Optimum health is a state of positive physical, mental, and emotional well being as a result of genetics and lifestyle choices. How we choose to live and eat has a huge impact on our overall health. It is true that even with the amount of information we know today about nutrition, the number of overweight individuals continues to rise. I am here today to suggest that most of the time we are going about eating all wrong. What can we do about it?
In the United States, 36.5% of adults are obese according to the Center for Disease Control. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) over 30 kg/m2. As your weight increases to an unhealthy number, so does your risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer. Obesity does not happen overnight; it happens one pound at a time. The same goes for weight loss. It is not realistic to lose a large amount of weight in a week or even two. A pound of weight loss in one week requires consuming 500 less calories per day or burning 500 extra calories every day.
The evolution of fad diets began almost 200 years ago. Some of these fad diets may be familiar to you and others you may not have heard of before. Fad diets are usually identified by specific wording such as “miracle ingredient” or “fat-burning.” In 1820, Lord Byron’s water and vinegar diet started it all. The grapefruit diet began in the 1930s, which recommended dieters to eat the fruit with every meal. The cabbage soup diet came along in the 1950s. Slim Fast became popular in the late 1970s and during the mid 1980s it was believed that you should not combine protein and carbohydrates in one meal. The acai berry craze came out in 2005. A few years later the gluten-free diet and paleo diet followed. One major thing that all of these diets have in common is restriction. Those individuals that develop the “diet rules” have been able to convince the public that certain foods or ingredients are the problem and thus should be avoided. What is not presented are sound facts and research to back up their claims.
Almost 200 years after the publication of the first fad diet, we are continuing to see diets flood social media. Why is this happening? Perhaps because people want answers and quick solutions. When the low-fat craze hit America, people became afraid to eat fat and replaced it with carbohydrates and instead of getting thinner the opposite happened. Then carbohydrates became the culprit and the Atkins diet reassured America that it is okay to eat fatty meats just stay away from carbs and you will lose weight. However, we know that a diet high in fatty meats and low in total carbohydrates is not healthy. Following the Atkins Diet may at first appear promising if you are losing weight. Short term problems with this diet plan can include fatigue, decreased mental clarity, and kidney stones. Long term complications include increased cholesterol, heart disease, and kidney disease. The Atkins diet is known for promoting a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates including fiber. Fiber is essential to good health. It plays an important role in decreasing absorption of lipids and removing cholesterol from the blood. The key is balance. There are three macronutrients, which include fat, protein, and carbohydrate. All three of them are necessary for a balanced diet. Take one of them out of the equation, and our bodies will lose key nutrients.
It is true we can only go for so long on very low-calorie diets. Diets are unnecessary. Healthy lifestyles are necessary to get us where we want to be at in terms of our weight, physical and mental health. Diets are characterized as being short term giving us short-term results. They provide people with step by step rules and guidelines to follow to lose weight fast. But diets fade and we grow tired of them because they lack variety and are too restrictive. I honestly believe that a few small changes to our daily routine can make a big difference. Most of the time, when we are feeling fatigued, getting outside and going for a walk will give us that energy we were looking for. Are we tired physically or is it really mental fatigue from all of the stress we encounter these days? Replace the slice of cheesecake that you are eyeing in the breakroom with a bowl of Greek yogurt topped with granola and a few chocolate chips and that could save you 200 calories. The more you can avoid saying “no” altogether to certain foods to help you lose weight and rather can say “I will have this instead” you will curb your cravings while still being able to say “yes” to a better choice. You are staying in power and in control of your choices rather than constant restriction that traditional diets are known for. The goal to eating healthy should involve more than just restriction. If you are not dealing with a medical condition that warrants restriction of a certain food or food group then the focus should be variety, balance, and moderation. Rather than restricting certain foods, we should restrict large portion sizes. The enemy is not carbohydrates or fat or protein, but rather involves the idea that bigger is always better and that we might as well enjoy life and eat the entire pie. Well, what life will there be to enjoy if we are not able to take charge of ourselves and how we care for our bodies.
If you want to make real changes to your diet, then you need to plan, plan, and plan some more. Bring your lunch to work every day rather than trying to skip meals and then succumbing to the donuts and cookies in the breakroom at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. If you are short on time in the morning, get them ready the night before or do all of your meal prep on Sunday afternoon for the week. Wraps can be so convenient to reheat during the lunch hour and can be filled with many different foods for a lunch that is healthy, fulfilling and delicious. An easy and great option is cooking some chicken breasts and filling tortillas with shredded chicken, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, black beans, corn, and a salsa ranch dressing. And if you are looking for more convenient meal prep options, purchase precooked grilled chicken in the deli meat section of the grocery store along with a package of a ready to assemble chopped salad kit such as this one and top it with the chicken and it will provide a couple of lunches for you. It’s important to plan ahead if you are determined to adopt a healthier way of eating. In addition, stay well hydrated. Drink lots of water and minimize consumption of sugary beverages including coffee drinks, pop, juice, and sweet tea. Make only 1 or 2 modifiable changes at a time so you are not overwhelmed. Do this and you will increase your chances of success.
Written by Megan Davidson RD LMNT RN BSN
“Adult Obesity Facts.” Center for Disease Control, retrieved 10/1/17, from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
Gropper, S., Smith, J., and Groff, J. (2005). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. California: Wadsworth.
Rotchford, L. (1/24/13). Diets Through History: The Good, Bad, and Scary. Health.com. Retrieved 10/1/17, from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20653382,00.html#slimming-down-through-the-ages-0.