It may be surprising to learn that over 70 percent of weight loss has to do with nutrition, not exercise. Don’t get me wrong, our bodies need exercise, but it doesn’t contribute to weight loss (or maintenance) as much as people think it does. Which is funny, because if you observe the habits of most folks trying to “get healthy” they put in an awful lot of sweat equity, but often don’t pay too much attention to the fuel they’re putting in their bodies. We’ve got it backwards.
One of the questions I get asked most often is, “how can I eat healthier?” Well, it’s not by going on a diet; that’s just a band-aid. If you’re really committed to living healthier than you have to eat healthier. And that means breaking old habits, which is rarely fun. But it can be done. I’m living proof. I used to be the biggest (no pun intended) beer and burgers sort of guy. So it really is a head-scratcher that I’m now vegetarian; goes to show you that anything is possible.
I do realize that what’s worked for me won’t work for everyone, but there are some universal “lessons learned” I can offer you out of my own experience. 3 simple changes that anyone can adopt. Notice I said simple, not easy. You‘ll slip up many times trying to make these stick, but that’s perfectly all right. It‘s an awfully rare thing in life for success not to be proceeded by failure. Just keep at it until you make them habit.
EAT (A LOT) LESS PROCESSED FOOD: When my wife and I decided to change our eating habits a few years back, one of the first major steps we took was to cut out fast food and soda. In the two week period following that change I dropped over 10 pounds. It was quite remarkable, and led me to wonder, “what the heck was in that stuff?!?” Turns out it was a lot of highly processed, chemically-laden, junk. In fact, there is a rapidly growing body of medical research showing that processed food is more chemically addictive for human beings than hard drugs such as heroine and cocaine. Ever wonder why you crave certain fatty, sugary, or salty foods? Because you’re brain and body are literally chemically addicted to them. And because of this dynamic, processed foods are an awfully hard habit to break, but one of the most critical wellness steps you will ever take. How do you tell if a food is highly processed? Simply read the ingredients; if it looks like a chemistry lesson? Take a pass.
EAT (A LOT) MORE PLANTS: The Greek physician Hippocrates was onto something when he said, “Let food by thy medicine…” There really is incredible medical value to eating a lot more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans. Want proof? Well, for one, the healthiest populations in the world are plant-based. And than there’s the whole thing about improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and lowered incidence of cancers. Quite simply, your body’s best bang-for-the-buck when it comes to nutrients, is found in plants. This doesn’t mean you have to stop eating meat all together. But try having the meat as the side and grill up some marinated veggies as the main course. Or adopt “Meatless Mondays” in your house (just google it for some great ideas).
Page 2 of 2 - EAT IN MODERATION: For many of us, this one’s a no-brainer. We know that we eat too much, but what’s better than seconds of your favorite meal? Thirds. Fourths. It’s not a pretty picture. So why do we keep eating more than we should when we know better? It’s a bad habit. Stop it. We eat far more calories than we need to, and it‘s often just a little here and a little there. It’s the donut at the office, of the extra bowl of ice cream, or the extra 500 calorie latte, or the drinks after work. But it adds up, doesn’t it? Here’s the good news: we lose weight the same way we put it on in the first place. By skipping the donut. By sticking with one bowl of ice cream instead of two. By having a generous first helping and skipping the seconds, thirds, and fourths. You get the picture.
Ben Murphy is an Adventure Athlete, Wellness Coach, and Health Writer who used-to-be-obese. You can ask him your questions at www.facebook.com/parentathlete. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and (soon-to-be) four kids.