So after not seeing them for a month of so, they were back at the gym and one of them says: "Wow. You have not regained any weight. Are you still on that diet? How can you do that?"
"No, I am not on a diet," I said. "But I have changed entirely the way I eat, and I have stuck with that instead."
"Oh, yeah," she says. "I forgot that you don't eat normal anymore."
As I was driving to work, later that morning, I thought about that conversation and the concept of eating "normal."
So what does eating "normal" means to me -- or to anyone else for that matter?
To me, eating normal is how I eat now, which is mostly eating non-processed food and as cleanly as possible. And eating "abnormally" is what I used to do before. Unless I understood that, I kept plateauing and not seeing the results I wanted, no matter now hard I tried and how much I exercised. It took some research and much trial and error until I figured out what I needed to do, and changed my entire outlook completely.
I have also learned that I cannot save the world. I can only save myself, and share with the world what I have learned. Sometimes, the world listens and shares their results with me. Some others, the world argues with me and I keep making progress while the rest of the world does not.
That's life, and there's nothing else I can do about it.
At any rate, here's the deal. Our bodies need three basic components: Carbohydrates, protein and fat. Most diets take away one of the components. If you take away one of the components, you will lose weight. However, since this is unsustainable given that your body needs the missing component, the minute you put it back in, *poof* the weight comes back (and brings some friends along with it).
So now we know that eating fat, carbs and protein is okay. Easy, yes? Does that mean that now I can run to the nearest bakery and stuff myself with donuts? Not exactly. The thing is that one calorie is not just like another. Add to that the fact that the market is loaded with stuff that says "Sugar Free," "Fat Free," "Natural," and "Healthy," and things get really, really confusing. And in the words of the great Jack LaLanne, if it is made by man, you don't want it. (Or at least be very, very suspicious.)
What I am trying to get at is that you want to eat your carbs complex, your protein lean, and your fat the healthy kind. Here are some examples:
Complex carbs (Good): Fruit, grains, whole wheat products such as bread and pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, corn tortillas.
Simple carbs (Bad): Candies, donuts, white breads and pasta, white rice, most boxed cereals, anything crispy that comes out of a bag (like potato chips, Doritos, and the such).
Lean protein (Good): Beans, fish, boneless and skinless chicken breast, same with turkey, lean cuts of beef, bison, pork tenderloin.
Not lean protein (Bad): Fatty cuts of beef, fried chicken and anything else fried, like fried fish (in fish and chips), fatty cuts of pork, bacon.
"Good" fats: Olive oil, natural peanut butter (the kind you have to stir), avocados, almonds, walnuts, salmon (yes, even canned salmon).
"Bad" fats: Lard, butter, margarine, and in general, anything that is a "solid" fat.
Also in the "bad" list: Processed foods and anything containing hidden simple sugars, which might spike up your glycemic index and then give you a crash. Have you ever been hopped up on sugar and they become lethargic afterwards? That's what I'm talking about.
Depending on your body type, and your level of exercise, the recommended percentage for most people would be 50% carbs, 30% fats, 20% protein. I usually shoot for 40/30/30 at this point, but I also exercise like a maniac.
The other thing is that, believe it or not, you need to eat in order to lose weight.
"But Bel," you might say. "I am trying to lose weight, not gain it. Am I not supposed to eat less?"
Well, it all depends. Let me put it this way. If you are consuming 2000 calories as an average every day, if you want to lose weight you want to consume 1500. The caloric reduction will take care of the weight. However, if you consume your 1500 in one meal, once a day, your body will go into starvation mode and hold on to that fat for dear life. (Have you ever heard of the 1500 calorie salad? Just go check the nutrition facts on salads on most popular restaurants. You will be horrified.)
In this case, what you want to do is spread your calories in 5-6 small meals a day instead.
"But," you say. "I don't have time to cook!"
Ahhh, but you don't have to spend all your day cooking, and even your cooking does not have to be an all day affair. There are a number of very simple recipes out there that require very little work, and that can be prepped ahead, and that will take less time than standing in line at McDonald's or sitting at a restaurant waiting for service. Plus, most snacks do not require cooking and can be really portable, i.e. a good quality protein bar, or a container of plain yogurt and baggie with chopped walnuts. Or an apple and a couple of low fat string cheese pieces.
Personally, I eat every three hours, whether I feel hungry or not. Why? Because my body is like an engine that requires fuel. And good quality fuel at that. For instance, if your car has reached 3000 miles, you want to change the oil. You don't want to wait for another 3000 or 5000 just because it's not making funny noises yet. If you do that, by the time you pay attention to the car, the engine is already gone and the car will break down on you. In the case of your body, your blood sugar will be going bananas, and your system will be crashing. This is exactly what happens when you don't feed your "engine" and wait until you are starving. At that point you have lost all control, and all you know is that you need to eat something fast or you are going to faint. And yes, you will start grabbing and gorging on the first thing you find, which is often a bag of potato chips or a burrito from the closest junk food outlet.
See what I mean? Divide your 1500 calories between 5 meals, and you will never be hungry. Hence, no emergency Doritos (sorry Frito-Lay, no chips for me!)
These days I carry a small cooler everywhere. I call it my "emergency pack." I eat every three hours, and I eat what I choose as proper food. Each meal contains a carb and a protein, and at least two of those meals must contain vegetables and/or fruit. And all of it must be complex carbs, lean protein, good fats, and add to no more than 1950 calories for the type of workouts I am doing.
Oh, and it must be delicious too.
Impossible? Hardly. Nothing is more delicious than fresh food, and even a turkey breast sandwich on wheat bread made by you is a better option than a bag of chips.
Does that mean that I never indulge in foods that are not in the plan? Perish the thought. I don't like to feel deprived, and I choose one meal per week as my "cheat" meal. It will include butter. It will include perhaps donuts. It will include something fried. It will be something that I will thoroughly enjoy, and then move on. This way, I don't feel deprived, and I can still enjoy some of my old faves without breaking the engine. Only that these days I have developed "new" favorites as well that taste good, and that are in the plan.
But nothing says "happiness" like a fresh honey glazed Dunkin donut.
But that's for my "happy" cheat meal :-)
In the meantime, I will continue posting about nutrition and exercise, and will continue adding easy to make and delicious recipes whenever I have the chance.
But in the end, remember that the important thing is sustainability. Moreover, the trick is consistency, not perfection. And once you learn that eating nutritious and delicious meals is much better, and makes you feel great, you will not go back to eating the way you were before.
Losing weight is only half the story. Diets fail. Proper nutrition does not. And it's never too late to learn how to eat healthy and reap the benefits!