Strongrabbit: Ditch the Diet
1. Be your own CSI
(Consumable Substance Investigator) and don’t fall for the cover stories. Beware of potential weight loss saboteurs wrapped in green packages with front-cover labels that scream “I’m a health food!” There are many of them lurking among us. Take, for example, the “Naked” brand of juices. We can find them in lots of health food stores so they must be good for us. Although they do contain natural ingredients and no ADDED sugar, you might be shocked at how many calories and grams of sugar (albeit from fruit) that these beverages contain. Let’s look at the Green Machine. Hey, only 140 calories—not too bad! Oh, wait… that’s PER SERVING and there are 2 servings in the bottle. So if we down the whole thing, we’re getting 280 calories and a whopping 56 grams of sugar (fruit sugar, yes, but nonetheless it’s sugar in liquid form accompanied by no fat and minimal protein. In other words, it could send your blood sugar on a wicked roller coaster ride ending in a dramatic craving for more sugar). OK, we’ll choose the Naked brand’s Protein Zone Chocolate Banana flavor instead. Although this one does contain 30 grams of protein per bottle (partly from soy protein which I’m not thrilled about but that’s a topic for another day), it also comes with 480 calories and nearly 70 grams of sugar. That’s an entire meal’s worth of calories for many of us. And WAAAAAY more sugar than any of us should consume in one sitting when aiming to drop weight. We’re much better off making our own juices and smoothies from ingredients that we can control.
2. Be a label guru.
My Mullet husband probably secretly curses our family trips to food markets because I can’t make it down the aisle without comparing nutrition labels and ingredients lists. But it’s gotta be done if you want to avoid unwittingly putting hidden sugar, artificial flavors, and other chemicals into your body that can prevent you from reaching your weight loss / fitness / general wellbeing goals. IGNORE everything you read on the front of the package. It’s all marketing to get you to wheel it on up to the checkout counter. Even in the health food stores! Trust me, I know this. I’ve spent YEARS in advertising. Turn those gluten-free, organic chocolate chip cookies that are “made with whole grains!” over and examine the backside. Does it look as healthy from that angle? Got no idea? Here are some of the key elements to check out, and with practice, you’ll be a guru in no time.
a. Number of cookies (or slices or pieces or whatever) per serving and number of servings per package
b. Grams of sugar per serving—a cool trick is to take the number of sugar grams, multiply it by 4 (4 calories per gram of sugar), and then calculate what percentage of the product’s calories is coming just from sugar. Oh. Am I the only one that finds that cool?
c. Grams of fiber per serving
d. Ingredients list—identify sources of hidden empty calories. Words like sugar, maltose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup (or any syrup for that matter), fructose, sucrose, agave nectar, brown sugar, raw sugar, glucose, cane crystals. Also look for trans fats—these fats are man-made and have been associated with adverse effects cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Popular sources of trans fats—found predominantly in highly-processed food products like baked goods and chips—include partially hydrogenated oils. AVOID products containing those!
e. Order of ingredients—manufacturers list ingredients in order of highest quantity to lowest. So if a bread touting “made with whole grains” on its front wrapper has “enriched, bleached wheat flour” as it’s first ingredient on the back, you can probably find a much healthier alternative. Likewise, if some form of sugar is listed in the first few ingredients, then sugar is a major component of the product.
3. Plug in when you eat.
Not your cell phone. Your brain. I’ll admit this is a struggle for me sometimes. When I’ve had a long day or am stressed or anxious, I sometimes want to turn on the TV or a movie and munch, munch, munch the stress away after Stella’s gone to bed at night. Numbing out is how I look at it. Some people drink alcohol or do drugs or smoke cigarettes. I eat. Maybe for you, it’s not having time to eat mindfully so you’re hastily cramming in a takeout sandwich while you’re working or doing errands. If it’s a situation in which we aren’t conscious about eating and actually savoring our food, we run a huge risk of eating way more than we were actually hungry for. Or maybe we’re eating for reasons other than hunger, which often leads to poor choices and eating large quantities of stuff that may not even taste that good after a couple of bites. Addressing the root of “non-hungry” eating is a huge step towards achieving a healthier weight and overall wellbeing.
4. Cook at home more.
This is a great way to take control and know what you are actually putting into your body. If you’re strapped for time, try the “cook once, eat multiple times” method. You can make a batch of chicken or some other protein and have it 2 or 3 times that week in different ways so you don’t get bored. For example, last night I had roughly 4oz of grass-fed beef as a burger with a yummy cabbage slaw. Tonight for dinner, I’ll had the same ground beef in a corn tortilla with a huge veggie salad and avocado. It takes some planning, but you’ll feel so much better once you control your food.
5. Be strategic when you’re NOT cooking at home.
Even though we relinquish having total control when we eat out or attend a dinner party or other event, we can still make smart choices. Take the time to scan the full menu or do a quick loop around the party spread so that you can stock up on nutrient-dense, less-processed options. It also allows you to decide what your “must have” treat will be if you do want to indulge a bit on this occasion.
6. Don’t diet.
If we can describe our weight loss attempt as “a diet” or we find ourselves saying, “oh I can’t eat that because I’m on a diet”, then we are basically setting ourselves up for failure in the long run. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the verb “diet” is “to eat sparingly or according to prescribed rules”. I personally have a big issue with two key components at the core of this definition—“eating sparingly” and by “prescribed rules”. It’s very difficult to maintain a pattern of eating “sparingly” over the long-term. And when people try to drop weight quickly by restricting their calories TOO much, they are only setting themselves up for failure. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that restricting calories too much actually works against us—the body fights back by producing hormones that strengthen the appetite. And if you are physically active, restricting your intake too much is definitely not a good idea. You need sufficient nutrients to maintain your lifestyle. When you choose foods that offer high quality nutrition and minimal junk, you’ll find that you don’t eat as much (because your body will be happier) and you’ll get more bang per calorie buck, so to speak.
In terms of eating by prescribed rules, I personally view this t is an inherently flawed approach to weight loss, because what might work well for me might be a terrible idea for you! There is no one diet that works for everyone. And the odds that trying to stick to a specific dietary approach will yield long-term results are quite slim. One study found that among US adults who had ever been overweight, only 20% were able to maintain a 10% reduction in body weight over one year. When I try to follow all the “rules” or to adhere to what someone else is “prescribing” in terms of what I should and should not eat, I eventually wind up feeling deprived and frustrated, because it just doesn’t work for me. I am constantly tweaking my food to fit my changing life. We are all constantly changing, so what worked for us in the past may not work for us now for lots of different reasons. I feel like many of us would benefit it we just used common sense and listened to our bodies. But that doesn’t necessarily sell a lot of books, does it?
7. Scale back on the scale reading.
I know, this is easier said than done. We want to see the number go down. But it’s not going to go down every day. In fact, it may go up one day and down the next. Watching the scale too closely only results in frustration. Instead, designate a periodic weigh-in (like once per week or once every 2 weeks), pick the same time of day each time, and chart the long-term trend. Also remember that if you are working out, chances are that you are losing fat, but you are also gaining muscle! So if the scale stays the same for a while, don’t despair. It could be that you lost 3 pounds of fat and along the way have gained 3 pounds of muscle. A pound is a pound, but volume-wise, a pound of muscle is much smaller than a pound of fat! Instead of fixating on a number, consider having a qualified person take your body measurements (arms, thighs, waist, hips) at baseline and at a designated time after you’ve incorporated healthier food habits into your life (say 8-12 weeks, maybe). You’ll probably see that quite a few inches have disappeared. And, you’ll probably feel that a few inches have disappeared, based on the way that your clothes look and feel!
8. Assess what you might be lacking.
This idea was covered during the Food Diary assignment from Part One. But it’s worth mentioning again. Are you eating too much carbohydrate (especially processed or starchy carbs)? Maybe you need to add more protein and healthy fats. These tend to be more satisfying and filling than sugary, processed carbs. Also, vitamin or mineral deficiencies may be contributing to your “hunger” as your body may be looking for the supplementation it needs to function optimally. Eating a variety of colorful and whole foods (clots of colorful non-starchy veggies, some whole fruits, quinoa, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats) will help you get not on the macronutrients but also the micronutrients you need to feel good. In some cases, you may also need a multivitamin or other supplements.
9. Practice “crowding out."
Trying to cut down on sugar? Crowd it out by adding in healthier options like a small baked sweet potato with dinner or a handful of fresh fruit in a protein smoothie. Load up on non-starchy veggies. Make sure you’re drinking enough water and non-sugary fluids. Add in some protein or healthy fat. Instead of focusing on what you “have to” give up, focus on what new healthy foods you can try ADDING to your life. You may just find that you no longer crave that unhealthier stuff as much.
10. Conduct a breakfast experiment.
Yes, I do believe that breakfast is very important! It sets the tone for day. I find that most people who skip breakfast or eat a “skimpy” breakfast (cereal and juice for example), end up consuming more on a daily basis than people who eat a heartier breakfast (almond butter protein smoothie, or eggs and avocado and quality toast, for examples). Take stock of what your breakfast is providing, energy-wise. Eat a different breakfast for 4 to 5 days and see which one leaves you feeling energized vs starving a couple hours later and craving sugar.
11. Set SMART goals.
I’m not insinuating that a goal may be stupid. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based. I’ll caution you not to set a SMART goal for losing “x” pounds per week. Sure, this might meet the SMART criteria, but is that really what your aiming for? Remember in Part One when we talked about your vision—your motivation—for losing weight? Keep that in mind when designing your goals. Look at your SMART goals as tactics that will get you to a lower weight.
For example, let’s say that Susie Q wants to lose 10 pounds in 2 months. Well, that seems to meet all the SMART criteria. But it also seems a bit empty. What if we put some context around the weight loss goal? We find out through further conversation that Susie’s real reason behind wanting to lose 10 pounds is to feel lighter, fitter, stronger, and more focused come her big race day in October. She also mentions that she is working really hard these days and finds herself going to Starbucks roughly 4-5 times per week for grande mocha lattes with 2% milk as a treat, stress-reliever. Susie Q is ready to make healthier food choices and sets the following SMART goal for herself.
On 3 days per week, I am going to make myself a snack with protein, some healthy fat, and quality carbs (for training) and eat that instead of mocha lattes. If I still really want the latte, I’m allowing myself to enjoy one tall size per week.
This goal meets all the SMART criteria and reflects a true lifestyle change that will likely be quite doable and will result in success for Susie Q. She’ll feel that success and will likely begin to make additional SMART goals for herself that will get her to the fitter, stronger, lighter, and more focused place that she wants to be on race day. Maybe she only needed to lose 8 pounds to get to that place, or maybe she lost 12. Remember, the number is largely arbitrary. It’s the reason(s) behind the number and the tactics that you choose in getting to how you want to live!
Up next: I don’t know yet, it’ll be a surprise!
Until then: Put the Oreos down! What you really need to do is channel your inner underground club tramp and dance for 5 minutes! This week’s D.J. BombBiscuit Pixie Electra tune is Your Love (Club Mix) by Mark Knight. It’s awesomesauce.
Sources used / further reading:
3. Kraschnewski JL, et al. Long-term weight loss maintenance in the United States. Int J Obes (Lond) 2010;34:1644-54.