I don't like the term "diet" in reference to losing weight. The original definition is about the whole trend of a person's food habits. You might lose weight if you think of your new eating habits as a short-term solution, but you won't keep it off.
Disclaimer: If you have a metabolic disorder like diabetes, a gastrointestinal condition, or any chronic condition requiring medication or a doctor's care, always discuss major dietary and exercise changes with your physician.
I have not been eating normally - for me - since the Pantry Project began. And I don't feel the same. Plus, my weight keeps yo-yo-ing. It's time to get back to how I've been eating the past few years. Writer Smurf's recent decision to change her own eating habits has also inspired/shamed me into preparing food in more healthy ways. Fortunately, her new diet is almost exactly how I want to eat, so we can share ideas. Obviously, there are many different opinions on what exactly healthy eating is. If you want one opinion that is weight-loss directed, check out Alton Brown's dietary makeover.
My healthy eating guidelines:
1. Water, and lots of it. I rarely drink sodas. When I do, I take their calories and caffeine into account. One 12 oz can of soda is about 160 calories. Eliminating that equals 1,120 calories a week, which will lead you to lose about a pound a week if you make no other changes to your diet. If you're worried about constantly running for the restroom, make 8-12 ounces of cranberry juice part of your daily routine (even though you've just put your soda calories back in). It really does help. There's something in cranberries that prevents bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract. Sometimes, cranberry juice alone can cure a mild urinary tract infection. And once your body has been properly hydrated for a few weeks, your bladder stretches and it isn't that big of a problem. Just cut yourself off after dinner, or you won't make it through the night.
2. Only eat when you're hungry; and then, only what you need to be full. Portion control is a standard of many diets, but you also have to address hunger. If you're hungry, eat something. Don't deny yourself, or your body will start to store what you do give it as fat. The trick is to learn how to keep healthy snacks around so you're not stuck eating something less nutritious just because it is available. And if you're not hungry at mealtime? Don't eat as much as you would have if you were hungry!
3. Fiber. Americans eat less than 50% of the recommended amount of fiber per day. Start slow, or you'll hurt yourself: fruit with the skin on, brown rice instead of white, oatmeal with raisins. After a couple of weeks, you'll be able to stomach raisin bran, whole grains, and various kinds of beans without any uncomfortable side-effects. The fiber fills you in the same way fat does, so you don't end up craving naughty foods later. I don't even want chocolate when I'm eating enough fiber. I know, scary. A fiber-rich diet will make you feel lighter and stronger, but only if you follow rule #1 and drink a lot of water.
4. Learn to like "Naked" foods. There's a whole sub-category of vegetarians and vegans who only eat raw foods. That's not what I'm talking about. Many flavors can only be brought out in foods if you cook them. What I'm referring to is not over-seasoning the main ingredient, or pouring sauces and butter on it. When a nutritious piece of steamed broccoli becomes merely the carrier for a cheese sauce, you might as well not even pretend you're eating healthy. Salt, spices, and herbs should guide a dish towards a certain result, not be an end in themselves.
5. Avoid processed foods. The more processed an item, the more salt & fat are likely to come along with it, and vitamins and minerals are often leached out. It takes 45 minutes to cook a frozen lasagne, and a little over an hour to make one from scratch. Meanwhile, you have the option of eliminating half the fat and 2/3 of the salt, while catering to your family's tastes. I'm not saying everything has to be from scratch. But, if you have the choice between buying fresh produce or something in a can, go for the fresh.
6. Protein, vitamins, and minerals. Carbohydrates are easy to find, even in the most restrictive diets. What you need to remember is to get lean proteins and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals. If you think your diet is weak in some nutrient, consider a supplement (consult a medical professional).
7. Vegetarianism & Veganism. A vegetarian diet will not necessarily make you lose weight. If you're relying on cheeses for most of your protein, you're going to gain weight. Vegan diets can be healthy if you do your homework and take nutrition classes that specifically address vegan needs. Even then, you may need supplements.
8. Don't punish yourself for the occasional splurge. Having dinner out once a week, even with dessert, does not mean that you have to compensate by starving yourself the next day. One meal will not ruin any weight-loss plan. Your body responds to the majority of what you eat, not one visit to Cheesecake Factory. If the other 90% of the calories you have during the week are reasonable and nutritious, enjoy your night out. I don't believe in making any foods taboo, because then you'll binge on them when you do have some. Again, portion control. I have a mug full of M&M's next to my computer. Having them so easily available actually gives me the freedom to eat less; I don't feel like I have to finish a bag. One or two handfuls is enough.
I can't promise you results in pounds. I don't think of this dietary guideline specifically as a weight loss catalyst. It just makes me feel better when I eat right. My guess is a loss of 1 or 2 pounds a week until your body reaches its weight set point - what it thinks you ought to weigh. (I'm incredibly lucky and my set point is a healthy weight for me. Many have a genetic predisposition to a set point that is overweight or obese. This is an evolutionary leftover from tens of thousands of years ago, when holding on to body fat was a good thing.) This is what many refer to as a Plateau. The best way to lower your weight set point is by exercise, which increases your metabolism. Mine went down by four pounds the last time I changed jobs. Scared the hell out of me, but at least I got something out of all the running around I do at work. Again, ask your doctor what kinds of exercise are right for you.
As I start to get back on my usual eating trend, I want to create healthier versions of foods that everyone likes. I also hope to post many recipes that you may have heard of, but never thought of in this light. It's always a pleasant surprise to find out you were doing the right thing all along.