Ah yes, that age-old question: “What’s for dinner?”
As you wheel into the grocery store, aisle upon aisle of fluorescent goodies beckon. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. What’s better: fat-free or low-cal? Ice cream, or frozen yogurt? And will you ever be able to eat potato chips guilt-free again?
As far as the chips go, probably not. But there are some basic food guidelines that allow you to enjoy the occasional pint of Ben and Jerry’s without visualizing your bathroom scale on ‘tilt.’
The trick to losing weight and keeping it off is a shocker. Eat more meals. I know it sounds too good to be true, but you need to think of your body as a fuel-burning machine, like your car. Just like your trusty auto, you never want to let yourself get too low on gas. Running on fumes will wear out your system quickly and causes your body to desperately hold onto every scrap of food you give it, uncertain when you’ll make it to the next filling station.
If your eat three meals, two snacks/day, at regular times, your body knows the fuel will be there, and it will get rid of anything that it doesn’t need. This doesn’t mean you can start hitting buffets- portion control is an essential element of this equation.
I usually recommend a modified version of Barry Sear’s Zone diet for my clients. For those that are unfamiliar with this plan, which has been the rage for the past few years, here are the basics. Every meal is balanced, with a source of protein, a carbohydrate, and a fat. Lean proteins are recommended- chicken, turkey, and fish. Starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes are forsaken in favor of vegetables and fruits (complex carbohydrates.) The inclusion of a fat always surprises people, but the truth is that it takes fat to burn fat- it serves as your primary energy source. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make doughnuts a food group- unsaturated fats are best, such as avocado, olive oil, and almonds, all in small amounts. As a rough estimate, the protein source should be about the size of your whole hand, the carbohydrate should fit in your palm, and the fat should equal your pinkie finger.
Here’s a sample menu for a typical day (all meals are about 3 hours apart):
Snack: Fruit Smoothie, with strawberries, a banana, 1 tablespoon of flax seed oil, and two scoops of whey protein
Breakfast: Small bowl of oatmeal with raisins and honey, three hard-boiled egg whites
Lunch: water-packed tuna fish with light mayonnaise on a salad with oil dressing
Snack: Bowl of cottage cheese with fruit
Dinner: Baked chicken with broccoli and 1 pat of butter
People are always shocked by the amount of food that I consume-
I have never been one to order a salad in a restaurant. But when I started eating ‘Zone’ a few years ago, my body fat dropped five percent in six months, almost without my noticing. My energy level improved, and I rarely experienced the late afternoon fatigue that I had suffered from for years. In the past, particularly during the lean years in New York when I was a struggling modern dancer, I had survived on bread, bagels, and macaroni and cheese. Starchy carbohydrates have a similar effect on your body as sugar- they rocket your insulin level up temporarily, then send you crashing down. (Ever notice how tired you feel about an hour after consuming a big plate of pasta?) What I like about the Zone is that you rarely feel hungry or deprived, and it promotes solid nutritional principles with real food. I am a firm believer in butter and sugar in reasonable quantities. Science has yet to improve on these, and it seems as though every month a new study proves that aspertame, nutrasweet, and Olestra cause a host of potential problems, from cancer on down. Rather than wait for future reports, I prefer to trust in the primal foods that have been around for centuries.
Another key element of this, or for that matter of any other diet plan, is water, and lots of it. Water acts as the oil for your machine- it keeps everything operating smoothly. For weight loss, water consumption should approach 80 oz./day.
As the old expression goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If a plan sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Americans spend billions of dollars per year on diet products. And yet, as a nation, we are getting fatter- by at least 20% over the last few decades!
The Zone is not the only plan that works- Weight Watchers also has a high success rate. The advantage to the Zone is that you are not required to join a club or pay for special meals. I’ve found that calorie counting quickly becomes tiresome, and liquid diets such as Slimfast cause people to regain the weight they lost and then some when they return to normal food. Many people spend their lives on a rollercoaster, losing and gaining the same twenty pounds. The goal should be adopting a plan that will carry you through the rest of your life. If you’re trying to lose weight, aim for dropping one-two pounds a week (losing more is usually not recommended), and realize that it happens more quickly at the beginning than at the end.
My rules of thumb are:
1) Relish each bite- there are no taste buds in your stomach.
2) Deprivation only breeds discontent.
I usually let people choose one "cheat" meal a week, where they can go a little wild. A pint of Ben and Jerrys, or a plate of pasta primavera once a month is not such a bad thing- especially if that means that you won’t be able to look at ‘Cherry Garcia’ for weeks.
3) Focus on the long term,
and on health rather than on appearances. We live in a culture where anorexics appear in health magazines next to ads for Snackwells cookies and liposuction. The truth is, we are not all meant to fit in the same mold, and there are many fit, healthy, happy people that aren’t a size six. Don’t become obsessive- in the end, despite all of the pleasure that it gives, it’s just food. Life is about being at peace with yourself, whatever shape or size you might be.
You can succeed at anything you set
your mind to. Take that first step, and I promise you will never regret
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) can help you to
find an ACE certified trainer in your area. They can be contacted at
either www.acefitness.org, or by calling 1.800.825.3636.