Oh, to be on an aggressive diet regime again. Eating on an exact schedule, restricting the size of my meals to what can fit in the palms of my hands, no chips, white bread or liquor (no liquor except on the weekends, I’m not trying to be Jack Lalanne over here), and drinking enough water to make me think a magical portal has opened up at the edge of Niagara Falls and is redirecting its massive flow into my urethra. But I also have more energy, more money since I don’t have to buy as much food either at the store or with eating out, and much more time. Sure, I’m eating more frequently during the day, but the meals are tiny and don’t take that long to cook, if they need time at all. And I’m using all the time that’s on my hands to imagine the different ways I would kill a person if they tried to get in between me and a juicy, delicious hamburger. My favorite right now is where I simply ditch my quest for the burger and just eat the poor soul who’s getting in my way because when you first start a new regime you will eat anything, absolutely anything,until your body and mind have adjusted.
But it can also be a struggle before you even begin because crafting your diet is a very involved process and can be quite difficult. It’s all well and good to know what each food is and what it does, when you should eat and how much, and what you should avoid, but that doesn’t help you figure out what you are actually going to eat. That’s because there is a lot of options to choose from, and what works for me might not work for you. So let’s take a look at another important concept of nutrition that will help a little in what you’ll be choosing for yourself.
How often have you gone to a box of cereal, a can of soup, or a bag of crackers, turned it around to find the nutrition label, and then promptly put it back because you spied that the calorie count of said item was too high? Now ask yourself, honestly, if you understood what the hell that number meant. I’m going to jump the gun a bit –
– and presume you have no idea what the hell it meant. That’s okay, no one does, and even when they hear the answer they’re not too sure of what to make of it. A calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram (a little more than two pounds) of water by 1° Celsius (about 2° Fahrenheit), which is about 4.2 kilojoules (a more standard measurement of energy).
Yeah, it seems like that definition is not very helpful, but it’s helping tremendously as to letting you know what that food is going to be doing for you and by how much. If a cookie has 800 calories, other than being an incredibly luxurious cookie, it’s also going to be giving you about 3,360 kilojoules. That’s enough energy to run an X-Box for nine hours. That cookie is a day’s work as a videogame tester. Sadly, we can not plug our entertainment systems into a slice of pie –
– as to gain access to that pie’s energy it must first be processed by your body and converted. But that’s what calories are, energy, energy for you to help you run your body. Once again, the world has demonized another nutritional necessity in their eagerness to put the blame of our fat asses on anything but ourselves.
But how does this help you decide what you are going to eat? Well, it’s only a portion of the equation. The human body is constantly burning calories as it takes energy to run your brain, heart, lungs and other organs, muscles and everything else. Add on top of that any energy you might use up walking, or sneezing, or talking, or peeing or reading, and you’re eating up a lot of calories in the day.
Through a day of just sitting in a chair the human body uses up about 2,000 calories. That number changes, of course, depending on your sex, age, height, weight and activity level, but it’s about right for a normal person. That means that to keep your body from eating itself you will have to consume around 2,000 calories a day just to keep everything running like normal. It gives you a number, a goal to focus on, and in dieting and weight-loss goals are very important (which I’ll talk about in a later post). But with this goal we now have a rough guideline as to how much we should be taking in.
So that should be easy, right? Meet that daily requirement and you’ll be set. Yeah, and I shit ice cream and can light a fire with my mind. You see, the problem is that our stomachs are not wired to let us know when we have gotten enough calories for the day, they are wired to tell us when they are full, and they’re not even good at that. It takes twenty minutes for your stomach to send signals to your brain saying it’s full and then receive signals back telling you to stop eating. You could have had an entire double-chocolate cake in those twenty minutes.
If you go to have breakfast at IHOP and you order the Colorado Omelet with pancakes (using their delicious blueberry syrup) and two cups of coffee with cream, you will have just ordered more than 1,500 calories. If you eat that entire thing (and if you do, you’re an insane, unbridled animal) you will have consumed almost a day’s worth of calories and it’s not even 11 o’clock! When you fill your system with more calories than it needs, it won’t turn those calories into energy but store them for later use, at which point you have to change pant sizes. You need to find the foods that will fill you up without sending your caloric intake sky high.
This is where our knowledge of different foods comes into play. Carbohydrates give you tons of energy, but they don’t fill you up very well so by the time you are full you have eaten too much (a.k.a. pasta overload), so you’ll have to be careful. Protein fills you up, but it can also come with a healthy dose of fat, so we’re going to have to limit ourselves to certain kinds (chicken, fish and eggs). Fiber is extremely filling and also has the bonus of being a carb at the same time, so we’ll definitely want those. And out of that group, fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients, fill you up, taste good and are extremely low in calories.
Are you starting to see a regime forming? I know I can. If you can’t, then you may need to go out and buy special glasses that keep your eyes wide open because it’s not that hard to see. You shouldn’t even be surprised, as this kind of diet is what a lot of people nowadays are saying you should be on anyway.
You’re going to want to make veggies and fruits the corner stone of your diet. After that, you’ll want to put in a lot of protein (think a filet of mahi mahi, or two boiled eggs, or a chicken breast). After that you can add some carbohydrates, the more fibrous the better (oatmeal, whole wheat, brown rice, bran). And with whatever room you have left you can fill in with some happy food to help keep you sane (something like a piece of dark chocolate, a glass of wine, or one of those cute mini-muffins). An example of a diet regime might be:
- Breakfast – A cup of cooked Oatmeal with Strawberries and Blueberries.
- Mid-Morning Snack – A Granny-Smith Apple and a Boiled Egg.
- Lunch – Grilled Chicken Salad with Cranberries.
- Afternoon Snack – Baby Carrots and Peanut Butter
- Dinner – Tuna, Mixed Greens and Cheddar Cheese in a Tortilla
The possibilities are truly endless. This is also where no one else can help you. You will have to stumble blindly for awhile until you find what works best for you. I found that it was too easy for me to eat lots of eggs and rice so those things have been stricken for my daily diet, but those may be the only things that end up working for you.
This hits on another important idea that I will talk about later: your regime will, and must, evolve. You’re not going to get your perfect diet on the first go. It took me years to get my diet to a place where it helped me lose the most weight while providing me with the most nutrients. Part of that was me coming to terms with what I thought was okay to eat but was actually setting me back. Pasta is a great way to carb up before running a marathon, but I’m not running marathons, or running for that matter. Shit I barely walk, so it didn’t make sense for me to have pasta in my diet. Sausage was hard to let go. The day I stopped drinking liquor to help my diet, I cried myself to sleep. This is why weight-loss has to be about the long run; you need to time to investigate, to challenge your ideas, battle your desires, and come to an educated conclusion. And every time you change one part of your diet you will have to re-balance all the other meals again. You need time to get it wrong so you can get it right.
And yet there are tips and guidance that I can give that seems to work with a lot of people. There are more tips than this, but you’ve got a lot on your plate (and ironically, it’s an empty plate that’s the issue), these are just a few to help you get started.
– Instead of trying to make each meal 400 calories (2,000 calories for the day split into five meals), make your snacks smaller so that your breakfast, lunch and dinner can be bigger.
– Fill your morning with fruit. It’s packed full of fiber, is very filling, and the sugars in the fruit will help pep you up for the day.
– Leafy greens don’t have to be eaten in a salad only. Making a sandwich? Use spinach instead of iceberg lettuce. Having some rice? Chop up mixed greens and throw them in, you’ll barely know they are there.
– Save the carbohydrates for lunch and the afternoon snack. It’ll give you a boost of energy to make it through that afternoon grogginess.
– Design lunch and/or dinner to be the easiest meal to make. After a long day at work, the last thing you really want to think about is what kind of healthy meal to make, which is when pizza, chicken wings and a liter of coke starts to looks really good.
– Use standard measuring tools (scale, measuring cups and spoons) until you can tell how much food you are putting on your plate by eye. Once you’re trained to see a cup of rice and 4 oz. of chicken, it’ll never go away.
– Every time you start to get hunger pangs, drink a huge of glass of water and wait for five minutes. You’ll find more often than not that you are no longer hungry, although you may still want to eat an entire double-chocolate cake. When it comes to that, just remember being healthy and losing weight feels a lot better than fat tastes.