You see them everywhere: articles, books and programs suggesting you will be able to lose weight without changing your eating habits. Some ask you to modify your diet for a while, but promise you can get back to eating that delicious cake you crave in no time. These programs must assume that in the process of dieting, your will power will undergo a drastic transformation that will keep you from craving more chocolate after you eat the first piece of congratulatory pie for the 10 pounds you shed. Here is my two cents: it will not happen!
The subject of responsibility is much talked about as it refers to our mounting national debt, budget deficits, mortgages and personal finance. But the R word seems absent from diet plans everywhere. “It is not your fault you are overweight” is the overriding message society sends people struggling with weight loss. Well I agree, it’s not your fault. It is likely that your genes predispose you to put on pounds, or you have a slow metabolism. It is not your fault that the entire food industry is out to get you. Yes, they want to pack as many empty calories in you as they can and get you hooked on their salt/sugar mojo to keep you coming back at any cost. It is safe to say that the food industry does not have your body’s best interest at heart. The obesity and subsequent diabetes epidemic in the U.S. speak for themselves. Think about that the next time you want to “reward” yourself with a treat because you think you deserve it, only to feel ill about it immediately after eating. Although it is not your fault that you tend to gain weight, it is your responsibility to watch what you eat, because – again – the food industry and the FDA are not looking out for you.
I am not a nutritionist. The recipes in this blog rarely call for diet ingredients. I believe that if you restrain yourself from dessert and snacks, and limit processed foods, among other things, there is no need to obsess over the fat content of your meals. If you can do without “treats” for a while, you will see a difference. I have been various levels of skinny all my life – partly because of having a small frame, but mostly because I mind what I eat. While I do not obsess about weight, and think beauty comes in all sizes, I made a decision long ago to respect my body and keep it as healthy as possible. My one-year struggle to shed the last 10 post-pregnancy pounds taught me a valuable lesson: it is easier to prevent putting on the weight than to lose it. With this in mind I am sharing my “secrets” to maintaining a healthy weight. I call it the no excuse, no-nonsense diet. Let’s start with the no-nos:
- Dessert. I know what you are thinking: impossible; but please read on. Not eating desert will give you an edge. You can eat a high calorie meal, but if you do not follow it with dessert and soda, there is more leeway in what you can have for the main course. Repeat after me: “I don’t need dessert.”
- Soda (of any type) and most store-bought juice – It’s the urban legends, or the high fructose corn syrup that creeps me out. Your body will tell you when you are poisoning it. Listen to it. Try water for a month and see the results. Call it a miracle when the pounds come off.
- Drink liquids with your meal. I read this tip in a health magazine long ago and gave it a try. By not drinking liquids or having dessert, I am able to digest my food within an hour and then have a nice glass of water or unsweetened tea. I feel light and airy, not blown up and dragging.
- White bread: you know the drill, the more whole grains, the better. If your pipes are not clogged, your entire system will work better. I should add white rice to this list but it happens to be a staple.
- Fast food. If you ever get a craving for a burger, go to a local mom and pop shop and get a burger, greasy… with fries. But make that a sporadic habit. Cut pizza and salads from fast food places (with the heavy, sugary dressing) out of your regular diet and you will see results.
- Frozen meals and TV dinners. When you cook, you know what’s in your food. Soups, stews and slow-cooked meals can be prepared in high quantities and reheat beautifully when you are on the run.
- Eat out often. Specially if there are no healthy restaurant options in your area. It is also more difficult to control your portions when you are eating out. Once a week is about enough for me.
- Cold cereal. No, not even organic, all natural brands sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. As long as they have sugar/or worse, sugar substitutes, they should not enter your body first thing in the morning. Sugar will make you crave more sugar. If you feel like cereal, cook a bowl of old-fashioned oats with water, whole milk and anise seeds. Add a pinch of salt and a tea-spoon of honey or brown cane sugar and voila, a healthy breakfast. About twice a week, I like my breakfast of champions.
- Snacks – you have better things to do than look for food every two hours. Whoever told you that you could lose weight by eating 5 small meals and snacks a day forgot that you are human and that you are actually NOT going to have the small portions you are supposed to. If you cannot stick to healthy snacks (fruits and nuts), you will be feeling more defeated than ever. Less is more, specially if you are trying to lose weight. Try drinking water and unsweetened tea between meals. If you want a fruit snack, have real fruit (no fruit chews).
- Power bars, chocolate bars or any other type of bar. They are usually packed with sugar and will make you crave more sugar.
- Hydrogenated oils and corn syrup (high fructose or not). Until someone proves to me that these additives will not make me gain weight, I assume they do. I also dislike the taste and get horrible sugar crashes from corn syrup.
- If you can reduce or cut booze from your diet, you will lose even more weight. Wine and beer have calories and you are less likely to count them once you are feeling “happy”. Cocktails are worse. Less is more really applies here.
The Do’s. As important as what you don’t eat is what you do eat. Yes, those awful tasting things nutritionists tell you to have in your meals. Trust me, once you start loving your body, you will start loving them too.
- Vegetables, in large quantities, every day. I have many recipes on this website using vegetables, legumes and meats. Try them. Combining colors in your vegetables will get you more of the nutrients you need, and eating them will be more pleasing to your eyes. I like a rainbow in my meals. If you have to pig out on something, let it be vegetables (the cheese in your salad and the ranch dressing don’t count).
- Whole grains – the more fiber in your system, the more regular you become, the more regular you become… you get the idea. Whole wheat, multi-grain, high-fiber bread are good choices if you are not allergic. (Mind the type of sugar in the bread). Add brown rice to this list if you can stomach it. When you finally try sour dough, white rice or french bread again, you will not feel so badly about it if you are 10 pounds lighter.
- Water, lots of it. I have only heard of few cases in which it may not be advisable to drink plenty of water (end stage renal disease, etc.). Water flushes your system, has zero calories and will make your brain work better too.
- Tea – many teas, specially green tea and guayusa are high in anti-oxidants that help your body restore and detox. Check your local or online food store. The important thing here is that you drink them unsweetened. Sugar adds unnecessary calories and defeats the purpose of detoxifying.
- Eat smaller portions and eat them slowly. If you take your time to eat, your brain will tell you when you have had enough. If you cannot eat slowly, have a small portion. If you are still hungry afterwards, so be it. For example, you can eat half a sub and wait a while to see about the other half. Nobody needs a foot long, no matter how “big” they are.
- Read food labels. By doing this, you will find yourself putting many unhealthy foods back on the shelf. Avoid sugar substitutes, corn syrups, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors/flavors and items with over 9 grams of sugar. Look for foods high in fiber, whole grains, trans-fat free.
- Weigh yourself daily for a few weeks. When you weigh yourself daily, you begin to notice patterns. For example, you may be two pounds lighter every morning. If your pattern breaks, you can take note of what you ate the day before and avoid culprits in the future. Knowledge is power. Once you establish healthy eating habits and arrive at a healthy weight, you can ditch the scale.
- Be active – bike, dance, walk, run, do yoga, Pilates or whatever you like at least twice a week. If you are a couch potato, start small and steady – 30 minutes every other day as opposed to three hours today and then never again. The idea is to ease yourself into an enjoyable exercise and to be consistent.
In short, the no nonsense diet is about loving yourself by doing all those things you know you are supposed to do and avoiding the things you know are no good for you – no excuses, no whining. You already know what makes you gain weight. It is time to stop looking for easy ways out that never work or that work only temporarily. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight takes discipline. Whoever says otherwise, may just be trying to make a buck out of you. In a perfect world, the Food and Drug Administration would be making sure every meal you eat will make you healthier. Reality is far from ideal, and even if the government effectively regulated what is on the shelves, they cannot dictate portions or other habits that may affect your health. Watching what you eat works. Every time. No need to call Jenny.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion post, not medical advice. If you have a medical issue, consult your doctor or licensed physician. This blog is not written by a nutritionist, doctor or medical professional and the posts herein are not meant to replace the advise of any physician.