Tired of counting calories?
Had enough of trying to get percentages of macronutrients?
Don’t really like Special K or Slim Fast anyway?
Great news… I am going to share with you what I wish I had known years ago when I wanted to drop a few sizes before I tried vegetarianism, the “low-fat” diet, the dehydrated fruit and veggie diet, the bean diet, the “eat whatever I want and exercise like mad” diet, and all the other craziness I attempted in the name of “losing weight.”
In the quest for a pre-pregnancy body, I tried cutting calories, the “zone” diet and practically every other diet under the sun, but none worked. I finally found the missing link and the weight is melting off. What I realized is that cutting calories alone is not enough, that any change that can’t be kept up over the long run, was not going to work. This led me to the lifestyle (I won’t call it a diet) that my family and I have today and the same one I now recommend to clients who are seeing some great results.
Before we get to the specifics, there are some basic things we need to understand:
- Not all calories are created equal- If I had to name one of the biggest fallacies in nutrition and the “weight loss” industry today, it is the assumption that a calorie is a calorie and that weight maintenance is as simple as calories in:calories out. For instance, protein and carbs both have four calories per gram, while fat boasts a hefty 9 calories per gram, which leads to the idea that fat must be bad because it has more calories… right? If all the macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) did the exact same things in our bodies, this might be logical, but the human body treats each of these molecules differently. Understanding this is the key to understanding why the “low-fat” diets of our time are only feeding (pun intended) the obesity epidemic.
- Fat is not the enemy- Though it has been demonized for a few decades, fat isn’t the cause of the problems we are seeing today (this seems logical to me, as these problems are increasing even as we eat “low-fat”). This is also the hardest thing for most people to accept when I work with them. To put it plainly, to be an optimal health, you must learn to eat and love the healthy fats that are so vital to your body’s proper function. What are the healthy fats? Certainly not hydrogenated and processed fats that are widely used like canola oil, vegetable oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil and safflower or sunflower oil. Prepare for cognitive dissonance… ready…. you must eat saturated fat!!! “Anything but that!” some protest. I understand this is one of the most difficult parts to understand as we have been inundated by the low-fat rhetoric our whole lives, but if you are here, I’m guessing that the other stuff hasn’t worked, and that hopefully you are ready to try something new. More on this below.
- Grains are the enemy- Bear with me, I know this might go against everything you have ever been told about nutrition, but grains are not healthy, nor are they necessary for our health. Grains and their by-products fit into the category of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates cause an insulin response in the body. Any carbohydrates that are not used immediately are converted into fat for storage… thus: grains can make you fat. This is one of the reasons that “low-fat” diets often cause weight gain. In the big picture of human evolution, we have been eating grains for a relatively short period of time, and our bodies are not adjusted to them.
- Reaching an maintaining a healthy body weight is not difficult once you understand what the body needs- While we have been led to believe that the process of eating healthy and burning fat is complex and expensive, it is really very simple and not expensive at all once you are eating real food. When you eat nutrient dense foods your body needs, cravings go away and you don’t need as much volume of food to be satisfied. The most freeing realization of my life was that reaching a healthy weight, performing at my peak athletically and feeling great come naturally to my body and don’t take much effort at all.
Interested? Read on for an overview of the Wellness Lifestyle that has helped me, my family, and all my nutrition clients to drastically increase energy, burn fat, build muscle, drop sizes, improve health conditions and feel great. If you are ready to make the change, I suggest that you commit 100% for 60 days. I already know that you will notice such amazing changes in your body that you will stick with it, but if you don’t, you haven’t lost anything and can go back to your old ways for the rest of your life.
- Drink Pure Water- Our bodies are 70% water, and muscle is up to 75% water so obviously we need water, but how much and what kind? While there are all kinds of theories out there about how much water you need, my theory is that your body will let you know. When you are thirsty, drink water. The confounding factor here is that if you are eating foods that aren’t good for your body like grains, hydrogenated fats, and sugars, your body’s natural ability to regulate thirst can be messed up. Many times, when we think we are hungry, we are really just thirsty. For this reason, I recommend drinking a large glass of water whenever you feel hungry and any other time throughout the day when you are thirsty.
- Eat Real Food-The whole Wellness Lifestyle can be summed up in that one statement. That being said, there are specific foods that our bodies actually need, and some that it would prefer for you not to shove in it. In general, our bodies need foods that derive from plants and animals and pretty much don’t need and don’t like all the other stuff. Most people, including those who promote all the diets I tried, agree that vegetables are healthy and should be consumed so there isn’t usually too much trouble here, except that you do actually have to eat them for them to be good for you. The difficulty usually arises in convincing people that we need fats (in good forms from coconut, avocado, olives, nuts, meats, etc) and don’t need the carbs and grains. Every single person I have worked with has noticed rapid yet long-lasting results by keeping total carb consumption under 100 grams a day, eating about 80-100 grams of protein and getting the rest of their diet from fat. Though carbohydrate consumption is low on the Wellness Lifestyle, vegetable consumption is actually very high, as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes and other high-nutrient vegetables are relatively low in carbs. In fact, just cutting the grains, sugars, processed foods, potatoes, corn (actually a grain) and non-foods like hydrogenated oils, makes it easy to stay under 100 grams of carbs a day while eating vegetables to your hearts desire.
- Eat Only When Hungry-Just like with water, the body is very adapt at telling you how much food you need and when you need it, you just have to learn to listen to it again. The hardest part for most people (including me) to learn is to just listen to our bodies (and not our minds or our cravings) when it comes to eating. It was really hard for me to accept, for instance, that I didn’t need to eat three (or four, or five or six) times a day if I wasn’t hungry, but realizing this was one of the most freeing parts of the wellness lifestyle for me. Many people benefit tremendously from just learning to only eat when hungry and to stop eating when satisfied, rather than when the plate is empty or you belt gets tight.
- Exercise, but not too much- This was another freeing realization for me, that exercise is measured by quality not sheer quantity. In other words, those hour long mind-numbing jogs on a treadmill like a caged hamster weren’t the most effective form of exercise. As far as cardio goes, it is much more effective to do short bursts of really intense exercise rather than extended periods of moderate exercise. High intensity exercise works fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, improving both, while moderate extended exercise only improves the slow twitch fibers. This means that while extended moderate activity can improve endurance, high intensity can improve endurance and speed in less time. For all moms out there, this means you can improve your athletic ability and burn fat by sprinting as little as 20 minutes a week, total. Sure beats the heck out of hours of hamster jogging, huh?
- Breathe- This one seems easy, we do it all day, but most of us are not getting the amount of oxygen we should. The easiest way to increase this is to get a lot of low/moderate level activity that increases your oxygen requirements. Make a point to walk, hike, swim, play a sport or just do jumping jacks at least once a day. Aim for a few hours a week, but get it however you can. (For me, this is often a 6-hour hike on the weekend while holding a baby in a sling) You will get more oxygen, sleep better and improve muscle tone.
- Avoid toxins- This seems pretty easy at first glace as well as long as you don’t have a taste for arsenic or a pet rattlesnake, but this is perhaps the toughest part of a truly healthy lifestyle. While our ancestors probably only had to worry about toxins from poisonous plants and animals, we face them everyday in our foods, personal care products, even our air. While avoiding any forms of toxins isn’t realistic these days, it does make sense to minimize exposure when we can. Make your own laundry soap for instance, to avoid the chemical cocktail in your conventional detergent. Cook at home and avoid the toxins in restaurant food.
- Sleep- You’d think with all the research on the importance of sleep lately, we would have gotten the message, but for mom’s especially, this is a tough one. While nature (or a fussy 6 month old) won’t always allow for adequate sleep, it is good to aim for 7-8 hours per night, though some need more or less. The body needs sleep to function properly (or at all!) as organs process and revive during sleep, the endocrine system balances hormone levels, the immune system functions at a higher level and the brain recharges. Many people notice that just getting enough sleep makes a big difference in body weight.
- Optimize Vitamin D-Vitamin D is one of the most crucial vitamins (actually a hormonal precursor) that our bodies need. It is also one that many people are deficient in. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased rates of cancer, heart disease, skin conditions, inflammation, lowered immune function, and low levels of calcium.
- Don’t Stress- Ok, I’ll give you a second to stop laughing while I go remove my two-year old from the top of my fridge where she is throwing utensils at her siblings. This one is definitely easier said than done, especially for moms, but worth striving for. For some, like me, lowering stress requires making prayer life, exercise and 10 minutes of quiet reading parts of my regular daily activities. For a friend, this meant skydiving daily. For you, this means just finding whatever you can do, even if for only 1 minute, that will help you relax each day.
- Have fun- What does this say about us when we have to put this on a list to remember to do?! Fun and relaxation do wonders for recharging mind and body. Play outdoor games with the kids, go on a date with your spouse, or try a new sport.