A good number of questions I receive have to do with weight loss. There’s really no way around tackling nutrition, as that’s the most basic element in our hierarchy, what we consume on a molecular level (see chart).
Before you begin worrying about portion size and protein/carb/fat requirements I recommend one simple and difficult step: Focus first on food quality. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. Buy frozen vegetables and meat when you must. Only venture down the aisles for a few select things like nuts, beans, canned tuna, olives, etc. The aisles are generally one big, processed, nutritionally-worthless carb-fest. If you need more than those 70 words, then read on.
Healthy food is perishable. Ponder that for a moment. Real food - organic plants and animals that our bodies are built to consume - spoils. If it doesn’t spoil, then you probably weren’t meant to eat it. Sure, exceptions exist, but for the most part, this is a basic litmus test. Food spoilage is essentially the breakdown of organic material in the presence of oxygen once that organic material is no longer alive and able to fight off the process. Therefore, if something doesn’t spoil, like Captain Crunch cereal, what can we surmise? Either little to no organic material still exists in the food, and that means it isn’t very nutritious, or it has been processed and coated with enough chemicals that the spoilage is delayed indefinitely, in which case you should ask, “I wonder what effect those chemicals might have on my body when I ingest them?” You also might be curious what nutritional value could be left in the food if almost all the organic material has been processed out. Sounds like eating cardboard to me. Guess what? It is! Here are some quick examples:
Chicken, beef, salmon, tilapia, lamb, apples, grapes, pears, strawberries, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, avocados, olives, cashews, peanuts, and almonds
Something other than real food:
Wheat Thins, cereals, bread, pasta, bagels, table sugar, flour, pancakes, Aunt Jemima’s maple syrup, tortillas, potato chips, “instant” anything, sweets, cakes, cookies, Ramen noodles, corn meal, and anything from Nabisco
Real food that has been corrupted by adding something other than real food:
Fruit juice, yogurt, hamburger helper, and mixed nuts
How long did the human body spend developing its energy storage and usage mechanisms prior to the advent of agriculture, refrigeration, and food processing/preservatives? How long since then have we had to adapt and evolve? How long has refrigeration, widespread use of food processing and preservatives been around? The point is that our bodies have had a really long time to adapt and process lean meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but only a relative “instant” to adapt since we introduced a 180-degree change to our modern-day western diet.
The facts are that this prescription for eating produces extremely healthy, strong, and efficient human bodies. Why this happens can be disputed. The fact that it does happen is indisputable.
By now you can see the problem. We were made to eat real food. Americans are generally not eating real food. Here’s how to make the change: Very simply, shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is where most of the real food is located. The bakery is also located on the perimeter, and it’s full of that other stuff, so you don’t have carte blanche to eat absolutely anything on the perimeter, but the perimeter is the 90% solution. There are also some good things inside the aisles, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.
Buy enough fruits, vegetables, berries, and greens to last 3-4 days. Do the same with deli meat and fresh meat. I prefer turkey and chicken. Salmon, tilapia, and tuna are good fish choices. Lean beef and lamb are also good choices.
Next, hit the dairy section. Yes, paleo-dieters, I recommend eating dairy. Low-fat cottage cheese is a great protein source. So is natural yogurt, but this isn’t like the sugar-enhanced Chobani that you probably love. It’s much better to go with the natural yogurt and add some fresh fruit for taste; regular sugar-laden yogurt is not a good choice. If your body tolerates dairy products, they are a great source of quality proteins and fats. Finally, buy some eggs. Strong people eat eggs.
Now we venture down the aisles. Beware, this area is full of processed food, so watch where you step. First, go to frozen foods and get some frozen vegetables and maybe even some frozen meat, like salmon patties. I like “steamer bags” of broccoli. I can take it directly from my freezer, put it in the microwave for five minutes, open the bag, and out comes steamed broccoli. Once again, this shouldn’t be your first choice - that should be fresh products - but this is still a very good choice. From the aisles you also may want some canned tuna or salmon, some canned beans (in moderation, beans are a high glycemic carb), olives, nuts, and seeds. Be very selective. You’re no longer on the perimeter, so traps and snares abound.
Finally, because real, healthy food spoils, this type of shopping will require more frequent trips to the grocery store. However, you’ll be buying fewer groceries on each trip. Furthermore, your number of stops in the grocery store will be greatly reduced. The amount of thinking required to plan meals is also greatly reduced. No more debating on whether you want the “ultra-creamy” mashed potatoes or the “homestyle crunchy” version. You don’t want either of them. Just buy some fruits, vegetables, and lean meat from the perimeter instead.
You also don’t have to completely convert to this method all at once, or ever completely convert. Your results will be in line with your conversion. Little change = high comfort factor = little results. Lots of change = low comfort factor = lots of results. Overall, this type of shopping and eating may be a drastic change from your current lifestyle. Unfortunately, if you desire to change your health, fitness, and body composition then your lifestyle must change. That should go without saying, but I don’t think many people realize it. If you keep the lifestyle you’ve always had then you’ll keep getting the results you’ve always received. If you’re happy with your current results, then that’s great; no change is necessary. However, if you want different results then you need a different lifestyle. Don’t try to fool yourself into thinking you can get drastic changes in results without undertaking drastic changes!
PS: It gets easier with time.
As always, continue to man up and lift your life!!
The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Rabbi Fitness LLC is not a doctor. The contents of this article should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any health problem– nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health and/or engagement in physical activity, especially if you (or your family) have a history of high blood pressure, heart disease, or if you have ever experienced chest pain when exercising or have experienced chest pain in the past month when not engaged in physical activity, smoke, have high cholesterol, are obese, or have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in physical activity.