Now that you see how important whole grains are to making you feel full and satisfied – satiated by food – and you understand what some of my personal journey was to implementing better nutrition – I want to let you in on my secrets to losing weight, keeping it off and feeling energized by healthy foods and still enjoying what you eat. It’s always a challenge making transitions – and what we eat is as much a habit as any other behavior – but it can all be changed over time and we can each adapt and practice healthier behaviors until they stick. It takes commitment, but its just a matter of developing new habits. I always tell my clients, “small steps” when it comes to making diet and exercise changes. You really can’t expect anything to switch overnight. So having realistic expectations of yourself is also a big part of becoming more active or making more solid nutritional choices. Patience is the first key to success – then it’s all about education, goal setting, planning, preparation and effort. In terms of getting great nutritional energy everyday the following is what works for me and many of my clients and friends…
You can save a lot of your daily intake of calories by simply watching what you drink. I begin my day with a full glass of water. Makes sense, right? I have to rehydrate after sucking up dry indoor air all night. I live in Florida, but without a humidifier, it still gets dry inside which means the mucus membranes get fried. I have about seven or eight more glasses or bottles of H2O each day, about 60-80 oz all day. I do have a cup or two of “lite” or “half-caff” coffee, usually one in the morning, one in the afternoon to keep me going. I will often have a green tea instead, preferably Bancha or Hojicha Japanese green tea – they’re delicious and a great boost to my focus and energy. I often have a few sips of Aloe juice, sweetened with organic cane sugar (the only sugar I use in my coffee) a few times a day as a sugar-centric pick-me-up. However, I’ve learned not to drink much other juice, as most have way too much sugar, offsetting the benefits of consuming it. OJ is also way too sugary for anyone looking to lose weight. Its harmfulness to your waistline well outweighs its nutritional benefits. Ultimately juice is like liquid sugar, a potential gateway food to insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction.
Because I’m lactose intolerant, I only drink almond milk. But rice milk, soy milk, carob milk or other “nut milks” are great substitutes for dairy milk, too. Cow’s milk is really not the best thing for you, in my book. There are just too many chemicals and hormones in there that mess with your body’s delicate chemical balance. It’s also not something we’d find in nature – when would you ever see a human nursing at a cow’s utter before the agricultural era? Would you be surprised to see a calf nursing off a woman’s breast? At least, milk consumption should be kept to a minimum or non-fat, skim milk becomes the healthier choice. Again, this is just my relatively informed opinion. I know what you’re thinking – “milk has lots of protein and calcium for healthy teeth and bones and is part of a healthy breakfast.” Some people also swear a serving or two of milk a day helped them to lose weight. Milk is also loaded with sugar (lactose) and fat – so how does it help you lose weight again?
Finally, let’s chat about the worst form of liquid sugar – alcohol. Did I just lose you? Will you never read another post of mine again? If you’re still with me – I said it – alcohol is just “liquid sugar.” It’s probably half the cause of diabetes and metabolic syndrome in our culture. Now, a couple glasses of red wine a day won’t kill you. On the contrary, it can have great benefits to the heart and blood vessels. But pounding away more than two beers or mixed drinks a day or getting trashed on the weekend will pack on the pounds and leads to other health problems associated with obesity and blood sugar spikes like metabolic disorder and Diabetes.
With beverages just remember, it’s liquid – the calories, fat or sugar go down a lot faster and the stomach doesn’t recognize it as filling, so we tend to drink too much of a good thing. Oh… and soda is THE WORST thing you can drink. Especially diet sodas! Their artificial sweeteners have chemicals that cross the blood-brain barrier, confuse the metabolism and negatively influence brain chemistry. They make us think we’re hungrier and thirstier than we really are and we wind up consuming more or just pigging out. Plus, they’re often full of sodium and severely dehydrating. Word to the wise – stop the pop!
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS:
We know it’s the most crucial meal to get in, but lots of us leave it out. We’re just too busy to start our metabolisms in the morning, which really means we’re trying to sleep in longer and won’t bother warming up our engines before we drive off to work. Then we wonder why we have no energy by lunch, which also often gets skipped. Begin at the beginning and start your day right. Your body needs sustenance for energy. Feed it! Seriously, ANYTHING for breakfast would be better than NOTHING. Even that cold pizza or pasta is better than starving yourself. At least you can burn it off the whole day. Really, naughty food is probably best eaten early on so you can metabolize it into energy throughout your day.
I recommend a ratio of three carbs to every protein you eat for most meals, but especially breakfast. Have some healthy carbs to fire up your energy – whole-wheat pancakes, fruit salad, make a frittata or an omelet stuffed with veggies. Having dense, dark, hearty breads and low fat cheeses or organic preserves with nut butters can make for a decent start to your day, too. Plan it out and eat like a king in the morning. Breakfast is also a time when you can go a bit larger with your portions because you need the metabolic energy – STAT! Okay, so here’s what I eat for breakfast: Steel-cut Oatmeal – full of fiber, vitamins and nutrients and packed with carbohydrate energy – the good sugars! Plus, this variety of oatmeal acts like scrub brushes for your gut – cleaning out impurities and reducing inflammation. I literally eat about five tablespoons each morning and I feel full and energized for three to four hours, basically until lunch. If I’m feeling hungrier, I throw a couple eggs on top – scrambled or pan fried in olive oil. Try this easy steel-cut oats recipe so you can see how they work for yourself:
CUT THE FAT with this STEEL-CUT OATMEAL RECIPE:
In a medium pot or large sauce pan bring one-half gallon of vanilla almond milk to a boil, add two heaping cups of steel-cut oats (that’s the real whole grain you want) and lower the temp to simmer. Add a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of nutmeg, half a teaspoon of allspice and two teaspoons of pure Acacia honey and stir everything together. Stir every five to eight minutes until the consistency is thick, with all the liquid absorbed into the oats. Usually about 45-50 minutes – yup, old fashioned, slow-cook – the only way to eat oatmeal. Then add any fresh or dried fruit you enjoy. I add raisins, cranberries and blueberries in any combination. Yum! BTW- Play with the spices until you get the flavor you want and use skim milk, soymilk, rice milk, carob milk, any low-fat milk you like. This stuff can then be poured into containers, set to cool and then refrigerated for up to a week. That means you’re prepared to eat breakfast every morning! Plus, this recipe makes the oats taste and feel like you’re eating delectable rice pudding after it’s been chilled. But no bad sugars. My tongue just said, “Hooray!!!”
MAKE LUNCH MATTER:
I eat like a prince at mid-day. Scale back a bit from your fabulous breakfast and choose simple foods like hard-boiled eggs or sandwiches/wraps with whole grain or veggie bases to them. Make it mostly about the carbs again, only a bit of protein is needed. Creamy, cheesy, saucy, mayonnaise-laden sandwiches are not a good choice, though. Go for turkey as a low fat option instead of ham or roast beef. Pack the veggies on every sandwich – fresh or roasted is great. Most important, don’t get fast (fat) food! They have more calories, salt and sugar than an elephant could metabolize, much less a person. Low sodium soups can be a nice option, too. Have it with sliced fresh veggies or fruit.
For lunch I like either a salad with tons of greens and mixed veggies for lunch or an egg sandwich on whole grain bread with sharp cheddar cheese, humus instead of mayo, a bit of basil, a slice of tomato and lots of fresh leaf spinach all mushed together. Or I’ll put it in a Panini press! I use lemon or oil and vinegar for salad dressing. Leaving out heavy, creamy ranch and thousand island dressings will remove a couple hundred calories from your day. You can get creative with lunch – but you may want to prep at home and take it to work or you may be convinced to get something less than desirable out of energetic desperation. Not a position you ever want to be in – so plan ahead! Bring what you know is good for you to work and set up a healthy habit for each day. Otherwise you can get roped into munching on lunchroom doughnuts or vending machine junk. And please don’t “forget to eat.” You’ll crash the rest of your day. The body doesn’t care what you feed it when it thinks it’s starving. So don’t let it starve – feed it something good with regularity so you have real, un-caffeinated energy.
Most of us have our largest and most nutritionally complete meal at dinner. But it ought to be the most conservative meal of the day. Eat the smallest meal of your day at night, when your body really doesn’t need much more food energy. Plus, eating too much and too late can disturb your sleep and slow the metabolism way down. This is the “pauper” meal, so keep it really simple. Grilled chicken or fish or eggs over a salad works great – keep it simple and watch the portions. Make it a small meal in proportion to what you ate earlier in the day. Here you can really load up with vegetable matter – three times the size of whatever protein you have on the plate. Get your low-glycemic carbs in, too. Have whole wheat pasta instead of semolina with rye or pumpernickel bread instead of white. Try lentils or beans of any variety or sweet potatoes as a side. Fit in some hearty whole grains, too – at least twice a day – like quinoa, whole grain/wild rice, millet or couscous, which all cook like rice. For convenience, I make my quinoa in a rice cooker with myriad veggies, like a pilaf – it’s so easy, all combined and ultra healthy. Who knew? Plus, more healthy leftovers for lunch the next day.
My before and after photos… thank you, whole grains:
Eating quinoa or brown rice for dinner five nights a week helped me lose 65 lbs in six months and reduced the swelling in my gut so I have “abs” again. Love them complete grains! Best advice for dinner – have fun with it and be creative but don’t over-indulge; fill up on veggies and good grains and notice how quickly you feel happy and satiated! Eat out wisely at restaurants. They all serve way to much, three times a normal portion. Get a to-go container right away and put at least half away for another meal or two. Also, eat slowly and make sure you chew 20-30 times per bite. When you savor each bite, saliva and enzymes in the mouth help pave the way for easy digestion.
*A note about eating within a couple hours of sleep: Assuming you go to bed between 10 and midnight like I do, you’ll also want to try not to eat past 8pm or so. Its difficult for the digestive process to work effectively when you’re lying down. Your metabolism is relaxed and won’t process energy efficiently when you’re sleeping. Sleep is actually fat burning mode for the body since the rest cycle is when our bodies process and use up fats. Isn’t that “fat-cinating?”
SENSIBLE SNACKS & DESSERTS:
This is what I do to curb sweet craving between meals and after dinner – eat some fresh, frozen or dried fruit or an all-fruit ice pop. I may do a nut butter with apple or banana. A greenish banana is a great energy snack – as is a handful of dried fruit and nuts. Humus on a pita works well. Some sharp/dry cheese with fruit or berries is a sound snack option, too. I often have another tablespoon or two of my yummy steel-cut oats that are hanging out in my ‘fridge if I want a “cookie” or “pudding” flavor. I must admit, once in a while I’ll do a fro-yo. But I wait at least 45 minutes after dinner or a meal to have dessert and I drink more water before indulging. It gives the body a chance to prep for digestion, especially when richer choices make it to my mouth. Remember, refined sugar is our enemy, so choose desserts and snacks made with honey, agave, stevia or pure maple syrup before picking up the white stuff.**A note on shopping for good, healthy food as I’ve described: READ LABELS!!! I believe the fewer the ingredients and the more organically grown the better. WOMEN beware – nearly all nutritional labels are based on a MAN’S 2,000 calorie diet. Women only need about 1,500 calories a day. So the label can cause women to eat larger than necessary portions and gain weight. Avoid all sweeteners, Aspartame, hydrogenated oils/trans fats and fried foods when shopping and keep “white foods” (made of enriched white flour, which turns into paste in your gut) out of the cart. Also, if you can’t pronounce it, maybe you shouldn’t eat it, yes?
***A note about exercise while changing your eating habits: Do it! Challenge your metabolism to work harder for you so you burn calories better and develop the energy output you need based on the caloric energy input you consume. Losing weight is as simple as “less food in and more work out.” Two simultaneous efforts that lead to a healthier life style. So be active six days a week. Take a long walk, ride a bike, take an aerobics or yoga class, pump some iron, climb stairs, rake the yard! Just don’t sit for too long and always stretch.
****A note about detoxifying your body: I think it’s a good idea, every so often, to cleanse my body of built up toxins that cause inflammation and tension in the body. Aloe juice is quite detoxifying, as is ginger tea. There are lots of organ cleansing products out there that help flush out unwanted toxins, too. But my go-to panacea detox drink is 12 o. of water with 1 freshly squeezed lemon’s juice, 1 teaspoon of honey, I tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a dash of cayenne pepper mixed well and chugged quickly. My bloat disappears overnight and it boosts my energy. A simple 3-5 day vegetarian fast, fruit-and-veggie-only, is also helpful to clear the body’s gunk.
The point of this post is not to promote restricting you into eating less or only eating certain foods. In fact, variety is a good thing and most of us simply don’t eat enough of the right foods for the energy we need. This and my previous post are meant to guide you to thinking about food differently and to approach what you eat with your energetic needs in mind. We need sugar, but eating the wrong stuff is killing us. So whole grains, legumes, fruit, nuts and vegetables are the main foods we should be eating. Snacking and indulging in desserts should be the exception, not the rule. They make the body produce too much insulin which kills your metabolism.
I think you can eat almost anything in moderation, so don’t deprive yourself, just be good most of the time and allow treats now and again. If your main goal is weight loss you do have to remain vigilant and disciplined until you reach your goal. Then you can filter in some of the naughtiness again. Some! Food is consumed for energy, so we each have to prioritize and select good quality foods to feed our bodies properly, so they give us the function, health and energy we ask from them. Happy eating, y’all! Who am I, Paula Dean? You may also want to avoid contact with anything called a “stick-of-butter pie!” Most important, try not living to eat – EAT TO LIVE!!!
Live well, eat well and be well!