In the world of food, nutrition and “dieting” there seems to be a trend a minute that people flock to in hopes of a quick fix for years of poor eating patterns. They hear that some way of eating has helped their neighbor, friend, relative lose 20 lbs. in two weeks and they are on board! Sometimes it’s a cleanse or a detox drink. Or an elimination diet or juice fast. Regardless of the tactic, the promise seems to always be a quick solution to a long-standing problem.
Not all these diets are bad or unhealthy (but some are). And, when done properly and with the right mindset and expectations, they can be a great way to jumpstart your metabolism or help you reset after a holiday season filled with heavy foods. However, most are not permanent lifestyles nor are they the solution for the yo-yo dieter who will try just about anything to lose the weight. They usually offer short term results and often lead to disappointment and greater weight gain after stopping.
When a client comes to me frustrated after years of dieting only to lose weight and then gain it back (plus more), I don’t start with another diet suggestion. As a health coach, my job is to assess your food journal and help you understand where your nutrition might be out of line with what your body needs. My job is to help you understand how your body uses food as fuel and guide you in choosing the right foods to feel your best and lose weight.
In looking at months of food entries for my clients, I can confidently say that our biggest problem when it comes to eating isn’t just how many calories we’re eating but rather the quality of those calories. A calorie isn’t just a calorie despite what you’ve been told in the past. Some calories are better than others and will help you lose weight, have more energy and build lean muscle. You need fiber and high quality protein, you need FAT (yes, fat) and sodium and all the nutrients.
And – truth bomb here – just because you work out consistently doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want if it stays within your calorie count. Your body is a finely engineered machine and requires fuel that is high quality.
Clean up that dirty diet
So, what do I recommend to my clients who have been trying diet after diet, and still not losing weight? Ditch the diet and clean up your plate! Yep. Take a good long look at WHAT you are eating and the contents of that food and clean it up. You will feel better, lose weight and have more energy. I recommend clean eating as a way of life, not a diet. And, guess what, it works.
You’ve likely heard of clean eating as it has been part of some dieting hype in recent years. It’s not an elimination diet or a cleanse. You can have every food group if you choose. You can eat meat or be a vegan. Paleo, Keto, Weight Watchers and all the other diets can be dirty or they can be clean. Junk food has a points value and highly processed meat can be “ok” on some diets.
I’m going to take the hype out and give you the straight scoop on why this way of eating – regardless of your age, size, fitness level, demographic, etc. – is one of best ways to structure your diet.
Fitness Magazine has one of the simplest explanations of clean eating “clean eating is about eating whole foods, or “real” foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible.”
To put it simply – clean eating is having an apple vs. apple sauce, eating steamed broccoli vs. frozen broccoli with cheese sauce added. Whole grains vs. white/refined grains. Organic, grass fed beef vs. pre-packaged, seasoned ground beef for tacos. Are you following me?
It’s sometimes a little bit more work over convenience. Most importantly, it’s about reading labels, being informed and making better choices. Clean eating doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated or time consuming. It just takes planning.
My tips for cleaning up your pantry, fridge and plate
- First and foremost – track your diet for 3 days. You cannot improve upon what you are unaware of. Everyone has access to MyFitnessPal. Identify where you are eating more convenience, packaged or processed foods that can be swapped for their whole counterparts. Good indicators of a “dirty” diet are high sodium and saturated fat levels, and low fiber intake. If those are out of whack, chances are your diet is too.
- Raid your pantry and read labels. My favorite app for food shopping is Fooducate. Scan a barcode; get a grade for that food. And, an explanation of that grade, definition of ingredients and healthy alternatives.
- Sound it out. If you cannot pronounce the first 2-3 ingredients (which are listed in order of their quantity) then you should toss it. A whole grain roll should list a grain as one of the first two ingredients. Avoid fillers and sneaky sugars (corn syrup). Note: not all preservatives are bad – some are needed to keep your food safe. Things like steric acid, sorbic acid and ascorbic acid are preservatives that can occur naturally in some foods and help prevent mold, and spoilage. Scan the label and Fooducate will tell you why those ingredients are in your food.
- Beware of marketing claims. Natural, organic and whole are some of the most common ones. Understand what they truly mean and the requirements for obtaining those labels. It’s not always a rigorous process. Also, be wary of endorsements by organizations like the American Heart Association (they put their seal of approval on Subway sandwiches). Research what it takes to get that claim put on a package. Sometimes it’s just a donation to an organization.
- Don’t fall into the organic trap. You don’t have to buy EVERYTHING organic. Some things are more at risk for pesticide contamination, especially fruits and veggies. Google these two phrases… “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” food lists. It will tell you the fruits and veggies have the most risk for pesticide residue and should be bought organic.
- All stores have good food. You don’t have to shop at a specialty store to get high quality food. Think local with farm markets and local grocers who get their meat and dairy locally. The closer the food is to you, the fresher it is and less processed it’s likely to be.
- Make small changes. A complete overhaul of your diet can be overwhelming. Aim for one change a week. Start with leaner proteins with no added flavors or colors, or fresh veggies and fruit vs. saltier canned or sugar-added frozen varieties.
- Be kind to yourself. All packaged food isn’t the enemy. We have lives to lead and families to raise. Sometimes convenience wins. Aim for the 80/20 rule and indulge occasionally. Life is too short to never eat few Oreos or potato chips.
Dieting is no fun and I don’t recommend it
I believe that no food group should be off limits and that whatever you want to eat can be eaten in a cleaner, fresher way. Carbs aren’t the enemy, and neither is fat or dairy or sugar. Everything can be incorporated into your diet in the right way to allow you to enjoy eating while doing what’s best for your body.
Don’t overthink it. Start small. And, keep track of how you feel as you make changes. That’s the best reward.
And, guess what…you don’t have to do it alone. Working with a health coach to help you raid that pantry, provide recommendations and keep you accountable gives you the support you need to make these positive changes.
Jump back on that Resolution Wagon
If you’ve fallen off the New Year’s resolution wagon, let’s get back on track. My 6-week reset starts Feb. 12 (we prep this week) and you can be looking and feeling great by St. Patrick’s Day!
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