3 Weight Loss Truths

If you haven’t been bombarded with weight loss ads over the past week, you’re probably on a remote island soaking up the sun with the waves gently teasing your feet (bring me next time). There’s something about the start of a New Year that makes people freak out, lose their senses and develop completely unrealistic eating plans they will never follow for more than a few days. Before you get sucked into a crazy diet or juice cleanse, you should know the top three truths about weight loss.

1) No One Eats “Clean” all of the Time

Instagram and Facebook are full of photos of broccoli, brown rice and chicken meals neatly placed in Tupperware and followed by #mealprep #eatclean. The only thing more boring than looking at these meals is eating them day after day. No one eats like this all of the time. No one.
I’ve worked with a number of elite athletes who cut weight before a fight, match or event. They diet down, compete then loosen up their diet a bit before they need to diet down again. They aren’t eating bodybuilding-type meals every day year-round.

2) There is No One Perfect Diet

Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, juice cleanses, Paleo, Whole30. There is no “perfect” because what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me. Figure out what changes you can realistically stick with, combine these with the general principles of healthy eating and start there. Forget what everyone else is doing, how your neighbor dropped 50 lbs. or what the actress on the cover of a magazine did. If you can’t stick with a plan, it won’t work.

Progress, not perfection, is the goal.

Celebrate each “win,” those small changes you’ve made that will add up to a big difference. You won’t necessarily notice a weight loss right away by making a few simple switches in your diet. However, I would rather people focus on the immediate difference – more energy, feeling better, more sleep, than the number on the scale. Feeling better each day will drive you to continue when the scale isn’t moving much.

3) You Must Exercise for Weight Loss

Can you lose weight without exercising? Yes absolutely. However, if you do not exercise you will lose more of your weight as muscle then fat. In addition to burning fewer calories each day when you lose muscle, you will notice a decline in strength and as you get older and everyday activities will become harder to do – lifting groceries, gardening, washing your car.

If you are not an exerciser and typically fall off when you start a new workout program, figure out what you like to do and do it. Forget all of the back-and-forth “noise” about high intensity interval training, the amount of rest in between sets and if you should train until muscle failure (until you cannot possibly lift the weight again). Instead, determine what brings you joy. What do you love to do? Dancing, yoga, hiking? What did you love doing as a kid? Hula hooping, double Dutch jump rope?

Do what makes you happy. Get moving and stay moving.

In addition to following these weight-loss truths, spend time feeling good about your body every single day. I meet so many people that are hyper focused on losing 5 pounds or 50 lbs. As they rattle off the reasons why they want to lose body fat and how this will drastically alter their life and make them happy, my mind often drifts off. I wonder what percentage of their thoughts are consumed by losing weight and dieting and if they are hyper-focused on controlling this aspect of their life because something else isn’t right. A marriage, their job, a friendship, their child’s behavior. If I ask the right questions something else they are ignoring often comes up.

Maintaining weight within a good range is very important for overall health. Obsessing about weight and dieting isn’t. I’ve coached enough people to know that one day you’ll look back years from now and wonder why you wasted so much time hating your body.

You’ll look back and say, “damn, I looked good! I wish I felt better about myself.”

“I wish I wore shorts in the summer.”

“Why didn’t I go to the beach in a bathing suit?”

“I wish I went to that party.”

I promise you, no one is criticizing your body. Every one around you is too busy focused on themselves. So go out and wear shorts, put on a bathing suit, try on that dress.

If you don’t love your body now, you won’t feel your best every day. You won’t enjoy life to the fullest. Work in this first (or in conjunction with healthy eating / a healthy approach to weight loss).

Because it’s a waste of time to spend your days bashing the body that does so much for you.

Is Processed Food Evil?

As a dietitian, I can’t count the number of times people have come up to me telling me all about their new found nutrition miracle knowledge. From fad diets to fat burning pills, I have heard everything that can fit into a category I call “Hope in a Bottle or Book.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge believer in food and the efficacious use of dietary supplements for disease prevention (not to mention of course athletic performance and just feeling better) but, come to me with some scientific evidence and correctly defined nutrition terms and I’ll listen (vs. just giving a head nod in hopes the subject changes sooner rather than later).

So the topic I keep seeing lately is a misunderstood category called “processed food.” In fact, twitter is a tweet lately with dire warnings about what processed foods can do to your body, both inside and out. So, let’s first define processed foods and then take a look at whether or not you need to make a mad dash to the doctor after realizing you’ve consumed copious quantities of processed foods all these years (oh but wait, if only you could sprint, I bet those processed foods are weighing you down!).

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a processed food “means any food other than a raw agricultural commodity and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling.” There you have it folks, unless you are on a Raw Food Diet, you eat processed food every single day! Even if you eat a “clean diet” (that’s a topic for another blog post), if you cook your meat or tofu or freeze your vegetables or mill your own flaxseed, you have just *gasp* processed food yourself!

So is processing bad? Processing itself is not only not bad but it is oftentimes essential for good health.  Here are just a few examples:

  • cooking meat kills potential bacteria preventing food born illness
  • many agricultural products cannot be consumed until processed – grains for instance
  • canning and freezing are methods that keep food longer until consumption
And, there are many foods that are better processed. Take tomatoes – the antioxidant lycopene is more bioavailable in cooked vs. raw tomatoes and cooking eggs prevents a protein in egg whites, avidin, from binding the B vitamin biotin (cooking also kills salmonella bacteria). In addition, there are a plethora of functional foods out there that are developed specifically for improving health, helping people maintain weight, improving sports performance and more. I could go on and on with examples but as you can see food processing is an essential part of healthy dining and our vast world of food and nutrition. So, don’t be swayed by people who speak evil when it comes to processed foods. If you are looking for sound nutrition advice, make sure the person you are listening to has a RD or MD after their name or at least a degree in nutrition, nutrition biochemistry, endocrinology or something along the lines of the advice you are looking for (i.e.  muscle physiology for information on building muscle). After all, you wouldn’t go to an architect for physical therapy advice would you? For more information on processed foods, check out this tool kit created by the International Food Information Council Foundation. And, for a list of nutrition blogs by category, check out the Nutrition Blog Network my colleague Janet Helm, MS, RD, put together.

Eat Clean for Better Health

I often hear the term “clean eating” or “I eat a clean diet” and to the everyday person these terms mean nothing. Or rather, clean eating may conjure up thoughts of scrubbing fruits and vegetables and steering clear of the mac n’ cheese that has been sitting out for hours on a buffet line. In the physique world though, clean eating means something totally different – it means eating an unprocessed healthy diet low in sugar (except around workout time).

I view clean eating with a more comprehensive viewpoint – abiding by food safety standards, eating an overall healthy, less processed diet, and, choosing organic for the most pesticide, herbicide ridden foods. How do you know when to opt for organic and when you get get away with their conventional counterparts?  I abide by the Environmental Working Group‘s  Pesticide in Produce Guide.  This guide lists the Dirty Dozen, 12 fruits and vegetables you should choose in organic form:

  1. peaches
  2. apples
  3. sweet bell peppers
  4. celery
  5. nectarines
  6. strawberries
  7. cherries
  8. lettuce
  9. grapes
  10. pears
  11. spinach
  12. potatoes

The “Cleanest” produce you can choose non-organic:

  1. onions
  2. avocados
  3. sweet corn
  4. pineapples
  5. mango
  6. sweet peas (frozen)
  7. asparagus
  8. kiwi
  9. bananas
  10. cabbage
  11. broccoli
  12. eggplant

When it comes to what you eat, ignorance isn’t bliss. Pesticides are linked to a number of health effects including potential increased risk of some types of cancer, hormone alterations, nervous system effects, altered fetal development and more. So choose clean and rest assured the money you spend now will pay off later.  And, for more information about a number of different health topics from cell phone radiation to endocrine disrupting chemicals in your shampoo, visit www.ewg.org.