. Her interest in functional arts led to a degree in interior design, which inspires her passion to be an advocate for sustainable living through food. She enjoys balcony gardening and designing crochet patterns in her downtime. Find her @mariafromediblesd and @waysidestudiowest on Instagram.