A Little Help With That Diet Resolution

Heed the sage words of Brian!It’s nearly a week into 2008, and the odds still favor that you haven’t yet given up on your carefully chosen resolution for the new year. OK, maybe the odds are fifty-fifty. But the odds are better than that that you’ve resolved to become that lean, muscular beast that you’ve seen flashing it’s pearly whites on the cover of, well, every magazine under the sun. The reason the smart money is on a diet resolution is that according to The Obesity Society (yeah, I didn’t know they existed either), fully 64% of Americans between the age of 20 and 74 are obese. And because you’re reading this blog, the odds are that you enjoy a good adult beverage and a fine cigar. (Neither key indicators of fitness, sadly.)

The statistic may come as a bit of a shock, but if you think about it, I’m sure you aren’t really surprised. Think about your own life. If you’re anything like me, you’re eating out a lot more than you did a decade ago. You’re also eating a lot more often, and larger portions than you did in the past. I can remember way back when eating out was something that almost never happened. It was an event reserved for special occasions like birthdays and some holidays. I can also remember when the largest fountain drink went from around 16 to 18 ounces to 32. (Now you know why all those cup holders in old cars are so maddeningly small.)

I’ve got another surprise for you. As a chunky monkey in a state full of monkeys that are chunkier than average, my resolution should be to go on a diet. But it’s not. I’ve determined resolutions regarding diet just don’t work. Instead, my focus is to find small, beneficial and most importantly, sustainable changes I can permanently incorporate into my life to prevent weight gain, and hopefully, start me on a road toward weight loss. (For example, the Atkins Diet/South Beach Diet/whatever diet isn’t sustainable, nor is a blender-heavy turn-everything-to-juice diet.) If you can’t do it forever, it will fail. As such, a formalized resolution with a strict begin and end date is irrelevant.

But it occurs to me the tips I’ve picked up along the way maybe useful to those of you who have committed to a diet for the New Year. Here are somethings that seem to be working for me. What do I mean by working, you ask? While I haven’t lost a significant amount of weight recently, I have successfully maintained my current weight for the past year, which is a first for me. Additionally, and more importantly in my opinion, my blood pressure has significantly improved, going from pre-hypertension (on the door step to high blood pressure) to normal. In my book, that ain’t too shabby.

Ok, onto the tips.

Buy a Nintendo Wii. I’m not kidding. Hitting the gym is generally boring and sooner or later you’ll find a reason to quit. Home exercise equipment, which I’ve found marginally easier to stick to, take up too much room and will eventually break down. (I was running around 2 and a half months per exercise bike back in the day.) And unless you’re lucky, most of your friends don’t have the time to meet up for a daily game of tennis. The Wii on the other hand, takes up little space (though you do need some clear area in front of your television), is immensely entertaining, and comes packed with simulated players to play against. And I’m just talking about the Wii Sports game that comes with the console. If you get tired of that game, there is an expanding selection of games available that will help you break a sweat.

The clever guys behind the Wii have noticed this trend toward gaming for fitness, and are coming out with a new one that focuses on fitness called “Wii Fit.” Check it out. (Or at least watch the video clip, which is probably more useful than the article.) And while you’re at it, check out my analysis of my experience with the Wii.

Eat your meals in two courses, and make that first course a ton of veggies. This tip has been a pretty recent addition to my regimen (if you can call what I do a “regimen”). It’s one I’ve cooked up myself. (Pun accidental, but accepted.) I’ve been buying those jumbo bags of frozen mixed vegetables, and about half an hour before I plan to eat lunch or dinner, I fill a nuke a full bowl of these guys. The benefit to doing this is that I’m a lot less likely to eat seconds, or go for any sort of a dessert. Not to mention, it’s helping me get the 3 to 5 servings the old Food Pyramid advised (2 and a half cups in the new “MyPyramid”).

The great thing about this tip is that it works when you go out to eat. Order a house salad with anything you order, and make sure you tell them to bring it out first. Then order whatever you would have normally ordered. Even if it includes a side of those tasty slivers of evil, french fries. You may still eat a few of them, but you’re less likely to polish them all off, which is a net gain.

Standercize. Stand up. Get off your butt. As I discussed in a previous post, simply standing up had a dramatic impact on our bodies ability to burn fat. (See original article here.) When we sit for long periods of time, enzymes responsible for keeping that jelly donut off your thighs close up shop. They stop working almost completely. Apparently they figure that if we aren’t working physically, neither should they.

From my own experience, I have noticed simply standing instead of sitting in the evening has done wonders for my digestion, and has helped a bit with my sleep. And as a bonus, I’ve found standing means I’ll start doing little chores that need to be done almost without realizing it. While it can be incredibly difficult to pry your backside out of the couch after a long day, if you’re already standing, it’s surprisingly easy to do the little things that need to be done. And you’ll probably find that you’ll start to wake out of that evening stupor after you’ve been standing for a while. Hey, if all your doing at night is watching the boob tube anyway, why not do it standing?

Take a nap. This one is a bit easier for me to do than a lot of people, with my current work at home arrangement. But a well timed nap is hard to beat, even if it is hard to find time for. Why am I bringing this up here? Because being tired and stressed (they tend to work together) leads to overeating. When you’re sleep deprived the things (I say “things” because I can’t remember if they’re chemicals, enzymes or itty bitty martians) in your system that register fullness are substantially depleted. And when you’re stressed, your body will have elevated levels of Cortisone which will promote fat storage.

But instead of buying one of those $50 bottles of diet pills with the condescending television ads, you can work on getting a little extra sleep. Run out to your car at lunch time and take five. Or maybe sneak out around three when you’re hitting the afternoon lull. (That was always the time I hit the vending machine for a good dose of carbs and fat.) Heck, one article I read advised turning your visit to the restroom stall as an opportunity for a very short “micro” nap. When you’re well rested, you’ll be surprised at how much food you really need.

Eat at home. Again, this one is pretty easy for me, because my wife is a great cook. As I mentioned earlier, not that long ago, eating out was something that was pretty uncommon for the average person. According to one article I read, “…more than half the average [American] household food budget will be spent on meals bought outside the home….” That wouldn’t be a bad thing if the trend at restaurants wasn’t to increase the size of portions to justify higher tabs while pushing meal-sized desserts and appetizers at you as if it was normal to eat 5000 calories in one sitting.

It’s just easier to eat less at home. Why? Because you have to make it! But beyond that, you have absolute control over the portion sizes. You can do what I advised above and eat a massive bowl of vegetables before your meal. You can tailor your ingredients to maximize health benefits and minimize fat, salt, oil, sugar or whatever you like. And as a bonus, you will save money in the process.

I hope you diet resolvers out there find some of this information helpful. You know, even if you do fall off the wagon, you can always do what I do. Try to find healthy, sustainable habits to incorporate into your life. You never know, if you build up enough of them, you might just lose a little weight without a diet!

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  1. babychaos said,

    January 8, 2008 at 7:08 am

    Excellent advice there. As a Brit, I visit the good ol’ US of A reasonably regular like and I’ve noticed two more you could add.

    Nobody, but nobody walks anywhere to do anything – people leave their offices and drive 100 yards downtown to have lunch! To a foreigner, who walks about two miles a day, just to the local shops, around town etc I find this amazing and am usually crawling up the walls by the end of any stay in the US through lack of exercise… so addition one is, where possible, walk or cycle more to get to places, this incorporates exercise into your daily routine and makes it part of getting around rather than a chore. Although I appreciate the driving in some states might put you off this!

    The second thing I discovered is that as somebody who’s a bit sensitive to sugar, MSG and chemical food additives, generally, I found that the food served in restaurants inthe States can often be loaded with the kinds of things that make me, frankly, a bit lu-lu. I would guess it’s simply because the bulk of restaurants in the every day States appear to be state-wide or national chains. In order to ensure continuity of service, chains and franchises, tend to get their food from a central supplier and then it is not so much cooked as heated to corporate guidelines. I don’t know what they put in it, but if I eat more than two or three meals out on the trot in the States I suffer substantial side effects, severe headaches, hyperactivity, insomnia… you know, weird shit like that. So I would guess that picking where you eat out, when you do, going for local, non-chain restaurants, is also a good one!

    Have you tried publishing posts like this on Triond? A lot of your posts contain excellent practical, sensible, down to earth advice, you might do pretty well there!



  2. Joe Drinker said,

    January 8, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Good tips. And itty-bitty Martians in my blood? I’ve always thought so! That explains the voices I’ve been hearing…

    And to add to what BC said, I have heard from multiple visiting Brits that the MSG (among other abbreviations) in our food makes them ill. Now, I don’t know if this is some sort of national campaign to get back at the US for constantly giving the UK crap about their food, or if maybe there’s something to it. I’ll think about it while I’m in the drive-thru line at Mickey D’s at lunch.

  3. Brian said,

    January 9, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Hi BC,
    You make some very, very good points! I’ve noticed something weird happens when you set foot on this continent: You don’t spend any time on your feet. At all. I’d probably drive from my office to the fridge if a car would fit through the door.

    What’s weird is that when my wife and I have gone on holiday in Europe, we never rent a car, and we walk upwards of 8 to 10 hours a day! (Lemme tell ya, you really appreciate a good sit in a coffee shop halfway through the day.) I guess it’s no wonder how energetic I am for about a week after I get back.

    And I likewise, I’m very aware of the differences in food. I spent a good deal of time in Asia, and when I got back, I was amazed at how sweet and salty everything is here. And the portions sizes seemed huge. (I was away for a couple of years.) Speaking with Asians there, they tell me that they often have the same trouble you do when you visit, and they look forward to heading home so their digestive system can recover. We seriously have a food problem here.

    Nope, I haven’t tried (or heard of) Triond. I’ll have to check that out, cheers!

    Hey JD,
    I am convinced you do have little Martians in your blood. Now you know why you have to drink so much coffee: they drink up half of it before it takes effect. Hyper blood Martians. (If I ever learn to play and instrument and start a band, that’ll be the bands name.)

    Good (?) news, the latest scoop is that McDonald’s is taking on Starbucks. They’re putting Starbucks-style coffee bars in their restaurants sometime soon. Can you imagine just hanging out in Mickey D’s drinking coffee? They better do something to keep over-caffeinated adults from jumping in the ball cage…

    Cheers guys!

  4. Joe Drinker said,

    January 9, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    No. It’s not that I dislike children, quite the opposite, but if I want to hang out with my laptop and surf and sip, the last place I want to be is a place with a built-in Playland.

  5. Brian said,

    January 10, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    But think of this JD, you could be sipping coffee, surfing the net, AND sitting in the ball cage! The only thing that could make that better would be if the entire coffee bar was in the ball cage. And monkeys. Lots and lots of screaming monkeys.

    Hmm, I guess kids would work instead, but I’d rather have monkeys. They cry a lot less and are more acrobatic.

  6. Jason said,

    January 10, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    That big bowl of vegetables beforehand is a great idea. I’ve been on a steady diet/nutritional program for the last month and it has helped, but for whatever reason the only vegetable I really get to eat is lettuce, which is a rather pointless nutritional item.

    Knowing me, I’ll probably cover the veggies with cheese and hot sauce though.

  7. Brian said,

    January 10, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks Jason,

    One thing I forgot to mention is that I have been dicing up olives and mixing them into the salad to make it more satisfying. Though the thing is that the veggies don’t have to be initially satisfying, whatever you follow it up with should be. The important thing is that you get them in your diet, and that they keep you from scarfing down on fries, dessert, or seconds.

    Is hot sauce bad? I guess one of the components that increases the heat is sugar, but I’ve read that spicy food actually improves metabolism.

    I’ve also read that more dairy in your diet actually causes you to pass more fat. I actually saw them prove this on a show on the Discovery Health channel. So in theory, veggies slathered in cheese and hot sauce is a great idea!

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