So far, we’ve considered the big business of health and fitness, and we’ve looked at the most important aspect of diet and exercise, which is our spiritual worship to God with our bodies.
In this post, I want to consider one of the more hands-on aspects of dieting: The food.
-Medical News Today reports the number of available diets in the thousands.
Recall from part 1 of this series that the U.S. diet industry is a $72.5 billion/year industry.
People desire to lose weight; and people are buying dieting instructions/books/programs. And they all center around food.
-But there are some big problems with all of this.
As I noted in part 1, 80-95% of dieters tend to put the weight lost back on. Which means, all that money invested is treated more like rent than a mortgage. We pay gobs of money to lose weight— we lose it—and then we stop paying the money and start regaining the weight. Why? Because our mindset about food hasn't changed.
We enter into diets like we’re renting someone else’s apartment for a while, not buying a property to develop. And that has to change.
-The Harvard Medical School writes, “All diets work…for a time.” So, the truth is, you can start any of the thousands of diets available on the market and lose weight.
So the question is not, “will dieting help me lose weight?”
The better question is, “Do I understand food?” and “Do I understand food enough so that I can manage my eating, accomplish my health goals, and live a healthy lifestyle?
-This has been my struggle. I tried the Atkins diet back in my late teens and I lost weight. A lot of it. But, when I stopped the diet, the weight came right back on—and I was heavier than ever. At my heaviest, which was probably around ages 28-30, I stood 6’1 and weighed in around 330lbs. I was unhealthy and had no clue about food. I ate whatever tasted good and whatever I craved.
My body hurt; I was uncomfortable physically and emotionally; and was fairly inactive.
Since that time, I’ve set out to educate myself on food, and hopefully, learned how to be healthy. I’m currently weighing in at around 245lbs and in the best shape of my life. I still have goals to trim down more, and there’s still a ways to go.
Learning to Eat on a Regular Basis.
-Here something important to learn and remember: Food decisions never go away. Not ever. They will confront you everyday.
So, right off the bat, you can see the futility of doing a short-term diet. If all you change is your behavior for a short time, you’ll only go back to what you knew when it's over. And that won’t help. The food will still be there.
Learning My Own Body
-This has been a process for me. I’ve been serious about it for 4 years or so at this point. And I’m still learning. Fad diets don’t work for long-term health. We’ve got to study and learn our own bodies in order to gain long-term success.
I've learned things about my own body in this whole process. I struggle with IBS, which means certain foods aggravate my stomach and digestive system, especially when I’m stressed. So I’ve got to steer clear of those foods. If you also struggle with IBS, I find this food-list helpful.
When I turned 32 or so, my body decided to kick dairy. It did not consult with or inform me of this decision. But I quickly learned of its decision, and I’m now lactose intolerant—which affects a lot of things (like which protein supplements I can and can’t use).
I’m also getting into middle age, so my body is changing, and I’ve got to start thinking about things like cholesterol, heart health, stretching and mobility, and the like.
-I write all of this to make this point: Your body is specific to you. My body is specific to me. We’ve got to know our bodies. No cookie cutter diet can account for all the complexities of your body. That’s where you come in.
So, here’s my general approach…
Macronutrients: Know Your Foods…
-Learning about these three food categories have been super helpful to me. You can find specific diets geared toward counting macros, but for me, I use them more as a general guide to help me make decisions and adjust my eating as needed. The three macronutrients in all foods are:
Most all foods contain some amount of each of these nutrients. You may find some foods, like Tuna fish, that is full of protein and fat, but lack carbs; etc. But for the most part, food falls into these three categories.
So, as I am assessing my body, working through health and fitness goals, or dealing with an IBS flareup, I can use these to steer myself generally in the food world.
Dietitians and physicians can also emphasize certain of these categories according to our health goals.
-Now, each Macro category has its own sub-categories.
Within proteins, there are good sources of protein (like red meat), and better sources like fish, chicken, legumes and nuts.
Fats can be broken into a few categories, but I tend to think in healthy vs. unhealthy fats. Unhealthy fats are mostly trans-fats which occur from heavy food processing. Which, ironically, is mostly what people are eating. Healthy fats are more naturally occurring fats.
Carbs are similar. There are healthy, naturally occurring carbohydrates in nature, such as those in fruits and veggies, and in unprocessed whole grains and wheat. Highly processed foods, like white bread and french fries are full of carbs that have been stripped of all their nutrients, and are now unhealthy.
There is also a super unhealthy form of carbs called “sugar.” Sugar is also called glucose and fructose in its various forms.
Either way, sugars are carbs!
How I Usually Eat Day-to-Day.
-I put the word usually in there because any long-term diet has to be flexible. Schedule interruptions happen, we go out to eat, vacations, holidays, special occasions, etc. A good diet (a way of eating, not a fad diet) will allow us to account for these things without shipwrecking ourselves or feeling guilty.
1 - Proteins: Proteins help us build muscle, among many other things in the body.
-The Harvard Medical School recommends 7g of protein per 20lbs in a healthy person. For me, I’ve got some specific health and fitness goals I am working toward, so I’m shooting for more of a 1g per 1.5lbs ratio right now. Which means, a lot of protein!
Eggs: For breakfast, I usually have eggs and egg whites. Eggs are high in protein and healthy fat, but the yolks have lots of cholesterol. So, I will usually eat 2 eggs and four egg whites; I’ll usually add some shredded cheese for flavor. That gives me a big meal with lots of protein and healthy fats (38.2g of protein; 20.2g of fat; less than 2g of carbs)
Grilled Chicken. This is a staple for me. It is easy to prepare, and yummy to eat. Most all of my lunches include grilled chicken.
Fish. Salmon, trout, tilapia, tuna, swordfish…these are all excellent sources of lean protein that are also full of healthy, needed fats.
I also eat a lot of canned tuna. Tuna is a superfood. It’s packed with proteins, healthy fats, and no carbs. A can of starkist tuna (in water) has 90 calories and 21g of protein. Tuna in vegetable oil has 160 cal., with 21g of protein and 9g of healthy fats. I tend to opt for the tuna in oil because of taste and the healthy fats. I keep these little cans on hand because it's a healthy, filling snack.
Peanuts. Peanuts, and other nuts, are excellent sources of protein (and healthy fats). Peanuts are also connected to all sorts of medical benefits such as lowering the risk of heart disease and heart attack. They are an easy, filling, healthy snack.
Protein Supplements: There are lots of options available in the forms of drink-mix powders and protein bars. But there are also things to consider…
Most protein powders contain whey protein (which is a milk product), so they’re out for me. I use “Naked-Pea Protein” which is plant based. It doesn’t taste all that great, but I’ve gotten used to it, and its really healthy.
Most protein bars also contain whey protein, but they also usually include a ton of added sugar to make it taste good. For instance, the One Bar Maple Glazed Doughnut, a personal favorite of mine, contains 20g of protein, 23g of carbs, 8g of fat, and 220 calories.
If you’re trying to avoid whey protein like me, I have found No Cow Protein Bars to be a good alternative.
2 - Fats: Fats have been demonized in the larger culture, primarily by the USDA, and further by our major food suppliers. Everything is marketed as “low-fat,” which sends the message of, “Fat is bad. Avoid all fat.” But this misses the point entirely. In fact, our bodies need healthy amounts of healthy fats!
“Your body depends on fat for a host of functions. They are a major source of energy for cells. They make up body tissue, which stores energy, cushions and protects vital organs, and provides insulation.” (Eat, Drink, and Be healthy, 75).
Our bodies need fat…They just don't need unhealthy fat.
-The Harvard group notes that while the USDA started condemning fats in the 1960’s and 70’s, our country isn’t any healthier for it. In fact, we seem to be far worse off. With the condemnation of fat, people ran to carbs…and that's when diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues began to spike. It's also when our obesity numbers began to climb.
-Here are some healthy sources of fats that our bodies need…
Egg Yolks: These are healthy sources of good fats, but you have to be careful because they are also high in cholesterol.
Nuts: Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, etc…these are all healthy sources of fat.
Fish: Fish is jam packed with healthy fats that our bodies need. (Unless the fish is prepared in an unhealthy way: deep frying, etc).
Plant Oils: Olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.
-Sources of fat to be limited: Milk products; red meat; any trans-fats.
-Bad fats, also called trans-fats, show up in the highly processed foods that line grocery store shelves and are for sale in most fast food restaurants and convenient stores. Sadly, these are also usually those hyperpalatable foods that food engineers have manipulated to taste addicting good.
You can find tans-fats information in the nutrition label on most foods.
-Our bodies need healthy fats, and I usually try to get mine through meat, eggs, nuts, and oils.
3 - Carbohydrates: Carbs have a complicated reputation. There are good, healthy, naturally occurring carbs—carbs occurring in fruits, vegetables, and unrefined grains.
Most of my lunches—which I prepare on Sunday for the week ahead—include green beans. Green beans are full of naturally occurring, healthy carbs.
And then there are bad carbs. These are carbs that the body either doesn't need or doesn't process. Things like highly refined grains, such as those in white bread, potatoes, and most all, sugars. Sugars are carbs.
-When the government started demonizing fats in the middle of the 20th century, there was a mad dash for carbohydrates. The problem is, as I’ve already noted, it made us really unhealthy. People started avoiding fats and carb-loading. Which meant we gained weight, became pre-diabetic and diabetic, and started dying from heart disease in record numbers.
Not all carbs are bad, and our body does need some carbs. But, contrary to what we might think, our bodies don’t need many carbs to function effectively. The most immediate benefit of carbs is energy. The body converts a carbohydrate into glucose (blood sugar), which our body uses for immediate energy.
The problem is that much of the food that is easily available to us today is carb-rich and carb-overloaded. So we end up eating far more carbs than our bodies can actually convert into usable energy. So what happens to the extra-carbs that don’t get used? It gets stored as body fat (which is different from the dietary fats mentioned above).
Here are some carb-rich, highly processed foods that are super common but really unhealthy in larger amounts…
Breakfast cookies (Bel-vitas)
Most all crackers
Most all fast food
Personally, I have found carb-cycling to be a healthy and helpful way to include carbs in my diet. Essentially, carb-cycling is avoiding unnecessary carbs for most meals throughout the week, and including good, healthy carbs in 2-3 meals throughout the week. For me, that looks like carbs with 2 dinners per week. Things like brown rice, sweet potatoes, bananas, etc.
And I hold to this pattern of eating as much as my lifestyle and schedule allows, but not so tightly that I'm inflexible. Food ought to be a help and a joy, and not a burden. When a diet becomes a straight jacket, we’ll quit it pretty quickly.
A Final word on Tools
I’ve learned most of this information from books that I have read over the last 4 years. Information is freedom!
I also use the free app MyFitnessPal to track my eating.
Here are some of the books I’ve read and continue to consult…
-While it may seem daunting trying to learn all of this, this really is the path of eating freedom. The more you know, the freer you are to make decisions without guilt, shame, or ignorance.
-I hope this has been helpful and encouraging to you as you eat!
Up Next: A Christian View of Exercise...
**Disclaimer**: I am not a licensed medical professional or dietician. I am simply sharing what I’ve learned and what has worked for me.
This post is also a bit long, so read it in pieces, or skip around to the different parts.