Eating Like Your Life Depends On It
Are you one of the millions of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution to lose some weight?
It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if you were. Studies show the single most popular New Year’s resolution is the quest to lose weight. It is followed, of course, by other popular resolutions like: to start exercising, to get organized, to quit smoking, to pay off a credit card, or to tackle the next big adventure on one’s Bucket List. Dumping that freeloading boyfriend and finding another job have to be somewhere in the mix too.
It’s been about thirty days now since we embarked on the new year. So, how’s it going? The part about the weight loss, that is. Dealing with your obnoxious boyfriend is another article for another day.
Like every New Year’s resolution, the determination to lose weight lasts for about two weeks or right up until we face the first really difficult challenge of our resolve to change. (Whichever of the two comes first. It’s usually the difficult challenge; typically within the first seventy-two hours of making a resolution.)
There’s the big football game with a countertop full of chips, dips, and soda of every kind. That long awaited winter cruise offering endless buffets overflowing with every imaginable appetizer, entree and dessert. Then there’s that last gallon storage bag of your favorite Christmas fudge still in the freezer.
If you’re like most people making a New Year’s resolution to go on a diet after the holidays, you’re probably already back to the old, familiar ways of eating that got you into trouble in the first place.
There's a lot of talk about New Year's resolutions in the first few weeks of January. A lot of it is accompanied with the advice that "it takes twenty-one days to form a habit." While that may be true mechanically, it only takes one day to undo every inch of ground you've gained – or pounds you’ve lost - in three weeks. There are lots of people who resolve to get into shape in January who will be paying for a health club membership they're no longer using after, say, the end of that same month.
Habits are governed by the decisions we make every day – often the same decision made hundreds of times each day - long after the initial three weeks of starting your diet. I am talking about the daily exercise of personal discipline. Habits must come from a place deep within; that place where our beliefs and values reside. Until they do, the mere mechanics of behavior adaptation will not last. You might make it a few days, even a few weeks, longer than your initial twenty-one day goal to change. However, without the daily determination - the tireless choosing - to honor a deeply held value for why the change is important, you will eventually fall back into old habits. Those new running shoes will become your running-around-making-people-think-you're-a-runner shoes.
A habit is the daily choice to be healthier, different, better. Healthy and productive "habits" NEVER become the default mode of our mind or body. Healthy habits are never automatic, even after twenty-one days or twenty-one months. Only bad habits work like that.
Healthy habits are disciplines we must choose every day; over and over again. It usually takes much longer than three weeks until the improvements start to reward you with the levels of satisfaction that convince you going back to old ways just isn't worth it. The new way really is more rewarding. And for that reason, you keep choosing to do what is healthier. Different. Better. Then, and only then, do they become a part of the way you live your life.
Honest to Bod
In moments of social honesty, most people say it this way: “I could probably stand to lose a few pounds.” For starters, it’s not a matter of probably; it’s a matter of priority!
Secondly, we need to be honest about those “few pounds.” The truth about “a few pounds” is usually somewhere between ten and thirty. The last time I checked, the phrase “a few” is used to describe three or four of something. Most of us are wrestling with twenty or thirty extra pounds, not three or four. We just say it that way to cushion the blow that we have “a lot” of fat to shed. We’re just hiding it under those untucked shirts and loose-fitting wraps. Denial sure looks better on us than a swimsuit.
When your bathroom scale reads, “one at a time, please” it’s time to get serious about losing some weight.
What do you say we start with reframing this whole “diet” thing? We’ve been thinking about it all wrong. Just the way we commonly speak of a diet sets us up for frustration and failure. The word itself is usually said in that same dread-dripping tone of voice we use to describe a pending prostate exam or pap smear.
For most people, losing weight is perceived as a burdensome chore. It is almost always discussed in terms of what you have to give up.
· I’ll have to stop eating the foods I really like.
· Healthy food doesn’t have any taste.
· I’ll always be hungry because the portions are so stinkin’ small.
· It’s such a hassle to have to count calories, measure portions, and read labels.
We rarely, if ever, speak about a diet in terms of what we stand to gain. If we could think of a diet as one of the greatest life-saving, health-improving, energy-giving, esteem-building, relationship-enhancing, sex-boosting, confidence-increasing, stress-relieving, momentum-injecting, happiness-producing moves of our life, most of us would do it in a heartbeat and stick with it until the day we die. Who doesn’t want to live like that? Unfortunately, most people fail to see the relationship between their health and their happiness!
People whine in defiance, “I don’t want to go on some stupid diet.”
Let's get one thing straight right up front. You’re already on a diet! If you eat food and drink liquids, you are on a diet.
Everybody on the planet is on a diet. A diet is simply the choices we make about the food we eat and the beverages we drink.
So, Mr. and Mrs. Ain’t-Nobody-Gonna’-Tell-Me-What-I-Can-or-Cannot-Eat, you’re already on a diet. The question is whether you're on a good diet or a bad diet; a smart diet or a stupid one. The diet you are on is either helping you or hurting you.
Here’s the deal: your naked body, your bathroom scale and your bedroom mirror don’t lie. They will tell you whether your current diet is working for you…or not. Oh, you can put on clothes to cover up the truth, but you’ll always rub soap all over the bare facts every time you take a shower! Whether anybody but yourself sees it, the extra weight you are scrubbing in the shower every day is jeopardizing both your health and your happiness.
Don’t miss the connection. There is a definite relationship between health and happiness. Did you hear what I just said? A large part of how happy you are is related to how you feel. An enormous part of that equation is related to your eating habits.
Why You Eat is More Important Than What You Eat
Americans are gluttons for diet plans. The diet industry in America is a billion dollar empire of promises and products guaranteed to help people shed fat. Unfortunately, most diet plans focus on what you eat and how much you eat. Very few, if any, of them ever address the most important issue. And that is: why do you eat in the first place?
Until you figure out the answer to why you eat, you’ll always battle with your resolve in those critical moments of choosing what to eat. Eating to console your feelings, to occupy your boredom, to kill time or to entertain your taste buds are not healthy reasons to eat. Yet, that is precisely why most Americans consume food.
Eating was primarily intended to fulfill the utilitarian function of providing our body the nutritional fuel it needs to perform the activities of our life. That doesn’t mean that food can’t be delicious or that eating can’t be an enjoyable experience. However, when it becomes a form of entertainment in and of itself, we have strayed far from its intended purpose.
Did you know that you could actually take fat, remove it from the human body and weigh it on a scale? It looks something like a nasty caramel colored mass of thick gelatin. And it’s accumulating inside of your body with every unhealthy meal you eat and all the sugar-laden snacks consumed in between. That soda you’re downing throughout the day is packing on the fat by the fistfuls. Five pounds of body fat is about the size of a small infant cradled in your arms. Twenty pounds of the same wouldn’t fit into a large paper grocery sack. (Imagine that clinging to the organs inside of your body!)
Yep. That’s what’s growing inside of you with each trip to your favorite fast-food restaurant. That’s what you’re spawning with each late-night feeding frenzy while putting off going to bed because you know it just means you’ll have to get up and go to work again in the morning. Have you ever considered the relationship there? You may be eating to soothe the dread of having to go back to work again at a job that’s not flipping your switches, insufficient for your financial obligations and robbing you of time for the things you enjoy more.
What most people are completely unaware of - or terribly underestimate - is the toxic nature of excess body fat. It contaminates what it surrounds with toxins that compromise the healthy function of organs such as your lungs, liver, heart and colon. The added weight is wreaking havoc on your bones and ligaments, resulting in aches and pains that discourage you from doing anything active. It draws on your energy reserves, robbing you of the enthusiasm and vitality you need for life’s opportunities. I’ll scale back the language of “it’s killing you” to say, confidently, that it is not doing you any favors!
Most diet plans address what to eat and how much to eat. Very few, if any, actually address the critical question of why you eat. Until you figure out why you eat, you’ll never really get a healthy handle on your eating habits.
The most popular reasons why people eat are as follows:
· To fuel their body.
· To socialize with friends.
· To occupy themselves when bored.
· To console emotions when alone.
· To quench the desire for the foods they crave.
Only the first one in that list is the right reason to eat. The rest of them are rife with risks. The rest are not about being hungry and providing for your body’s nutritional needs. They are about the gratification that comes from tasting what you desire and enjoying the sense of satisfaction that comes with feeling full. It’s a seeking of pleasure. When food becomes about pleasure instead of purpose, we are on a very slippery slope.
Many New Year’s resolutions to lose weight are often accompanied by the decision to start exercising. While moving more is certainly an important part of weight management, it is not the cure for a lousy diet. Losing weight is done in the kitchen, not the gym.
They say, “You can’t out exercise a lousy diet.” You’d have to work out like an Olympic athlete if you insist on trying to lose your extra pounds while refusing to stop eating all those lousy foods on your current diet. Even that will not get you to where you need to be. You might be able to burn off the surplus calories by doing the workout regiment of an Olympian, but you’re still poisoning your body with the sugar-laced, grease-laden, chemical-infested food products you’re putting in your mouth.
Your body is a finely tuned, high-performance engine and food is the fuel you put into its tank.
When we are younger, our engine is a bit more forgiving when it comes to the fuel we put in our tank. When I say younger, I’m talking about when we are children. Our metabolism works a bit more efficiently when we are younger and children tend to have more time and opportunity to be active. That’s not to say that children who eat a lousy diet are not in danger of health risks. The current statistics of children in America who fall into the obese category hovers around 17%. Even children who aren’t overweight but are consuming a lot of unhealthy foods are at risk of health complications such as compromised immunity, increased allergies, decreased energy and gastrointestinal issues. Not to mention the horrible habits they are learning about eating properly. Or would that be, improperly?
As we get older and our metabolism changes, our engine becomes more sensitive to the type of fuel we put in our tank. Almost everybody who has ever hit their mid-forties can tell you something changed around that point in their life. Their body just didn’t work quite like it did the previous forty-five years. Nagging aches and lower energy reserves became the new norm. And to make matters worse, your trusty diet of “eating anything and everything you want without gaining a single pound” starts to turn on you. After forty, and certainly after fifty, everybody will tell you it becomes a whole lot easier to gain weight and a whole lot harder to lose it.
Food is fuel. If you put premium fuel in your tank, you will be amazed at the results. If not, expect your body to give you all kinds of indications that the fuel you are using in your engine is not the right mixture it needs for maximum performance. Heartburn, head aches, gas, bloating, weight gain, digestive issues, lack of energy, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and compromised immunity are just a few of the indicator lights flashing on your body's dashboard to warn you that your engine is not getting the proper fuel it needs to perform to its peak potential.
The first change I suggest you make is to eliminate the “I am on a diet” language from your vocabulary. It’s time to start thinking, “I am not on a diet. I’m choosing to live a healthier life.” I tell myself that every time I go for an early morning run or somebody leaves a delicious dessert in the break room at work.
Eating better, eating less and exercising regularly are three great ways to live a healthier life. The difference it can make in your life is enormous. People who eat properly and exercise regularly almost always like what they see in the mirror. Healthy is a nice reflection on you.
Simply put, a diet is all about the choices you make when it comes to the kind and the amount of food you consume every time you put something in your mouth. I guarantee you, if you put healthy food in your mouth, your body will reward you with the many benefits of being healthy. If you put lousy food in your mouth, don't be surprised that your body doesn't perform quite like you'd prefer. And that, my friend, is all on you. You and you alone choose to eat your way into feeling like you do.
You can be sure of this: the diet you are currently following is yielding the exact results you are presently getting. If you don't like those results, change your diet.
Because everybody eats, a diet really comes down to the choices about what and how much we consume. Unless you're still being spoon fed, you and you alone determine what goes into your mouth.
Let's start taking responsibility for the food we choose to put into our body.
What do you say we start eating like our life depended upon it?
Oh wait. It does!