Eating Healthy at Disneyworld: Low fat & Low carb eating strategies

How to spend 2 months in Disney-world, without breaking your diet, and even LOOSING weight. It can be done, but it will cost you — literally.

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That said, I honestly don’t think it’s possible to do it without straining your pocket book (unless you make all your own meals), and even if you try, you’re going to be eating grilled salmon or a salad for pretty much every meal — and there’s only so much salmon a girl can eat.

Most of what’s available at Disney “fast food” places isn’t all that healthy … excepting the obligatory grilled salmon, salads, and small bags of snacking tomatoes and/or apple slices the menus are geared far more towards the palates of children than the concerns of parents. A lot of self control WILL be required on your part, and you’ll have to INSIST on sit down restaurants, and speaking with the chef when ordering. No really, ask to see the chef. One of the fabulous things about Disney is that if you start off the conversation with your waiter with THESE words… “I have health issues that restrict my diet” they have been TRAINED to not pass go, to not collect $200, and just go get the chef.

So for instance, a few days ago I went to eat at Tiffen’s, one of the two sit down restaurants at Animal Kingdom:
Waitress: “I’ll give you a few minutes to make up your mind”
me: “let me preface this with I have health issues….” and before I could finish my sentence she said:
“Would you like me to send out the chef?”
Me: “Yes please “– happy smile…
He came out and we talked, he has decided to grill the red snapper that they usually deep fry, and is making all sorts of other alterations to the accompanying items, 100% Forbidden/black Rice instead of the Jade blend they would normally use — no oil or carrots added to the (cole)slawed green papaya (carrots are a very HIGH sugar veggie), and no black bean sauce (cause he said that had oil in it too), etc.

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Animal Kingdom/Tiffen’s: Intended for two people, I had enough left over for a 2nd meal.

Normally: This dish would be Crispy Sustainable Fish served with Som Tam (green papaya salad) and Black Bean Sauce served with Jade Blend Rice  — and  I was expecting to pay about $43, based on the price of a similar entree (this dish was from the prix fixe menu), but after a 20% discount they’re giving to all yearly pass holders at certain restaurants, it only cost me $36.64 including tip… so about $18.32 per meal.. not bad.

Where rice in general is a VERY bad idea, and should be avoided… seriously… ONE rice bowl of white rice has as much sugar in it as FOUR crispy cream doughnuts!!!!! Me, I would MUCH rather have the doughnuts.

Black rice, sometimes known as ‘forbidden rice’, while still carbohydrate heavy, is at least a better option — even though it too should be eaten sparingly, as it it contains protein and other nutritional goodies. For those not familiar with it, a one-half cup serving of cooked black rice, contains about:

  1. 160 calories
  2. 1.5 grams of fat
  3. 34 grams of carbohydrates (which is my per meal maximum)
  4. 2 grams of fiber (double the fiber of brown rice)
  5. 5 grams of protein  (the highest amount of protein of all the rices)
  6. 4% DV for iron

P.S., Black rice is LOADED with antioxidants… more than blueberries

Initially I had come in to the restaurant thinking I would get the grilled octopus appetizer, but he immediately vetoed that, informing me that they pouch it in olive oil before grilling it — which makes now think I should be asking about that cooking technique from now on before ever ordering it again.

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So, while there are certain fast food dishes that Disney does pretty well, and going that way will save you money… for the most part they’re not really healthy options from the standpoint of an adult whose only growing in the wrong direction. Their mac and cheese is really tasty, and you can find it topped with lobster, shrimp, and even beef brisket (@Magic Kingdom next to the Carousel, limited hours, usually closed by 8pm even if the park is open till 1am) … And while there’s chicken pretty much everywhere, it’s pretty much either rotisserie or fried; and for those who don’t know… fried is actually the healthier option, assuming you remove the skin. Rotisserie chicken is cooked in such a way that the fat saturates the meat rather than dropping down off the chicken, making the chicken moister but also MUCH fattier. Disney also does REALLY good tomato soup, in any variation of the sort, but again it’s NOT low fat… and last year I gained a good 20 pounds in two months eating all of it…

As many of you know, about this time last year, Jan/Feb of 2016 (after many months expanding sizes but of just not wanting to know the truth), I weighed myself on one of those massive scales outside of a Publix Supermarket (the dominant chain in Florida), and clocked in at 200lb… SHOCK!!! The cause was simple, I tend to eat my feelings and the death of my father, who was also my best friend, shook me hard; and then, the process of going through probate was so emotionally stressful that, as I like to put it, I developed a deep and intimate relationship with both Ben AND Jerry. (Insert laugh) However, after seeing that my weight was almost DOUBLE what it had been in my 20’s was enough to motivate me to start making better food choices.  Then at my checkup in May of 2016, I weighed in at 187 lb (better), but I learned that, rather like a goose being prepared for Foie Gras, I’d managed to eat myself into Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.  I discussed this at length, previously, in my blog post called: A matter of health (feel free to follow the link).

For those who would rather not: brief review, my doctor informed me that my liver numbers were HORRIBLE, and that if I didn’t seriously make some changes they’d have to find me a new one. *GASP* … suffice it to say I was scared, and fear of death is a much stronger motivator than mere vanity. The doctor put me on a LOW fat and low carb diet (the latter being something I’d been mostly doing anyway, because I have been pre-diebetic for maybe 15 or more YEARS), and suggested I give up red meat entirely, and focus on just eating fish. Three months later (after traveling through Canada) I came back for more extensive testing, where I weighed in at 149lb, and the doctors were SO happy with me (and my liver numbers were so improved) that they just said, “you don’t NEED to loose more weight at this point, your BMI is healthy, but keep doing what you’re doing and we won’t need to put you on any medication.” (Normal weight for a woman my age (not considering frame) is 107.8 – 145.6 lbs

BUT, my weight in my 20’s had been about 110 to 115, and everything I’ve read the ideal weight range a woman in her 50’s with my height AND frame is 114-127, so I might not NEED to loose more weight, but as long as I’m not feeling like I’ve been denying myself, and I don’t… I want to lose that last 10. So, after that I returned back to Orlando, where I continued to drop weight until today, albeit at a slower rate (of maybe half a pound a week); at least until about a week ago when I made the mistake of buying my own digital scale, rather than relying on that of whatever Airbnb I happened to be staying with at to time, Murphy’s law. However, that too was good, since having realized I was not only no longer dropping, but actually starting to gain, I did a review of my eating habits and realized I’d been slowly adding a lot of fruit to my diet. I removed that, and quickly went back to loosing weight again.

Currently, I’m at 133.8 lb. I figure I have 10 more lbs to lose to get back to my happy weight — and hopefully ALL my old clothes will then fit again. I’m 5’4″ and have a very slender frame — tiny wrists, and should have a 28″ circumference to my rib cage, but am currently still at 30 inches, so that essentially, right now, I’m still two inches too big in all my measurements. (And as you can tell from the pictures below, there is such a thing as having breasts that are too big.)

So, that said, here are before and after shots of me a year ago, and me a few weeks ago (I have since gotten rid of the oil-slick hair, and am now sporting a pixy short haircut)

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Before and after shots; I tried to find similar angles, and used the size of my head as a point of reference for sizing the photos

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(They might not be the most flattering pants, but tourism I prefer cargo pants where I can load up my pockets rather than lug around a backpack or purse. In those pockets are a full set of keys, an iPhone, a man’s wallet, a backup iPhone battery with all the obligatory cables, and ear phones, and hanging from my belt look one of those microfiber clothes for cleaning my glasses.

So, as to my qualifications to speak about loosing weight while at the parks, the proof is in the pudding and I know of what I speak….

The first rule, while the most obvious, is the hardest to obey… USE SELF CONTROL!

If you’re at epcot for the Arts and food festival and you see options like this, SAY NO!

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It doesn’t matter that you can rationalize that  the serving size is small, the answer is NO! ‘Cause I promise you, at these events you’ll not eat just one… and there’s always the next booth selling something delectable, and the next… and you’ll walk out of there having gorged yourself on a lot of small servings …  I know this from experience.

And of course, the corollary to this rule is that when you see things like, that slice of chocolate cake at Hollywood Studios that’s almost as big as your head,  or that cinnamon bun in the Belle Section of Magic Kingdom, which is about the same size… for those items as well the answer is still a resounding NO!

— and honestly, having had the pleasure of eating both items, I can honestly testify that they’re OK, but really NOT worth the calories… I think that cinnabon at 880 calories actually IS a tastier cinnamon bun.

BUT, and this is a big one, DO NOT DENY YOURSELF EITHER!!!

As a general rule, from day one on this diet I have not denied myself. While it’s pricey, it’s hard to feel your sacrificing your pleasure of food to your diet when you are eating things like Lobster, fresh oysters, shrimp, salmon, crab, etc.

So while I’m saying DON’T buy those deserts, I am not saying don’t have desert. My suggestion is to hold out till you pass a Starbucks on your way OUT of the park (there’s one in EVERY park, usually near the entrance — Animal kingdom being the exception) and buy yourself a cup of plain coffee or tea (decaf) and ONE (and JUST one) of their cake pops — I LOVE the chocolate one with pink sprinkles, as it is by far the chocolatiest of the bunch.

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While for some reason the Starbucks in the parks do NOT include any dietary information, here is a pic of the comparable item sold outside of the parks (and remember to eat it slowly, nibble at it.. savor it). Now think about it, if that TINY (but oh so tasty) pop of gooey fudgey chocolate cake is around 200 calories at $2.25, what would that massive slice of cake have run you?

Now granted, if you have a group of about 6 people you could buy that slice of cake and cut it up into portions for about the same calories… but I travel alone….

I’ll be honest, Last year when I was at Disney, and posting all my food choices to the internet, my friends were making comments like, “do they even HAVE vegetables at Disney?” and “would it kill you to eat a vegetable?

So it’s ultimately about choices… that and asking to talk to the chef.

Epcot’s Restaurants: 

Last year I went to Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot’s Canada, and I ordered their Filet Mignon a AAA Canadian Beef Tenderloin, with mushroom risotto, asparagus-tomato relish, sitting on a truffle-butter sauce, with a side of their signature Poutin (french fries, Gruyere, caramelized onions, french onion gravy), and the Crème brûlée for desert.

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Quite tasty, but probably not the healthiest of choices.

This year I did it differently… I ordered the Venison.

Ladies and Gents, if you have a choice between game meats or normal things like beef or chicken, go for the game! Seriously..  Three ounces of venison has 140 calories and less than 1 gram of fat, while the same sized serving of beef tenderloin (offering the same amount of protein), has 179 calories and 7.6 grams of fat, three of which are saturated!!!

Bison steaks are actually a healthier bet even then Venison and I argue tastier than beef steak– but so far I have yet to find it offered in any of the in park restaurants (one of the on site hotels apparently has it); Do NOT however be fooled, the same can not really be said of Bison burgers. Those should be avoided. While they ARE better than beef burgers, they are NOT lower in fat than chicken, which the bison steak is pound per pound. Burgers NEED the fat to bind the bits of meat into the patty shape, so manufacturers will throw in EXTRA fat from the bison, or add in ground beef, into the mix.

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Epcot: Canada: Le Cellier Steakhouse

Also, per normal I SPOKE WITH THE CHEF, and was told that the Venison was supposed to be sitting on this creamy pasta thing; so I asked him if they could switch out that fatty carb for something in the way of green vegetables, and was given a massive plate full of grilled asparagus, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts instead.

Also, as a rule, start off eating the veggies, filled up on them and then get started in on the meat after you’ve taken the edge off your hunger. Again, having filled up on high fiber veggies, I was only able to eat half of the meat portion (and had enough veggies left over) that I was able to get two meals out of it.

Sadly, Canada is one of the few places that has game meat… at pretty much every other restaurant you’re going to have to turn your eyes to either an appetizer (again, talk to the chefs about how they’re prepared)

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Epcot: Italy, Tutto Italia Ristorante: Pasta Fagoli (Pasta and bean soup), a filling nutritious snack to sip slowly while your group is snarfing down pasta

Or, most likely, you’ll have to settle on nice piece of fish with side of green vegetables

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Epcot China: Nine Dragon’s Restaurant, sustainable fish of the day was Orange Roughy

This fish was pan fried and hence probably a little more oil then I prefer. I warned them ahead of time about my issues, and they replaced the rice with broccoli …. Apparently they do NOT have Chinese cabbage here (very sad)

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Epcot France: Monsieur Paul, Black cod (my favorite fish) sauce on the side, refused the bread and the rice

There are a few places around the park where I found Black Cod being served (TRY the on at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs)… if you have not tried it (otherwise known as Sablefish in the USA, but has different names world wide) it’s light and flaky with a very high Omega 3 fat content. My favorite preparation is the Asian way, marinated in miso for 24 hours or more… but the way Chef Paul did it was also tasty.

And even if you are Epcot for one of the various tasting festivals that draw locals in during the off season, there are “better choices.” Again, ALWAYS look to the fish option, but pay attention to the details…

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Believe it or not even at these food booths you CAN ask them to please NOT add the Lemon-Thyme Beurre Blanc — otherwise known as butter — but make sure you make the request to the person who calls out the orders when you hand them your receipt, and then make sure to repeat it AFTER they say it, LOUD … the chefs are so remote controlled back there that you sort of have to wake them up.

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I’m not going to bother going through EVERY park and talking about food options at each, because basically the same rules hold true.

Opt for a sit down restaurant unless you want to be eating nothing but grilled salmon and salads for your whole stay, and ask to speak to the chef and choose a seafood or game meat (if available), and work with the chef on how they can modify what’s available to meet your dietary needs.

For snacks, there are apple slices and bags of cherry tomatoes at every park sold either at stands or behind fast food counters.

Remember to have ONE serving of FULL FAT dairy a day… while this may sound counter intuitive, there’s a slew of studies that have found that folks who maintain dairy fat in their blood stream actually loose weight faster — I guess our metabolisms have evolved to figure if there’s milk, we can’t be starving, and there’s no need to slow the metabolism even though calorie intake has decreased. Also, studies are finding that from a cholesterol standpoint our bodies process that sort of fat differently, and if you too are a woman you need the dairy for bone health. I STRONGLY suggest ONE full fat cheese stick a day as a late night snack after returning from the parks … I opt for a nice sharp cheddar.

Oh, and least I forget!!!!
DO NOT DRINK YOUR CALORIES!!!! And for G-d’s sake, stay away from artificial sweeteners (no really, if you don’t know about WHY you should NEVER consume these things, read this!)!!!  Get used to drinking unsweetened teas and coffee — its difficult at first, but I promise you after a few weeks your palates will adjust and you’ll grow to prefer it, or of course water is always the best option.

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