Eating well: I mean eating yummy, and healthy, and happy, and right, and – in my case – eating to get down to a goal weight. And I think I’ve finally got it nailed. The final element really and truly sunk in at last. Here’s what I’ve got.
(Standard caveat: This is my personal experience. I’m not a nutritionist or a doc. This is all subjective, but then, we all listen to friends and try things out. So why not press on…)
I’ve received a ton of mixed messages, half truths, marketing lies, and inherited hangups in my lifetime, and it’s taken me this long to sort through them and arrive at this: there really are some basic, essential truths to eating well.
1) Whole foods are best. Nearly whole foods are good. Processed food is almost universally crap.
- “Whole foods” are foods as they are grown or cut, without additions or cooking or anything. Go to a store, buy fruits and vegetables and oats and nuts and chicken or steak, take them home and cook them. That’s whole foods.
- I say “nearly whole foods”, meaning things that are minimally processed; I consider certain kinds of whole grain pasta, no-crap spaghetti sauces, cheese, shredded wheat cereal without sugar, and the like to be “nearly whole foods”.
- Processed foods…oh, you know. Stuff with added sugar and salt and malodextrin and guantacillin and moxyfatennacid powder, or what the hell ever. Cookies, cereals, chips, crackers, “cheese food products”, margarine, ice cream…almost anything sold in the center of a grocery store (and not on the perimiter) are processed foods, and they’ll make you fat even if they’re low fat, natural, organic, no high fructose corn syrup, gluten free marvels. They’re still highly processed crap.
2) Eat a variety of foods. If you’re picky, work on expanding your tastes. It’s very, very hard to lose weight if you only like two types of fruit, 1 vegetable, and burgers and pizzas. Similarly, it’s hard to eat well if you’re drinking half a gallon of milk every day. There is a huge and delicious world of great stuff out there, and there are some fairly grossout-free methods for getting used to them.
3) Addictions jack you up. You’ve got to fix your addiction to sugar, carbs, snacking, salt, fat, soda…whatever your addiction is, it’s one major thing that gets in the way of you eating well. My things were snacking, cereal, and soda. I’d try to diet, and then lose it and eat 3 bowls of cereal for dinner, or drink soda throughout the day (it makes me snacky as hell) and then eat 8 cups of popcorn with cheese and chocolate. And then I’d feel like hell. Yeah, addictions jack you up.
4) Eat food from home, most of the time. Man, you’re just not going to eat well, eating restaurant food. Even simple, low- or no-cook foods from home are way better than most of what you get at a restaurant, especially if we’re talking about fast food. Why? Restaurant food is processed; stuffed full of sugar and salt and fat to make it tasty; usually made with the cheapest stuff they can buy; and is served in ridiculously huge and/or dense portions, while they upsell you to buy the bigger drink and side and dessert. Any common meal at any given restaurant makes 800-1,000+ calories, easy. And of course, veg and fruit are very few and far between.
5) Everyday nutrition shouldn’t be much more complex than “roughly 50/25/25”. There’s a TON of conflicting messages about nutrition. Better and worse types of protein, being sure to eat avocado, Adkins diet, paleo, fish oil, “new trick that doctors hate!”, etc etc. While a some of that might be useful, in general we need to ditch all that shit and aim for roughly 50% carbs, 25% protein, and 25% fat. (Use an app to track what you eat; MyFitnessPal tells you your macronutrient percentages.) Once we master these basic truths, we can explore exactly how much farm raised tilapia we should really be eating, if we feel like it.
6) Modern portion sizes are stupid. See #4 above. Most of a restaurant’s costs go into the facility, the people they hire, and advertising. A stupidly small proportion of spending goes to the food (remember? cheap ingredients!) and so it really pays to “give customers their money’s worth” by making portion sizes absolutely ridiculous. Hey look, a 1/2# burger with double bacon for $3.99! And 960 calories without fries or a drink!! What a bargain!! If you’re an average person, then on average you want between 1700-2200 calories a day. So, does a 1500 calorie meal that’s almost pure carbs and fat, fit well in there? Yeah, no.
8) Water, water, water. They were actually right about this one. Coffee’s okay, and tea’s good, but generally we need to drink water. It helps digestion, helps activity, helps you feel like a person, etc. I go by the pee test: if my pee’s light yellow to clear, I’m good. If it’s medium yellow or darker, I go down a glass of water.
8) You do not “deserve” to binge or eat badly. You deserve to eat well, feel good, and be healthy.
9) It’s a bad idea to cut out all the foods you love now. Yes, even processed foods. Any life eating strategy must account for the fact that we’re human, and we love the things we love. I still eat fast food crap…occasionally. Chocolate is part of my life. So’s dessert, and on and on. It’s just different now. I eat smaller portions, I wait til I’m hungry to eat, I pay attention to how much I’m eating vs how much I’m expending. But by god, I’m not going the rest of my life without a Five Guys burger and fries. I just have one every month or two, instead of every week.
10) Exercising does NOT mean you can eat whatever you want. I’ve been running steadily for over 2 years now, and I often get “Oh, you’re training for a marathon! How nice that you can eat whatever you want!” Yeah, no I can’t. The running helps me not get fatter faster, and it does a lot psychologically, but running 5 miles expends just 500 calories. And of course, it puts no fruit or veg into my mouth on its own. Remember that 960cal burger from before? Eating like there’s no tomorrow truly does not balance out. I say again though: running makes me want to eat better. I want to feel good, and run faster, so, yeah.
11) It takes time to change. Oh yes, it does. I’ve been actively working on bettering my eating habits for 18 years now, no joke. It would have gone quite a bit faster if I’d had fewer hangups, gotten into running earlier, and had this particular blog post to aid me. But even so: real, permanent change is going to take time. And that’s fine.
12) To lose weight: Use more calories than you eat. Eat fewer calories than you use. Strangely, this is the core, universally known guide to losing weight. And it really did take this long to sink fully into my head. Why? Because I had to get over a 1-2 dozen biases, assumptions, and mixed messages. We’ll talk about those in the next section. But barring actual medical issues, you lose weight when you eat less than you use. (For those of you shouting “What about when your body goes into starvation mode?!?”, well, adjust for that. Hit a plateau, eat more. Then get back on eating fewer calories than you use.)
All of these apply to losing weight, but only that last point is solely targeted at weight loss. The rest are about eating well overall. And all of these sound easy – everything about eating right sounds easy – but it’s the hangups – the lies and mixed messages about food – that really mess you up.
Eating well is simple. You really can just take those 11 points, and eat well the rest of your life. Feel good, be healthy, even lose weight if that’s your goal. But eating well isn’t easy.
Take another example: Climbing up a climbing wall is simple. You just place your hands and feet on the holds, and pull yourself up until you’re at the top! Very simple! Not remotely easy. There are other factors, like strength, strategy, experience, equipment, support, and so on. Same with eating well. Simple, yes; easy, no.
This post got really long really fast. So, I’ll continue in parts. next time we’ll get to Lies, Damned Lies, and Marketing – where I’ll talk about the bullshit we hear and inherit, day in and day out – and the time after that we’ll get to “Getting There” – where I’ll talk about strategies and such.