There is a magic bullet out there, a way to lose weight while still eating great tasting food and without spending every spare moment at an exercise class. You may have heard it before, and it maybe at this point in my blog entry that you think, “Oh, yeah. Another one of those programs.” Well what I am offering you is not a program, a top secret, a pill, a diet. A personal trainer will not pop out of your pot of frijoles refritos and grant you three wishes or ask to be placed on retainer for $300.00 a month with a promise that you will have killer abs and a ballet-tight derriere. I am simply asking you to read on. Snapping your browser shut is easy. Listening to my words rumble around inside of your head and begin to cast doubt upon your nutritional knowledge is the hard part. I implore you to keep reading. Do it for your own health.
The magic bullet is: fresh vegetables and fruits. Not frozen, not in a can, but fresh – right off the farm or farmers’ market or at the very least the produce department. Sure, organic is best, but I realize there are a lot of roadblocks that get in the way of buying everything as natural as possible, so I am willing to start small. Just increase the amount of vegetables and fruits you take in, in that order. I am not some wild-eyed vegan that is trying to take the meat off of your table. I am trying to give you the recipe for better health and an increased chance for longevity. Notice, I am also giving away this magic bullet for free. There is no Paypal button, no link to Amazon.com so that I can sell you my fitness DVDs. The information that I offer here is yours to keep. If you choose to accept it, it may warp your mind, but that’s the whole idea. I have a ton of deprogramming to do.
In 1980, the USDA put out a twenty page booklet of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It was the first publication of its kind, and it began the villification of certain foods in our society. Eggs and coconut oil were deemed unhealthy. Only lean meats were supposed to be consumed. Sugar was only detrimental because of it’s tendency to cause tooth decay. Whole grains were touted as being extremely healthy because they contain less calories than fat, plus they have fiber. Included in this government document is an ideal weight table for men and women (the kind the insurance companies use) and a calorie burning activity chart. Eat a variety of foods to limit the risk of deficiencies, limit the dangerous ones, exercise and by all means, don’t get fat. That seemed to be the message that the USDA was sending.
After this publication was released, manufacturers rushed to get on the whole grain bandwagon. Soon, cereals and pasta and flour for baking were offered in whole grain form (although these products really only had a small percentage of whole grain in them, but that’s another story.) This led to more American households eating a higher percentage of processed foods than ever before: margarine, corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup, sugary cereals, meals-in-a box. By the end of the decade, there was an obesity problem in the United States, and in spite of our ever-burgeoning diet and exercise industry, the epidemic has continued to spread (no pun intended.)
The second USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans had few changes from the first. Fruits and vegetables were given added importance. They were to be eaten along with “healthy whole grains.” Eggs, coconut oil and palm oil were still considered risky for heart health, as if they were equal to consuming the fat off of a side of beef. Starches were now on the bad list along with sugars since the body breaks both down into sugars. One interesting note about this publication is that the ideal weight table was no longer divided into weights for men and weights for women. Plus, the ideal weight for everyone, no matter their height, had gone up. Hmmm… I wonder why?
Additionally, scientists had begun to isolate certain nutrients in food and promote them as super healthy, while other properties, such as their fat content, were broadcast through the media as leading to premature death. The problem with “isolation science” is that we don’t (or shouldn’t) consume one nutrient in a natural food without the others. When a food is eaten in its whole form, the vitamins and nutrients work together to create a cohesive and beneficial nutritional package. The isolation scientists acted as if we ate certain nutrients separately and that caused widespread panic around particular foods. It was unwarranted. After many years, it’s almost impossible for some foods to live down their bad reputations. Just ask any egg. If it could talk, it would tell you that many people think its yolk goes straight to your heart as a big ball of cholesterol. That’s not the way it works.
By the 2000s, the American public as a whole was facing an unprecedented obesity epidemic . The weight tables in the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000 issue had been replaced with a Body Mass Index tables. The food pyramid was introduced, with grains still the most prominent thing on the American table. The publication urged citizens to make good choices about eating. There was more nutritional information presented for the increasingly savvy nation that had been struggling to beat the battle of the bulging waistline for decades.
More people were realizing that something was wrong. Whether it be our super-sized portions, our more sedentary jobs and recreational activities or what we were eating in general (are you aware that tortillas and bread never used to last in the refrigerator for 3 months,) or a combination of everything put together, things weren’t adding up to skinny. Alternative nutritionists began warning people to “stay out of the middle of the grocery store.” However, for many folks, that advice was not enough.
We Just Need to Be as Smart as 5th Graders
While I was teaching my 5th graders about the digestive system, I realized the truth. It came to me in Room 23 of Tenth Street School in the middle of the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. Angels began to sing over my head. My eyes clouded over and pointed towards the heavens. I was in awe. My students worried for a second, but I reassured them that everything was okay. I resumed teaching nutrition with a vengeance.
What I realized was that the body breaks everything down into sugar. Sugar in the form of glucose is the only energy that the brain and red blood cells can use. The material the body has left over after breaking a piece of food down into glucose becomes waste. When we overfeed the body by taking in too many calories, it stores the excess as potential energy for cells and brain, or fat. Everything that is highly processed or unnatural that hits the digestive system makes your stomach and intestines curve themselves into a giant question mark. These are toxins. Our bodies have no clue what to do with them, so they build up in our systems and sooner or later, lead to illness – possibly autoimmunity and chronic disease.
Some things digest faster and some things digest slower. That’s where the Glycemic Index gained popularity. Each food is assigned a number on the index, and the higher the number, the more quickly the body can turn it into sugar. Generally, we want the body to digest slowly. Eating protein with each meal is said to lower the speed of digestion. However, the numbers on the glycemic index will not give you a healthy, happy, fit body.
This information may seems oversimplified, and in a way it is, but really, this is the crux of normal human nutrition. In order to get skinny and stay that way, we need to get rid of the toxins and eat less processed foods that don’t supply real nutrition. We need to rid our diets of food additives that are designed to keep us coming back for more.
Undoing the Myths
I can guarantee you that if I stop 10 people on the street, about 9 of them will be holding onto outdated nutritional information as their personal truth. I will be able to talk to them, and they will nod at me and smile, but they will walk on and go back to eating exactly the way they were. That’s because my news is not pretty.
You cannot go on eating ice cream and be healthy, or drinking soda, or eating large portions of animal protein. You cannot go on a diet, lose weight, and expect to keep it off. You cannot change your behavior temporarily and expect the results to be permanent. You can’t keep the nutritional information you learned decades ago or even five years ago as ground in stone. Getting nutritionally healthy is all about letting go. The good news is that when you do let certain things fall to the wayside, new and delicious foods will enter your life and take your taste buds by storm.
Yes, there are some very simple rules. If you follow them, you will see improvement in your nutritional health. If you lie to yourself and bend the truth at the dining room table, however, your progress will not be as great.
1. Eat natural, unprocessed foods, more vegetables than fruit. Wash them thoroughly and enjoy them – raw when possible. Eat minimal animal protein.
2. Taste your food. Enjoy the natural flavors that each food has to offer.
3. Don’t add salt. Just throw your salt shaker away until you don’t miss it anymore. I know, it’s hard, but do it.
4. Don’t add sugar, especially white sugar. Don’t replace sugar with another highly processed fake sweetener.
5. Add fats in light moderation. Don’t use highly processed oils. Nuts, avocado, coconut and grape seed oil are healthier than many other fats. Olive oil is okay, but don’t rely on it.
6. Get rid of your milk. Replace it with a nut milk such as almond milk. Don’t overdue it on cheese and yogurt. Dairy is especially harmful to people who suffer with allergies and asthma, but whether you have those or not, cut out the milk.
7. Reduce your grain intake drastically. It doesn’t matter if it’s whole grain. Cut it down to 1 or 2 servings a day, if at all.
8. Find exercise activities that you truly enjoy and want to repeat regularly. Find several so you don’t get bored and give up.
9. Get out and enjoy nature. De-stress. A little natural light and appreciation of earth’s beauty can help us get rid of the tension that our overburdened lives cause us to store.
10. My friend, Stacy, read this and added one more great rule: Give yourself permission to slip up sometimes. We all make mistakes, it’s okay and it isn’t the end of the world nor worth beating yourself up over.
So, don’t count, don’t measure. Throw the diet books and drinks and pills away. The answer is here on this page. It works like magic, but your brain is already fighting you, asking you, “How can you go on without ever eating….. again?” Ignore your brain and browse some of the recipes on Corazon en un Platillo. As you can see, they are neither boring or without flavor. There is no deprivation diet here. What I am asking you to do is to do what I did: unlearn the nutritional nonsense of the past three decades and get real with your food!
Disclaimer: Before starting any nutritional or exercise plan, consult your health professional. They may have completely different opinions, but I have to say this. It’s legal mumbo-jumbo.
I am still a work in progress, but I am on my way due to eating as described above, and doing exercise I enjoy.