If you haven’t heard, I spent 30 years trying to figure out how to eat. For me, having the luxury of not simply eating to survive is just a bit more than I could handle, and I turned the American Abundance into my own, personal energy reserve. It’s okay to have a few extra pounds, but I didn’t feel healthy. I didn’t like not being able to figure it out.
I followed about a dozen diets, but here are the most memorable:
- American Heart Association
- Brain Dead Easy Meal Plan, Lose Weight in Three Days
- Fit or Fat
- Balanced Diet and Exercise Every Day
- High Protein, Low Carbs
- The Zone
- Balancing Protein and Carbs
- Weight Watchers
- Meal Planning, Calorie Counting, Group Therapy
- Body For Life
- Balance Protein and Carbs, Buy Supplements, Work Out Like an Athlete
- Dr. Phil
- Teach the Little Voices in Your Head to Help Fight Your Urges
You can toss in the Special K, South Beach, Total Six Pack, Slow Carb, and strict calorie-counting in there for good measure.
What I Missed Each and Every Time
When I dieted, I was convinced that I simply had been misbehaving, and merely had to deny myself food, as if it were punishment for committed sin, and then, once I’d lost some number of pounds, I’d be out of jail and free to eat whatever I wanted.
That way of thinking was my only flaw.
What I needed was to take care of my nutritional needs. That’s what I failed to understand for 30 years.
Nutrition from Whole Foods
Let me cut to the answer:
Our bodies need fuel and nutrients. That’s what the brain is wired to seek out. It doesn’t really care how it gets what it needs, but it’s like the Terminator robot seeking one thing, and it won’t stop until it gets it. You may eat all the fuel you need during breakfast, but if your body thinks it needs something else, you will crave food.
Also, if you offer up more fuel than your body can deal with, it will deal with it in its own way. When there’s too much sugar in your blood, the pancreas dumps insulin, and stores it for future use. That may make you sleepy, and then make you crave more fuel, because now your blood is low on sugar. That’s goofy to us now, but it made sense in the time before food was abundant. It’s how hunter-gatherers make best use of everything they eat. But we hunt and gather by driving through Taco Bell, and it ain’t the same.
We Are All Different
What kind of stinks is that each and every one of us is unique in our needs, and in the point at which our body decides to dump insulin and turn blood sugar into fat. So what your friend is eating may be fine for your friend, but not for you. What your brother or sister eats may be fine for them, but not for you.
You have to figure out what works for you. You have to figure out the correct amount of fuel, and the correct mix of nutrients, to make you feel great all day, every day.
Where Do We Start
Start with whole foods. Prepare as much yourself as possible.
- Make steel cut oats in the morning rather than quick oats.
- Grill, broil, or bake your own chicken.
- Steam broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans.
- Snack on carrots and green or red peppers.
- Drink milk and eat cheese.
- Eat eggs.
- Cook with olive oil and coconut oil.
What Do I Do, By the Numbers
- Talk to your doctor and have your blood numbers checked.
- Plan meals with protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.
- Use whole grains as much as possible.
- Take a walk once a day.
- Get active to build your fitness up.
What to Avoid
This is still America, and we have an abundance of prepared, packaged food. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford to eat whatever you want, you may be able to eat more than you can ever use. Packaged food is heavy on sodium, high-fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils, and they can each mess with your health and your ability to judge what else you need to eat.
What to Try
If it seems too much to deal with preparing your own meals, the Weight Watchers program is a fine place to start. The South Beach diet offers up sensible recipes and balanced meals. I liked the Body For Life program (but the “free Saturdays” were more than I could deal with).
It’s fine to use someone else’s diet, but pay attention to what you are eating, and how your body reacts. If you feel good, and your energy is good, then the diet may be working for you. If not, make adjustments or try something else.
Connect your goals to your happiness, and think of how your meal planning can be a part of your happiness. Prepare a healthy meal for someone you love — yourself, or your family. The effort involved may make you happier, and may make you feel better as well.