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DIET: that dirty four-lettered word that is so ingrained in our national vocabulary that it’s mention is akin to discussing the weather.

“What’s the forecast for tomorrow?” you ask.

“A high of 1200 calories with a slight chance of deprivation.” How gloomy.

Dieting has become as American as baseball and apple pie, that is, as long as you make it a slice of sugar free, fat free pie.

Yet despite how often we talk about dieting, very few actually succeed in losing weight and keeping it off. So why do we persist? Are we all insane, as a popular quote would suggest?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Or maybe we’ve been bamboozled by an industry that profits off of our failures, an industry that designs a faulty product and then places the blame on the buyer? Today I challenge you all to embark on a different kind of diet: the anti-diet.  Let go of all your complicated food rules and beliefs about “good” and “bad” foods and begin to trust your body to tell you what it wants and needs.

To provide you with some motivation, I’m counting down the top ten reasons to ditch dieting for good.

10. Dieting wrecks havoc on your metabolism.

Dieting slows the metabolism down tremendously, as the body enters what it assumes to be a period of famine. And while fat people who lose large amounts of weight may look similar to a naturally thin person, their bodies are actually behaving more like that of a starving person. In other words, a fat person who loses weight will not acquire the health characteristics of a naturally thin person. On average, the metabolism slows so that a formerly fat person burns about 24% fewer calories per square meter of their body’s surface area than a naturally thin person. By avoiding diets, you can ensure your metabolism is functioning at its optimal level.

9. Your body produces hormones that fight against weight change.

Your body has a natural set point for weight, largely determined by genetics, at which it feels most comfortable. Deviating much beyond this point triggers a cascade of hormones designed to resist further weight fluctuations. These hormones can stimulate or suppress appetite, decrease or increase metabolism, and encourage or discourage activity. Dieting interferes with the mechanisms that regulate set point and makes it difficult to respond to hormonal cues. Much like a broken gas gauge on a car, dieting makes it difficult to tell when the tank is full or running on empty.

8. Dieting can lead to many psychiatric problems.

Here’s a novel idea: your body, as adept as it is at carefully regulating all your bodily systems, cannot tell the difference between a diet and unintentional starvation. And starvation has been shown to cause a lot of psychological problems. In the classic Minnesota Starvation Study, healthy men were put on 1,600 calorie diets with the intention of losing 25% of their body weight. Over the course of the experiment, the men experienced what head researcher Dr. Ancel Keys came to call “semistarvation neurosis.” They became nervous, anxious, withdrawn and overly critical of their appearance and weight. Many exhibited signs of depression, losing their ambitions, interests, sense of humor, and desire for social interaction. They became obsessed with food and many developed odd food rituals. And to think this all happened on 1,600 calories per day. Many popular diets today prescribe much less!

7. Dieting wastes a lot of time and energy.

As noted by a participant in the Minnesota Starvation Study the act of restricting food “made food the most important thing in one’s life.” Whether your counting calories, weighing out just right portions, or dreaming about all the food you wish you could be eating, dieting can quickly become an all-consuming undertaking, often at the expense of other areas of your life. When we deny ourselves food we enjoy in favor of “healthy” foods we dislike, a lot of time gets spent fantasizing about that forbidden food.

6. Dieting robs a lot of the pleasure from eating and can make for more complicated social situations.

Despite what many popular diets lead you to believe, getting pleasure from food does not make you a hedonistic, weak-willed person. Eating can and should be a pleasurable experience. Think about digging into a big stack of fluffy pancakes on a lazy Sunday morning, eating a slice of cake on your Birthday, or clinking champagne glasses with friends and family on New Years Eve. Food is a part of many of social situations, and when your web of complex food rules keeps you sidelined from digging in with everyone else it can be an isolating experience.

5. 95% of dieters regain the weight and then develop a higher weight set point.

Because of the numerous regulatory checks that your body employs, in the end, dieting is more synonymous with weight gain than weight loss. It slows metabolism, increases the body’s efficiency at getting calories from food, increases appetite, decreases activity levels, lowers your body temperature, breaks down muscle tissue, and increases fat storing enzymes. All these checks ensure you are on the fast track to gaining back any lost weight. And because our bodies are programmed to protect us from weight loss but aren’t too concerned with weight gain, they settle at a slightly higher set point than they were previously at. In other words, the same amount of calories you were once eating to maintain weight X are now how many you need to eat to maintain X+10lbs.

4. Dieting and weight cycling causes a lot of the problems that excess weight is blamed for like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and liver damage.

It’s a classic case of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Many people see a correlation between excess weight and disease and assume weight is the cause, when in reality the relationship isn’t so straightforward. What often underlies conditions like heart disease is the damage done to the body by losing and regaining the same weight over and over again, the same cycling that leads to higher set point weights.

3. You don’t need to diet to maintain your body’s healthy weight.

Too many people are under the impression that without constant vigilance the pounds will keep piling on, when in fact, this is far from the truth. A scientist at the University of Vermont, Ethan Sims, conducted an experiment that was the mirror image of the Minnesota Starvation Study. Instead of looking at the effects of calorie restriction, Sims put men on a calorie dense diet. In order increase their weight by 20% above their natural set point the men had to eat as much as 10,000 calories for up to six months time. Sims discovered that the amount of weight the men should have gained based on a simple calories in versus calories out equation was much more than they actually gained. Their bodies fought hard to maintain their natural set point, and at the conclusion of the study they returned to these weight without effort. Your body knows the weight it is healthiest at and will fight you to maintain that weight. Ironically, you have to diet to NOT maintain your healthy weight. Watch a documentary that puts participants through a similar weight gain experiment here.

2. Being thin does not necessarily make you healthier. Moderate activity and healthy, moderate food choices make you healthier.

Fit, active people are much healthier than sedentary individuals, regardless of weight. In fact, fit obese people are healthier than thin sedentary individuals and just as healthy and thin active individuals. When fat people exercise, they reap all the benefits even without an accompanying weight loss. In other words, losing weight will not make one healthy but exercising will. Several studies also indicate that fostering an active lifestyle increases self-confidence and acceptance while dieting often has the opposite effect. Read more.

1. Dieting is NOT about loving and respecting your body.

How many times have your heard someone say (or said yourself) “I’m trying to lose weight because I want to take care of myself?” While the intention is good, dieting is a misguided attempt at promoting health and well-being. Choosing a healthy, varied diet, staying active, and accepting your body in its present state sends a lot more powerful message if you ask me. You wouldn’t tell your partner or your best friend, “I’d love you more if only you were….(fill in the blanks).” So why do we repeatedly tell ourselves this message by trying to lose weight? Love and respect come from an understanding that I am a complete, whole person as I am.

For a great resource on the research behind these reasons check out Big Liberty’s blog. Or pick up a copy of the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos or Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata.

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I’m taking a stand on behalf of McDonald’s…and critical thinking!

Now before you get angry and start chucking quarter pounders and french fries at my blog, let me explain. I recently saw a post on facebook by fitness mogul Jillian Michaels condemning McDonalds for their unhealthy food and congratulating the grand state of California for forcing the fast food chain to put warning labels on their products.

“Apparently California is requiring a warning label be put on McDonalds food. Like cigarettes. This is why I tell you never to eat this crap or feed it to your kids.”

– Jillian Michaels

When I read this I was intrigued. I’ve never been a big fan of highly processed fast food, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say the government should step in and tell people what they can and cannot eat, I do like the idea of educating consumers about the health risks of food additives. Luckily, there was a picture of said warning label accompanying the statement. The warning message read:

Chemicals known to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive harm may be present in foods or beverages sold or served here. Cooked potatoes that have been browned, such as french fries, hash browns and baked potatoes, contain acrylamide, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer. Other foods sold here, such as hamburger buns, biscuits and coffee also contain acrylamide, but generally in lower concentrations than fried potatoes.

Acrylamide is not added to our foods, but is created whenever potatoes and certain other foods are browned.

The FDA has not advised people to stop eating baked potatoes, fried potatoes or other foods which contain acrylamide. For more information see www.fda.gov

So are you ready to boycott McDonald’s for serving their evil acrylamide cancer fries? I wasn’t convinced. I decided to dig a little deeper and research acrylamide. To begin with, acrylamide is NOT a food additive. McDonald’s does not have large vats of acrylamide stored in the back that they sprinkle on their food when unsuspecting customers aren’t looking. It is a natural byproduct of cooking plant-based foods at high temperatures, say when you bake, roast, or fry something. It forms when the natural sugars present in food mix with the amino acid asparagine, one of the twenty most commonly occurring amino acids on Earth.

It is found mainly in foods made from plants like potatoes, grains, and coffee. And, for all of you on the organic food bandwagon, acrylamide is present in organic foods at the same level as non-organic products. While no one claims fast food restaurants like McDonald’s to be connoisseurs of fresh, pesticide-free organic foods, it’s not their food quality to blame for the presence of acrylamide.

Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals exposed to very high doses, much like similar products that many people consume on a daily basis, think artifical sweeteners in sugar-free products, sodium nitrate in processed meats, and fruits and vegetables (I swear I don’t make this stuff up, click the link). Does this mean it is unsafe for human consumption? The short answer no, probably not, but more testing needs to be done. In the meantime, the FDA urges people to continue eating cooked planted-based foods as part of a balanced, healthy diet.

But alas, I digress. Talking about acrylamide was not the initial purpose of this blog.

When people make knee-jerk emotional responses or take little snippets of information and make sweeping generalizations they are doing consumers a disservice. McDonald’s is not the villain in this case, and pointing the finger at them is like a cheap parlor trick that distracts people from seeing what’s going on at the heart of the issue. It’s this kind of “surface” thinking that lures people up in unhealthy fad diets and away from sound nutrition advice.

I encourage all my readers to educate yourselves on health and nutrition and decide what advice you want to use and what you want to kick to the curb. Because believe it or not, you can’t trust everything you read.

In the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare, the slow-going tortoise crosses the finish line ahead of the speedy but arrogant hare. “Slow but steady,” the tortoise says. By adopting that mantra in the race to lose weight, you are not only guaranteeing that you cross the finish with energy to spare and your vital organs in tact (more on that later), you are preventing yourself from having to rerun the same course over and over again.  Approaching weight loss more like a marathon instead of a sprint to one’s goal weight is the ideal way to ensure your body maintains optimal functioning.

One of the prime examples that comes to mind when I think of fast weight loss is the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser. Contestants vie for a chance to win $250,000 by adopting very low calorie diets and engaging in grueling 6-8 hour long workouts (all under doctor supervision of course), all in the hopes of dropping the largest percentage of their body weight and being crowned the Biggest Loser. What the viewing audience doesn’t see is that in addition to the money, every contestant walks away with another prize: a significantly slower metabolism. Maybe they should rename the show the Biggest Metabolic Loser?

In an abstract presented at the most recent Obesity Society Annual Scientific Assembly, Darcy Johannsen and friends reported that by week 6 Biggest Loser participants had lost 13% of their body weight and by week 30, 39%. More interestingly they reported that by week 6 participants metabolisms had slowed by 244 more calories per day than would have been expected by their weight loss and by week 30, by 504 more calories. (Source: WeightyMatters)

The term for what is happening is called metabolic adaptation, and under normal circumstances, it’s a great survival mechanism. Back when our ancestors had to go prolonged periods of time without substantial amounts of food, a slowed metabolism ensured survival. Today, when food is bountiful, it’s not quite as useful. What’s interesting to note is that this phenomenon does not occur when weight loss occurs at a rate of 1-2 lbs per a week, the amount recommended by MayoClinic.com medicine specialist Dr. Donald Hensrud.

These results have been replicated in studies with rats. In a laboratory study using rats that are prone to gaining weight (think your average person with a genetic predisposition to obesity), rats on a severely calorie restricted diet showed significant reductions in metabolic rate, measured as both 24-hour energy expenditure and sleeping metabolic rate. Eight weeks after returning to a normal feeding schedule, the metabolic slow-down persisted, thus setting the rats up to regain much of the lost weight. Sound familiar?

In addition to a damaged metabolism, side effects of extreme dieting include dizziness, fatigue, irritability, hair loss, malnutrition, muscle loss, and even in some cases diabetes. On a sufficient number of calories, most adults can get the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals assuming they are choosing carrots over candy 90% of the time. With a sever calorie restriction, however, it is very difficult to get all of the essential nutrients, snowballing into many of the other accompanying problems. Take hair loss for example. Without adequate amounts of protein a condition know as Telogen effluvium, or the loss of more than half the hair on your head, can occur.

Who’s up for skinny and bald? I suppose Brittany Spears pulled it off.

Rapid weight loss can cause major fluctuations in blood sugar levels. A 1996 study in the “Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications” indicates that patients who lost weight very quickly developed diabetes most likely as a result of swings in blood sugar levels and stress hormones.** Additionally, when the body depletes its glycogen (blood sugar) stores it begins to fuel itself by breaking down muscle tissue, not fat. Dr. Linda Bacon points out that yo-yo crash dieting can eventually lead to heart muscle loss. It damages your blood vessels and causes micro tears that create a setup for atherosclerosis and other types of heart disease.

If you are in need of losing weight please consult your doctor or a nutritionist to learn the proper way to go about doing it. Become the tortoise in the race to lose weight and go about it slow and steady. Because in the end, even if you don’t win the race to fit into your bikini come this summer, you’ll win a much better prize: long term health.

**Small sample size and in need of replication. If you find another study that shows similar results I would be interested in hearing about it.

Yesterday I sauntered into the kitchen and opened the cabinet containing all my husband’s snacks. Peering into the assortment of chips, crackers, and cookies I pulled out a bag of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, grabbed a couple, and walked back to the couch where I began eating. All of this transpired without a single thought about fat or calories, a single should I or shouldn’t I debate, or any plans to later compensate for my nutritional indiscretions. This might just be one of the greatest recovery moments I’ve had in awhile.

Mindless eating, or the act of making decisions about food based on unconscious psychological cues, has developed a bad reputation. For most people, the concept conjures up images of overweight people staring blankly at the television, one hand on the remote, the other robotically going in and out of a bag of Doritos. It’s associated with a lack of control or willpower and a disconnect from physical hunger or emotional cues that prompt us to eat. To use the famous Nike slogan, it’s the kind of eating where you “just do it.” Or more appropriately as Weird Al Yankovich’s song suggests, “just eat it.”

Advocates of intuitive eating promote bringing mindfulness to eating while breaking through the indoctrination created by years of following rigid food rules. They encourage people to get in touch with their bodies’ internal hunger cues, to savor each bite, to experience the smell, taste, and texture of food, and to respect fullness. All of these goals are noble, but for the recovered anorexic, intuitive eating can often lead to over-thinking eating. What was meant to be an endeavor at respecting the body and fully enjoying food can morph into analyzing the necessity and nutritional value of each and every bite and continually questioning one’s hunger or need for food.

Health magazines are filled with nutrition experts who urge readers to get in touch with their emotions surrounding food. “Why are you eating?” they all ask. Are you bored? Stressed? Feeling social pressure? Tired? Get to the bottom of the what, when, where, and why you eat and you’ll be on your way to better health, a thinner waistline, clearer skin, deeper sleep, and better sex. Even the proverbial fountain of youth can be yours by for the taking. For the recovering anorexic, a more appropriate question to ask might be, “why aren’t you eating?” Instead of emotions prompting overindulgence, unsettling emotions lead to restricting behaviors or obsessive thoughts about food. One of the tools to overcoming emotional hurdles in recovery is to separate what the mind thinks from what the body needs to do. While getting in touch with emotions is crucial in long-term recovery, in the here-and-now of deciding whether to eat the next meal, disconnecting from emotions is critical.

Thus, learning to eat mindlessly is a major undertaking for someone with a history of anorexia. Okay let me rephrase that. Eating, mindlessly or not, is a major undertaking for someone with a history of anorexia. In treatment patients are taught distraction techniques for getting through a meal or snack. Focus attention of conversation, a book, or favorite television program. Do mental exercises, say redesign your room or plan a dream vacation, to keep your thoughts busy. The initial aim is not to enjoy the food, but simply, survive the food. It hasn’t been too long since I was religiously counting every calorie and fat gram that passed my lips. Every meal used to be a negotiation. You can have the cheese on your sandwich if you swap out the mayo for mustard and run an extra mile at the gym. Or you can binge on that cake but then you’re not eating tomorrow. With food always on the brain, I couldn’t conceive of the day when I would be able to just eat something.

But that’s exactly what I did yesterday. I mindlessly ate those cookies, and only after they were half-way to my stomach as I licked melted chocolate off my fingers did I realize it. I needed this win. I needed to be reminded that it is possible to remain in recovery from an eating disorder, even when you encounter unexpected road bumps (see Broken Bones and Broken Dreams). I’m not going to question why I did it or what might have been unconsciously going on in my head. Nor am I going to work on becoming more mindful in the future. I’m just going to sit in the present and enjoy feeling like the superhero that I am.

Please read my follow up to this post here. I’m not afraid to admit when I might be wrong.

It’s time to get controversial my friends. It doesn’t take an astute observer to note that we live in country where being fat is the norm. With about 170 million overweight adults and children in the United States, the number of overweight people outnumbers those at a healthier weight (119-149 lbs for a 5’5” woman). In fact, Americans are becoming so overweight that further classification for how overweight an individual is has become necessary. In 2000 the World Health Organization published a classification system that broke obesity into three classes: I, II, and III. For example, for someone to fall into class III obesity he or she would have to weigh at least 241 lbs at 5’5”.  With scary statistics galore about the health problems associated with obesity: diabetes, heart disease, and osteoarthritis just to name a few, one would think that most overweight individuals would work toward developing a healthier body, or at least know that they should be doing that. But alas, that is not the case.

In browsing the Internet lately for health and fitness related blogs, I came across a movement of sorts centered around fat-acceptance. When I hear the term fat-acceptance a very important question comes to mind: am I being asked to accept a person regardless of the fact that he or she is fat or am I being asked to accept that being fat is good and healthy? Let me give you a little history. According to a psychology class I took in college, overweight/obese people are the most discriminated against group in the US, more so than homosexuals, people of different races or religions, or the elderly. It’s harder for obese people to get jobs, get promoted, get a bank loan, and adopt a child. Obese people fare worse in court; they receive subtle discrimination from doctors, and are passed over for college scholarships and letters of recommendation from professors. When you view the fat-acceptance movement in light of the outright discrimination overweight people face, it’s easy to see where the momentum comes from. But…and this is a very big but (no pun intended), is the unequal treatment ever warranted?

Because statistics show that overweight people will have more health problems should they pay more for health insurance? Should an overweight person be denied a job because he or she might not be able to meet its physical demands? Should a larger person have to pay for two seats on the plane if one is insufficient? Where do you draw the line between discrimination and facing the consequences for poor health choices you made? Or in other words, is accommodating obesity the responsibility of the obese individual or the world in which that person lives?

While I whole-heartedly believe an overweight person should NEVER be stereotyped as lazy, stupid, irresponsible, greedy, or gluttonous, I also believe that I shouldn’t be charged with discrimination or hate mongering for saying I think it is unhealthy to be fat. I think the fat-acceptance group’s initial attempt to fight discrimination has morphed into people ardently defending their right to be fat, and anyone who suggests their obesity might be a problem is wrong. In some ways, it is denial at its finest.

For example, some people entrenched in the fat-acceptance movement purport that health is independent of body weight, and the risks associated with obesity have been exaggerated to cover for cultural prejudices against fat. Some even argue that obesity has not been found to be the cause of any health problems. Additionally, a segment of people within the movement view fat people who are trying to lose weight as deserters of the cause and thin people as the enemy. A recent blog I read condemned Jamie Oliver’s new show called Food Revolution. In it, Jamie fights for healthier, less processed foods to be served to kids in pubic schools. The author claimed that he was being a condescending ass for trying to impart his beliefs on the school system, and that he openly supporting fat hatred. What?! Since when is trying to feed kids healthier food evil? But I digress…

Think about it this way. If you were smoking and your doctor said to stop because it causes health problems would you be offended? If you were an alcoholic and your doctor told you that you needed to go to rehab and stop drinking, is he being discriminatory and hateful? I see obesity in the same light. If you are obese, there is a very good chance that you are not healthy, and when a doctor says, you need to eat less/healthier and move more he is only saying what will be best for your health in the long run. Yes, if you want to be fat you can be fat… just don’t get mad because other people think you are making an unhealthy decision.

NOTE: And these are some very important notes because of the complexity of the issue and the limited space I have to blog.

1) I know a lot of the struggles people have with obesity go way behind choosing to eat healthy or not. I am not suggesting it is that simple. Obesity has an enormous amount of contributing factors: socioeconomic status, availability of healthy foods and education on nutrition, genetics, and a hundred other environmental factors.

2) I think it is wrong on all levels to assume anything negative about a person’s character, morality, or personality because he or she is overweight.

3) I know it is possible to be unhealthy and at normal weight…hence the popular expression “skinny-fat.” And I believe all people with unhealthy diet or lifestyle habits should be held accountable, and then offered the support and information necessary to change those habits if they see fit.

4) If a person eats moderately healthy and leads a moderately active lifestyle and his or her body is still fat, then that is exactly how that person’s body should be. We are all genetically different and should accept/welcome those difference as long as they stem from a healthy lifestyle. What I fear is happening is that some fat people are using the fat-acceptance movement as validation for their unhealthy lifestyle.

Here is an example of a blog that supports fat acceptance in case you want to check it out:

http://www.bigfatblog.com/

And here’s a fat-acceptance attitude I can get behind:

Does healthy fast food exist? I’ve been doing some reading lately about the trend in fast food chains to offer a healthier or lite option on the menu, think Taco Bell’s fresco menu, and on the surface it seems like the consumer is getting the best of both worlds: healthy food and fast food. However, a look into the ingredients comprising these “healthier” options leaves a lot to be desired. Take for example the taco shell found on all of Taco Bell’s fresco menu items. The ingredients listed include the following:

Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Contains One Or More Of The Following: Cottonseed Oil, Soybean Oil), with Mono- and Diglycerides, Sugar, Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Salt, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Fumaric Acid, Calcium Propionate and Potassium Sorbate (used as preservatives), Dough Conditioners (DATEM, Mono and Diglycerides, Enzymes) *Will Contain One Of The Ingredient Statements Above, Depending Upon Regional Suppliers

Now, I’m not a chef or a food connoisseur , but since when has a flour tortilla contained quite that many ingredients? I did a Google search for “flour tortilla recipes” just to confirm my suspicions. The first recipe listed included the following ingredients:

Unbleached flour, baking powder, salt, vegetable shortening, and warm water…now that’s more like it, 5 simple ingredients. No calcium propionate. No DATEM, which in case you were wondering is short for “diacetyl tartaric acid esters of monoglycerides,” an emulsifier that is used to smooth out variations in flour quality. Hmmm… my deductive reasoning skills would tell me that if you need an additive to correct for your flour quality the flour quality probably isn’t too high. According to the website, “each and every item contains high-quality ingredients,” and “the basic ingredients in Taco Bell’s Mexican-inspired food are wholesome, with protein-rich beans, enriched rice, crisp lettuce, and fresh tomatoes.” The problem with these statements is they omit the fact that in addition to those four “basic” ingredients listed, there are a dozen other unnatural ingredients mucking up the wholesomeness of the food.

But what’s a fast food giant like Taco Bell to do in a market that is becoming increasingly health conscious? Because let’s be honest, how many people are buying into the cheese drenched nachos are healthy because they are made with “natural” and “fresh” ingredients argument? With the new fresco menu that offers low calorie options in place of fat-laden, cheese-filled burritos, marketers are attempting to trick consumers into thinking that low calorie equals healthy. Here’s where they are wrong. Simply being low in calorie does NOT make something healthy; it only makes it low in calories. If we are measuring the health of a food item by the variety and amount of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it contains, the fresco menu falls short. Add to that the list of “natural” ingredients used in a single tortilla shell and we are veering even farther away from something that looks remotely healthy.

And for those of you who need to see to believe, here are some nutrition facts from fresco items. A fresco crunchy taco weighs in at 150 calories, but almost half of those calories (70 to be exact) come from fat. A fresco chicken burrito supreme weighing in at 340 calories has 1410 mg of sodium, that’s nearly 60% of the recommended allowance for sodium per day.

Am I saying you should never eat Taco Bell or any other fast food for that matter…no (I’d like to but I won’t). What I’m saying is don’t fall prey to the illusion that few calories means a healthier meal for you. Use “healthy” fast food as a last resort option or carefully budget it in to your “indulgences” for the week. Because In the end, it’s not your expanding bottom line the chains are worried about, it’s their own.

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. You’re standing in the kitchen trying to plan out your meals for the day. You have set a 2,ooo calorie limit. From those 2,000 calories, 500 must come from fat, 500 must come from protein, and 1,000 must come from carbohydrates. Now, you have to remember that your meal must have at most 20 grams of sugar, no more than 8 grams of saturated fat, at least 25 grams of fiber. Also, you really should consider whether your meeting the recommended guidelines for the proper servings of fruits and vegetables… Oh, and don’t forget about creating the right balance of all the 28 vitamins and minerals the body needs on a daily basis. All of this mental math can become quite overwhelming!

I recently came to the realization that I tend to over-complicate eating, spending too much time trying to compute complex mathematical equations to find the right balance of foods that I’ve forgotten how to use a common sense approach to food. With so many diets on the market, each touting a different miracle weight loss formula, it’s easy to see where the confusion lies. One weight loss guru says to eat a 40/30/30 ratio of carbs to proteins to fat. Another says keep carbs to a minimum and focus on protein. And yet another says the focus should be on sugar and keeping it to a minimum. With all these mixed messages what is a floundering dieter to do? My first attempt at sorting through the mayhem, and one that I do not recommend, was to combine the approaches, thus creating my own elaborate labyrinth of rules to follow. This only led me to dieting burn-out. Trust me, when you’re having a hard enough time just counting calories, adding a list of 40 other things that must be counted is asking for trouble. Before you know it you’ve ditched the calculator and food scales and are sitting on the couch eating Fruit Loops for dinner. Since my brain is so frazzled from doing fuzzy math, having the word “fruit” in the title is about all it can comprehend at this point.

So what’s the solution? I’ve recently heard the expression “intuitive eating” tossed around quite a bit, and while I’ve yet to read the book, I like the general concept I believe it establishes. When dieting, it is possible, and probably easier, to achieve success if you can focus on a few simple ideas:

1) Learn to listen to your body and recognize when it is and is not hungry.

2) Focus on eating fresh, healthy foods and eliminate most processed, sugar-laden items from your diet.

3) Don’t strive for perfection; strive for balance and moderation.

How you do some of these is beyond me, hence the tendency to be to shackled to my calculator and calorie counting book, but I think it’s a noble ideal to work toward. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on splicing together the dieting rules I find accommodate my lifestyle of food preferences the best. Because in the end isn’t that what it’s about: finding out what works for you and rolling with it.

Today I am going to translate “diet talk” for you. When someone says to you, “You know, that diet just didn’t work.” What they really mean is “I can’t stick with that diet.” Slightly different semantics, but a huge difference in meaning. The fact of the matter is, diets do work, dieters just refuse to work within the limits of the diet. As most health conscious people know, weight loss is simple math. If you can eliminate more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. (1lb for every 3,500 calories roughly). Most diets, even some of the more ridiculous ones, do have dieters eating fewer calories while becoming more active. If followed, people would lose weight. The problem is, most people lack the will power (or craziness in some cases) to stick with these diets for any measurable period of time. What!? You mean you couldn’t eat just cabbage soup and a few pieces of fruit for seven days straight? Clearly you must be weak-willed and not serious about losing weight. (Can you detect the sarcasm?)

From a personal perspective, the problem I have with diets “failing” is that I can’t seem to get over the diet = deprivation mentality. I haven’t yet learned how to make a healthy, moderate diet a lifestyle and not just part of a passing fad. Whether I’m binging or restricting, I use food as a crutch, and for me dieting removes that crutch and freaks me out. The other problem is that most diets are rather restrictive, and as anyone who has yo-yo dieted knows, restricting usually leads to overindulgence at some point, whether it’s one day into the diet or one week. (Or in my case, one minute.) So what’s the lesson to be learned here? Should I just give up, hole myself inside my apartment, and eat my weight in chocolate chip cookies because I haven’t yet found a diet that works for me? No, that’s probably not the best idea.

I think the most beneficial thing any dieter can do in the face of a failed diet attempt is to stop blaming the diet and start looking within to find what is holding you back. Like I said, diets do work, but each dieter brings to the table pounds and pounds of emotional and physical baggage that they have to sort through before they will ever be successful. For me, I need to find other coping mechanisms besides manipulating my food intake. I need to figure out why I am so unhappy to begin with that I turn to food for comfort. I need to put my health first and realize that eating a healthy diet is about so much more than what I look like on the outside. I believe if I can gain insight into these mysteries, diets might suddenly “start working” for me. So what’s holding you back?

November 2017
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