Monday, September 05, 2011

Can You Be a Foodie and Eat Healthy, Too?

When you hit middle age, you finally realize that you can't eat anything and everything and expect to get away with it.  Love pasta?  One small serving, please, no seconds - and God forbid if you want cheese on it.  Enjoy a huge steak with all the trimmings?  Sure, go ahead, indulge in that heart-attack-on-a-plate.  Can't live without potatoes, white rice, bread and the like?  Carbs are the Devil in tasty regalia - fuggedaboutit!

So what's a foodie to do?  I spent my entire life eating the tastiest, richest foods I could get my hands on, thanks to a family of outstanding cooks and my own need to continue the tradition.  Sure, when I was a kid, I could eat anything - I mean ANYTHING - and not gain a pound, in fact losing weight if I was particularly active.  "Active" is the key word here ... when you're young, you're running around all the time, riding bikes, climbing trees, playing sports, etc. for hours in a day.  Summertime comes and you have to eat three dishes of your mama's manicotti just to stay even.  *sigh*

This all leads to the inevitable change when one's metabolism slows down, between the adult sedentary diet and the natural aging process (not to mention my favorite, BEER).  Throw in the routinely consumed fast food and what do you get?  An overweight (or dare I say, "obese") middle-aged man (or woman).  Even regular trips to the gym doesn't drop the weight like you think it should, especially if MacDonald's is your first stop on the way home after working out.  Losing weight - and staying fit - requires a major lifestyle change.  In fact, it requires a brand new relationship with food and all its yummy, creamy goodness.  If you don't do this, you'll go to the doctor one day - and you should do that sometimes, guys - and he'll be prescribing medication for reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol or if you're REALLY unlucky, Type II diabetes.  And, of course, with all that come the lectures about losing weight or dying too young.  Who needs it?

One thing we humans - in particular, we men, I think - hate is being told what to do like we're children.  We all know what we have to do, we just don't want another adult telling us what's good for us.  What's the answer then?

Here are a few simple tips on reducing weight and getting healthy, all with the following caveats:  your mileage can and will vary, you must be patient and that with any diet / exercise program you absolutely should consult with a physician before beginning.  The last disclaimer:  I'm not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), but these suggestions have helped me and may help you, too.

  1. Start slow - Every one of these tips are prefaced with this same premise.  Without listing all the clich├ęs you've heard over and over again ("Rome wasn't built in a day," etc.), just remember you're rebuilding your relationship with food for a lifetime of good health.  Diets are short-term wins; reprogramming requires a long, slow process to burn in.  Trust me, it's totally worth it!
  2. Quality, not quantity - As they say, everything in moderation.  If you drink three low-cost beers a day, cut back to two better quality ones.  If you eat two Burger King hamburgers at lunch, cut back to one at a local diner.  Try this trick:  once a week, take half the fries off your plate and place them in a doggie bag before you start eating.  Over time, you'll get fuller faster and won't even need to do that, especially if you ...
  3. Eat slower - Face it, folks, our moms were right.  Chew your food, don't wolf it down.  Give your brain a chance to register there's food in your stomach.  Listen to your natural signals to stop when it's time to do so.  No, don't chew your food 26 times (or whatever the prescribed number is these days), but do CHEW, not inhale.
  4. Get moving - Okay, here it comes, the exercise talk.  Again, start slowly, like taking a short walk after dinner tonight.  Try it again after lunch tomorrow.  Get  ten minutes a day of light exercise just to begin with.  Do that until you're putting in ten minutes seven days a week.  Then, increase it to fifteen minutes one of those days, then two, and on and on.  Move to twenty minutes a day, seven days a week and by then, your brain has become rewired to the thought of regular exercise.  Now it's just a matter of increasing the amount of effort in those twenty minutes - walk faster or do a few jumping jacks before you start to warm up - anything to make the hear beat just a little faster.  Break a sweat, you'll like it!
  5. Avoid the evil carb monster - Face it, carbs taste good and no matter how hard you try to avoid them, they're are contained in even healthy foods.  The problem with carbs is we overeat them (along with fats) the most and we get them from the worst possible foods.  Pretzels, potato chips, crackers and the like are pretty much empty calories and carb overload at the same time.  The idea here is to get your carbs the healthy way and avoid all the preprocessed, "enriched flour" and corn sugar-laden products we just have come to accept as a normal (and even necessary) part of our diets.  Cutting out carbs will go a long way toward losing that unsightly stomach fat you're carrying around.
  6. Make it healthy, make it tasty - If you don't like vegetables to begin with, you may hate this part.  Suck it up, boys/girls, these are simple facts.  Vegetables (and fruits) are healthy and necessary dietary components.  Just because you have to eat them, doesn't mean that have to taste like hay.  There are plenty of herbs & spices - not just salt and pepper, the former of which you should use sparingly - that will make vegetables palatable, if not downright delicious.  Start out with the dry ones from the seasonings aisle in your grocery store - things like onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary and the like.  Or if you're bold, get them fresh from the produce department and learn how to chop and add them to your vegetable dishes to suit your tastes.  That means you will need to ...
  7. Learn to cook - This is especially important if you want to save money, too.  It really doesn't take much money or time to learn how to prepare simple, healthy meals to eat now or during the work week.  Besides the vegetables, look at the proteins - skinless chicken, turkey, fish and lean beef all work and should be eaten in moderate quantities along with the veggies.  When you need fats, try PAM or olive oil, both health alternatives when you need fats.  Experiment if you want, or if you're not the adventurous type, go to the internet and look up simple recipes there.  Remember, your microwave may be your best friend, both in the preparation and reheating of the meals you make yourself.
  8. Eating out - If you're like me, you LOVE going to restaurants and if so, you can survive that fairly unscathed, too.  Many restaurants have lite menus which you've probably never seen as your eyes have been programmed to skip them for all these years.  These sections of the menu will now be your saving grace - or, if there isn't such guidance, ask your server.  It may require a few extra instructions, like "hold the potatoes" or "no sauce" or "grill it, don't fry it," but most restaurants are happy to accommodate you.  Try it sometime.
There are no miracle foods or tricks out there, but here are some more ideas to consider:
  • Drink green tea, one cup with every meal.  Besides being an antioxidant, some swear by its ability to help one lose weight.
  • Lemon tree, very pretty.  Make the first thing you consume in the morning a glass of hot lemon water.  It will soup up your digestive system before you eat a bite.
  • Water, water, everywhere.  Drinking eight glasses a water a day has recently been largely debunked as valid science, but three things that are definitely true about water: you need some quantity of it to survive; dehydration will trigger the hunger response; water has zero calories and fills you up.
  • Coffee or tea, it doesn't matter to me.  Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, caffeine in moderate quantities can boost your metabolism and help burn calories, in conjunction with all your other efforts.
If you find these tips helpful and you're able to lose weight as a result, don't hesitate to add a comment to this post and brag about it.

From our hill to yours,