Updated: Dec 14, 2019
It seems these days we are either stuffing or starving ourselves. I encourage you to stop living at ends of the spectrum and find a place in the middle. This can be applied to many areas of our lives - working out 5 days a week and then none vs working out 2 days a week forever. What will result in more workouts? You guessed it - the latter!
Here are some techniques for developing a healthy and satisfying diet that will not only help you achieve a healthy weight, it ensures you maintain it.
I'm in my 40s and wearing the same clothes I wore over 20 years ago. I know how to maintain weight. Forget keto, forget vegan. Eat a whole foods based, non-restrictive diet. The best example for reference is the Mediterranean diet. The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook is a great primer.
Breakfast is the time for higher protein foods. It is also a good time for healthy fats like avocado, cheese, or olives. Breakfast tends to be a difficult meal, we want something quick. Quick makes healthy difficult.
Breakfast isn’t the time for very high carbohydrate foods, including going heavy on fruit, grains or starchy vegetables like potatoes.
Sometimes more traditional lunch or dinner-like foods are preferable over traditional breakfast foods. Soup makes a lovely breakfast, and I love having this Miso! I use my homemade broth. I keep all my bones, ends and skins of veggies like carrots, garlic and onions, stems from fresh herbs in a gallon freezer bag. When it's full, I put it in a crock pot and add a splash of cheap vinegar. Then I slow cook for a day (24 hours). Strain and use in soups galore. Way better than a multivitamin and so much less money!
For ease, choosing a low carbohydrate protein shake or bar isn't the worst thing in the world. I like Vega products, I've tried the chocolate and the vanilla. Use frozen vegetables and fruits to complement the smoothie. Raw fruits and vegetables have all their nutrition trapped inside the cell. How do we break the cell wall? Your stomach acids aren't that powerful. Freezing, dehydrating, fermenting, and cooking are all effective ways. Oil can help improve digestibility of tender lettuce or similar.
Lunch is possibly the biggest meal of the day. Try for half non-starchy vegetables. Having a prepped salad and/or prepped veggie soup during the week helps this be quick and easy.
The rest of the plate is made up of a healthy starch/carbohydrate and protein. Note that too many high carbohydrate foods can cause an afternoon energy slump. Have your soup/salad with a piece of fish and healthy bread. Maybe you need a piece of fruit for dessert. You'll be full for hours.
Dinner is much like lunch, but you always want to have a serving of high complex carbohydrate foods. If you're trying to eat lower carbohydrate (which, for the record, I don't recommend), have your allocated carbohydrates at dinner instead of other times per day. Note: every single vegetable on the planet is a carbohydrate.
If you want to switch it up, dinner is when I usually recommend having breakfast foods you love that are high in carbohydrates. Here's my favorite recipe for Buckwheat Pancakes! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAe8AQmvbYM
WHY CARE ABOUT MACRONUTRIENTS AND TIME OF DAY?
Cortisol, a circadian rhythm hormone and our main stress hormone, is highest in the morning, so it’s releasing sugars from storage into the blood stream. Too much sugar can inhibit Cortisol and cause unfortunate energy fluctuations. Still have carbohydrates, especially if you exercise in the morning, but have fewer. i.e. Pancakes, wonderful flax muffins, or a big bowl of oatmeal are better in the evening.
Cortisol is lowest at night, and the hormone rises as you sleep in response to lowering blood sugars. A whole grain or other whole food source of carbohydrate at night can improve sleep. I also recommend some sort of protein. This makes beans and rice a great dinner option. I love this recipe for roasted winter squash (use any type, I like squash delicata) with a side salad and beans. https://naturallyella.com/roasted-red-kuri-squash/
A well put together plate should satisfy you for 4-5 hours
Calories - if you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight. Vice versa, burn more calories than you eat and you’ll lose weight.
The average American eats an extra 580 calories per day in snacking. If you're overweight, eating 500 calories less per day will result in a 1 pound per week weight loss. (1 pound = 3500 calories). This will result in a 52 pound weight loss after 1 year. Counting calories is cumbersome for most and doesn’t work. It may work for you, who knows! Baseline understanding can be helpful.
Irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and heart burn are more common than not. Avoiding snacking can cure these issues in a very short period of time, or it could take a couple months. The migrating motor complex is an activity in the gastrointestinal smooth muscle that sweeps residual undigested material through the digestive tube. If this isn’t allowed to occur, these uncomfortable symptoms can result. Eating inhibits this activity.
Every time you put food in your mouth you increase insulin. Insulin resistance is a leading cause of preventable death. Insulin is also an anabolic hormone, or a hormone that results in building up. Insulin indicates your body is in the fed state, or in storage mode, which means you're putting on fat.
BUT I GET HUNGRY!!!
TRUST ME, YOU'LL GET USED TO IT OVER TIME.
Fat and fiber keep you fuller longer.
Animal fat examples: meat including seafood, dairy products, eggs, butter, other fats like tallow and lard.
Vegetable fat examples: nuts, seeds, chocolate, olives, coconut, avocado.
Organic when possible, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are “fat soluble”, meaning the damaging effects of pesticides are much more concentrated in higher fat foods as opposed to vegetables.
Cooking oils: coconut, butter, and other solid fats are preferred because they do not oxidize when exposed to heat as easily as unsaturated fats. Oxidation is the atomic or molecular change that is responsible for cellular aging. Smoke point doesn’t count much. (controversial).
Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds eaten in mostly their whole form. Prioritize these foods.
Eat an abundance of vegetables. Frozen vegetables are often easier and just as nutrient dense as fresh. Eat the color of the rainbow throughout the week. I encourage looking at the vegetable as the main course as opposed to the meat. Minimize fresh vegetables and fruits that aren’t locally grown. Avocados are way too popular as a "health food" up here in the PNW.
Grain examples: brown rice, whole wheat, corn, kasha/buckwheat, barley, etc. Soaking grains for 8 hours is all you need to do protect yourself from the anti-nutrients.
Dry beans are much more economical than canned. Dry beans always need to be soaked. Soak for at least 8 hours, I like to rinse then a couple times during the soak. If using canned beans please rinse well before use.
Nuts and seeds should be toasted, preferably at home but that’s not totally necessary.
FOODS TO MINIMIZE
You’re more likely to sustain a healthy lifestyle if you keep this list short. Minimize is a key word here, too.
Processed meats and cheeses - bologna, pepperoni, ham, SPAM, cured bacon, Velveeta and other processed cheeses, etc.
Refined carbohydrates - white bread, cafe muffins, any grain that’s had the bran removed, chips - even the organic potato or tortilla. White rice and sourdough bread are healthier options when using refined grains.
Processed and hydrogenated fats - margarines, seed oils including Canola, Safflower, deep fried foods - especially the breaded.
Alcohol. Contrary to popular belief, there are no health benefits. In fact, alcohol is a leading cause of preventable death!
Food from restaurants.
#1 - MAKE YOUR OWN FOOD
If you’re not used to cooking, preparing your own food is a learned skill. It’s not easy at first, it becomes easier.
Try planning for at least 8 consistent weeks to develop the habit of creating whole foods meals.
Meal planning 4-7 days in advance works best for most people.
Plan your meals, make a shopping list, go shopping.
Meal planning guides are available as apps or online. They may help you.
You can buy cute meal planners to hang on your fridge.
SHOULD I DO A DETOX OR A CLEANSE?
I generally don't believe anyone is dirty so do not recommend "detoxes" or "cleanses". Create sustainable changes. Teach yourself to live within the middle of the fed spectrum, not at the edges.
General resets are very helpful - try for at least 4 weeks, optimally at least 8 weeks. Perhaps a strict Mediterranean diet reset for 4 weeks with 3 meals per day and very minimal snacking. Here's my favorite Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
BATCH COOKING: Almost required for those that work outside the home.
Choose a new bean and a new grain for the week and make enough of it on your day off to last the whole week. Make a veggie/bean/grain salad to load up on your veggies! I make this salad all the time, but make sure to cook the broccoli!
Make a big pan of roasted vegetables. Challenge: try 1 new vegetable per week until you’ve tried all vegetables in your produce department.
Make a big pot of soup. Try a new recipe every week. Martha Stewart's chili is always delicious. I always add 10oz frozen spinach to up the veggies. It's tasty, I promise!
Hard boil a dozen eggs for an easy, quick breakfast. Have them with some pickled veggies or sauerkraut! Alternatively, make yourself a veggie frittata. Have some for lunch as an egg salad sandwich on healthy bread.
Prep a salad ahead of time.
How to find healthy recipes: google easy healthy vegetable bowls, healthy weeknight meals, healthy vegetable recipes. The options are endless on the internet!
Gourmet Nutrition is a favorite cookbook. They're a little low on carbs for some, beware.
Choose your favorite blend of frozen vegetables, line them in a single layer on a lightly greased casserole dish, pour 6-10 beaten eggs over veggies, add salt, pepper, uncured meats, and cheese if you want. Bake until golden on top. Have 1-2 slices for breakfast.
Roasted vegetables with 1-2 chicken thighs
Roasted vegetables can be made with a variety of root plants including potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, parsnips, carrots, beets. Mix with a solid cooking fat such as coconut oil or butter, and roast at 400 until soft, about 25 minutes. I make a large batch so they can be eaten throughout the week. This is a great recipe from the Autoimmune Wellness book. I recommend this book for every kitchen, the veggie recipes are especially great!
Chicken thighs - brush thighs with a healthy oil such as olive oil (not extra virgin) or avocado oil. Sprinkle with a store bought dried poultry seasoning mix or your favorite herbs, bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, or until thickest part of thigh is 165 degrees.
This is a great one-pan meal that can feed you for a couple meals.
Serve with a sauce for more delight. Raita is a favorite and also a source of healthy gut bacteria.
Beans and rice, vegetable stir fry with apple sauce or dark chocolate for dessert
Prepare the beans and rice in advance. Any bean is fine as is any rice. You can make a good dressing to flavor it - tahini is one of my favorites. Google recipes.
Vegetable stir fry is a favorite way to get enough veggies. Saute some garlic or onion or both in a solid cooking fat, add your favorite veggies - mine include broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, asparagus, etc. The options are endless. Soy sauce or salt for flavoring.
Apple sauce can be store bought or made at home. Dark chocolate of 70% is best. Limit your portion to 2 squares.