Lose weight now!
Obesity is a big problem in the United States today. It is estimated that about a third of Americans are overweight. One of the biggest problems, of course, is that we don’t eat a healthy diet. We’re so busy that too often fast food eaten on the run substitutes for a healthy meal eaten at a moderate pace.
Healthy living, however, is more than just healthy food choices. You have to balance the number of calories you eat with the number of calories you burn in your daily activities. Even healthy foods have calories. It’s more than just eating low-fat meals. Losing weight generally requires a lifestyle change, establishing new habits. Think: to lose weight you need to eat correctly, eat less, and exercise more. How hard can that be? However, such changes are not easy.
Calories, of course, are important. You need a good balance of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and water to drink. All fats are not bad, all proteins are not necessarily good. But fats do have a higher number of calories per gram (9) than carbs or proteins (4.5).
Dieters who try to cut out all fats are doing themselves a disservice. Fats are vital to our diet. We could not survive without them. They nourish our brain, our heart, and our cells. But all fats are not created equal. When planning your diet, try to choose more fats from the “good” type. These would be monounsaturated (Omega-9) and polyunsaturated (Omega-3) fatty acids. Some Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential. These fats are liquids at room temperature. Foods that contain these good fats are vegetable oils, such as canola, flaxseed, or safflower oil, and fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, and trout. Nuts and seeds also contain these good fats, as do avocados (now being touted as a “superfood”) and olives. Of the 20-35% of our daily calories that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends be from fat, most should be unsaturated fats. Only 10% should be from saturated fats, and trans fats should be avoided completely. But 35% is a really high number. If you’re trying to lose weight, try eating just 20% to 25% of your daily calories in fats.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and would include animal fats, butter, and coconut. Trans fats occur when a liquid fat is hydrogenated (turned into a solid fat). The best example: margarine, which should always be avoided. Check carefully into margarines that advertise “no trans fats.” The FDA only requires a product to list trans fat if there is more than .5 grams per serving. If a product uses hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fat, period, no matter what the Nutrition Facts say. Smart Balance, a company that makes “buttery spreads,” not to be confused with margarine, uses some saturated fats to avoid having to hydrogenate their oils, so their products contain no trans fats. Although we want to limit the amount of saturated fats we use, they are better than trans fats. So if you are buying spreads to take the place of butter, please read the labels carefully.
Proteins are essential to build and repair our bodies’ cells. Every cell in our body was created with protein. About half the protein we eat each day goes into producing enzymes that do such things as digest food, divide molecules, or make new cells. Proteins supply us with energy, help us resist some diseases and regulate body processes.
But how much do we need on a daily basis? About the same as fats—no more than 35%. 25% to 30% is a good guideline. That’s for an average person. There are people who need more, such as pregnant or breast-feeding women, athletes, dieters, vegetarians, and vegans. Since non-animal protein sources, such as beans, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, are usually not complete proteins, those who use no animal proteins at all need to plan their diets carefully so they eat the right combination of foods in order to obtain complete proteins.
Choose lean proteins. A nicely-marbled steak may taste better, but there’s a lot of fat mixed in with that protein. Instead, look for red meat that is less marbled (just remember that the fat helps to keep the meat tender, so you will need to consider that in your cooking methods), skinless chicken, fish and other seafood, and low-fat or even nonfat dairy products. Plant proteins, such as those in grains and beans, can be used in soups (split pea, for example) or spreads (such as hummus).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that we eat more seafood than we do. The average seafood intake in the U.S. is about 3 ½ ounces a week. But evidence shows that consuming at least 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood contributes to the prevention of heart disease.
Carbohydrates are our body’s primary source of fuel. Carbohydrates should make up 45% to 50% of your daily caloric intake, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. But just as with fats and proteins, all carbohydrates are not created equal. Good carbs include grains, fruits and vegetables. Bad carbs include sugar in its various guises. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars account for approximately 16% of the total calories the average American consumes on a daily basis. That’s about one-third of our total carbohydrate allotment. And most of these added sugars come from soft drinks, including energy and sports drinks. Many of these items use High Fructose Corn Syrup, one of the worst sugars we can use. If we want to lose weight, we need to lower our consumption of these items. Don’t drink sodas, drink water!!!
The best way to get the carbs we need without all the bad stuff is to stick with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, especially those that are high in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is the non-digestible form of carbohydrates. It will give you a feeling of fullness and contribute to healthy digestion. Along with your whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts, other sources of dietary fiber include split peas, lentils, and various dried beans, such as black and pinto beans. You can also add fiber and sweetness (without sugar) to your diet by using Fré® and Vim® to replace unhealthy sugars and sugar substitutes (which may not have calories, but are just as unhealthy—or even more so—as sugar).
To summarize, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “A healthy eating pattern focuses on nutrient-dense foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats and poultry, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds that are prepared without added solid fats, sugars, starches, and sodium. Combined into an eating pattern, these foods can provide the full range of essential nutrients and fiber, without excessive calories.”
Exercise. This is often one of the most difficult things for us to do. If you’re like me and have arthritic knees, jogging or running is totally out, as is just walking more than a block. But there are still things you can do to get off your big fat behind and start moving. Water aerobics is a good one. Check out locations in your area. Or join Curves. Their programs can be done by those who can’t do some other, more high-impact exercises. Whatever you do, be sure to choose something you like. You’re more likely to keep at it if you enjoy it. Lots of activities can be considered as exercise, such as dancing, playing basketball, or yoga.
And you don’t need to do all of your day’s exercise in one session. Instead of thirty minutes all at once, do ten minutes every morning, noon and night. Just keep it brisk. A leisurely walk down to the corner and back won’t do it. But start out slowly and gradually build up your activity. This will help avoid soreness and injury. One of the main things is to be consistent. Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You don’t even need to think about it. You just do it.
Set realistic goals. Don’t sign up for a 5k race the day after you start your exercise program. Exercising with a friend can be helpful, as you can encourage each other. Keeping an exercise log will also encourage you to be more accountable.
Remember, too, that exercise can be a great way to reduce stress. It releases endorphins that will improve your mood. Since exercising will make you feel better, you might as well do it. It’ll also help you feel stronger and sleep better.
Be sure to reward yourself for reaching your exercise (and weight loss) goals. Not food rewards, though. That would be a little counter-productive. But a new pair of shoes or a new piece of clothing (to fit your smaller body) would be a great reward.
It’s never too soon to begin your new lifestyle. Don’t put it off. If you think you have a few extra pounds you need to get rid of, start now with a new healthy eating and exercising regimen. You owe it to yourself. There’s plenty to eat out there that is healthy and tasty, too. So don’t delay; start today!