Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that there quite a few different ways to accomplish this. As my friend Kelly from Iron Chic Transformation and I go through the 8 Week Physique competition at our box, we have spent a lot of time thinking about this. This week, in our second joint blogging venture, Kelly and I share some of our views on transforming our health and fitness, with a particular focus on the food piece of the equation.
I’ve been overweight for virtually my entire adult life – can’t remember exactly when I started picking up the weight, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with open kitchen at the sorority house and our cook Betty’s Hash Brown Casserole. I didn’t even own a scale until after I got out of graduate school, and didn’t even attempt to lose weight until my middle to late 20’s, when I tried Weight Watchers. Since then, I’ve made several attempts to get my weight under control, with my current goal being to Just Get Under 200, Dammit. I love to read, and I also tend to overanalyze, which means I have read countless books, magazine articles and websites all of which purport to be able to tell people dying to lose weight the best way to eat for weight loss.
There are a gazillion and four of these diet plans, all of which have followers who claim they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. And all of which have a huge, HUGE problem.
I’m not a fan of dogma, unless you are talking about the brilliant 1999 film written and directed by Kevin Smith. Just as I don’t subscribe to the notion that following a strict set of rules for behavior will get you into heaven, I don’t subscribe to the idea that following a strict set of rules will lead to weight loss success. Just as the dogma behind most religions is mutually exclusive, so is the dogma behind many of these diet programs. And while I’m not going to get into my religious beliefs in this post, I will say that with regard to eating for weight loss, I believe in only 2 rules.
1) Calories In must be less than Calories Out to lose weight
2) Eat Real Food as much as you can
That’s it. Two rules, taken together, that have led me to lose 64 pounds and counting, and have provided the added benefit of looking better and feeling better.
There is actually controversy in the science community about whether rule #1 is actually true – though most of the controversy seems to stem not just from whether the formula calories in < calories out leads to weight loss. In the articles I’ve read about this, the studies are more likely to look at factors like what happens when someone eats only starvation level calories – which is not applicable to 99% of people – or whether people fail to log calories correctly when they track them. Since none of that actually deals with whether the formula actually is accurate, and since I have had untold numbers of thermodynamics related classes in my day, I tend to stick with what makes sense – calories in < calories out = weight loss over time.
The notion of eating as much real food as you can raises a different set of questions. See, for every diet dogma, there is a different definition of what constitutes “real food”. Vegetarians don’t consider things with faces legitimate food, and their buddies the vegans throw eggs and dairy into the not-real-food bucket. The gluten free people throw what feels like damn near everything into the not-real bucket, and the Medifast people don’t count anything you actually have to chew. Jenny Craig wants your food to come from a box, and Weight Watchers wants it to have low points, whatever the hell THOSE are. And the Paleo people have a billion and four rules – of course dairy, legumes, grains, and sugar aren’t considered real food by the Caveman Club. But for a lot of people who have partaken in the Caveman Kool-Aid – sorry, the Caveman Green Smoothie or whatever the hell would actually be considered OK for a Caveman to eat – it’s not good enough to eat dead animals and dead plants. You also have to make sure you eat grass fed organic meat that was lovingly raised by hand no further than a half mile from your house, and organic free range chicken eggs blessed by the pope – which is a big problem when the stupid pope decides to resign and there’s nobody available to bless your eggs anymore so you can have an omelette already. To all of these rules, I say hogwash.
For me, eating real food means the following:
*Dead Plants. If I run across good organic or local dead plants that I can get conveniently at a reasonable price, that’s cool. Otherwise, I will take the strawberries that were shipped in from Chile and deal.
*Dead Animals. I get the leanest dead animals that I can, and for the most part they are not grass-fed and not organic. Not because I have any particular problem with grass-fed organic, but because I just don’t find the case for it to be compelling enough to spend the time buying it right now.
*Some Dairy. I don’t eat a ton of dairy, but it’s not because of any diet dogma other than Rule #1. I love cheese, and if I eat too much of it, my calorie balance gets out of whack. My treatment of the cheese question is probably the biggest change in my diet the past few years – basically, I have cheese when I want it, in smaller quantities so that it’s pretty much just flavoring. I eat a half-cup of cottage cheese almost every day. And if I want some ice cream and have the calories to have it, then by God I’m going to do it.
*Some Fast Food. Notice I said SOME. This is actually an area I struggle with a lot, due to the convenience factor. I used to eat a drive-through breakfast pretty much every day, but I am working to break that habit. But dammit, I am NOT going cold turkey on this one. Part of Being Awesome is having a Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuit once a week or so. Sue me.
*Some Restaurant Food. I eat out. I always have, and I always will. I don’t foresee ever being one of those people who only eats out once per week, because I use dining out both as a break from the boring crap I make at home, and a social outing.
*Some Processed Food. Again, I said some. I don’t buy or eat many frozen meals, though I do have some on hand in case I just can’t stomach eating the other stuff I’ve prepped in the house. I also am not going to make my own condiments regularly – just not gonna happen. But I can tell you this: when I get to the grocery checkout, my shopping cart doens’t contain many cardboard boxes. It has INGREDIENTS with which I make Real Food.
There are a number of other things I keep in mind when I am planning my meals, but those are the biggest ones. I do the best I can with the time I have, track my food, and and go on with life.
And it works. Period.
One clear sign that you are in an unhealthy relationship is that you find yourself compromising your values and beliefs to keep the other person happy.” – source unknown
That quote sums up exactly how I feel about every diet I have ever been on. In the beginning it’s easy, because it’s kind of an adventure and then as the newness wears off I find myself constantly compromising my love of quality food to keep the “diet” happy, to fulfill the doctrine, and I start to lose part of myself. If I were a painter and you took away my palate, gave me four colors and said, from now on, these are the only colors you can use….I might create a few masterpieces, but eventually my love for the whole process of creating would become so stifled that I would be depressed and I may cut off an ear. I’m just saying, food is my art, so my relationship with food is going to be tricky and emotional, but in order for it to remain healthy, it must be nurtured and encouraged, and if I try to confine it, something bad always seems to happen. I realize this all sounds very dramatic, but I am trying to prove a point. Food is certainly not my enemy, rather diets are.
I like to research weight loss tactics, techniques and theories. I read about diet plans, I watch documentaries and most importantly I talk to people about their goals and transformations. The thing that gets me is that there is so much information and so many different approaches that it gets a bit convoluted and overwhelming.
Should you go Paleo and eliminate entire food groups to reach the most perfect caveman body?
Should you juice fast to lose all the fat and replenish your body with macronutrients?
Should you eat a low fat diet? Even though non-fat products are over processed and usually much higher in sugar?
How about drinking whole milk and eating sticks of butter to achieve ketosis?
What about sugar? Should I carb cycle?
Medi-fast? Weight Watchers? Jenny Craig?
If meat is ok, then why is dairy bad? Should I just keep kosher?
Can I eat whole eggs? What’s cholesterol?
Can I eat lean meat? All meat? No meat?
How much fruit is too much?
Are potatoes evil?
If white rice is so bad than why is obesity not an epidemic in say China, where rice is a main dietary staple?
Can someone give me a straight answer on bacon?
What the frack is a macro?
Quality? Quantity? And most importantly is a calorie a calorie no matter where it comes from?
My blood pressure is rising just writing this post, maybe I should cut out salt.
Here’s the conclusion based on no scientific evidence that I have come to. None of it matters for weight loss.
Notice I said weight loss. Performance, muscle building, overall health…those goals require specific dietary manipulation, and if you are hard core enough to sustain a lifestyle that obsesses about the breakdown of food than I say go for it. I’ll support you, but that kind of rigor doesn’t work for me. It makes me crazy(ier.)
So. My conclusion, are you ready, is that it comes down to a very simple equation:
Calories In<Calories Out
Not quality of food. Not dogma of diet. Just eat less than you are expending and thanks to science you will lose weight.
You know how long it’s taken me to realize this?
My whole dang adult life.
I want one of these diet programs to make me thin, but the problem is that even within a specific diet plan, I will find a way to eat more than I really need. Why? Let’s say programming, habit, poor self control. You pick, it’s irrelevant. I didn’t lose weight on paleo (although I did lose body fat, and overall I felt/feel spectacular when I eat a mostly caveman diet), because I consistently ate too much. Now, I am not knocking a high quality diet plan, nor am I knocking paleo specifically, but the bottom line is that in order for me to achieve my goals it is imperative that I relearn how to eat at a deficit. Also, and I think this is a critical…diets, no matter how awesome, are NOT sustainable long term. I don’t want to live in an eternal state of deprivation, seriously, I am not a nun.
All of this has gotten me really motivated to find a sustainable weight loss approach. Not a gimmick, fad or restriction diet, but a balance and the only thing that makes any sense is to become a calorie counter, something I quite honestly have avoided doing because it’s kind of a pain in the butt, especially if you are like me and you make 95% of the food you eat, from scratch with your own recipes. Mostly I want to eat the same way I will continue to eat once I’ve achieved my goal but at a deficit to start making some progress toward Onederland! My “dietstyle” (yeah I just made that word up) preference is a mostly veggie, meat, fruit diet with some whole grains and some full fat dairy with no food outlawed (but mostly I just eat “clean” and I get mean LEAN!)
My point in all of this is to simply say. I get it. It’s confusing and overwhelming to get started on weight loss. Even I struggle and I have already lost 40 pounds. Food is necessary and enjoyable, and when it becomes something to obsess about I find myself getting incredibly frustrated. So, in order to have the greatest success every day I am going to employ 3 rules from now on.
Rule #1. Write it down if I choose to eat it. Whether I want to write it down or not (more on that next week.)
Rule #2. Stick to the foods that make me feel best: meats, fruits, veggies and nuts. Occasional grains are fine. Full fat dairy in small amounts also fine.
Rule #3. Avoid trigger foods. (And booze) Minimize their accessibility and try and avoid situations where I will eat trigger foods (like life, become a hermit!)