LSR #2: Dodging Diets

An estimated 75 million Americans diet each year, contributing to an over $70 billion industry.  – U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market

Dieting first gained mass appeal in 1829 when Reverend Sylvester Graham launched the Graham diet. By limiting caffeine and meat and snacking on graham crackers, the plan promised to stave off added pounds and masturbation. (Yes, you read that right.) Since then, the weight loss industry has grown into a $70 billion-per-year industry, with an estimated 75 million Americans dieting at any given time. And the methods are no less whacky.

Regardless of the plan, more than 95 percent of dieters gain lost weight back (and usually more) within five years. Many of us have heard a rendition of this statistic. So why are more people dieting than ever before?? So glad you asked!!! 😉

Some of the reasons:

1) We’re bombarded with images of “perfect” bodies—physiques unattainable to most of us, including the models and celebrities depicted.
2) The diet industry invests millions of dollars into research on consumer palatability. (What will make us buy, and keep buying, particular plans and products?)
3) We live in an instant gratification society. We want results and want them NOW.
4) Food is more available and flavorful than ever before. Most low-nutrient foods are cheap. And many of us are sedentary. Overeating and inactivity lead to weight gain, which leads to dieting, which leads to MORE weight gain…
6) Diets seem exciting, and a balanced diet paired with exercise, bo-ring.
7) Dieting can seem like a solution not only to our weight problems, but ALL of our problems. (“I’d be happy/beautiful/successful if I just lose __ pounds…”)
8) Many diets are disguised as “lifestyle plans.” So even when we know the risks and failure rate of DIETS, we can be led astray.

Dieting contributes depression, stress, binge eating, a slowed metabolism, weight gain, obesity, nutrient deficiencies, bone loss, memory loss, insomnia, low self esteem, heart problems and more. Why is dieting so harmful? Yet another GREAT question. 😉

Some of the reasons:

1) Dieting forces the body into starvation mode—a state in which calories—units of energy reaped from food—are stored.
2) Our bodies are designed to run and thrive on sufficient amounts of calories and nutrients. This is why eating too few carbohydrates, our body and brain’s main energy source, causes fatigue, depression, constipation and food cravings. Extremely low-fat diets interfere with brain function, appetite control, nutrient absorption and even hair health. (Dietary supplements, while useful in some cases, are not suitable replacements.)
3) Food and eating are more than nutrition. What would holidays, weddings and other celebrations be without food? Humans are hardwired to enjoy food. Mess around with that and the results aren’t pretty. Depression, for example, befalls most people who lose normal eating capabilities. (Dieting = not eating normally.) Diets are also tough to maintain in social, family and work settings.
4) We aren’t clones. Our taste preferences, personalities, genes, activity level and overall health play important roles in our food choices and eating habits. Most diet plans run on the one-size-fits-all philosophy, which is best limited to stretchy gloves.

I don’t know about you, but I find all of this depressing…

Onto the GOOD stuff!

EAT WELL, STAY WELL STRATEGIES:
(Notice I didn’t say, ‘Weight Loss Strategies.’ Unless you have a genetic condition, such as Prader Willi Syndrome, eating well—mostly healthy foods, not too much and not too little—promotes a healthy body weight and countless other benefits.)

If ‘calorie’ seems like a cuss word and dieting’s become your norm, it’s time to shift gears… Try one or numerous of the following – whichever resonates with you.

1. EAT MORE healthy food. Focusing on what you “shouldn’t” eat is a mainstay of many diets. It’s also one reason they fail. Instead, stock up on healthy foods you enjoy. Seek tasty ways to prepare fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and whole grains. Check out health food restaurants and grocery stores. Dine with health-minded friends. And begin substituting low-nutrient foods with nutritious. Swap white bread out for 100 percent whole grain bread, for example, and fatty red meat for leaner cuts, legumes or fish.

2. Color your plates. At each meal, load half of your plate or bowl up with colorful produce. Or incorporate fruits and vegetables into conventional dishes, like pastas, soups, pizzas and baked goods. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables promote positive weight control, digestive health and cardiovascular health and a reduced risk for heart attack, stroke, certain forms of cancer and chronic disease. For overall health, the American Dietetic Association suggests aiming for at least 2 cups of fruit an 2.5 cups of veggies per day.

3. Aim for 80/20. Perfect eating doesn’t exist. Eating primarily (80 – 90%) nutritious fare and cutting yourself some slack (10 – 20%) guards against feelings of deprivation and the risk of going off the dietary deep end once your “perfect” eating falls to the wayside. Registered dietitian Robyn Goldberg recommends eating “play foods” daily—foods consumed for pleasure purposes only.

4. Take baby steps. Small, gradual changes are generally the most effective when it comes to reaching and maintaining wellness. Take an inventory of your eating habits. What areas could use improvements? If you currently eat fast food three times per week, cut back to once per week. If you eat less than one serving of whole grains per day—Americans’ overall average—bump it up to two per day. If you avoid your favorite snacks or desserts like the plague only to overeat them later, start eating a single portion daily.

5. Dig deeper. Food and weight concerns often symptomize deeper issues. If you feel desperate to change your weight or appearance, ask yourself why. (Are you happy with your work life? Social life? Relationships?) Addressing the answers may be all you need to jumpstart healthy changes. To read one couple’s weight control success story, check out my article at Bartlett’s Health: The Fulfillment Diet: Pursuing Passion FIRST.

6. Eat mindfully. Remember those mindful driving tips from last week? Similar principles can enhance your dietary lifestyle. Mindful eating is associated with improved appetite and weight control and a low risk for depression, digestive problems and obesity. To invite mindfulness to your meals, dine in a pleasurable atmosphere, free of distraction (no phone, computer or TV). Eat slowly, observing the colors, texture, flavors and aromas of your food and how you feel physically and emotionally. For more pointers, visit The Center for Mindful Eating.

***Don’t be afraid to seek support from a qualified professional, particularly if you have a long history of dieting, weight problems or disordered eating.***

Whew! That was a mouthful. 😉 And a lot to fit into one post. I want to support you all in any way I can, so please speak up! Post your questions, concerns and related topic requests in the comments. If you’re already wellness/nutrition-savvy, what strategies have I missed? Which would you like to learn more about?

Mindful Eating and Maya Angelou

Earlier this year, I had the honor of interviewing Maya Angelou about her new cookbook, Great Food, All Day Long. To say I look up to the woman is about as accurate as saying Minnesota is ‘sort of’ cold in December—a major understatement. As I considered what to post this Thanksgiving week, nothing seemed more appropriate than sharing her insight. Angelou approaches conversations with strangers, even so-nervous-they-could-pee-on-the-floor journalists ;), food, cooking and daily life with incredible poignance, dignity and grace. With food, family gatherings and feasting upon us, we can all stand to take a few tips.

Joy, Patience and Hot Dogs: Cooking with Maya Angelou
By August McLaughlin (Originally published by EHow Food)

Photo: Steve Exum/Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that one of the most influential voices of contemporary literature brings poise, intention and palpable joy to her kitchen. Dr. Maya Angelou, the 82-year-old renaissance woman known for her dramatic prose, activism and passion for the arts, history, education and civil rights, has had a lifelong love affair with all things culinary.

“I’m a serious cook,” she said. “I love to plan the food. I enjoy the cooking of it. And I will plan the whole meal while I’m in my bathtub.”

Self-Commitment

Angelou’s food fervor met challenges when a medical exam revealed serious risks for hypertension and diabetes. She had to lose weight. Her first attempt at healthy eating involved replacing decadent ingredients with low-calorie alternatives.

“But I was starving!” she said. “So I decided to cook the way I always cook, just not eat as much. I gave myself my word that I would not have seconds. It’s the most wonderful thing, you know, when you give yourself your word in private — secretly. You feel like a ninny if you go back on it because you’ve been there all the while.”

She prepared and ate every recipe in her latest cookbook, “Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart,” and relished every bite. Meanwhile, her weight-related health concerns diminished.

Simply paging through her cookbook is enough to push your salivary glands into overdrive. Recipes such as chicken tetrazzini, barbecued spare ribs, pumpkin soup and “all day and all night” cornbread are interwoven with heart-warming stories and personal insight. In her typical way, Angelou draws you into not only her kitchen, but her life.

Abandoning Rules

Rather than abide by diet rules, Angelou recommends listening to and fulfilling your cravings. If your taste buds are screaming for fried chicken and you sit down to a T-bone steak, you’re liable to eat the entire steak — and perhaps seconds.

“It’s because your taste buds haven’t been satisfied,” she said. “If you can get what you really want, cook it the way you want it cooked, five or six spoonfuls or forkfuls can hold you. Then you can say, ‘I’ll come back to this in two or three hours. But right now, that’s exactly what I want.'”

In her book, Angelou observes that people often keep eating long after they’re full. “I think they are searching in their plates not for a myth, but for a taste, which seems to elude them,” she writes.

For this reason, her recipes aren’t divided into meal-specific categories, but instead organized by themes like “A Brand-New Look at Old Leftovers” and “Waking up the Taste Buds.” The result? A cookbook geared toward fulfilling moment-to-moment cravings, rather than following the established mealtime norms. Have fried rice for breakfast, if you want, or her omelet with spinach for dinner. All bets are off.

Seeking Pleasure

One of Angelou’s most beloved culinary experiences involves a youth favorite: the “simple everyday” hot dog. However, she’s developed a version for a grown up palate. Angelou tops a grilled, Hebrew International hot dog with her homemade chili. “Then I get a cold, frozen beer stein out of the freezer and open a wonderful freezing bottle of Corona beer. It doesn’t get much better than that,” she said.

Patience, Angelou believes, is a significant ingredient lacking in Americans’ diets. “Our children, for the most part, have their major meals at counters and various places where they eat standing,” she said. “I encourage people to sit down. Have some patience with themselves.”

To this end, she suggests planning meals beforehand to avoid stressful rushing around while cooking. Sit down to enjoy meals in a peaceful, pleasing atmosphere. And don’t reserve your best dishes, silverware or food for guests.

“I serve myself with the best I have,” she said. “I make a pretty table. There are some white roses on my table right now. I’m looking at them. And I’m having a nice glass of pre-lunch, good white wine… Pretty soon my assistant and I will have a great, sort of a chef salad, served with English biscuits.”

Because that’s precisely what she craved.

*****

To view the original article, visit: Joy, Patience and Hot Dogs: Cooking with Maya Angelou. (You’ll also get her recipe for Chili Guy, a scrumptious dish named after her son.)

******

Simple Ways to Eat More Mindfully
Most of us eat way too fast, while paying little attention to what we’re eating, how much or why. (“Where did my fries go?!” You know you’ve been there… ;)) Eating mindfully, with awareness of our bodies, emotions and food, promotes physical and emotional wellness. It also facilitates gratitude. Rather than focus on calories, TV, guilt or holiday stress this season, I invite you to slow it down, pay attention and say, with sincerity, “Thanks!”

  • Set your fork down between bites.
  • Eat sitting down at a table, no in front of your TV or worse, standing in front of your fridge.
  • Before eating, take a moment to observe the smells, colors and overall presentation of the food.
  • Cook! Preparing dishes automatically promotes mindfulness; you’re involved in the process and understand the effort required.
  • Cut back on mealtime distractions, such as your cell phone, laptop, TV, radio, newspaper, etc.
  • Create a pleasurable dining atmosphere. (As Dr. Angelou says, don’t reserve your best dinnerware for guests-only!)
  • Shop at your local farmers market.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen, Meals on Wheels or local shelter.
  • Rather than view food in terms of calories or fat grams, consider what foods and nutrients do for your body…and the pleasure food brings.
  • Eat with chopsticks. Unless you’re a pro, this slows you down. (Your relatives might shoot you funny looks as you pick turkey and stuffing up with chopsticks…Then again, doesn’t that make it more fun?? ;))
  • Say a prayer of gratitude, religious or not, before meals.

So what do you say? Will you invite mindfulness to your next feast? How has Maya Angelou influenced you in your life? Your writing?