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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Five not-so-painless changes


OK, so you got the touchy-feely list last week. Nothing harsh or extreme, precious little snowflakes, only jedi mind trick strategies to fool you into doing something healthy without noticing it. This week...it's time for a little tough love. These are the changes you really should be working toward and none of them are easy. They require commitment, planning, and, God forbid, maybe, some lifestyle changes. The good news is that these are some of the most effective weight management strategies available.

No liquid calories!

"Nooooooo! Scott, you'll have to pry my quadruple, mocha, chocolate, double shot vanilla, triple axel, extra hot, shaken, not stirred, extra caramel, whip, macchiato from my cold, dead hands." Easy there. Studies have shown that calories consumed in a liquid form do not cause us to offset those calories when later eating solid food. In other words, liquid calories don't do anything to satisfy hunger, but they still count from an energy balance standpoint.

Biggest Offenders:

  • Soft drinks - Liquid candy. They contain tons of empty calories with no nutritional value. Are diet drinks OK? Depends on whom you're asking. From a calorie standpoint they are OK. There are some recent studies that suggest that diet drinks “trick” the brain into wanting sweeter foods so you end up consuming more sugar in other foods as a result of drinking diet soft drinks. You make the call. I do drink them occasionally…maybe once a week.
  • Fancy, shmancy coffee drinks - nothing wrong with coffee, it's all the stuff you put in it.
    • Venti Caramel Frappaccino - 560 calories
    • McDonalds Big Mac - 540 calories
    • Given the choice between the two, the Big Mac is the clear winner. It's not exactly healthy, but as least you'll satisfy hunger for a while and won't eat as much later.
  • Fruit juice - Glorified sugar water. Even the no sugar added juices, ounce for ounce, contain the same calories as a soft drink and with only slightly more nutritional value. Eat a piece of fruit and drink a glass of water.
  • Alcoholic drinks - Lots of calories, low nutritional value. Syrupy mixed drinks (i.e margaritas, daiquiris, etc.) are the most calorie dense, beer is the least, and wine is somewhere in the middle. But don't fool yourself into thinking Michelob Ultra is a health drink. Take alcoholic drinks for what they are...something to be consumed in moderation.
Good choices:

  • Water - yes, plain water. It is what your body needs with nothing that it doesn't, unless you live downstream from Three Mile Island.
  • No calorie drink flavors (i.e. Crystal light) - If plain water is just not your thing, crystal light is a good option. The caveat about diet drinks apply to these as well.
  • Tea - Unsweetened tea is a good option. Green tea is even better...just make sure it's real, green tea. That Lipton stuff in a bottle is a soft drink folks, not brewed green tea.

Keep a nutrition log

I know you hate to even think of writing down what you eat. It's a huge pain...but it works. Anything less is just a guess at reducing calories. Keep a nutrition log, count your calories, and I guarantee that you will meet your weight loss goals. If you've "tried everything" but you're not logging your food, you haven't tried the one thing that works. You don't even need to be super accurate. Go to the bookstore, get a small, calorie counting book, write down what you eat as best you can, hit your calorie goal 6 out of 7 days per week (don't totally blow it on the 7th day) and watch the weight disappear. And don’t cheat yourself by not writing down those couple of candies that you took from the candy dish. In reality, we don't eat a huge variety of foods, so after about 3 weeks of looking up foods, you will hit a point where you only occasionally need to look up a new food and it becomes much easier to maintain the log.

Get rid of the junk food. Throw it out.

Can you eat junk food in moderation and still manage your weight? Yes, you can. Now, realistically, how many people have the willpower to eat it in moderation? Not many. So remove the temptation and get it out of the house. If you feel like you want dessert, then go out and get a single serving. Make it inconvenient. Don't buy it any more. That way you won't be "forced" to polish off the rest of that half gallon of ice cream so that it doesn't "go bad".

Cook your own meals

Time to get reacquainted with the kitchen, you know, that room in your house where the refrigerator, stove, and sink live. That's right you need to cook your own meals. Notice I didn't say heat up, or microwave your meals. The only way to know what you're eating is to prepare your own meals. Meals cooked at home, even calorie-laden ones, are much lower in fat, calories and sodium than comparable restaurant prepared meals.

Don't sweat the small stuff, sweat the big stuff

If you aren't exercising, watching your calorie intake, and strength training, then does it really matter what brand of whole wheat tortillas you buy? Endless debate about diet minutia might be fun and make us feel like we are working toward a goal, but in reality it's a form of procrastination. We procrastinate so that we don't have to make the hard choices, and do the difficult actions that will help us achieve our goals. It's certainly easier to pick the low hanging fruit, but you'll get a much better harvest by skinning up your knees and getting up in the tree to reach not-so-low hanging fruit, too.

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