How many of you have been on a diet in the last 6 months? We aren’t too far removed from New Years, so my guess would be many of you. Did you get the results you were hoping for? Have you been able to sustain that weight loss to this point? No? You aren’t the only one.
I’m not going to lie; the term “diet” is one that I am not particularly crazy about. It annoys me for many reasons, one of which is the theory behind it. Many diets involve drastically cutting calories in order to cause weight loss. The issue with this is that most people have no idea how many calories they need to simply function each day. This is known as your basal metabolic rate. There are a few ways to calculate it, with many of them being an educated guess based on a few metrics. The second issue that people go on crash diets. They cut their calories to ridiculously low amounts. Sure this will cause you to lose some weight, it might even cause you to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time. For anyone who has ever done this type of diet, it works for a time albeit usually quite slowly, but at one point or another you start gaining weight back. So what gives?
We have been conditioned to believe that our calories out have to be greater than our calories in. So combine crash dieting with overtraining, and you are just asking for your body to respond poorly. How do I know? I’ve been there.
I’m not up on this soapbox for fun, I’m up here because I have legitimately struggled with my weight for years. I’ve never been a “skinny” person, not that I haven’t tried to make that happen. I never have been at the point where I have tried to starve myself, but I have tried just about every other strategy. I’ve tried the crash dieting, I’ve tried the overtraining, I’ve tried the weight loss supplements, and all I managed to do was yo-yo diet my way back to what I weighed before or heavier. Along with my exercise philosophy, my philosophy on nutrition has changed drastically. It took some major changes in thinking, and some major education to break the cycle of ‘dieting’. Being on a ‘diet’ isn’t fun, especially when the results you are hoping to see are incredibly slow to appear. I want people to learn from my mistakes.
When you limit your caloric intake, you are causing your body to run on fumes. When your body runs on fumes, it will burn whatever it needs to in order to keep you moving. Unfortunately for us, that usually happens to be muscle tissue. Why is this important? Muscle tissue is what helps to rev up your metabolism. Decrease the amount of muscle tissue you have, your basal metabolic rate goes down. This is what people refer to as a “slowing of their metabolism.” All of a sudden the amount of calories you thought you needed to eat per day goes down, so you need to adjust how many calories you should be consuming again. Your body will also think that you are trying to starve it, which causes a rise in cortisol and increase in fat storage. Now doesn’t that sound a little counterproductive?
There are a ton of diet systems that are built around limiting the amount that you eat. It will cause you to lose weight, but the problem is that they are difficult to sustain. You have to cut out so many foods, or you need to eat processed prepackaged meals in order to not go over your calorie goals for the day. Have you ever tried to limit what you eat? What happens when you cut out say, cookies? Give it a few days; maybe even a week, and most people fold like a cheap tent. They end up binging on junk food, and then feel terrible about themselves. Stop doing that to yourself!
Counting calories causes you to obsess about how much you are eating. It starts to create behaviours where you start to justify your choices based on how many calories it contains. The problem is that not all calories are created equally, 400 calories of chips and 400 calories of vegetables are not the same. The 400 calories in vegetables is significantly more volume, and is far more nutritionally rich. Counting calories can also make you ignore what your body is asking for in the name of meeting your calorie goals. Your body will cause you to crave certain foods based on nutrients that it needs, and isn’t getting. This is where people tend to run into trouble.
We make ourselves miserable by starving ourselves in order to be an “ideal” weight. So what should we do instead? Is there a way of trying to make ourselves healthier that doesn’t involve starving or “counting calories”?
Sure there is. Eat. Real. Food.
It sounds like the most common sense solution in the world, but how many of us actually do it?
When I say real food, I mean real food. Fruits, veggies, eggs, meat, and healthy carbs are what you need to be buying (if you are vegan/vegetarian feel free to leave out the meat and/or eggs). Don’t waste your time or money on those “low fat” foods. Next time you are at the grocery store, take a peek at exactly what is in those products. How much sugar is in it compared to the amount of fiber? How much protein? Just stop wasting your time with the processed stuff. Buy real food.
The beauty about eating real food is that you can eat a ton of food, and not have to worry about the crazy weight gain that you would need to concern yourself with if you were eating the similar portions of processed food. Actually, when you eat real food, you might actually find that you don’t want to eat as much. Initially you may find that you are hungry more often, but once your body figures out that it is actually getting nutritious food, your hunger level will go down. By putting good quality food into your body, your body will have fewer cravings because it will actually be getting a lot of the nutrition that it needs. Your stomach needs a high volume of food in order to feel full, so make it nutrient dense. As one of my professors used to say, “Eat real food, mostly fruit and vegetables.” There is a ratio that works best, with a large volume of the food being vegetables, and protein. Veggies are awesome because you can eat a ton of them and not have to concern yourself with the “calories”.
I know there is an obesity epidemic in North America, but obviously conventional thinking isn’t having a significant impact on the problem. It’s been said that losing weight is 80% what you eat, and 20% what you do. So just eat real food, get your body moving, and forget about the dieting. Ditch the sugar, and ditch the ‘low fat’ foods. You body doesn’t need added sugar. Any sugar that you consume contributes to a lot of weight gain because extra sugar gets stored as belly fat. Your body does need fat, albeit good fat like avocado, olives/olive oil, coconut oil, etc. Good fat helps you burn more fat, and helps your body feel less hungry. Don’t worry too much about the sugar that is found in fruit, there is usually enough fiber in fruit that it doesn’t allow your blood sugar to spike as much as a sugary drink or anything that contains regular sugar would. The bottom line, eat real stuff.
You are probably thinking, “It can’t possibly be that easy?” Believe me, it can be.
Have you ever heard of the 21 Day Fix, or the program Whole30? These are both programs that promote eating real food, without being super limiting. They both have give people amazing results that are not limited to weight loss. Whenever people are looking for dietary advice with respect to Whole Foods nutrition, this is the direction I point them in. One of the most difficult things is trying to make the change, but not quite knowing what to do. These programs can give you a good amount of information to serve as a jumping off point, or even just provide you with some awesome recipes. These are by no means the only examples of whole food nutrition programs, but they are ones that I have researched, as well as tried, and I find them to be simple, and fairly easy to follow.
One draw back of eating real food is the fact that you actually need to prepare and cook stuff. It can be a pain. There are days when I get home from work and I do not feel like making dinner. There are some days where I have no idea what I want to make. I have come to appreciate websites like Pinterest. You can find thousands of recipes on there. Some of my favourite things to look for are recipes by Skinny Taste, Whole30, Adventures of a Shrinking Princess, and 21 Day Fix. These recipes are always made using real ingredients, and they don’t skimp on the volume. There are also a ton of make ahead recipes, which can help you plan meals for the week if that is something you want to do. I recommend meal prepping for the week because it helps remove the “I don’t have anything to eat” excuse that usually gives people an excuse to eat junk food.
Next time you go to the grocery store, don’t go into the aisles unless you are buying spices. Stay along the perimeter of the store. That’s where the real food is.
So here are some tips that can help when you start to eat real food:
Eat a big breakfast – I know that many people don’t eat breakfast, but it helps to get your metabolism going in the morning. It is recommended that you ensure that you have a combination of protein, good fat, and complex carbs.
Don’t be afraid to snack. – There is this negativity around snacking, and honestly I don’t understand why. By snacking, you are helping to keep your blood sugar level normal throughout the day. If you find yourself hungry a few hours after breakfast, lunch, or dinner….snack away, but make it a good snack. Veggies are a great real snack food, as are nuts like almonds.
Don’t make dinner your largest meal – Dinner should actually be the smallest meal of the day, not the largest. You will find that if you are eating real food throughout the day that you won’t want to eat a ton for dinner.
Don’t give yourself grief if you have a junk food day – We are all human. I love my ice cream as much as the next person. Don’t make a big deal out of eating crappy food one day. It’s much better to eat the junk food every once in a while than be miserable because you are abstaining. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
The focus on appearances seems to have spiked in the last several years. You see people fat shaming, and you see people skinny shaming. Why can’t we be accepting of people the way they are? Why is there such immense pressure to be a certain weight, or look a certain way? It is possible to make yourself healthier without starving yourself. Notice that I didn’t say ‘make yourself skinnier’, or ‘make yourself lose weight’. I feel that dieting gives people the perception that we aren’t perfect exactly the way we are, which just isn’t okay. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, but just because you don’t fit the accepted ‘norms’ doesn’t mean that you aren’t healthy. If you feel that you need to lose weight and the conventional wisdom has failed you so far, try something different. Eat real food, listen to your body, and don’t be so damn hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can. So can we all just stop dieting please? Let’s stop focusing on how much we are eating, and start focusing on what we are eating.