Ed. note: This entry is about working toward lifelong dietary goals by eating real food in moderation. The list of techniques will change over time, but this is where I’m starting from. This is actually an update from an article I wrote a little over a year ago, including my observations, corrections, and a handful of new ideas. Your constructive feedback is always appreciated. If this is your first time here and you enjoy this article, please consider subscribing via RSS. Thanks.
“Action Feeds Motivation.”
This thought occurred to me as I finished my first run of the year today, in the rain and wind. Yes, you read correctly: my FIRST, as best I can recall. As many readers have noticed, I’ve been a little scarce lately. I’ll write another post soon with my theories (and a few personal facts) on why that has been so, but for now I thought it was more important to simply do something about it. And as it turns out, that phrase, “Action Feeds Motivation” is going to be one of my recurrent themes for Almost Fit in 2009.
A year ago I was fully motivated to pursue these techniques. I didn’t need a whole lot of inspiration; I was ready to go. Over the last few months however, I haven’t been “feeling it” like I was. That tide however, is changing. So in an effort to really rekindle that fire I decided to review some of what I wrote a year ago to try to learn from my successes and mistakes, which is one of the great side-effects of writing your thoughts down in a public format like this one. For this analysis, I came back to one of my all-time favorite posts: 33 tips on how to lose weight without dieting, and one that I now think, after a year of trying out this approach to eating, needs a little revision.
As regular readers know, my focus here on Almost Fit is to do one simple thing: Eat Real Food in Moderation. No low fat this or low carb that; just real, whole foods in moderate amounts. As simple as the statement is, the principle is much harder to apply, particularly if you live in what I think of as a culture of excess. Most of us have come to accept as normal the gigantic, oversized meals that are available at every restaurant you go to, and on every food commercial or ad you encounter. We’ve confused quantity with value, and we’ve also convinced ourselves that the cost of food should be minimal – meaning it’s common to think that we simply can’t afford to eat better. I disagree; however, applying it on a daily basis is a lot like trying to light a candle in a hurricane.
In the 2008 article, I stated:
“I don’t believe that moderation in itself is the answer; eating moderate amounts of garbage still means you’re eating garbage. If I eat real food, in moderation, I am convinced that the weight will come off naturally. Changing my diet to focus on vegetables first, and then moderate amounts of high quality meat, grains, and dairy, makes sense to me. And so far, its working with little or no negative side effects including the emotional struggle that I associate with every diet I’ve ever tried, and I haven’t had to buy a single pre-packaged plan or frozen low fat dinner to do it.”
I still very much stand by these statements, and my diet and current condition is living proof. And that’s because I’m now thin, right?
Not quite yet.
In the last year I’ve managed to prove these principles from both angles – “success” in a sense, and “less than stellar” as well; I still contend that it’s not smart to view diet habits in a pass/fail context. No, I definitely proved that it does work; but lately I’ve also proven that if you take your eye off the ball for a while, the reverse is also true. We still eat well; the problem is the idea of eating vegetables first has succumbed to carb-heavy eating habits, particularly in the Winter months when our garden isn’t producing anything other than Leeks. There is plenty of room in my diet for carbs, proteins, sugars, and fats, but they need to be very secondary to vegetables as the bulk of what I eat. When I achieve that balance and combine it with reasonable exercise, Real Food in Moderation simply works.
However, when carbs, fats, and sugars begin to dominate my diet, all hell breaks loose when I step on the scale.
With that in mind, this article is intended to revisit my thoughts from a year ago, and provide new insight where it applies. And to be frank, this is somewhat self-serving; I’m putting my axiom to the test, and taking action to generate motivation.
Let the games begin.
33 Scratch that – 44 Weight Loss Tips for 2009
1. “Eat real food.” This principle is at its core, simply true – my opinion has not changed after a year of testing this out. Every day I am increasingly convinced that our poor, industrially-driven dietary habits particularly in the West are largely responsible for most of the bigger health maladies we suffer today. Real food means to me minimally processed, preferably non-packaged foods. “Good” is organic at the grocery store; “Better” is organically grown (even if not certified) from a local farmer who you can look in the eye and ask intelligent questions; and “Best” is growing your own, right in that patch of ground that used to be your front yard.
2. “Eat smaller portions of real food.” As I’ve pointed out many times before, portion size in the West is out of control. And contrary to what we are told all the time, eating more of someone’s industrial product is NOT what’s best for us – It benefits the seller, but that’s about it.
3. “Eat slower. Take at least 20 minutes for every meal. One of the best tips I’ve read on this is to divide the amount of food on your plate into fourths, and then eat only 1/4 of it each 5 minutes that passes. After a while I’ve found that you do this by nature once you get used to it.” 2009 observation: I am going to do this tonight in fact. This is one area that has really eluded me in the last few months, but I know that it works.
4. Technique: put your fork down between bites. This is another habit that is easy to let go, as I have proved over the last 6 months. Time for an adjustment.
5. Use smaller plates, cups, and utensils. No change here; still applies in 2009.
6. Cut between meal snacking – using some smart techniques. This is one of those areas that still holds true, and if you play it right can actually be a benefit of a sagging economy. Rather than throwing in that $5 dollar iced coffee drink during the morning and afternoon lull, save the money and go with the following: First, try a glass of water. Second, if that doesn’t stop the craving, a small piece of the best dark chocolate you can afford. Third, if that doesn’t work, try a small, pre-rationed handful of almonds. If I follow these steps in order, I’m generally fine for another couple of hours.
7. When you’re eating out, skip the appetizer. This rule still holds true. With the portion size of a typical entree, there is simply no need for “frontloading” your meal with unneccesary calories. On the other hand, if you want the appetizer, order it – as your meal. But if I do, I sometimes tip a little better if possible, only because my bill will be less as a result of my food choice and the server will appreciate the good will. It’s not a rule really, but it feels right for me.
8. Limit certain types of foods to a few times a month. This is one aspect that is more true now than ever, particularly with our current economic state. While I don’t apply this to fruits and vegetables, I certainly do for meat consumption. In addition to the health benefits of a diet rich in vegetables, eating better cuts of non-industrial meat is not only healthier, but more feasible financially when you eat it less frequently. And despite what those beef industry commercials suggest, not everyone has steak 3 meals a day.
9. Be aware of how much you are putting in your mouth, and keep it small. Smaller bites, savoring each one. Sounds simple enough. And, still true.
10. Understand what it means to be not quite full, and be OK with that. I don’t believe that I’ve done an article yet on Hari Hachi Bu (the art of eating until you’re 80% full), but that is soon to come I hope. What are my observations on this now? It is undoubtedly difficult. And it becomes a true mental game, where we often hear that little voice in our head that says, “But I LIKE to eat a lot”. It’s difficult to overcome that voice, but it’s possible. On this, more to come.
11. Don’t eat in front of the television. This technique has really worked for me this year, and I stand by it. That said, I do watch Top Chef while enjoying a very small dish of the best quality ice cream I can afford. The biggest trick here is not eating it straight from the container – which is deadly to the waistline when you combine it with the distraction of television. If you’re going to watch while you eat, serve a small portion away from the television. Savor it; eat it slowly; and don’t go back for more.
12. Don’t eat in front of the computer. See the previous tip – the same applies. 2009 observation: As was the case in 2008, this is still my biggest weakness. In fact, I’ve let the “emergency nuts snack” get out of control on this one – I have a jar of nuts on my desk as we speak. I’ve got to change that.
13. Whenever possible, eat together as a family. This is still true in my mind, however there’s one big challenge for me. Having two small children, I spend more of my focus on what they’re eating and less than on what I’m eating. I’m looking for suggestions on this one, but I still maintain it’s a good principle not only for dietary health, but for familial emotional health as well.
14. Whenever possible, in addition to your family, take your meals with friends and coworkers. We have been moderately successful at this one, but I have found that it is easy to overeat in these situations as well. I think ultimately you can truly appreciate the food more in the company of others, but it requires diligence to not get carried away.
15. “Read the ingredients list of anything in a package, but pay less attention to the statistics. The general rule should be to strive to eat things that don’t require ingredients lists, like fruits and vegetables. But in real life, this is not always practical. That being said, the key is to focus on the contents, not the scientific descriptions. You should try to eat only things that are easily identifiable as real food, not chemically processed substitutes. If you focus on eating only real food, and in moderation, the other elements become less important (unless you suffer with food allergies of course). The emphasis should be on real food and less of it, not counting milligrams of any one element.” 2009: More true now than ever.
16. Use real sugar, preferably raw, even if only trace amounts of it. Don’t use chemical substitutes. Again, for 2009, this rule holds absolutely true. I just spent a year NOT consuming chemical sweeteners, and I didn’t suffer in the least. Actually, I do have one amendment to this: I now prefer Agave syrup for most sweetening. Agave is a great sweetener, and requires very little refining. It’s also a great substitute for simple syrup for the occasional mixed drink.
17. “Eat fat – but only eat real, high quality fats. […] the key is moderation – if you eat a pound of Brie, you’ve gone to the dark side.” 2009 observations: I still strongly feel this is accurate. However, with one caveat: Fats, specifically great-tasting ones like real cheeses, are difficult to control on the moderation front. But my theory is the French succeed here because it’s awfully difficult to eat the stinkiest of cheeses. For practical purposes, take what you want from the block of cheese, and then put it away. This helps to prevent “nibbling” on the cheese left out on the counter.
18. Don’t rely on supplements – eat the real thing first, and supplement what you need. 2009? Still true, with one bit of advice: If you do take supplements, make sure they are not synthetic. For a great resource on the subject, see my fellow writer Robin’s blog, here: http://realnutritionsupplement.blogspot.com/.
19. Focus on the reasons you are overeating, and address those first. in 2009 I did a fair bit of work here, but even after a year of self-analysis, I still have yet to control my emotional eating patterns effectively. 2009 may be the year that I seek professional help with emotionally-driven overeating, which I believe is at the heart of most of my struggles with weight.
20. Don’t eat fast food if at all possible – its not real food. This has been a great success for me, with one small exception: In Oregon and parts of Washington, we have a restaurant chain called Burgerville, which uses organic, grass-fed, locally grown products whenever possible. The bigger problem of course is it tastes really, really good. So it’s a little too easy to justify a stop at Burgerville on somewhat shaky “ethical” grounds. Granted, it’s not very often that we go here, but to be honest it’s more than it should be. This needs to change.
21. Avoid vending machines. Still true in 2009. If you work in an office or a building near these machines, it requires a small amount of planning ahead, but this is entirely possible, and entirely the correct choice.
22. “Don’t believe the “no pain no gain” philosophy. Regardless of what your gym coach told you, or what that aggressive personal trainer says, unless your goal is to be a body builder or a professional athlete, if you are practicing moderation, this philosophy is simply not true. In order to maintain health, eating should not be difficult. Exercise should be a pleasure, not a struggle. For those of us who simply want good health, if its painful, you’re not doing it right.”
In 2009, my opinion? Despite some disagreement among readers, I still stand by this statement. While pain can be a useful tool, I don’t think it’s strictly necessary. That said, there ought to be some “burn” going on; it just doesn’t have to be as painful as most “gung ho” advocates indicate. Let the disagreement begin.
23. Don’t apply the “if its not hard its not worth doing” philosophy to eating. 2009: Still true. This statement stemmed from a “diet counselor” who was clearly bitter in her feelings about diet. “Do you like Caesar Salad?” she asked. I replied, “Uh, yes I do…” She said, “Well get used to the idea that you’ll have to give that up. If you want to lose weight, forget eating Caesar salad again.” That diet, of course, didn’t work. And hopefully my embittered “counselor” moved on to a new career, perhaps in Credit Collection.
24. Learn to cook. Over the last year this has become, its fair to say, an obsession. My wife and I are systematically working our way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I truly think this is key, particularly if you want to wean yourself from the industrial food products that many of us are used to.
25. Educate yourself on the diets of cultures that live longer and are generally in better health. 100% true. I would add only that if possible, it’s best to go visit those cultures, which we hope to pursue further in the coming years.
26. Reduce your coffee size to enjoy real cream – not “creamer”. I absolutely believe this is true, but I must admit: working at home as I do, it is terribly easy to “overdo” it by drinking coffee throughout the day. In 2009, I am considering eliminating coffee in favor of Yerba Mate tea, which I also enjoy, and for which I don’t need cream.
27. If you are a coffee drinker, develop an appreciation for espresso. I am hopeful that in 2009 we’ll be able to pick up a quality espresso machine. I am a little particular on this and have my eyes set on one that I of course cannot afford, but with some planning and saving hopefully we’ll be able to pick one up sometime soon without breaking out a credit card.
28. Avoid packaged juices. Juice is one of my biggest weaknesses, because it feeds my inate and powerful sweet tooth. I find that when I drink juice, I stimulate sugar cravings terribly for the rest of the day. I really try to limit juice intake, even going as far as asking my wife to refrain from keeping it in the house. That said, there are a few juices that I do enjoy on occasion, including pomegranate juice from POM. I like the flavor, and it’s expensive enough that I rarely can justify the expense – a built-in moderation feature.
29. Buy the best food you can afford. After a year of doing this, I have to say that it is the most important aspect in my opinion of eating in moderation. A food budget is a balancing act. For the more expensive cheeses that we buy, we have reduced our coffee and packaged foods (we still eat a few) budget. This year we will continue to grow our own produce, which also reduces the overall cost of food for us especially with a family of four. I am hopeful that this year we will have a better handle on our food budget (and our budget in general) – once I find out exactly how much we’re spending, I’ll share the information.
30. Retrain yourself away from the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” mindset. 2009: THIS one, I think needs a little correction. After reading many, many arguments in favor of eating breakfast, I think I missed the mark on this one in some ways. My original reasoning was that if you overeat at breakfast, you’ll just overeat later. I still think that is true; however, I took it to the extreme and started skipping breakfast altogether, which is a big mistake. I am not entirely convinced of the metabolic reasons yet only because I think this is a matter of conditioning (considering the lack of heavy breakfast in many “lighter” cultures); however I am sure that if I reach lunchtime and am starving, I make bad choices. Better to start out with a whole, light breakfast, than to skip it only to be desperate for anything to eat later.
31. Eat at regular times. This is still true, though I am admittedly not good at it. I tend to eat breakfast sometime in mid-morning, lunch somewhere in mid-afternoon, and dinner at a regular time. I think this is one of my problems, and I need to work on a better morning and afternoon eating schedule.
32. Keep junk food out of the house. To me, this one is obviously true for 90% of us. If you are one of the lucky few who don’t have this weakness, good for you. But for me, this is a necessity.
33. Don’t be in a big rush to lose the weight. This is for me, in the top 3 lessons that carry the most, ahem, weight. I lost 25 lbs or so last year, which is what I would have shot for in a month on some of the crazy diets I’ve tried. Rather, I’m very happy with those results. This is a lifelong process of health improvement; not to mention, it took me 37 years to get to this point. It’s madness to think it will turn around, permanently, overnight.
NEW FOR 2009:
34. Skip the afternoon snack – in favor of afternoon tea. I think our friends across the pond have this correct – afternoon tea time seems to me to be a great idea. I did this today in fact, and it satisfied my slight hunger until dinner. Give it a try. Make the tea time an opportunity to sit quietly and contemplate where you’re at. Enjoy the moment – be present for your life, which will be one of the themes this year for Almost Fit.
35. Focus on broadening your tastes in food. There are so many cultures that eat incredibly healthy foods, often out of necessity. Broadening your taste can lead to tremendous, healthful discoveries. This is something that we are also passing on to our children, who these days will eat pretty much anything – a fact for which I am convinced is at least in part due to exposure.
36. Develop a better understanding of the ethics of food. Foods as they are presented by the food industry are just nice, tasty products that we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about – just trust the food industry and surely we won’t go wrong. Unfortunately, this is why we have an obesity epidemic, and quite bluntly, family tragedy from things like poisoned peanut butter – our misplaced trust in a) the marketers to tell us what we should eat, and b) the government to look out for us. Neither is even close to a good source of information on what we feed ourselves and our kids, as they always have an agenda that puts consumers squarely in the last position.
37. Use tools, like social media, to your advantage. I am an active Twitter user and have been for some time. One of the benefits? I follow a number of great health bloggers, inspirational/motivational writers, and generally just good people. I find great inspiration and motivation in their suggestions throughout the day. One great example is a Twitter user I follow posts “nudges” throughout the day to remind followers to get up and move around a bit, or grab a glass of water. This is useful for me, particularly working by myself.
38. Be careful with the calories in wine. I have found that surprise surprise – when one glass of wine at dinner is good, two glasses is often a little better. It’s easy to overdo it – not in an alcohol/sobriety sense necessarily (though that is certainly a reasonable concern), but in the unwanted calories in particular. One glass is usually all I need; I just need to remember that especially after a hard day.
39. Consider (as in think about) trying moderate fasting. Many, many cultures use fasting as part of their dietary regime. I am currently fascinated with this, and plan on trying it sometime this year as an Almost Fit documented experiment. But for me, it is fasting moderately; I don’t intend to go more than a day on a fast. But it’s definitely something I think may have health benefits beyond weight loss.
40. If you make enough for leftovers, pack the leftovers first. When you make a meal, before you serve it, set aside the leftover quantity you intend to eat the next day. I’ve read this tip in numerous places, and it really both makes sense, and works.
41. When possible, only bring to the table what you plan to eat. For me, if the bowl of pasta is on the table, it’s much easier to eat more than I need. If I serve myself in the kitchen, it’s one step more difficult to overeat on seconds.
42. Find the stress relievers that work for you – other than food. With the economy in the current state of disrepair, this for me is of critical importance. I will be exploring this over the coming year on Almost Fit, and welcome suggestions.
43. Don’t go to bed too late. This one is one of my most difficult habits to break, but one I’m set on accomplishing this year. When I stay up late, I eat more. Simple as that. If I go to bed early and rise early, I rarely eat much if anything before breakfast. This may be different for you, but I have a feeling that late night work sessions, or #afterhours as we say on Twitter, are not great for a healthful diet.
44. Action Feeds Motivation. I think the best thing you can do on the weight loss front is simple: get up and do something about it. It sounds simple, but I know for me, I spent an awful lot of time trying to find motivation to exercise, often with mediocre results. This year, I’m hoping to turn this on it’s head on a personal level – rather than waiting to be motivated to do something physical, I’m going to focus on getting up and doing it as a means of creating motivation. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that I feel is worth making. My intention is to feature great sources of motivation that focus on taking small, immediate actions that you can do with minimal planning. Plans are great. But action is what is always needed if you want to get anywhere.
Thank you for reading. Here’s to another great year of working together. Your comments and suggestions are, as always welcome and maybe more importantly, appreciated.