We are in the midst of an epidemic. Today’s ten year olds are the first generation that may have shorter life expectancies than their parents. My children love the movie Wall-E, but for me, a population plagued by debilitating obesity is the stuff of nightmares: I think it paints an outrageous, yet imaginable, picture of society’s future if we continue on our current trajectory.
Obesity is one of the most common conditions I treat in my practice; in fact, I see it every day. Once, I treated a 7-year old, his mother and his grandmother who were all part of the 14 million Canadians defined as overweight or obese. They came in together, ready to make a change. But, like so many, they felt completely overwhelmed: confused by conflicting diet fads, and baffled by devices, supplements and other programmes promising a quick fix. After a series of visits, they started to realize that if you understand some simple, overarching principles, the journey toward a healthier weight and a healthier you doesn’t have to be complicated. And, it can be easy for you, too.
So, join me and commit to a healthier you, starting with what you eat. It takes an average of 66 days to form a habit, but by following these sensible tips, hopefully we can to turn those 66 days into 30.
Prioritize Quality Fuel
Calories. Many of you will cringe at the mention of the word calories. Perhaps you’ve had to count these guys in the past. But, calories are your friend. Your body needs them to run, talk, breathe, and carry on a conversation. I used to start patients on their weight loss journeys by using a food diary and talk calorie counting up front, but I realized the prematurity in this when I saw that many people’s diets needed an entire overhaul — they needed a focus on health, before even considering weight loss.
So, to start, let’s focus on quality foods that will make your journey to health a heck of a lot easier.
1. Eat whole foods, straight from the earth. Ideally, your food could stand alone as the sole star of its nutrition label. “Broccoli!” To achieve this, aim for plenty of vegetables and fruits (the former should far outweigh the latter), whole grains and healthy proteins. Healthy proteins from vegetable and/or animal sources may include nuts, seeds, tofu, eggs and lean meats such as chicken. Although Canada’s food guide recently received a much-needed facelift, a colleague of mine used to smartly tell her patients to focus on its recommendation of ten servings of veggies daily (after that, many people don’t have room left for junk!).
2. If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. You wouldn’t buy stocks or invest in a company if you didn’t understand their product or business model (I hope!). Don’t treat your body any differently. Take a close look at the nutrition label on the back of what you’re buying. If you don’t understand the words written there, put it back on the shelf. A helpful tip: consider shopping the outer aisles at your supermarket, because fresh food is all around! This will eliminate a lot of processed foods, additives and rubbish that resides in the middle aisles, and is better left unconsumed.
3. Beware sugar masqueraders. Sugar comes in all forms, and can be found hidden under different names. Scan your nutritional label for glucose, fructose and corn syrup. HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is not your friend. Despite the word “corn”, it hosts no nutritional value and these additives are just more empty calories.
4. Don’t be fake. Stay away from artificial sweeteners. Research shows that they don’t result in weight loss, and may increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
I’m hearing your excuses. “Rabbit Food?” “Boring.” “I don’t like vegetables.” “Fresh produce is expensive.” Yes, it’s a lifestyle change, but your mind and body will thank you for it. Patients often notice they sleep better, have more energy during the day and are less irritable once they’re eating a cleaner diet.
In the meantime, try some of these tips to ease the transition.
1. Stay current, and freeze. Fresh food is cheaper and tastes better, so buy in season. Consider a farm share or grow some of your own herbs and vegetables. Depending on the region you live in, some fruits and vegetables can taste fresher or cost less when frozen than if transported from afar — get these cold. Buy in bulk (think Costco) and freeze your own. Frozen foods are also great in smoothies and soups. Some of my favourite smoothie recipes come from the gals at Simple Green Smoothies.
2. Be a Boyscout. If time’s a limiter for you, be prepared. Prepping in advance or buying pre-cut or pre-made can make everyone’s lives easier. This is a huge trend right now, so some great resources are available to get you inspired. Some pre-made salads for purchase are pretty awesome — just keep an eye on dressing. A friend of mine jokes that those bagged kale salads are junk food for healthy people. Involve the children and use the weekend to plan, shop, prep and cook for the coming week. Invest in a slow-cooker.
3. Dress it up. Give healthy food a chance. Season produce and proteins well with herbs and spices, toss lightly in your choice of a healthy, plant-based oil or marinade; then, BBQ or stir-fry to your liking. Make fresh foods more enticing with by pairing them with healthy dips such as hummus, or turning them into wraps or salads made glam with yummy natural spreads, dried or fresh fruits, nuts and seeds. Sweet tooth? Use fresh fruit purees or honey to sweeten foods such as oatmeals and smoothies.
It gets easier. Sugar will become less intrusive in your thoughts until one day, you imagine going back and you just won’t fuel your body with junk any longer.