It is the New Year and time for resolutions, chief among them the annual promise to lose weight and get in shape. Having invested my share of brain cells to the topic of diet, and finding myself a bit of an amateur evangelist for reforming one’s health following my physical breakdown in 2006 following my bike vs. automobile incident, I thought I’d succinctly offer some unsolicited advice to those of you thinking about turning over a new leaf. My credentials? I went from a whopping, life-threatening 280 pounds in August 2010 to 228 in February 2012 by going on a disciplined regimen of paleo diet on Zone block calculated portions with vigorous Crossfit training. This is not a “diet” but a life style change.
1. Log: You can’t manage what you don’t measure so start a food log. Be religious about logging everything that enters your stomach. I use Livestrong’s “MyPlate” — it has a great database for calculating the caloric content of nearly every food imaginable.
2. Weigh: Treat food like medicine — a drug you administer to yourself five times a day. You need to know your “dosage” so weigh your portions. After a while you’ll learn to eyeball it. Get a decent digital food scale.
3. Study: nutritional theory is being turned on its head. The old FDA “Food Pyramid” is under attack and it is very likely that your doctor doesn’t know what he or she is talking about any more. Ignore the diet books — you need to stop thinking in terms of “diets” as in plans or gimmicks. Get off the yoyo cycle of South Beach, Atkins, etc. and instead aim for a sustainable approach to eating for the rest of your life.
- Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes. This is the most important book to come along in years.
- It Starts With Food, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. These authors of the Whole30 challenge offer a good intro to kicking off a “paleo” regimen.
- Enter the Zone, Barry Sears. The Zone was one of the big “low-carb” diets of the last decade. It’s formula of apportioning food into “blocks” of protein, carbs and fats calculated againt your lean body mass is the best method for determining how much you should eat. Combine it with the paleo principles of whole foods omitting dairy, sugar, grains, and legumes and you wind up with what the Crossfit community considers the A-1 best diet model for the rest of your life.
- Robb Wolf: one of the “deans” of the paleo movement.
- YouTube series of Crossfit and the Zone/Paleo Combination. This is very useful.
4. Understand: To do that you need to understand the science behind nutrition and accept certain new emerging truths:
- Eating fat doesn’t make you fat
- Grains are not good for you
- Hormonal response to food dictates where that food’s energy is stored. Timing of meals is important.
- Eating clean doesn’t mean eating organic, it means eating “whole” unprocessed food whenever possible
- Finally — this is all quantifiable and comes down to the simple truth of all diets — to lose weight you need to expend more calories than you consume.
5. Exercise: figure out something that will burn a few hundred calories and keep you interested. If you’re really off track, just get into a routine of walking and work up to something more aerobic. Just get moving. Crossfit is not the answer for most people. It’s expensive, it’s a commitment, but it is effective for former athletes and type-A personalities. Just make daily movement and creating a calorie deficit as much a plan as the menus you build.
6. Commit: Dive into the Whole30 January challenge. Purge your refrigerator, buy a scale, find a farmer’s market and load up on the essentials. Detox yourself for a week, then settle into a routine that can stay with you forever. There’s no weirdness — no cleansing, no grapefruits, bacon and steak — just a logical routine that once learned will help shape your most important contribution you can make to your health: your diet.