I’m talking about eating. Bad food choices are part of life. Eating “clean” (i.e., no bad stuff at all) is a great goal but out of reach for a lot of people, including me. From birth, we learn about delicious foods we crave and love to eat. We’re human and get tempted, especially by food that looks and tastes delicious. So, how do we integrate fun foods without blowing our health? With super-easy alterations that don’t require doing a 180° overnight.
Friend, author, and scientific researcher, Jose Antonio, Ph.D., has written extensively about nutrition, supplements, and fitness for decades. In his books, “Dietary Protein and Resistance Training” (2012), “Essentials of Amino Acids in Sports” (2010), and “Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements,” (2008). He discusses the advantages of including “cheat meals” into eating programs. Cheat meals allow you to satisfy cravings and give you a chance to loosen the reigns, but they shouldn’t turn into cheat years.
Believe it or not, cheating should not be a reason to eat less than you normally would at other meals. The energy it takes for your body to work off a cheat meal increases your metabolism that can last for days. This can offset the drop in hormones that occurs when the calorie-deficit diet is again resumed. As a result, a scheduled cheat meal can actually help optimize our body’s hormones to avoid weight-loss plateaus and prevent it from entering starvation mode! It’s true! A well-rounded cheat can help you break through weight-loss plateaus!
Here’s how you make the transition in your food to transform your health.
#1. Don’t Diet
That’s right. Don’t diet. “Diet” is associated with “deprivation” and many of us are deeply attracted to what we can’t have. Many people “go” on a diet and cut out entire categories of foods, like carbs and fats. That deprives us of foods we love and starves our bodies of some of the vital nutrients it needs.
#2. Start with a “Better Bad” Choice
Let me unravel this for you. Food preferences are built into our psyches. We associate the smell and flavor of food with childhood and adult experiences and emotions. So, if we are asking ourselves to cut out our “memory” foods, we are cutting off our memories and emotions. That’s a lot to ask just to lose some weight or change eating habits. It is easier to make minor substitutions that will help us reach our health goal without sacrificing the joy of eating. Here are simple substitutions:
- Eat a lean turkey burger instead of a beef burger – with everything you like on it.
- Try a whole grain bun instead of a white flour bun.
- Try sweet potato fries (yes, they are still fried) instead of other potato fries.
- Stick a spoon in a cup of vanilla Greek yogurt with fruit mixed in, freeze it, and eat it like an ice cream cone.
- Try zucchini spaghetti (with your regular topping) instead of pasta.
As you get used to small changes, you can change bigger things. Before you know it, you will be “liking the foods you eat” instead of “eating the foods you ‘used’ to like.”
#3. Plan a Little Bit – Just a Little Bit – Ahead
Planning daily meals can be tough. A friend of mine does one thing that helps her keep her weekly food intake on track. (And, yes, she’s a cheater.) The most time-consuming aspect of meal planning for her is cooking up her meat, chicken, or fish. She calls these her “meal bases:” She grills up several chicken breasts and some extra lean ground beef without seasonings (she adds those later). She separates them into 3.5 – 6 ounce bags and puts them in the refrigerator and freezer. She takes them as she needs them. She combines them with different, spices, vegetables, and sauces during the week to make creative, delicious meals. She has also been known to bring her own grilled chicken to a restaurant and add it to a salad she orders. She tries to order dressing on the side to eliminate the calories, sugar, and carbs some dressings can add to a meal.
#4. Indulge in the Spices of Life
Literally. Spices can transform food. They can also change the way you feel about food. Many foods that are healthy choices easily adopt the flavor of spices so well that you may be shocked. Try new spices you have never used before. This can open a world of healthy culinary hedonism. (Some of my favorites include curry, chili, turmeric, cayenne, garlic powder, cracked black pepper, oregano, fresh basil, tarragon, and dill.)
#5. Make it Worth It with No Regrets!
If you’re gonna cheat, go ahead and do it right. Enjoy the indulgence and drop the guilt. Give yourself a break, eat the cheat, ignore the guilt, and leave it at that.
In no time, you can turn your eating habits around and make those “cheat” days into real “treat” days. You will have earned them!
Here’s to a Better You,
Host of the Larry North “Better You” radio show
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