Original published by Raving Consulting
In PART I of this series, I covered introducing more “real food” into our diets, and how a history of comfort and convenience foods and misleading marketing has contributed to a fat America. These articles aren’t just for folks who struggle with their weight like me — healthier food can help folks, even those at “normal weight” who lack energy and strength, and are prone to pain.
Is this you? This has been me, several times.
“I’m going to start eating better this Monday,” you say to yourself. You’ve been watching P90X infomercials and you’re a BELIEVER. You tell yourself that you are going to start eating right, and then you’ll join a gym or start walking, whatever, after you take some weight off.
At the store you recognize Slim-Fast and Lean Cuisine; they’ve been around forever, right, so they must be good? You see labels that say, high-protein, low-carb, low-fat, organic, GMO, and gluten-free. You remember reading about the miraculous, one-week juice cleanse diet, and what about Atkins (bacon! bacon! bacon!)? Feeling a panic attack coming on, you resist abandoning your cart. So you fill your basket with expensive, diet packaged foods and a gigantic bag of baby carrots; you’ll figure it out later.
You hope the checkout lady doesn’t ask you about how you are going to fix the organic kale — you have no clue, but read that it was good for you.
Come Monday, you wake up, stare into your fridge and realize that you’re not sure what you are going to eat. What diet am I on anyway? South Beach? Paleo?
So you decide that the “NOT EAT DIET” for the first day is the right strategy. Lose weight fast and then figure out the right foods to eat. Fasting is good, right?
By 10 AM, all you can think about is food and your raging headache. You either succumb to your hunger pains and go off to the employee EDR and make the largest salad at the salad bar (that’s healthy, right?), or you manage to starve yourself the whole day, but are too weak to go and work out. By 8 PM, you are so hungry and obsessed with food, you’ve eaten four Lean Cuisines, all the protein bars, and a bag of almonds. The next day you step on the scale and you’ve gained four pounds.
How can you avoid fads and unhealthy marketing messages like “Lose 20 pounds in one week” and “Lose that stubborn belly fat forever!”?
Dennis found great success in going to a nutritionist after getting the news about his diabetes. Most general physicians have access to nutrition plans if they don’t have an in-house specialist, or they can make a referral. His nutritionist put him on a “real food diet” that combined several small and healthy meals per day. His meals don’t seem to vary — but the routine works for him. And that is all that matters — finding a plan that works for you.
If you are playing the “I don’t want to go to the doctor before I lose weight game” (that would be me), plan, shop and pre-prep for your week’s worth of meals before your workweek starts. You might get snickers from unsupportive folks in your household saying that you are going overboard, but YOU WILL FAIL without it.
A good online website to track your calories and the types of food that you are eating is www.livestrong.com, or on your mobile phone, calorie counter and diet tracker by MyFitnessPal. It’s surprising how many calories just a small handful of “healthy” nuts, dried fruit, or a glass of wine has.
Go back to the REAL FOODS principle; go back to the store with your week of recipes in mind for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the entire week. Have it in your head that “white stuff” — sugar, flour, pasta, bread, crackers, pretzels, bagels — shouldn’t be on your shopping list, even the whole-grain type, until you have control over your portions and understand that not all “whole-grain” products are equal.
Do I really need to pay for ORGANIC?
When you go back to the store, you might wonder if you should be buying ORGANIC.
Remember, doctors will say that ANY addition of fruits and vegetables and lean meats like fish and chicken is a huge improvement. Don’t get hung up on whether you can afford organic chicken or produce. Choosing broccoli and a grilled chicken dinner over going out to your favorite Mexican restaurant three nights a week or fast food for lunch, is a huge step in the right direction.
With that having been said, since you WILL BE eating a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables, become familiar with how these real foods are grown and processed — plant and animal, and if that makes a difference to you.
According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group), some foods have been found to have more residual chemicals. On their website they have broken down the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. If you’re concerned about this for yourself (and in particular, children, who are more vulnerable to pesticides), try to stick to this list. I still don’t have the list memorized, so I pull it out every time.
One of the listings on the dirty side is grapes, which is a bummer since we eat so many of them during the summer.
According to Real Simple, “Because grapes ripen quickly, tend to mold, and attract insects, growers hit them with multiple applications of various chemicals. The worst are Chilean grapes, which are treated with as many as 17 of them. (Ninety percent of the grapes eaten in the United States from January to April are Chilean).”
Non-organic grapes grown in the U.S. are also exposed to pesticides — so just because it says “grown in the U.S.,” doesn’t mean that they are chemical-free. At least, wash all of your fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and peel any that are on the dirty dozen list that you don’t buy organically. Confession — sometimes I eat half of the grapes on the way home from the store without washing them. I’m still proud that I opted for grapes instead of my favorite Chex Mix.
Do you need to care about happy, frolicking cows?
During the last year, I’ve tried to buy organic according to the Dirty Dozen list. I see all of the chemicals that are sold at the big-box stores to battle bugs and blight, and can’t imagine putting that in my own garden. It’s more of a challenge to garden without chemicals (you have to pick off bugs with your fingers, plant deterrent plants [see picture above], and swear a lot), but I know that I’m not ingesting anything I can’t pronounce.
When it comes to meats, however, I can’t afford to replace my 10-lb package of frozen chicken breasts (yes, we eat a lot of chicken) that I get at Costco. And there’s some marketing sneakiness going on here, too. Know what these labels mean:
- No added steroids or hormones
- Wild/farmed fish
Take chicken. A lot of what we see on the label, like “no hormones added,” is a given. All brands in the U.S. have this in common. The National Chicken Council breaks it all down here. Worth reading.
There’s tons and tons of research out there, and it appears that animals that are raised by strict organic standards AND have space to roam and frolic are healthier. They are leaner and they have more “good fat.” Well, that’s common sense, right? Just like us humans. However, just having an organic label doesn’t ensure that the meat is risk-free; organically raised chicken is still susceptible to salmonella.
You may choose organic for other reasons though. According to Livestrong, “In general, the USDA acknowledges that organic agriculture is gentler on the environment than conventional agricultural practices. In the areas of waste management, greenhouse gas reduction, soil and water quality, preservation of biodiversity and conservation of energy and water resources, organically produced chicken is usually the more environmentally sensitive option.”
This is starting to stink AND cost a lot of money
At forty something-something, I just grilled my first tilapia the other night — I felt like I was growing feathers from all the chicken that we’ve been eating. It’s a good source of protein, but there are some drawbacks, too. Yup, what’s better? Farm versus wild? What’s healthier for the body and what’s healthier for the environment? It really depends on the fish.
For many of us, buying specialty raised meat or all organic produce is just too damned expensive. I grow and preserve as much as I can in my short-season garden. I want to be a good citizen of the world and support farmers and suppliers who are conscious of their environmental footprint. Sometimes my choices depend on my checkbook, sometimes it’s convenience, sometimes it’s about community.
First things first, right? Making REAL FOOD part of your daily diet comes first, and that’s hard enough. Read my buddy Doctor Tracey Delaplain’s blog for ideas on what to do with all of those vegetables!
In Part III of this article series, I’ll be talking about how some businesses are helping their employees practice healthier lifestyles. Stay tuned.
Just remember, if you fall off the wagon, start back up again immediately, without beating yourself up. This is a lifelong commitment … but worth every effort.