Happy Monday. Today was a little more painful than most Mondays. The post-Super Bowl loss is proving to be somewhat difficult. While it was a sad lost, it was fair – New England just didn’t play all that well. When Brady makes a HUGE mistake in the first offense play of the game, you know the game is going to be messy. My Uncle Bob continued to send out photos all week, even up until the day of the game. He’s very happy right now. Someone always has to lose these games – you just always hope that it’s not your team. Oh well. Good job Pats for making it as far as you did…I will continue to stand on your side.
Over the weekend, I was talking to a friend who is currently trying to eat healthier and lose a little bit of weight. Go girl! She was asking me to explain how I do things nutritionally wise, so I told her I would write a post all about how I eat and my thoughts around dieting to lose weight. I want to preface this post with a disclaimer that I am NOT a registered dietician or a nutrition professional. I am just a girl who has done the diet thing, lost 15-20 pounds, and successfully kept it off for four years. These are my opinions and any major weight loss goal should be taken up with one’s doctor.
When I first started looking to lose some weight, I was about 12 pounds heavier than I was in high school. I had just finished my first year of college, and clearly the meals in the dinning hall were not sitting well with my body. I vowed to take it off. With some obsessive calorie counting and vigorous exercise, I dropped 20 pounds in about 3 months. I was ecstatic! Friends were telling me how great I looked, how skinny I looked, and I enjoyed the attention. I felt better in my clothes and finally started to feel like me. When I got back to school I continued to keep up with my weight loss and my diet. I counted every calorie and every minute of exercise. Soon, I started to become a bit obsessed. I weighed myself every day and hated myself for every pound or half pound fluctuation. I exercised every single day without any rest and I beat myself up for hours if I over indulged a little bit. Soon, I found the weight creep back up and I gained about 5-7 pounds back. After that year, I vowed that I would try and be healthier both physically and emotionally about my approach so I started to read up on healthy eating. I read Fast Food Nation and my outlook changed forever. I realized that if I wanted to maintain a healthy weight, I needed to change my mindset – what I was doing was changing my lifestyle not my diet. Over the next couple of years, I began to read up on everything: protein, healthy fats vs. non-healthy fats, carbs, sugars, etc. I got really into exercise and running. Soon, those extra 5 pounds melted off, and I’ve leveled out at about 125 pounds on my 5 foot 4.5 frame. I’ve kept the weight off for years now and have increased my strength and running speed while doing this. It look a lot of trial and error, but I thought I would share some of the things I do and some of the schools of thought that I subscribe to when it comes to healthy eating.
My outlook on eating healthy and leading a healthy lifestyle is all about the form of the food that I put into my body. I view my body very much like a machine. A high quality machine needs high quality fuel. You don’t put regular unleaded gasoline in a Ferrari, you feed it premium. One of the biggest truths I learned when starting to eat healthier was the truth about high fructose corn syrup. In the book Fast Food Nation, the author talks about how the U.S. manufactures corn and corn products in this country. It’s a very scary process if you knew how exactly it is grown and produced. It’s also very scary just how many food items have high fructose corn syrup. If I could tell you one step to make that will make your diet cleaner and healthier it is this: read the label. If an ingredient includes “high fructose corn syrup” or any of those words put together in another form (“corn syrup”, “corn fructose”) don’t eat it. Period. You’d be surprised how many foods have it.
The Low-Fat Farce
Also one of the biggest dieting misnomers is the whole idea of “diet foods” and the creation of “low fat” foods and how they are “better” for you. There is nothing wrong with consuming fats. Our body needs fat in order to complete simple body functions. If a food is labeled as “low fat” or “no fat” or “skinny something”, it’s probably not even that good for you anyway. Special K is like this. I have a really big problem with Special K. Cereal isn’t good for you period, so why tout that people should be eating 2 bowls of it a day to lose weight? A serving of Special K and one large banana are about the same calorie wise, but your body is going to process each differently and absorb those sugars and carbs differently. The better choice is hands down the banana – the best “diet” food out there. I swear. Love bananas.
Eat Your Vegetables
The whole concept of the quality of the food you eat goes hand in hand with the one food we all should be eating more of – vegetables. I didn’t always LOVE veggies. But I know that after a weekend of crappy eating habits, I always crave a salad. The best way to eat them is as whole as possible in order to get the most nutrition out of it. Ban all canned veggies. Don’t ever touch them. Same goes for canned fruit. Just say no. Frozen veggies are an awesome way to save money because they’re cheaper than produce sometimes, and have almost exactly the same nutritional punch because they’ve been frozen. Steam, sauté, bake, roast – all great ways to use veggies. Just be aware of any butter you add or oils. Olive Oil is great – good source of fats and tasty – but be wary about any frozen veggies that say they’re in a sauce. That’s a lot of empty calories and sugar that you don’t need.
Protein – Not Just for Body Builders
Protein is THE MOST important building block of a healthy body and diet. When I first started getting into healthy eating, I didn’t think very often about my protein intake. I thought that it was something that only body builders worried about. Protein is important because if you are not getting enough, your body will start to break down your body’s muscles for fuel instead of fat. Lean muscle also burns body fat so that the more lean muscle you build when you work out, the more efficient your body will be at burning fat. But, if you are not getting enough protein and you work out vigorously, your body will use your muscles as a fuel source. So those pounds you see drop off the scale may not be fat pounds lost, but they may be in fact muscle. This is NOT good. This is the reason why refueling after a workout with protein is so important.
The amount that you need is dependent upon your size, age, and activity level. The standard way to measure the amount of protein you need is to multiply your body weight in pounds by .37. So a 150 pound person should eat 55 grams of protein per day just to sustain the muscle that the body has. If you exercise, the protein intake need goes up dramatically – up to something like 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
I like to aim to have a protein source at every meal. Some of my favorites include:
- Breakfast: eggs, 1 tablespoon peanut butter or almond butter, plain greek yogurt
- Lunch: chicken, beans, tuna, hummus, greek yogurt
- Dinner: chicken, lean ground turkey, fish, tuna, beans, dark leafy greens or veggies like broccoli, lentils, quinoa
I also like protein powder. I know some people don’t because it’s manufactured protein, but it’s the perfect ratio of fats, carbs, and protein in an easy to use form. You can also add it to things like yogurt or a smoothie to pump up the protein in a meal. Ladies – do not be afraid of protein. You will not get bulky if you lift weights and eat protein – you will only get leaner and stronger. Once I started incorporating protein into my diet, I noticed that the number on the scale didn’t move much, but my clothing started to fit better and my runs got easier and easier. I was getting stronger, and there’s NOTHING wrong with that.
Breakup with Soda
Soda: the enemy. After reading Fast Food Nation, I officially gave up soda for good. The only soda I will have is a diet coke every once in a while in an adult beverage. Once you wean yourself off it, you’ll find that you won’t miss it, and your body will thank you. High fructose corn syrup does a number with our brains and our bodies. The more you consume, the more you want. Our bodies are made up of mostly water, so feed your body what it wants. I have a water bottle that I fill up throughout the day at work – it’s convenient and easy. Plus – water is free!
If a lot of this information is somewhat overwhelming, here are some quick ticks to help you get started.
Quick “Get Started” Tips
- Eat breakfast. Breakfast should be your most calorie-dense meal of the day. I once heard a saying “Eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a pauper”. I think it rings very true. Breakfast gets your metabolism moving for the day so get it started with some high quality calories. We’re also the most active in the morning than we are during the day, especially if you sit at a desk all day. An ideal meal would include protein, healthy whole grain carbs, and a fresh element like fruit (not juice).
- At the grocery store, shop along the outside isles. This is where the fresh things are: produce, dairy, eggs, fresh grains, meat, etc. All of these things must be refrigerated in order to avoid spoilage. These are the healthiest things you can put in your body.
- Organization. The best thing that I ever did when I was trying to lose a little weight was keeping a food journal. I carried around a little notebook with me everywhere I went and wrote down what I ate, how much of it, the time of the day I ate it, and my feelings around eating it. This is a great way to dissect patterns with your eating. I found out that I was emotionally eating A LOT more than I thought. If I was tired or stressed, the cereal box got opened, and 30 minutes it would be half gone. Not good. I also noticed that I wasn’t getting a lot of veggies in my diet, or protein – very important things for maintaining a healthy weight. After I lost the weight I continued to journal for another year. Then I let go. If you make yourself accountable, it’s easier to stick with your goal.
- Food plan. We’re all busy. Take an extra 10 minutes when you make your grocery list, and make a meal list for the week of healthy dinners, lunches, and breakfasts that you can have. That way, you know how much to get and have a plan of attack for how to manage both your time and healthy meals. This way, you also won’t fall into the trap of convenience food.
- Measure. Serving sizes are notoriously smaller than you think they are. Have you ever actually measured a ¾ cup of cereal? It’s small. Very very small. Measure out a serving of a food and put it in a baggie. Having these 1 serving packages of things helps with portion control, and also makes for a quick grab and go snack. Also, you’ll soon see how different a 100 calorie portion of real food like carrot sticks vs. a 100 calorie “snack pack” are. There is a reason why you can eat more carrots in a portion than these small “snacks”.
- Eat food in its most natural state possible. This goes for both produce and meats. A chicken breast will be better for you than a chicken sausage. A raw head of broccoli is better for you than broccoli sautéed in a butter cream sauce. Buy packaged items with the shortest ingredient lists. Again, if any of those ingredients include the word “fructose” or “corn syrup” – put it back.
- Read labels and know what they mean. It took me a long time to figure out food labels and what I should be looking for. Everyone’s needs are different, but there are some things I stay away from. Breakfast cereal is one of them. If a breakfast cereal has more than 10g of sugar per serving, I walk away. That’s like eating a candy bar for breakfast. The same goes for greek yogurt like Chobani. I LOVE their yogurt, but I try to stay away from the flavored ones as much as I possibly can. Some of them have nearly as much sugar as a candy bar. A regular snickers bar has 30 grams of sugar, and a black cherry Chobani has 21 grams. That’s a lot for breakfast. While these yogurts are by no means off limits (they have a ton of protein!) it’s good to just be aware of things like sugar.
- If you’re hungry – eat. Starving yourself will not make you lose sustainable weight. You should ideally be eating every 2-3 hours in order to keep your metabolism revving. You don’t let a car run on empty, don’t let your body do the same.
Overall, what I’m trying to convey in this long, convoluted post is that losing weight does not require a diet – it requires a completely different mind set about food and eating. It truly is a life style choice. This post is only about the food choices. I could go on and on and on about this, and I haven’t even gotten to the exercise portion! The fact of the matter is this; if you want long-term sustainable weight loss, you have to change your thinking. Diet bars and calorie counting will only get you so far. You may drop some weight, but you will quickly gain it right back, as I experienced myself. It is important to know your calorie needs and there are a ton of calorie calculators online that will tell you how much you should be consuming in a day depending upon how much weight you want to drop. Check them out. However, once you have that number, keep it in your mind as you make food choices. But if you’re choosing whole foods with limited ingredients, you won’t need to count the calories of those foods too hard. No one got fat on eating chicken breasts and steamed broccoli.
Readers: What are your tips for healthy eating? Have you ever tried to lose weight and was successful? How did you do it?