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6 Rules for a Healthy Lifestyle

It has occurred to me… or really, it slowly crept on me, that by logging my food every day and striving for the perfect calorie goal, I am simply trading one obsession for another. I either compulsively over-eat or I obsessively diet, accepting nothing but black and white. Logging works great for most people. Logging worked well for me initially.. I just wonder if maybe logging my food has caused a mental rift in my mind between “good” and “bad” foods and “good” or “bad” days.

It’s like I believe that my nature is inherently always gravitating to the “bad.” My knee jerk reaction is to make the days I don’t log the ones where I frantically, excitedly, guiltily scramble to fit in every “bad” food I have been missing over the past few weeks of meticulous calculating and logging everything I ingest.

I made the decision to learn to eat better without logging during this past week. I was having a conversation with my roommates at the dinner table about my habits, my likes, my dislikes, and my overeating issues. One of my roommates, who has always been able to think of just about anything objectively, suggested that I attempt to wean off of logging and look at food as just food. The suggestion was appalling at first; “Logging works,” I thought, “There’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken.”

His suggestion planted itself like a seed in my mind and grew until I realized that my goal was never to be so obsessed with losing weight. My goal was to learn healthy habits, to get to my goal weight, and to look the way I wanted. It occurred to me that my logging obsession is just as mentally unhealthy for me as overeating is for my body. An unhealthy mind cannot make a healthy body. My solution was to utilize something I learned from a class for adoptive and foster parents that I had to take for my job. In order to run an orderly household, parents need to make clear, concise, simple rules that govern the household, such as “be kind,” “be respectful,” and “be honest.” I needed to make rules like these for my lifestyle so that I could simplify it rather than over-complicating it with numbers and figures.

1.) Only eat when hungry. This is a habit that logging completely broke me of doing. I got into a groove with logging that led me to believe that I should eat every 2-3 hours on the dot and that I should eat only what fit into my macros. While this is effective for some, I lost some of my ability to recognize hunger signals and deal with hankerings for random food items by replacing them with healthier options. The result is that on days when I didn’t log, I ate whatever I damn well pleased because that’s what I felt like having. This does not lend to a healthy lifestyle throughout. I can’t only be healthy when I log; I need to be making healthier choices all the time. I’m trying to create a lifestyle, not a cage.

2.) Try to keep each meal under 500 calories (estimated). Eating smaller meals as a guideline helps with portion control and allows me to spread my calories out over a long day at work. Since I’ve been logging for so long, I know what most of the foods I have been eating lately contain as far as protein and calories. This also keeps me from trying to meet a calorie goal for each day and gives me some flexibility. I may only feel like eating 1,000 calories one day but feel like eating 2,300 the next day and have all the energy for a workout.

3.) Eliminate as much sugar as possible. I know that sugar is the enemy, you know that sugar is the enemy, but we still eat a lot of sugar in our coffee, in snacks, and in sauces because it’s freaking delicious. It also causes cravings and helps our bodies to retain fat, so it has to go. As I let go of the logging process, I want to try to replace sweet food items that I normally would have eaten, especially at the end of the day, with something just a bit less sweet but still satisfying. I’ve also been trying to steadily drink my coffee just a little bit darker each day so that I can eliminate the daily use of sugar in my coffee as well. Sugar is a trigger for me, and I have avoided eliminating its evil from my life for too long.

4.) Get a fruit or vegetable on every plate. This rule follows my sugar rule because fruits and veggies have fiber that help break down sugar more slowly and help with digestion. Not only that, but a fruit or veggie with each meal can help me feel full longer, give me essential nutrients, and gives me a reason to try new things. Whether I slap spinach on a turkey burger, avocado on my scrambled eggs, or replace pretzels with carrots, getting something colorful on each plate encourages healthier habits and a healthier body.

5.) Drink a lot of water. I carry a 32oz bottle of water with me all day long, drink about two of those, and then have another couple of glasses of water at dinner. Some days I drink more than others, especially if I’ve been sweating a lot in the gym. Water is the magical elixir of life. Just drink it.

6.) Forgive yourself and move on. If I had a particularly rough day with food choices, no one is going to know it but me, regardless of how fat, sluggish, and gross I feel. No one can tell that you just ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in 5 seconds flat just by looking at you. Put it behind you, make your next meal a healthy one, drink lots of water, and just get over it. Move on.

Maybe it’s just my recent interest in yoga talking, my nervous anticipation about being ridiculously busy with graduate school beginning this summer, or maybe I’m just having a moment of clarity, but this is what I have always wanted. I have always wanted to forget that food is the enemy and realize that food is power. Food is fuel, but food is not an emotional dam for my anxiety or disappointment. For the next couple of months, I expect to be more aware of my body and its signals. I don’t expect to lose a lot of weight. If I do, that’s great, but I think that the most important makeover that needs to happen for me is in my mind.

I am hoping that by forming a more friendly relationship with food and with my body that the rest will fall into line later. Here’s to hoping.

The Secret is That There is No Secret

I posted an updated progress photo to my Facebook as my profile picture recently, and along with the tsunami of likes and comments came a message from an acquaintance who attended my high school. She’s a really super sweet young girl who just had a baby and is trying to lose some weight. I understand that it can be difficult to lose weight after a baby, and I can read through the lines of text the desperation of her predicament. She’s unhappy with her weight, but now she has a little human to take care of and less time to take care of herself than ever before. She’s looking for an easy or quick way to get thin or healthy.

I get this question ALL the time. “What is your secret to weight loss?” It comes to me via message or comment nearly every other time I post a progress photo.

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I know what they’re hoping to hear. These fitspiring hopefuls want me to tell them that I ate only dark chocolate for a year or that I took a magic pill or made a wish to my fairy godmother and woke up skinny. We’re an instant gratification age; I get it. Really, I do. I want what I want when I want it. Now.

My response to questions like these get shorter every time, and not because I’m trying to be mean or spiteful but because it’s so hard to explain the changes I made and things I learned in 5 long years of changing my lifestyle. I used to write a novel and get excited that I’d inspired someone to be healthy, but now I realize that no one can convince any other person to make lasting changes. Just like an alcoholic can only change if they really want it for themselves, a person who is overweight and living an unhealthy lifestyle can only learn and change by doing it themselves and creating their own motivation. There is simply no way that I can convey to them all of the things I’ve changed and when I changed them over a 5 year span.

I began by logging, then walking, then running, then lifting, then eating clean and using bodybuilding workout programs on Bodyspace. It was such a gradual transition from pop, chips, and candy to water, greens, and lean protein. It has to be done gradually because it’s not a healthy transition any other way. It’s so difficult to see this question because I know I can’t do it justice. All I can do is give them a starting point and tell them to take off from there.

I wish her, and every other person who asks me for advice, the best of luck. I really hope that they learn to fuel their bodies and get healthy. It’s a wonderful thing! I just hope that they know that no one can do it for them, it’s hard, and that I spent hours in the gym and in the kitchen learning how to be a healthier person. I just never want to give anyone false hope that losing weight should be easy, but I do want them to know that it’s worth it.

Food and Exercise Diary Flubbs: Deceptive Logging

You remember in school how the teacher would tell you that cheating gets you nowhere because it doesn’t help you learn? You cheat on your homework and when it is time for the test, you fail miserably because you failed to actually gain any knowledge while copying answers? I was the kid in school who always got copied.

Using a food and diary log is pretty much the same way. If you omit items from your diary in order to look better to your peers on My Fitness Pal or elsewhere, you’re only hurting yourself. You’re not accurately logging, and that will hurt you because you’re not going to see the results you want. You have to be honest. Likewise, overestimating calorie burns just because the automated form in My Fitness Pal estimates that you burned 1,200 calories cleaning your house for an hour and a half is going to hinder you in your goals.

I know that food is enticing, but we can’t enter false information and expect for these things to physically become a reality. If you enter that you burned 1,200 calories shoveling snow for an hour and you actually only burned about 400, you really only burned 400. That snow wasn’t tiny, extremely dense lead shavings. Sorry, folks, but putting it in your log doesn’t make it magically true.

The logging is your homework, the weigh in is the test, and you’re going to fail if you falsify that information. If what other people think about your diary bothers you, make it private. It’s not mandatory to have a public diary on My Fitness Pal. This is something that BLOWS my mind.

I don’t know where My Fitness Pal gets some of their information for estimating calorie burn, but you can pretty much be sure that you didn’t burn more than 10 calories a minute while exercising. Trust me, if you were burning more than 10 calories a minute, you’d be drenched in perspiration and your heart would be coming out of your chest.

I know it’s hard to put in real effort because you’ve been used to being lazy or maybe you’re uninspired, but you’re only going to be disappointed when the scale doesn’t reflect the “awesome dedication” that you allegedly put in over the week. There is no way around the fact that this is a numbers game. If you want to see results, you have to do the work and be honest with yourself about it.

There are no shortcuts in losing weight. None.

A Regular Lois Lane

I know I mentioned that I’ve been writing a column for my organization’s e-newsletter, and it has given me a great sense of accomplishment since I started. After the first column, I received a couple of e-mails and personal responses that really boosted my confidence! My department resides in a building apart from the rest of the organization, so sometimes seclusion and involvement are problems for us. We’re the mysterious and faraway crew that obviously get paid to do something but no one is sure what that is.

One such response was this:

“Hi Melody,

Thanks for the encouraging tips and the benefit of your experience. I love it that you shared your talent!

 Susan”

My own supervisor came to me to congratulate me and tell me that she loved my tips. This month, I think I’ve mentioned before, I wanted to address the frightening popularity of low carb, no carb, and no fat diets as a method of losing weight. My column is below:

“On a day-to-day basis, we’re overwhelmed by magazine covers and news stories that tell us we should eat in a specific way. Some claim a low- or no-carb diet is key, while others claim a low-fat diet is paramount to losing weight. All of these headlines overcomplicate the concept of nourishing our bodies. While a low-carb diet, one of the biggest fad diets of all time, will yield short-term results, the realities of eating low-or no-carb are harsh. It’s recommended by nutrition specialists and professionals that 45-60% of our food intake comes from carbs. Why? We fuel our bodies with carbs! We need carbs to think clearly, to regenerate cells (glucose!), and to exercise. Carbohydrates are stored in our muscles as glycogen and used as energy when we get moving. Like carbs, fat is also important for our bodies. Some fats improve joint health and fight triglycerides (bad fat). What I’m getting at is a diet with a variety of nutrients and a balanced diet is most effective, so we have the energy to function as happy, healthy humans. There are always some exceptions; some doctors will suggest patients with insulin resistance or diabetes eat low-carb or cycle carbs to regulate blood sugar. Before excluding any of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs, or fat) from your diet, do your research and talk with a doctor. After all, the most important changes that happen while losing weight are happening on the inside.”

My assertion is that losing weight and becoming healthier are not always the same thing. There are several ways to abuse our bodies, even when we think we’re doing the right thing. It’s important to improve our minds by becoming educated about food while also improving our bodies by nourishing them with food. Think! Meditate! Consider!

To happiness and healthiness!

Deprivation vs. Compromise

In my world, before I got all healthy and obsessed with food in a good way, I used to love certain junk foods. Once I gave them up and decided never to eat them ever again, I noticed that I had more episodes of binging throughout the weeks before. This behavior led me to adapt and create alternatives that would still be healthy or healthier than my processed, frozen, and all around bad for me faves. Some of my favorites were pizza, burgers, chocolate, ice cream, and chips. Can you say, “‘MERICA!”As one of the world’s most obese countries, these items are advertised on television relentlessly, and they were constantly readily available for my consumption as a college student. We had a pizza bar at both lunch and dinner, burgers on the make-it-yourself station every other night, chocolate milk and chocolate desserts at lunch and dinner, ice cream available 24/7, and chips EVERYWHERE. Now that I’ve got you craving all the wrong things, I can tell you some delicious and easy substitutions for my favorite junk food.  

1.) Pizza:

There are quite a few different ways to avoid wasting a whole day’s worth of calories on 2 or 3 slices of greasy, cheesy pizza. One of my favorites is the homemade, toaster-oven flatbread pizza. This option is super convenient for college students or people living in small quarters without a real oven. To make this pizza, all you’ll need is:

– whole grain (try not to get any bleached, enriched flours) flatbread of your choice

– light alfredo sauce (mine is worth about 60 calories per serving)

– veggies and toppings (we like spinach, anti-biotic free chicken, turkey bacon, carrots, etc)

– mozzarella cheese

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Ours ends up looking like this.

Just cook your meats, assemble the pizza, and stick it in the toaster oven until your flatbread crisps on the outside and the cheese melts. One of the most important things is to measure your ingredients so you know your serving sizes. Any pizza can become unhealthy if you lose sight of the proper servings and portion sizes! 

If you’d rather have pizza out, I definitely recommend Top That Pizza. When I’m having a busy lunch at work, I tend to stop and get their Chicken Bacon Romano PieLite. Yeah, it’s fast food, but it’s got good protein and is low in calories. It’s a fast fix for me. They even have other PieLite combinations with the calorie counts right on the counter! 

2.) Burgers:

One effective way to take the junk out of your junk food is just to make it at home. We make burgers all the time! Our favorite is to make the patty with lots of seasoning in it. If you’re dieting, herbs, spices, and juices will really help keep your calorie count down without disappointing your taste buds. We like to get some sea salt, pepper, cayenne, and usually garlic into the meat before we form the patties. We also use a very lean angus beef. I know it’s more expensive, but the taste is better and your arteries will thank you. We also like to use turkey bacon on top instead of regular bacon; again, think of the arteries here! Sometimes I like a little barbecue sauce on top. We even make sweet potato fries to go alone with it. Those are oven baked with rosemary, olive oil, and sea salt. 

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Yeah, sometimes we get odd urges to stuff our burgers with pepperjack cheese. 

3.) Chocolate:

The most difficult thing about chocolate is that there are some healthier alternatives, but really, the best advice here is just to use moderation and to try to beat that craving with a little magnesium. You can get magnesium from many sources. 

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When in doubt and you just absolutely need a chocolate fix, go with dark chocolate. I try to combine it with healthy fats and protein by eating chocolate covered peanuts. I also used to LOVE white chocolate but have since opted only for dark chocolate, the darkest I can stand, in times of need. Dark chocolate is much more satisfying than white or milk chocolate, and you’ll find that you need a lot less of it to curb the craving. 

4.) Ice Cream:

I absolutely love ice cream. My favorite is anything with caramel or peanut butter and chocolate… or all three. I especially love B&J because, well…. who doesn’t? I am, however, lactose intolerant, so I do have to be careful about how often I consume these products. There are a number of dairy-free ice creams available, such as Amy’s, SO Delicious, and Rice/Almond Dream. I definitely recommend Amy’s brand for pretty much anything frozen, but all of these are great options. For quite a while, when I really wanted ice cream and needed to curb that urge to consume truckloads of frozen dairy deliciousness, I would reach for fudge pops (usually about 40 calories a pop) or Skinny Cow products. 

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5.) Chips:

I love chips. I have chips with burgers, chips with soup, chips with sandwiches… I can’t get enough chips. My favorite used to be Sour Cream and Onion by Lays. Well, that relationship definitely couldn’t last anymore once I decided to lose weight. I found some cool alternatives. My absolute favorite was a brand of veggie chips that you can buy at pretty much any major grocery store. They’re made from potato flour and aren’t necessarily rich with nutrients, but they aren’t full of fat and oil like regular potato chips are. 

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Other favorites that are similar to chips would be pretzel thins. These are addictive, but pretzels are made of wheat flour, which is great! 

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Yet another option would just be to make your chips at home in the oven. There are PLENTY of really great recipes and methods for making chips from potatoes, kale, spinach, bananas, apples, and pretty much any other veggie/fruit. Just get out there and do your research. =] 

I’m not really a clean eater, and I’m definitely not going to tell you that these are the healthiest options available. I’m just attempting to convey that there are healthier options out there for the junk we eat. My main goals are to avoid white flour when possible, keep the sugar content down, moderate portions and servings, and cut out the fried/greasy stuff. I do what I do realistically. I don’t expect everyone to be able to afford expensive workout plans and $100 protein shakes. This is real life. Let’s be real about it. You can lose weight with real food and without supplements. I did. 

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You got this. =]