Skip the diet. Just eat healthy.
If you're like me, you've tried lots of diets. Some work better than others. But even when I've had the most success, I've found the weight loss impossible to maintain. When "diet" means "give up entire food groups forever," I eventually, inevitably fail. And I gain back every bit of weight.
Not only is so-called "yoyo dieting" bad for your heart, it's definitely hard on your self confidence and motivation. Why diet at all? I see other people eating foods I deny myself...what's wrong with me?
Turns out the process of dieting actually slows our metabolism. Cutting out entire food groups can lead to malnutrition. The concept of a healthy, balanced relationship with food seems lacking in most diets. Yet I think that's exactly what thin people have.
So I'm not going to diet. I'm going to gradually replace processed food (including food marketed as "low carb," "low fat," "gluten free," and "sugar free") with real food that actually nourishes and energizes my body.
Interestingly, those wonderful real foods are the most basic, minimalist foods around. Vegetables, fruits, unrefined whole grains, full-fat dairy, whole eggs, seeds and nuts and pastured meats. Herbs and spices. Water. It turns out the best foods are minimalist.
What should I eat?
Start with some short-term challenges -- kickstarter plans.
The No-No Plan
Drop these ten things for 21 days and see how you feel by the end:
no fast food
no ice cream
no white bread
no white pasta
The Six-Week Plan
Week by week you adopt improvements until you're using all six strategies:
Week 1: Add real, whole fruits and veggies to every meal. Make some of them raw.
Week 2: Stop eating fast food.
Week 3: Give up refined bread, grains, chips, and prepared cereals. Switch to sprouted grain bread, brown rice, rolled or steel cut oats, and whole grain pasta.
Week 4: Stop drinking soda and sweetened coffee drinks.
Week 5: Eat bean-based meals four or five times a week.
Week 6: Stop snacking. Eat your calories in three meals a day.
Over and over, I read that the number one thing you can do for your health is to limit sugar and other sweeteners. Now that the holidays are over, there's no excuse to have large amounts of sugar and flour in your diet or your kitchen. Why not get rid of your stash?
Eating breakfast helps you burn more calories throughout the day. If you're not used to eating in the morning, or don't feel hungry, start small. Let your metabolism adjust to being active early in the day.
Eat whole fruits, don't drink them. Smoothies, even green ones, can be sugar bombs, and pulverizing all the fiber in a blender robs your body of the chance to burn more calories while digesting it.
The best breakfasts keep you feeling full with fewer calories. Here are six options.
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats cooked (or soaked overnight) in 1/2 cup whole milk, topped with fresh (or frozen and thawed) fruit and chopped almonds
- 1/2 cup leftover cooked brown rice topped with an over easy egg, halved grape tomatoes, chopped red onion, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, served over baby spinach
- 1 slice Ezekiel bread toast with 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter, served with 1/2 cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt and fresh fruit
- 2 egg omelet made with steamed or sautéed veggies and topped with shredded cheese
- 1 small baked sweet potato (you can do it in the microwave) topped with 1/2 cup full-fat cottage cheese, sprinkled with cinnamon and chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup canned low-salt black beans mixed with 1/2 cup fresh tomato salsa and some diced avocado, wrapped in a warm corn tortilla
Make lunch the largest meal of the day.
With your metabolism revved up in the morning, and no snacking, you should be quite hungry by noon.
Eat bean-based dishes several times a week. Not only are beans rich in protein, they're packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber. The process of digesting beans burns extra calories, and both types of fiber help lower insulin levels so your body stores less fat.
A hearty vegetable soup has at least as much nutrition, and far fewer calories and fat, than a big green salad with cheese, croutons, and dressing.
Eat spicy foods, which trick your taste buds into being satisfied with smaller amounts of food. Cayenne pepper (and its cousin, tabasco) contains capsaicin, which has been proven to reduce appetite and boost the body's ability to convert food to energy. Here are some other spicy wonders:
- Black pepper contains a compound that may interfere with the formation of new fat cells.
- Cinnamon helps improve insulin sensitivity, especially when used on starchy foods such as oatmeal and sweet potatoes.
- Eating just 1 teaspoon of prepared mustard can boost metabolism for several hours, and may reduce belly fat (this doesn't apply to honey mustard).
Twelve other foods that burn belly fat:
canned chunk light tuna
full-fat plain Greek yogurt
peanut-only peanut butter
eggs (including the yolk)
Eat dinner early.
Eat dinner no later than four hours before going to bed (6:00-6:30 pm). You want to have approximately 12 hours of fasting every night in order to regularize and improve your digestion.
Cut portion sizes by using a smaller plate. It tricks your mind into thinking there's more food, and limits what you can pile onto your plate.
Don't eat until you're full; eat until you're not hungry.
Nine healthy (and tasty) substitutes for not-so-healthy foods:
Instead of white rice, eat brown or wild rice or quinoa.
Instead of French fries, eat a small baked potato with its skin.
Instead of white pasta, eat whole grain pasta.
Instead of prepared cereal, eat old-fashioned rolled oats.
Instead of sour cream, use full-fat plain Greek yogurt.
Instead of mayonnaise, use Dijon mustard.
Instead of croutons, use chopped raw nuts and seeds.
Instead of fried chicken tenders with ranch dressing, eat grilled chicken with salsa and lime.
Instead of a bacon cheeseburger on a white bun, eat a burger on a whole grain bun with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and grilled onions
Give your sweet tooth real food.
If you're craving something sweet, eat a serving of fruit. 1/2 cup berries, a few cherries, a ripe peach, an apple, a slice of watermelon, or a banana should satisfy your sweet tooth.
Alternatively, enjoy about 1 ounce of dark chocolate (70% cacao or greater).
Studies show that some scents are natural appetite suppressants. If you crave sweets, burn a vanilla-scented candle or sip some peppermint tea.