~Henry David Thoreau
Ah, trendiness. Even though we understand that from a marketing perspective moderation doesn’t sell products, it’s still hard to shut out all of the differing messages from magazines, celebrities, and tv commercials. We watch as they tout the latest trends knowing full well that in 6 months they will be pushing some new, and most likely contradictory, one. As a culture that is inundated with media, moderation and balance often take a back seat.
This is no exception in the health and fitness world. Indeed, if they keep us thinking there is always a new or better way to do something we will keep buying their products. In the ’80s, low fat was king. So everything from dairy to dessert became good for you as long as they were fat-free. Then there was low calorie, then low carb, now gluten will kill you! Paleo says to eat like a caveman. Dr. Oz says to eat smaller meals every 2-3 hours. Never skip breakfast….unless you’re intermittent fasting?! Zone and Atkins and vegans, oh my!
And we wonder why we have the highest rates of both eating disorders AND obesity in the history of our country. As Dan John puts it, “Take a walk through the grocery store and you’ll notice yesterday’s diet crazes are today’s staples”. So how do we even begin to know where to start?
Let’s take a look at a couple of the biggest “enemies” of today. But first let me remind you, the more restrictive the diet the less sustainable it is. Focusing on one small habit at a time proves most effective in reaching and maintaining your goals. So I’ll be giving some suggestions for possible small habit changes.
Public Enemy #1: The Evil Carbohydrate
Carbohydrates have gotten quite the bad rap. Here is why you don’t need to fear them.
Indeed, many people who try low-carb dieting are initially pleased by an immediate weight loss… which is mostly water and glycogen. So, in the short term, it seems like low-carb diets are superior.
But does long-term evidence support low-carb dieting?
Research says no. Over the long haul, any differences between low-carb and other diets even out.*
More important is quality and quantity and how you feel with each. As far as quality goes, minimally processed, whole and fresh foods are best. Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for quantity. Most of us will do well with some. A cupped handful for women and 2 cupped handfuls for men is a great place to start. However, this will depend on your goals, genetics, and lifestyle. For example: the more sedentary you are the less carbohydrates you will need. Pay attention to how you feel when you have more or less: Are you low energy? Do you feel less bloated?
Small habit #1: Limit carbs to a cupped handful per meal. (If that seems too hard, make it easier! Limit them in one meal. Have 1 potato instead of 2. You get the gist.)
Public Enemy #2: The Dreaded Non-Organic Food
I used to get so overwhelmed by the organic vs. non-organic talk that in college I ended up in the middle of the produce section calling my mom crying because I couldn’t afford organic fruit. According to the Environmental Working Group, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. And ultimately, conventionally grown fruits and veggies are still better for you than most of the stuff you’d end up replacing them with. My approach now is to buy organic when it is within my means. I have my priorities based on the stuff we eat the most and this list. If not, I wash them off before I eat them and leave the rest up to God.
Small habit #2: Eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal.
Public Enemy #3: The Rebellious Breakfast Skipper
For years and years, we have been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That is until recently when intermittent fasting became the only thing anybody was talking about, ever, in the world…at least it felt like that in the fitness world, anyways. So which is it?! Research seems to be finding that ultimately eating the right foods in the right amounts is much more important than when you eat them. So, do you wake up hungry? Eat breakfast. Does eating breakfast feel a bit like pulling teeth? Skip it! But listen to your body. Pay attention to your energy levels and hunger ques. If you skip breakfast then end up tired and dragging by 10 am, try eating a small breakfast for a week and see how you feel. No matter which works best for you, try this small habit out.
Small habit #3: Eat until you’re 80% full. In other words, you should feel satisfied but not stuffed.
Whether you’re reading what the latest actress did to get in shape or the newest fad diet, one thing you’ll start to notice is there always seems to be one common denominator: protein. Protein always seems to come out on top. I found this very interesting.
One recent study asked: Do low carb diets work because they restrict carbs or because they tend to increase protein?
Over the course of one year, the researchers compared four different conditions:
- normal protein, normal carbohydrate
- normal protein, low carbohydrate
- high protein, low carbohydrate
- high protein, normal carbohydrate.
Interestingly, the two groups eating the high protein lost the most weight.
And the real kicker? Varying the levels of fats and carbs seemed to make no difference to body composition.*
So there you have it. Might I suggest, if you don’t eat much protein, this is the best place to start.
Small habit #4: Get some protein in each meal.
The battle is not so much about organic vs. non-organic or low carb vs. low fat. The battle is choosing real food over convenience while it’s staring you in the face down every aisle and on every street corner. The battle is practicing moderation in the face of enormous portion sizes and ever available junk food. Most importantly, the battle is learning how to eat FOR YOU.
“Every man is the builder of a temple called his body.” ~ H.D.Thoreau
*Precision Nutrition blog – Carb Controversy: Why low carb diets have got it all wrong