The other day I walked into an office I where I occasionally work, and a colleague came up to me and exclaimed “Brian, have you lost weight? You look like skin and bones!” Considering I am 6’1″, athletic, and weigh about 180 pounds, I know that I am of a healthy weight. American perceptions of a healthy weight are completely skewed. Even a weekend trip to Montreal will show that this is true. Regardless of misconceptions, the ramifications of bad diet are profound:
- Increased death rate from heart disease and cancer
- Lowered average lifespan
- Cost of healthcare due to obesity and other diet-caused conditions
And those are just three broad phenomena that affect the population as a whole. Personal stories have more impact. I was listening to a advertisement for a gym the other day, and the woman they were interviewing said “I didn’t realize how limited I was by my weight.” However sedentary American culture is, most activities people find fun and rewarding require mobility.
Maintaining a healthy diet can be hard. Your body craves the foods that are the worst for it, and this is a product of millions of years of evolution. Fats have the highest caloric density, are therefore felt as the most valuable by our survival instincts. Luckily, some simple observations and recognition of habits can let you see how easy it can be to overcome diet problems.
Almost everyone would agree that you have more life options if you aren’t overweight, but I think people should be more conscious of the effect of poor diet and obesity. I have been out with girls, who after running into an old friend, immediately comment, “Ugh, they are skinnier than me!” Guys are no better, and grab their bellies and make a self-deprecating statement. I’ve even seen their girlfriends reinforce this by patting them on the stomach!
But during the Olympics, I saw girls everywhere ogling Evan Lysacek’s shirtless pictures, and admiring his abs. Its quite obvious at whose stomach they’d rather be looking. I would play hockey with those same belly-flaunting guys, and they’ll scream to everyone in frustration, “Getting old sucks!” Some of these people there are in their 40’s, but I know someone who is more than five years older than that who is in great shape, skating just as fast as I am and loving it.
I don’t think anyone I’ve ever met is happier being overweight. Everyone loves to eat, but there are easy ways to enjoy both food and life outside of eating. These contradictions mean you are not keeping with your true beliefs. You have blatant desires about what you want in life, but are disregarding them to what end?
The first step to managing your diet is to find a purpose in maintaining it.
- Keeping pace with your children
- Performance in a sport, whether competitive or recreational
- Fulfilling the desires of a loved one
Really, it makes no difference what the reason is, just as long as you have one. This way, every time you question a decision, you can remind yourself, “Hey, I’m doing this for a reason that’s bigger than myself.”
As described in this article, and with supporting arguments from the The China Study, the standard American diet affects your brain like a drug, tricking you into thinking you need more calories than is necessary. I have definitely found this to be true in my own experience. Throughout a given week, I can be careful with my eating, and honestly not any food cravings. However, if I go out with friends on Friday night, and get a few beers, a hamburger and fries, or some other unhealthy foods…
The rest of the weekend I have awful, mind-consuming cravings!
I have found it takes up to 4 days to get the cravings to subside, and I have to actively tell myself “I am not going to eat now” or “I’m not going to satiate this particular craving.” It is a stressful experience, and if dieting were always like this, I think it would be unsustainable for anyone. However, if you can get over the hump, which really doesn’t take that long, these cravings subside almost entirely.
Admit You’re Not Perfect — Work for Compromise
Since going away to school and moving out of my parents house, I’ve realized how conscious you can be of your food choices. College starts as pure binging for almost everyone, as there are no parents to tell you what you can buy. After a few years, I slowly began to realize a few things that were true of my eating habits.
- I usually was toó lazy to drive and pick up food, so I would eat whatever I had at my apartment first.
- If I didn’t have any food at home, I would drive to Wendy’s for a junior bacon cheeseburger.
- If I was grocery shopping, I didn’t have too hard of a time convincing myself to only buy healthy foods.
Your own habits may be different from mine, but this is what I started working with. Currently I work full time and have made the following observations: I need to keep myself satiated throughout the day, including breakfast and lunch. I also like to snack pretty consistently throughout the day. For dinner I’ll either eat with family, my roommate, or go out with friends or on a date. So of these things, what do I have the easiest control over? Breakfast and lunch, and any other food I eat while I’m at work. Therefore, I try to make this time as healthy as possible. A normal day will consist of:
- 5 or 6 fruits and veggies.
- 6 servings of whole grains.
- A serving of nuts.
- At least six glasses of water
I make sure that there is nothing bad to eat during this time, everything is one of the above foods. One exception is I do love Doritos, so occationally I will buy a 12 pack bag from the grocery store. These are a smaller serving than those that come out of the snack machine, and 75% cheaper!
After an excellent day of eating, what I do for dinner and thereafter is less of a concern. If I want to go out with friends, or have a nice dinner, it’s OK, because I was strategic about eating during the day.
Really, I don’t think a perfect diet is achievable, and even if it is, it can add just as much stress as a bad diet. Realize your weaknesses, attempt to compensate for them, and you’ll be on your way to a healthier diet.