Diet vs Lifestyle
In this article, I will assume that when you’re reading this, you have committed to some level of weight loss. Whether that weight loss is for an event (i.e., wedding, prom, hanging at the pool, going to the beach, vacation, etc) it doesn’t really matter. Or, perhaps, you’ve just decided to make a change and simply want to be thinner than you are. Whatever the reason for the weight loss, the goal is still the same… to lose the weight.
What is your goal?
I’m not asking how much you want to lose. We’ve already established that you want to lose weight and you’ve likely already determined how much. No, this question is asking for how long do you want the weight gone? It’s a valid question. The reason I’m asking this question is very much the crux of this entire article. If you are looking to lose your weight for a month or two and then ‘forget about it’ and go back to ‘normal eating’, then this article really isn’t the answer.
This article may help you attain that goal, but this information is not intended nor designed to lead people back into the dieting trap. This article is designed to help people get out of the diet trap and bring about lasting change. If you are committed to lasting change, then you’ve come to the right place.
Thinking patterns evolved
Let’s start by discussing what the food industry has done for America (and, arguably, the world). We’ll start by saying that the food industry is, first and foremost, in it for the money. Secondarily, they supply food. Plain and simple, without profits they can’t stay in business, so money always comes first. From Kraft, Hershey, ConAgra, Archer Daniel Midland to Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s, the mantra is the same. Eat more. It’s a simple and subtle, yet consistent message. The more we eat, the more money they make. It’s simple economics. It’s also economics working against the waistline. The bottom line is, eat more so they make more money. I’ll discuss how that thinking manifests shortly. As long as you keep this ‘money making’ aspect of the industry firmly in your dietary planning, you can easily maintain your weight loss goals. Remember, it’s about their profits, not your waistline.
Money making manifestation
The ways in which the food industry keeps to their profit goals is through marketing. Whether that marketing is on TV, in print, on menu or on the packaging, the message is always there. Eat more. How? On packages, there are many ways they accomplish this. Some subtle, some not-so-subtle. The first and most bold is the ‘serving suggestion’ combined with ‘image enlarged for detail’. So, for cereal, as an example, it’s always a heaping huge bowl of cereal filled to the top. Granted, the image is ‘enlarged’ so determining scale is out. But, that’s the point. They don’t want to give you a frame of reference so you equate that imagery with the bowls in your cupboard (probably huge due to standard manufacturer sizes). So, then you turn to the ‘Nutrition Facts’ panel and see that 1 cup is 110 calories. You naturally equate the ‘serving suggestion’ to the ‘1 serving size’ and pour your cereal thinking you’re eating 100-110 calories. The thing you don’t realize is that bowl of cereal you poured might account for upwards of 300-400 calories depending on bowl size. Combining that with 2% milk, you are looking at 244 calories in 2 cups of milk. That turns what you thought was a 100-110 calorie meal into a 500+ calorie meal. Granted, 500 calories for a single meal is probably fine by itself, but the nutrition in cereal and milk is questionable. Basically, it’s carbs and fat with some protein. The vitamins you receive have been fortified both in the cereal and the milk. On top of that, the milk contains bovine growth hormones that could interfere with weight loss.
With restaurants, the idea is similar. Show a picture of a great looking meal on the cover or next to the food item. They tempt you through the look of the food. Of course, if you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant once, you know the food never looks like it does in the photographs. But more than this, the size of the meal is also, again, quite large and hard to judge scale. On the plus side to this, however, is that many states (including California) are now requiring nutrition guides be placed on the table. So, you can look up that oh-so-delicious-looking-meal and realize that that meal is actually 1100 calories. Yes, that’s 1100 whopping calories. Over 1/2 of the recommended calories for a 2000 calorie a day diet. Again, over half of the calories for 1 day’s meals. So, the plate may appear appetizing, but you need to dig deeper to see just how calorie dense that meal really is.
You should begin to understand why are waistlines are exploding. We can’t eat like this and expect to remain thin. But, the food industry has been slowly and steadily increasing portion sizes so that we’re to the point of gut busting, yet oblivious as to why.
Convenience and Instant Gratification
The second aspect of this thinking paradigm shift is in convenience and speed. The restaurant (and food) industries have additionally ingrained into our consciousness the need-for-speed. We have to have it now. That food should be something that’s ready in 5-7 minutes. The microwave and other innovations have also instilled this thinking. Granted, some foods don’t need to take long amounts of time to prepare. Some do. However, it’s not the speed here that’s at fault. It’s the fact that most meals that can be prepared rapidly are usually the foods with the highest calorie density (see below). So, with speed can come higher calories. The food industry has played off of our need-for-speed and produced foods that prepare rapidly, but those foods are usually overly calorically dense.
Bucking the system (and your friends, relatives and colleagues)
So, now the main aspect to weight loss is bucking the system. You don’t have a choice in this matter. The industry has so ingrained into the American consciousness that more is better that you have to forget that mantra and retool your own thinking. In addition, that now means you have to ignore your friends’, relatives’ and colleagues’ comments. What matters is your goals. If you want to lose the weight, you must look at portions and do what needs to be done to meet your goals. That means you need to think critically about what got us to the gut busting mentality and retool your own personal programming. It also means eating smaller portions and eating less calorie dense foods. However, this does not mean starving yourself. It also doesn’t mean you can’t eat the foods you like. You must eat them in smaller sizes.
I know, it’s hard to ignore friends’ and relatives’ comments. It is. But, if you are committed, you have to do this. When they ask you to eat over, accept. But, don’t eat more than what you need. Remember, you also do have ‘cheat’ meals.
As food engineering has progressed, prepackaged foods have become increasingly more calorie dense. Calorie density means that the manufacturers have been able to pack in more calories into smaller and smaller sizes. This also means that you cannot easily spot high calorie items simply with your eyes. You now need to weigh the foods. So, that means if you don’t have a scale in your house, you need to get one. Scales are important because weights are the only true way to measure calories. For example, 85g of chicken is 120 calories (that’s ~3 ounces). But, can you spot 85g of chicken just by looking? No. 85g of chicken is actually a small amount of chicken. It’s about 1/3 of a small-med chicken breast. That also means that a small-med chicken breast is about 360-400 calories. But, some chicken breasts are now enormous (thanks to hormones). So, here’s another example of density. Because chicken producers are now able to produce humongous chicken breasts, restaurants may even be serving these on your plate. These breasts might be 600 calories. The food scale is your friend, so weigh your foods. It’s the only way for you to be certain of how many calories are in your foods.
What is a cheat meal? Simply, a cheat meal is a meal that lets you eat a ‘normal’ (ahem) sized portion. A portion that you would find in a restaurant. Yes, that 1100 calorie meal above would be considered a ‘normal’ sized meal. But, this is a once-a-week meal. This is something that should be considered a treat or a reward. Think of it as a way to eat out and make it appear like you still accept the ‘eat more’ mantra. That you blend in with your waistline bulging friends. Then, once the meal is over, you immediately go back to your regular eating schedule as normal. And yes, I realize, I haven’t gotten to what is a ‘regular meal’ answer. We’ll come to that next.
So, what is regular sized meal?
Going by the 2000 calorie-a-day guideline of the FDA, let’s examine. It’s very simple math here. 2000 / 3 = 667 calories per meal. That’s assuming you eat only 3 meals per day. If you want to add in two 100 calorie snacks per day, then let’s calculate. 2000 – 200 = 1800. 1800 / 3 = 600 per meal + 2 100 calorie snacks. So, let’s break it out:
- Breakfast = 600
- Snack = 100
- Lunch = 600
- Snack = 100
- Dinner = 600
- Total = 2000
Here’s a challenge, I dare you to find any chain restaurant that offers full adult meals plus desert that fits into 600 calories. It’s next to impossible. Most restaurant meals start at 800 calories and finish (including a desert) well over 1800 calories just for that one single meal. How is anyone expected to lose weight eating that amount of calorie density in one meal? Combining that with several meals around that same size and you can’t.
So, this is mostly why you need to make your own meals at home. There are some restaurants that do offer lesser calorie meals. But, you need to dig through their nutritional guides to find them. For example, Chili’s offers a Guiltless Tilapia meal that’s just 200 calories (the full meal). That’s a Tilapia fillet and a side of vegetables (broccoli and shredded carrots). That would still leave 300 calories for a dessert (if following the above meal guide).
So then, what does a 600 calorie meal look like? Here’s a web site that gives you some ideas.
Grains, Vegetables and Fruits
The only thing that breads and, specifically, wheat products offer nutritionally is 1) carbs and 2) fiber. Both carbs and fiber are readily available in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are much more vitamin and mineral dense than breads. In general, grains of all types fall into this as well (rice, barley, rye, corn and, of course, wheat). That’s not to say not to eat grains, you can. But, you get better nutrition out of vegetables with far fewer calories. So, you can eat more vegetables and get full, yet still eating far fewer calories So, eating vegetables will give you more fiber than wheat with far fewer calories (and much less insulin response). On the other hand, fruits give about equal insulin response as wheat (because of the fruit sugars). So, always think of fruits as desert.
To truly begin losing weight, you need to rethink your meals. In that goal, instead of trying to do the above 600 calorie meals, you could do 200-300 calorie meals spaced out differently. For example, you might do 6 300 calorie meals over a 6 hour period and throw in 2 100 calorie snacks where ever you feel you need them. By eating more frequently with smaller meals, you keep the body constantly processing foods and nutrition. The body burns calories to digest foods. So, you are using this food processing system to burn calories. At the same time, you need to restrict your calories to an amount just under your maintenance calorie number.
So, if your maintenance number is 2000, you might have to drop to 1700-1800 to begin losing. You might need to go to 1500. It all depends on where your number is and only you can determine that number. Once you determine the number, you can easily maintain your weight (or go back into weight loss mode) as necessary. This also means the end to ‘normal meals’. That is, meal sizes dictated by the food industry. You need to ignore that rhetoric and use a plan that actually works.
Fresh foods and density
Food designed by nature is food the way it was intended to be found and eaten. That means, when foods are eaten the closest to that foods natural state, the more healthy it is (barring pesticides, hormones and fertilizers). When foods are in their natural state, they are the least calorically dense and the most nutritionally dense. This means, you can eat more of them to satisfy your hunger and, at the same time, not go over your calorie goals. You will also meet your body’s nutritional requirements. Such foods include broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, green beans, corn on the cob, carrots, etc.
On the other hand, foods designed in factories are the farthest away from nature that they can get. These foods are devoid of nutrition and very calorically dense. These foods must be fortified (vitamins and minerals are added back to these devoid products). These foods include bread, pizza dough, Pillsbury Dough, Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Ice Cream, Cheese and processed cheese food (Velveeta).
Foods that fall into the unsure status include Milk, Eggs, Chicken, Pork, Beef, Lamb, Veal, etc. While meats contain dense proteins and are necessary for the body, the commercial meat industry uses questionable practices to get these foods into the stores. So, unless you trust your meat supplier explicitly from farm to market, you may be getting extra things in your meats you are not really needing. That’s not to say that you can’t eat meat, let’s just say that you should limit meat consumption to only the amount needed to fulfill your daily protein requirements. As far as bovine milk, this is an calve food not designed for human consumption. See Randosity’s Milk: Does it really do a body good? for more details. Milk (and milk products, like cheese, yogurt, kefir, cream and butter) should be avoided as they are not necessary for the human diet. There is nothing in milk that cannot be had from other sources of solid foods including meats and vegetables.
Portions vs Exercise
To truly lose weight requires rethinking. It requires making yourself acutely aware of marketing practices and thinking about how manipulative these images really are. You need to determine your own calorie intake per day, but that will likely be no more than 2000 calories per day (unless you are an extremely active person like a bodybuilder, a runner, a biker, a hiker, a skier, a climber, a swimmer or a surfer). If you are not extremely exercise active, then you need to reduce your calories to fit a less active lifestyle. The bottom line is, calories in have to be less than calories expended to lose weight. The more active you are, the more you can eat. The less active, the less you can eat. It’s simple math here.
So, you need to reduce your portion sizes to accommodate a less active lifestyle. Increasing your exercise levels does not give you cause to binge, however. You still must stay below your energy expenditure to lose weight. You must equal your energy expenditure to maintain your weight. It’s very simple logic.
The hardest part is changing your thought behavior to become a permanent way of life. You can’t keep thinking ‘Oh, I only need to lose 5 pounds in 30 days’. No, instead you need to think, ‘They’re tricking me into that portion size’. So, eat a piece of cake, but eat a 50-100 calorie piece. Eat a size that fits into your daily eating schedule. As long as you adhere to portion sizes and calorie relationships that fit with your goals, you will continue on your weight lose goals. Don’t forget your cheat meal, though. You can use this as a crutch to help keep you on track. Eventually, this crutch won’t be necessary every week and you will fall into a normal eating behavior that is correct for your long term goals. You just need to give your body a chance to adapt (usually several months). And yes, your body will adapt to the correct portion sizes over time. Getting over that hump can take some time.
To affect permanent lasting weight loss, you have to understand misleading marketing materials that can lead you astray. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You need to retool your thoughts about food and your current lifestyle for long term changes, not for a month or two. So, think about how you can affect food changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. We also learned that a real meal size is about 600 calories (for a 2000 calorie a day diet). In fact, your meal size might be smaller than this to affect weight loss. It’s also difficult to find 600 calories in restaurant meals. You may have to request substitutions in restaurant meals to reduce the calorie density. Fresh natural foods are always healthier than processed industrial foods. Processed industrial foods tend to be high calorie density foods. So, you need to rethink your thoughts on foods and the way you think about foods. If you are committed to making these thought changes and learn more about foods, you can make a permanent lasting change towards a thinner you.