Despite our currently volatile political climate, the title of this week’s post is not about the ugly mess in D.C., but rather about the continuing tendency to single out carbs and calories by those seeking to lose body fat. This past weekend my nephew mentioned that his entire office was going to stop eating carbs and wanted him to join in. He cited all my reasons why that is an ill-advised way to permanently lower body fat levels, but they ignored him/me.
A few days later my niece was ordering a salad and I advised her to add protein onto it (for her fitness goals) and she lamented that doing so heavily increased the calories. Once again, the top two faux pas “dieters” make is to eliminate carbs and calories!
Therefore, today I want to once again strongly advise you all to stop seeing carbs or calories as the enemy and start seeing nutrition as one tool (vs. obstacle) in your quest for a healthy lifestyle that facilitates proper and permanent fat loss.
Carbs are necessary! They are essential to providing the energy required to get through your day, least of which is to get you through a killer workout (another necessary element of fat loss). Carbs come in two primary forms – “healthy” (aka complex carbs) and “crap” (aka simple carbs) – and this is where the confusion sets in for most people. By lumping all carbs together and then avoiding them, you are not only reducing your primary energy source, but you are also robbing your body’s “muscle-rebuilding” of nutrients required to burn the fat while building up lean muscle tissue.
Any overly-processed snack foods (chips, crackers, cookies, etc.), breads and pastas are “crap” carbs. But things like vegetables, nuts, whole grains (including certain breads and crackers), and fruits are “healthy” carbs. You’ll need them to successfully lower body fat levels, and because you’re not restricting something from your system, there will be no “bounce back” (regaining of body fat) once you stop the restriction (dieting).
As for calories, once again, the reason counting calories became a societal focus back in the 80’s was because Americans on the whole were over-eating, and over-indulging in a lot of “crap” foods. While counting calories is a great way to make one aware of how much they’re consuming, the down side is that the focus is on a number and NOT on WHAT they’re putting into their body.
If you simply pay more attention to the quality of foods ingested, and the consistency of intake (how much and how often you eat), you do not need to count calories. Unless you’re eating high-fat, high-sugar, and/or overly-processed foods, a moderately balanced daily nutrition intake, with a regular quantity of effective exercise is all that’s required to ultimately shift your body from over-fat to healthy.
So stop pointing fingers and blaming passive nutrition for your fat gain, and start exercising regularly and eating healthy balanced nutrition (with allowances for the less healthy foods that you enjoy) and you will change your body for the better and not have to anguish over the micro-management of your food.
If fitness and nutrition occupy a large portion of your life as they do for me, the most stressful part of the holidays is how to maintain your nutritional goals/routines while still enjoying multiple feasts, parties, and restaurant gatherings. During this past Thanksgiving I successfully implemented a plan that allowed me to stay on track nutritionally while still participating in family events full of high-caloric foods, desserts and lots of wine… lots and lots of wine (wink). (This is extra-important as during the 4-day holiday I, like many of you, did not get to work out.)
So here’s the four simple steps that I follow and I highly recommend you give this “plan” a try as you head towards the year-end holidays and celebrations:
1. Be Choosey:
While I do enjoy almost all of the Thanksgiving foods, I realized that some of them I can skip (or eat a significantly small portion) and not feel that I was cheated out of something special. For example, mashed potatoes are easily available and/or made all year round and really do not add that much joy to my personal pallet (same for cranberry sauce). Stuffing on the other hand, is generally reserved for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas and I find it to be a “treat” I enjoy. Therefore, I skipped past the potatoes and sugary-cranberries, and instead drizzled gravy all over my decent-sized portion of stuffing. My pallet was happy, and I didn’t feel stuffed since I had less food on my plate.
2. Keep Quantities small – eat more often.
By now you all should be following my repeated advice to eat six small meals a day. In keeping with that, it’s easy to take a very small portion of each dish you enjoy (even if that’s all of them) and allow yourself to hold off on seconds – at least for 10 minutes to see if your stomach’s “full indicator” catches up with brain and taste-buds. You can always have round two a few hours later as one of your next meals/snacks. This keeps you from over-eating, while maintaining that fuel-in vs. fuel-out metabolism boost.
3. Opt for Restaurant Simple.
When dining out, if you keep your orders simple, small and flavorful, you will not only feel satisfied nutritionally, you will feel relieved that you didn’t over-indulge and in most cases small simple choices are also way better on your wallet! My family went to a Mexican restaurant for brunch one day and I chose a small mixed veggie salad and added grilled salmon, pine nuts and feta (dressing on the side of course). The dish was super-yummy, not too much food, affordable, and stayed well within my nutritional routine.
4. Keep the alcohol and sweets separate.
This last trick is a great way to “have your cake and drink it too!” I find that if I limit my meals to having either a dessert or some wine, I not only keep that uncomfortable fullness at bay, but I balance out my sugars as well. As an example we had a wine picnic one day where I skipped over the decadent chocolate dessert in favor of a long afternoon of drinking (wine tasting and a few bottles shared). Later at dinner, I abstained from the wine and enjoyed a luscious dessert.
So fear not and stress not – with a touch of restraint and clever planning you can enjoy all the upcoming holiday feasts and parties without blowing out your waistline or your fitness goals. Cheers!