I’m completely addicted to reading all non-fiction and how-to books, but my biggest vice is books on health and nutrition. Secretly, I even listen to health podcasts during work. This post might seem out of place seeing as I blog about simplifying life, but here’s my logic: eating healthy has made my life easier in ways I can’t begin to describe. It gives me tons of energy to keep up with my kids, work, and take care of the house and my family. It also saves me time and money by preventing illnesses, streamlining my meal planning and grocery trips, and relieving stress.
Also, I’d like to provide one disclaimer – you’ll see that my four suggestions get drastically shorter in length throughout the post – this isn’t because I got lazy, it’s just because each theory is a little more simple than the previous one. So here, I give you the most condensed version possible of everything I know about eating healthy from my Health and Human Development degree and the endless books I have read on the topic.
1. You’re not going to want to read this or believe it, but weight is determined mostly by carbohydrate intake. I’m going to use a personal story to make my point on this one. After having my first child I was struggling to lose weight and had an upcoming vacation to Costa Rica. I thought I was eating healthy with a daily menu of oatmeal for breakfast, a big salad for a mid-morning snack, a turkey sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread for lunch, baby carrots for a mid-afternoon snack, and usually a low-fat meat (such as Turkey Meatloaf) or whole wheat pasta for dinner. On top of this, I was working out extremely hard for an hour and a half to two hours every day. According to any mainstream health magazine and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, I should have had no problem losing weight, but it wasn’t budging. I was stressed out from spending so much time exercising, and frustrated to tears with battling my bathroom scale.
That’s when I first started reading health and nutrition books and learned that weight is mostly controlled by insulin and leptin levels. Sugar and carbohydrates increase these levels, which literally pushes fat into the cells. After learning about the science behind the theory, I skeptically decided to try cutting carbohydrates. I replaced my morning oatmeal with two eggs or a low carb protein shake. I cut out the whole wheat bread and pasta, and replaced them with meat, veggies, fish, healthy oils (extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil) and some organic cheese. After one week, I couldn’t believe how quickly I started losing weight. I started cutting way back on exercising, and this did not slow my weight loss. I then started following a Paleo lifestyle in January, 2011. At first it was very difficult; I was getting fatigued, had frequent headaches, and was constantly hungry. However, after about ten days, I felt like I was sixteen again and had more energy than ever before. I needed a “cheat day” for a while, but have since given that up. In fact, if I do take a “cheat day” I feel physically ill and sore (from inflammation) for a few days.
I kept reading books, both for and against low carb eating, and learned that our bodies just aren’t designed to eat nearly as many carbohydrates as we do, and that this is linked to a number of health problems. There certainly is a low carb stigma, and many people view this lifestyle as a fad diet. It does sound crazy because we’ve always been told that whole grains are healthy for us. In fact, in order to truly follow a low carb diet, one must limit fruit as well, which just doesn’t sound right to most people. To these people, I would urge them to understand the science (explained in the books recommended at end of this section) behind this theory, and give it a try for at least three weeks.
You’ll have to experiment to see what carbohydrate limit works best for your body. For weight loss, I would stick to 50-75 grams per day. Many people cut carbohydrates drastically for a couple of weeks, then slowly add some back in. Others start slowly by cutting 10-20 grams per week until they are at their ideal intake. There’s no shortage of specific low carb diets to follow, but you don’t have to use these methods. I don’t believe one certain way is better than any other, as long as you understand the importance of limiting your sugar and carbohydrate intake and make an effort to do so.
I’ve been eating this way for a while now and am in unbelievable health; I wake up energized, and am always in a good mood. The weight loss is just an added bonus that honestly, I don’t even really think about anymore. It’s very freeing to see weight loss articles and products and be able to completely ignore them. If you’d like to learn more about this theory, I would recommend Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes, or Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston Price. I would also recommend the following websites: http://wellnessmama.com/, or http://www.marksdailyapple.com/.
2. I can sum up everything I know about nutrition in four words: just eat real food. Low fat Cheez-Its are not real food, most restaurant meals are not real food, and anything your great-grandparents didn’t eat is not real food. If you can afford it, buy organic food. Non-organic meats are injected with substances that are designed to make the animals as fat as possible as quickly as possible, so what do you think they do to you? Non-organic produce has a fraction of the nutrients found in organic produce – not to mention the havoc that the chemicals wreak on your metabolism and organ functioning. Health and weight loss are all controlled by hormones, which run best when fed organically. My favorite books on this topic are the following: Real Foodby Nina Planck, and Master Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels.
3. If you do absolutely nothing else, please cut out soda and fast food. This includes diet soda, which is likely worse for your health and weight than regular soda (not to mention, it has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, and a plethora of other diseases you’d like to avoid). If you struggle with cutting carbohydrates and eating organic food, you can still make a big difference in your health by eliminating soda and fast food. Replace soda with water or tea, or even carbonated water if that’s easier, and start packing food with you to work.
4. Focus on quality of calories, not quantity of calories. If I came up to you and asked if you wanted 100 $1 bills, or 5 $50 bills, which would you choose? As with almost everything else in life, quality trumps quantity. So many people are concerned with the number of calories in everything they eat. It would be nice if health and weight loss were as simple as calories in, calories out, but that’s just not the case. Our bodies are much more complicated than that. You’ll lose more weight on 2500 high quality calories than on 1200 low quality calories.
5. Drink about 100 ounces of water per day. Every organ in your body needs water to function well. Not only does it aid in weight loss by increasing metabolism, it makes your skin look better, helps eliminate toxins, transports nutrients, and protects your joints. If you can afford it, purified water is best. Ask your workplace if they’d be willing to provide purified water by purchasing a Brita filter, or purifier that attaches to a faucet. Try to have access to water all day by keeping a water bottle with you and drinking water with each meal. Drinking a lot of water is one of the best habits you can get create for yourself.