Get Real: Changing How You View Food
One should eat to live, not live to eat.
Lean bodies are made in the kitchen.
You need food, and an appropriate amount of it, especially to fuel exercise. Starvation is not the way to go about this. When you learn to love food that loves you back, your appetite is easier to control, you’re energized, you feel better, and weight comes off. But before you start choosing those foods, we need to do a little more myth busting, because what you see on TV is what sells, not what’s actually true.
I’ve seen infomercials spouting, “Eat whatever you want! Eat as much as you want!” They make me want to punch my TV, and I love my TV.
The reality is this: to lose weight, you get to do neither. Well, if you focus on eating mostly healthy food—food that is good but doesn’t have such an amazing flavor that your taste buds go into overdrive—you will be able to get close to eating as much as you want, because healthy food does a better job of filling you up. More important, it doesn’t cause satiety signals in the body and brain to malfunction so that you keep shoveling it in faster than Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore going through a shared plate of chicken wings.
Love Food That Loves You Back
“You need to love food that loves you back,” Dr. Katz told me.
Food that loves you back is food that tastes good, is filling, healthy, fuels physical activity and doesn’t cause you to overeat. Food that does not love you back has been manufactured to taste unnaturally good. It’s not filling, not healthy and you can’t control intake. Our approach is about focusing more on the former and much less on the latter.
Slim and fit people are not those who see food as a source of constant indulgence. To “indulge” is to give in to one’s desires. If you do it all the time, it begins to lose its meaning. It’s no longer an indulgence or a treat but a way of life—a way of life that’s a leading cause of obesity.
I am not made of stone. I derive great pleasure from inhaling an extra-cheese-laden Hawaiian pizza chased with a beer or four while gluing my butt to the couch to watch some high-definition violence on my 52-inch LCD screen. But if I were to do this every day, it would lose its value as an indulgence; it would become the norm. Also, I’d be fat.
Treat foods need to become just that: a treat to be enjoyed—savored—on occasion, rather than a primary source of fuel and nutrition.
Focus on Foods That Fill
I’ll teach you a trick right now. It’s called “Can I eat an apple?”
First off, apples go in the fridge. I’ve had apples last for months in there. Buy a bag of the kind you like (feel free to mix them up) and make sure you’ve always got apples on hand. Bring at least one to work each day. You could even get a plastic container, decorate it with your name and pictures of skulls and crossbones, maybe slap on a padlock, and put it in the community fridge. You can write “contains apples” on the container too; your co-workers will look at it and say, “Meh, not worth stealing.”
So, yeah, have apples on hand. And when you feel the need to snack, ask yourself the question. Did you forget the question? The question is, can I eat an apple? If the answer is no, you are not hungry enough to eat a snack. Of course, it’s not going to work every time. If there are Boston cream doughnuts in a meeting, I will eat one. Those things are awesome.
But that simple question can make you stop. It can make you think. It can make you decide you don’t need a snack. Alternatively, it can make you say, “Hell, yeah. An apple sounds great right now.” And then you eat one. Apples don’t have many calories, are filling and you rarely want more than one.
If the doughnut/apple thing isn’t clear enough for you, here’s an even more extreme example of filling versus non-filling foods. My grocery store sells big plastic tubs of fresh baby spinach. These tubs are twelve inches long by seven inches wide by three inches deep. One tub contains 11 ounces of spinach. That’s more than two-thirds of a pound. The number of calories it contains is less than what is in a single Oreo cookie.
I don’t know how many tubs of spinach I can eat in one sitting (I’ve never tried), but I can sure eat more than one Oreo.
Some researchers believe the caloric density of food is paramount when it comes to satiety. This Oreo-spinach example may lead you to believe the same. The Oreo is calorically dense; it packs a massive wallop of calories in a small volume of food. Uh, I mean “food.” The spinach, on the other hand, is low in caloric density: big volume of food, not many calories.
But there’s more to satiety than that. As Dr. Katz said, “Truth is not a one-liner.” Yes, volume is important. Taking in a great volume of food for few calories can help you feel full; a number of studies have shown this.1However, this fact coincides with the fact that food low in caloric density is often healthier and lower in reward value too. Calorically dense foods, like Oreos, are sugar-fat-crap sandwiches that overwhelm taste buds and promote runaway pie-hole shoveling.
“Energy density is a popular concept,” Purdue University nutrition professor Richard Mattes told me. “But it’s one dimension of food. You can eat a larger volume of food for the same or fewer calories, but the problem is that you don’t eat vegetables whole; chewing makes them smaller.” Seeing a big volume of food on the plate can have a cognitive effect on satiety as well, Mattes explained. Seeing that much food is going to make you think it’s more filling, but chewing evens things out a bit.
Choosing Wisely at the Macro Level
Let’s reaffirm the information from the chart in chapter 5.
I consulted Raylene Reimer, a registered dietitian and associate professor of nutrition and metabolism at the University of Calgary. “Protein has the highest satiety factor of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates come second, and fat is hardly satiating at all,” she told me.
Richard Mattes said the same thing, but added, “Protein in solid food is good, but in liquid form it doesn’t seem to retain its superiority in terms of being satiating.” He explained that when people, such as the elderly, are having trouble keeping weight on, protein shakes like Ensure are often used to provide extra calories.
Shaking Things Up
And then Mattes and I had a little segue into weight loss shakes.
“Shakes for weight loss work by portion control,” he said. They create a set of rules. If you buy a “weight loss shake,” it “works” by getting you to follow certain rules to lower total daily caloric intake. Slim-Fast used the line, “A shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, then a sensible dinner.” If one can of Slim-Fast has 220 calories, breakfast and lunch total only 440 calories. If by some miracle you’re not starving at dinnertime and can stick to that “sensible dinner” plan, then, yes, these simple rules can allow for a calorie-restricted diet that will lead to weight loss. There’s nothing miraculous about the shake. It possesses no magic fat-burning properties. It’s not satiating, and it sure isn’t as healthy as a balanced diet.
And it isn’t sustainable either. You may be able to stick to a plan like this for a while via white-knuckle starvation, but at some point your hunger will get the better of you, and then Old Country Buffet, here you come.
There’s a reason why professional bodybuilders use protein shakes—it’s to jam in the extra calories needed to build ridiculous amounts of muscle. As a weight loss tool, the use of shakes is foolish. These things are meant for weight gain.
Blown Out of Proportion?
Solid protein and fiber are satiating. This fact has been a staple of weight loss advice for ages. But just how satiating are they?
“I think a lot of these truths that we’ve held about satiety have been overblown,” Richard Mattes told me. “Foods are more than unidimensional. [Focusing solely on satiety] ignores the nutrient contribution a food might provide. Almonds are high in energy density but are a great source of vitamin E.” See? High caloric density does not always equal bad.
“I think a diet somewhat higher in protein is probably useful,” he said, “but it’s not as dramatic and reliable as some believe. It’s often overestimated.” Mattes said the same of fiber. “It’s been a workhorse of satiety for a long time. Depending on the fiber, it can lead to prolonged digestion and a better satiety response.” He told me, however, that a lot of the study trials asserting the satiating affects of fiber use levels beyond what most people would be willing to eat. Still, “I would favor a diet that is high in fiber,” he said. “It does have many other benefits, but the expectation that it will have a marked effect on appetite may be overestimated.”
Multilevel Shake Marketing
I’m going to lose Facebook friends over this.
If you see people talking about how awesome a certain weight loss shake is, be it on Facebook or in person, you may want to think Amway. These folks may be part of a multilevel marketing program. People call themselves a “Beach Body Coach” and flog the scientific-sounding “Shakeology.” ViSalus shakes are another product sold via MLM, connected with something called “Body by Vi,” and another shake is “IsaLean,” also sold via MLM, by a company called Isagenix.
All those wonderful endorsements of how awesome these shakes are for weight loss by your friends? It could be that they’re trying to sell them to you.
Things I have seen posted on Facebook:
- “17 pounds down! Thank you, ViSalus!”
- “Getting my Shakeology on! This is the best weight loss tool EVER!”
- “[Isagenix] transformed my life beyond my expectations.”
Oh, Zuckerberg, why did you punt the “Hide Feed” option? I should launch a “Facebook friend counter” the day this book gets published and watch the numbers go down.
A healthy diet, especially the kind that leads to weight loss, does not come in shake form.
Lay Off the Liquid Lucifer
Wheat is not the Devil, but soda sure as hell is. Lets call it Liquid Lucifer because I love alliteration.
Six percent of the calories that North Americans ingest are sugar-sweetened beverages. Add another 5 percent in booze calories for adults. These things (and this includes juice) do not satiate at all. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that when people drank water as opposed to juice, or diet soda as opposed to sugared soda with a meal, the total food calories consumed in the meal was the same. In other words, all those extra calories in the juice and soda versus the water and diet soda did not have any impact on how many food calories these people ate. Instead, the juice and soda just added to total calories.2 That’s bad.
Juice does have health properties, but calories are high and satiety is low; for someone looking to lose weight, juice is a terrible choice. Oranges and apples and grapes are filling. Orange juice and apple juice and grape juice are not. What’s more, the juice versions add in a processing factor that removes things like fiber.
“I really do believe beverages are especially problematic,” Mattes said. “They don’t displace other energy sources. When you drink calories, it just adds to total energy.”
And don’t forget about high-calorie coffee drinks. Don’t load in tons of cream and sugar, and never order those frappa-zappa-what-the-mocha-hella concoctions. They can have as many calories as a Big Mac. If you’re skeptical, consider Googling the calories of your favorite coffee drink. Prepare for a shock.
I do find skim milk to be good in moderation, however, especially right after exercise because it offers a rapid absorption of both carbohydrates and protein—macronutrients that a post-exercise body is in need of—and choosing the non-fat variety means calories are reasonable.
Embrace the Norman Rockwell Diet
You know that Norman Rockwell painting of the family all sitting around the dinner table? You need to do more of that. Also, you need to do much less of not that.
I mean, eat meals at the family dinner table, and try not to eat meals that aren’t at this table.
“My advice would be three to four meals a day and no more,” Margriet Westerterp, a nutrition professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, told me. “Those should be real meals.” Real meals mean sitting at a table, on a regular time schedule. And she advocates keeping snacking to a minimum.
In Canada, those living in the province of Quebec are the least likely to be overweight or obese in the entire country, and yet they eat far more desserts than in any other province.3 The reason is that they are more like their European counterparts than their North American counterparts in that they don’t embrace our snacking culture. They sit down to proper meals with higher regularity, and these meals do include dessert more often than those of Anglo families do. However, it’s in the other provinces where we’re snacking all the time. Constant snacking is what leads to higher caloric intake. If you’re not snacking and are eating proper meals on a regular schedule, there’s room, caloric-deficit speaking, for dessert more often.
The critical part to remember here is not so much that snacking is bad but that what we have a tendency to eat when we snack is often bad. Healthy snacks are good, but most of us don’t eat healthy snacks. Apples and carrots sticks and unsalted nuts and sugar-snap peas, etcetera, are fine, but when you’re reaching for the chips and doughnuts and chocolate, it’s a problem.
And snacking throughout the day isn’t our only downfall—nighttime can be particularly problematic. France Bellisle is a food intake behavior researcher in Paris. In 2004 she had an article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition titled “Impact of the Daily Meal Pattern on Energy Balance.” In it she reported, “Obese people tend to eat little in the morning and much in the afternoon and evening. In extreme cases, a ‘night-eating syndrome’ is observed.”4
Bellisle also attacks the notion of “six small meals a day” that was popularized by Bill Phillips in Body for Life.5Bellisle writes, “The notion [of greater meal frequency] has been put into question by the recognition of a high level of dietary underreporting in overweight individuals. In addition, no difference in total daily energy expenditure has been documented as a function of daily meal number. Weight loss is not facilitated by high meal frequency. Snacking in obese subjects is associated with higher energy and fat intake.”6
Snacking often means you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating. It means you’re eating frequently and it’s hard to keep track of intake. It also means you’re more prone to food cues and high-calorie treats. Changing your views so you see eating as something that happens at the dinner table on a regular schedule means that you’re well fueled throughout the day. You eat less because you’re not so likely to fall prey to the temptation to snack.
Nancy Clark likes four meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, second lunch and dinner. “The purpose of second lunch is to not overeat at dinner.” Lindy Kennedy likes this mini lunch around three in the afternoon as well.
Tips for Cutting Down on Snacking
We’ve shown that Western culture is a junk food snacking culture, and this makes us fat. You now know the importance of real meals at scheduled times around the dinner table, and this involves a decrease in snacking to be effective. Here are tips to reduce the temptation to snack:
- As soon as you get home from work, take a shower. We don’t actually want you to waste water, but when it comes to snacking, a shower can be an extra-effective deterrent. Many of us go straight to the fridge after work. If you head for the shower instead of the kitchen, you’re getting naked and doing something rewarding. If you’re worried about hair and makeup, just focus on areas from the neck down. It will still feel good. It doesn’t have to be a long shower, and you can change into some comfortable clothes afterward.
- Chew some sugarless gum.
- Ask yourself the apple question. If the answer is yes, eat an apple. If the answer is no, don’t eat at all.
- Avoid locations where snacks are present. Don’t walk past places where they are sitting out and tempting you. Pay for gas at the pump rather than going into the store. Stay away from aisles in stores loaded with snacks.
- Keep pistachios on hand for times when the temptation to snack hits. They’re among the lowest-calorie nuts, and you need two hands to crack the shells. After less than a dozen you start thinking, Uh, I have things to do. I can’t be using both hands for this long just to eat.
- Buy peeled and washed carrots and keep some in a bowl of water in the fridge. Reach for those instead.
- Don’t have high-calorie snacks in the house. If you live with other people who enjoy such snacks, you have a couple of options. One is to get them on board with your eating program; another is to ask them to hide such snacks from you, or to choose snacks you don’t like. When shopping for cookies for the kids, I purposely purchase ones I’m not fond of.
Avoid the Starvation Response
Seriously cutting back calories (below about 1,500 per day for a man and below 1,200 per day for a woman) day after day can cause a significant metabolic slowdown. Several days of moderate to moderately high caloric deficits, and even the occasional short fast, are not going to cause a starvation response, especially if your caloric deficits are at least in part attributed to adding in a bunch of physical activity.
What is this “starvation response?” Back in the 1940s, when people were more tolerant of being guinea pigs, nutrition researcher at the University of Minnesota Ancel Keys conducted the Minnesota Starvation Study (actually, the participants were conscientious objectors to World War II). Thirty-six men were subject to an extended period of 50 percent of their maintenance-level caloric needs (the purpose was to learn about how to medically deal with impending starvation as a result of the war—it wasn’t just a lark). As a result of participation, the men’s metabolic rates dropped a substantial amount, in part due to loss of body mass but also due to an evolutionary advantage that results in the body using fewer calories during lean times.7
The starvation response doesn’t sound like much of an advantage these days, but back when the hunt failed or there was a drought, it sure came in handy: it kept people alive. Another metabolic response programmed in by natural selection is “post-starvation hyperphagia.” I asked my wife (the doctor) what hyperphagia meant, and she replied, “Pigging out.”
After they’ve experienced a period of starvation a hormonal response causes people to overeat past what it takes to replace the lost weight, gaining more than they lost in the first place. In the bad old days this extra fat protected them against the next time food was in short supply, but today it just causes yoyo dieting, with the dieters ending up fatter than when they started.8
So how do you prevent starvation response?
Don’t cut calories too much. An average-sized man (weighing around 180 pounds) should consume a minimum of 1,800 calories per day, and the average woman 1,400. Note that these are estimates and will vary based on body size.
The bare minimum I eat on a daily basis is about 2,000 calories, except for this one day after a draft beer bender when I felt like, uh, never mind. On a day that I don’t exercise, I burn about 2,200 calories. But I do exercise most days of the week. A lot. So I’m usually eating significantly more than that 2,000 calorie minimum.
Also, don’t restrict calories every single day. Take one day a week when you break even or go a little over. Butdo not use your “binge” day to go nuts. You can wipe out three or four days of caloric deficits in one day of runaway gluttony. Not restricting calories once a week is about the psychological benefits of not feeling deprived. If you’re being careful, you can have caloric deficits every single day as long as it’s not making you crazy. Having a day when you go over a little isn’t critical to preventing starvation response. Remember that starvation response comes from actually starving yourself, not cutting calories wisely.
“I recommend that people go 10 to 20 percent below maintenance calories to lose weight,” Nancy Clark said. “Cutting calories in half is not sustainable. It leads to rebound overeating and yoyo dieting.”
If you need to take in 2,000 calories to stay at your current weight, cutting down to the 1,600 to 1,800 range is what Nancy advises, which is a slow and steady approach. Mind you, this doesn’t mean we’re advocating counting all these calories. That’s the last, last resort, because, as I pointed out in chapter 5, the math of caloric deficits involves so much guesswork that you might as well not even bother. Nancy’s assertion is to simply let you know starvation is not good. It won’t help you achieve your goals.
The One Time It’s Okay to Be Hungry
The one time it’s okay to be hungry is before bed. This sounds simple, but it’s actually a powerful weight loss tool that can stop you from ingesting a few hundred unnecessary calories.
Remember what France Bellisle wrote about the obese eating little early in the day and then getting night-eating syndrome? The idea is to stay fueled during the day so you don’t overeat at night. If you can go to bed a little hungry, tomorrow morning is a new day when you start fresh. Unless you go to bed so hungry that you wake up in the middle of the night needing to eat. That’s too hungry.
For the rest of the day, there’s an old adage that says, “Eat until you are eight-tenths full.” It’s good advice. Focus on being satisfied throughout the day, not full or stuffed. Stuffed is for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For emotional eaters who have trouble with stopping at satisfied, try portioning out the appropriate amount of food in advance, and once it’s finished, remove yourself from any additional food temptations whenever possible. If you’re feeling stressed and overly tempted, taking a walk is always a good choice. If you’ll be walking past places that serve food, don’t bring money.
Tips for Going to Bed a Little Hungry
You may find, a few hours after dinner, that you still want to eat. Here are some tips to prevent that:
- Realize that you’ve been busy all day and now have a chance to relax. This may be boredom you’re feeling instead of hunger. You want to do something, and eating is doing something, so you eat. Well, don’t eat. Do something else. Like stretch. Keep a yoga mat handy and reach for that instead of food.
- Take a shower. Its rewarding effects can feel just as good as food.
- Brush your teeth. Can’t eat again after you’ve brushed your teeth, right?
- Drink some hot herbal tea. Make it hot enough that it takes time to drink. Don’t burn your tongue or your crotch, though.
- Clean a toilet. Seriously, who can eat after doing that?
- Go to bed and read.
- Go to bed and do … other stuff. If you’re having a tough time talking your partner into this, tell him or her that it’s part of your weight loss strategy. Who knows? It could work.
Keeping It Simple: Our One-Line Diet Plan
I often wonder how people come up with their hyper-convoluted diet plans based on … God knows what. Was the guy who wrote about choosing foods based on your blood type suffering from a rectal-cranial inversion? Did he have a look around up there, then pull that diet out of his ass?
Dr. David Katz told me the challenge with truth is that it is not a one-liner. Behold our one-liner!
Gradually replace bad stuff with good stuff.
Sorry, David. I guess there is more to it than that. Again, behold!
Our Three-Point Mission Statement
We have three points we’d like you to memorize. Taken together, they will help you follow that one-liner, and that one-liner will help you lose weight. The first two points were originally spoken by Jack LaLanne.
- “If it tastes good, spit it out.” I need to clarify this one. Swap the word good for amazing. Fruit and steak and lots of other things taste good, even great, but chocolate and cheesecake and popcorn chicken and maple fudge taste amazing. If your taste buds are being manipulated to the point that you can’t control consumption, that qualifies as “amazing.” Also, you don’t have to spit it out the amazing all the time. Instead, just remember to limit such things to the occasional indulgence. This is about a reduction in highly palatable food, not complete elimination.
- “If man made it, don’t eat it.” That’s pretty clear, but there are exceptions. There are whole-wheat whole-grain bread products that are awesome. There is good oatmeal you can buy. If things are close to being in a natural state, yet are still “processed,” that can be okay. It’s the highly refined stuff you need to watch out for. There are a number of resources free from the Food and Drug Administration that can make you more literate when it comes to reading labels. To find all these resources, Google this phrase: “FDA Nutrition Facts Label Programs and Materials.” (A Google-worthy phrase for Canucks is “Health Canada Nutrition Labelling.”) Overall, you want to focus on foods with few ingredients listed. As my wife tells her patients, “If nature made it that way, go big.” Sticking to the outside aisle of the grocery store can help with this, because this is where the fresher, single-ingredient foods like dairy, produce and meat are found.
- “Put better fuel in the tank.” Let’s think back to chapter 4 and give credit where it’s due on this one: to Dr. Katz (I have a man-crush on this guy). When we exercise, we’re more likely to focus on putting better fuel in the tank, and this, in turn, provides the psychological boost we need to help us get over the “because I exercised” reward mentality that Dr. Freedhoff mentioned. You want to perform better, and that requires rocket-fuel go juice. When you’re about to eat something, ask yourself this question: “Is this rocket-fuel go juice?” If it’s not, you know what to do.
All this amounts to mindful, not mindless, eating. You need to pay attention to your food, not just reach for something and start shoveling it in. Paying attention to what you’re eating is perhaps the most powerful tool we have at our disposal to reduce caloric intake.9
Incrementally Decreasing the Reward Value of Food
This is the basis of our “one-liner” diet plan. The “bad stuff” has a high reward value; you need to replace this with “good stuff” that has a lower reward value.
Let’s throw around some guestimated numbers here. Looking at North American waistlines, I think it’s not too far off to say about 80 percent of calories ingested by overweight people are “high-reward” calories (ones that have a high hedonic value, i.e., they taste amazing). Maybe we’re off, but for the sake of argument, let’s just say we’re correct on that number so we can give you an idea of an incremental program of cutting back on the reward value of food.
The food reward hypothesis of obesity states that eating higher-flavor foods leads to higher levels of body fat. There is enough research supporting this concept to choke a sarlacc—the nasty pit-of-death monster that Jabba the Hutt wanted to throw Han Solo into. (Note to self: when you have to explain your jokes, they are no longer funny.) Anyway, check out this mega endnote.10 It’s kind of a “well, duh” thing. If you focus on eating food that tastes delicious, you will eat more of it. The double whammy is that this food packs in more calories. Focusing on a diet of super-yummy food = you gaining weight.
“If it tastes really, really good, you probably shouldn’t eat it,” actor Michael Biehn told me. Biehn, who has been known for his lean and mean physique (which comes in handy when battling terminators and aliens), said, “I just think it’s common sense that if something tastes great like a potato chip or a French fry or a Big Mac, that it’s not going to be good for you. But if you eat a piece of broccoli, you can just tell it’s a good choice.” Yup. We know, but we don’t always do.
If you’re a typical North American wanting to lose weight, eating 80 percent of your calories as high-reward calories, you’re eating these for pleasure-based, hedonically motivated reasons. This also means only 20 percent of calories are consumed for homeostatic, fueling-based reasons.
In order to successfully lose weight, you need to change this. In fact, you need to almost transpose those two numbers, from an 80 percent pleasure/20 percent fuel split, to the other way around. So how do you do this? Gradually.
- First level of dietary change: Ratio shifts to 60 percent of calories pleasure-focused / 40 percent fuel.
- Second level of dietary change: Ratio shifts to 40 percent of calories pleasure-focused / 60 percent fuel.
- Third level of dietary change: Ratio shifts to 20 percent of calories pleasure-focused / 80 percent fuel.
And I want you to meticulously measure that down to the last calorie.
Please tell me you didn’t believe that last sentence. You know me better than that by now.
These three levels are approximations of what you’re about to go through in Stage III. In case we haven’t made it clear, it’s the highly refined, amazing-tasting food that makes people fat. You’ve got to cut that down and replace it with healthier, higher- performance real food that still tastes good but not mouthgasm good.
Dammit, I promised I wasn’t going to use that word anymore. My bad.
The Critical Component: Adopting the Replacement Mentality
Prof. Richard Mattes and I talked about the assumption that eating large quantities of fruits and vegetables reduces calorie intake later in the day. This is the “crowding out” hypothesis that’s popular among some holistic nutritionists because it’s hippie granola thinking that telling people to cut bad stuff, will, like, harsh up their vibe, man. They think fruits and vegetables have some miraculous power to make you stop eating bad foods. Well, they don’t.
“We did a study making people eat five fruits and vegetables a day and they gained weight because they didn’t change the rest of their diet,” Mattes told me. “It doesn’t work from a crowding-out perspective. It doesn’t magically cause you to eat less. You must make a conscious decision to replace one food with another.”
In coming chapters we will harsh up your vibe by getting you to cut junk, and we’ll offer a better replacement. The replacements will not taste as good, but they will be lower in calories, more satiating, healthier and fuel physical performance. You will be eating food that, as Dr. Katz says, loves you back.
We’ve brainstormed to make the food replacement process as painless as possible, both from a neurological standpoint and from a practical / time management / lifestyle perspective. We’ve selected “stop eating this / start eating this” rules based on what will be easiest for you to handle as well as lead to a positive outcome.
And know that these dietary changes become easier with time. Part of it is craving related, but another part is just practice. You get practiced at making the right choices and knowing what’s good and what’s bad. You build skill power.
Think of the last time you started a new job. You sucked at first. You didn’t know where anything was, how to navigate the bureaucracy, how deep the water was or how many sharks were swimming in it. Anyway, you sucked. But with time and practice you got better. You got efficient. You gained confidence and skill. Diet and exercise are no different.
On the craving side, a 2007 article in Appetite interviewed 284 people and determined that after spending time on a reduced fat diet, subjects had a declining preference for fatty foods.11 It takes time, but junk food will lose its hold.
The Challenge of Keeping Track
Yes, Virginia, it’s all about the calories.
It’s not that you have to count them, but you must be aware of what you’re eating. If you follow the replacement rules we lay out in Stage III, it’s an almost guaranteed way to lose weight. Almost. You can still blow it if you mindlessly eat without realizing you’ve done so. It’s a common trait among heavier people to underestimate by a wide margin how many calories they consume in a day.12
Counting calories is a last resort, but calorie awareness can be a valuable tool. Get used to understanding how many calories are in everything you eat. In The End of Overeating, Dr. David Kessler promoted counter-conditioning, a psychological technique to develop negative associations with the food you love in order to decrease your longing for it. He said highly palatable food needs to go from being a friend to “a detested enemy.”13
That’s going overboard. Such thinking gives junk food power over you by making it appealing as forbidden fruit. Instead, try viewing junk food as a number—a number of calories. At the grocery store, look at that blueberry pie. Read the label and see how many calories are in it. It may say how many for one-eighth of the pie, but realize you’ll probably eat one-quarter and do the math. Understand how many calories that is. Think about how satisfying it is or is not going to be. Determine if it’s worth it.
Over time, you can figure out how many calories are in many things. You can measure potato chips, chocolate, ice cream, pizza slices, burgers and fries; smartphones can give you caloric content on the fly. Each time you’re tempted, view the desired treat as a number of calories, and make an informed decision about whether the reward merits the caloric cost.
If you find you’re still not successful, a food journal in which you write everything down can be beneficial.
Eat Well Because You Exercised
I want you to remember all you’ve learned thus far about how highly palatable food, food cues and the food industry at large manipulate you. We want you to begin to see junk food less as a source of constant pleasure, comfort and need and more with wariness, caution and an eye toward the occasional indulgence.
Don’t hate the junk food. Instead, work toward reaching a place where it doesn’t hold so much power over you, where you eat only the best and favorite ones on occasion to treat yourself.
When you begin making dietary changes, remember that you are powerful. Exercise is making you this way. It’s helping to make you strong not just physically but mentally. It’s giving you the power to make wise food choices. And, when necessary, it’s giving you the power to resist making bad choices.
Remember when Dr. Freedhoff said that “because I exercised” are the three dangerous words that cripple weight management? It’s time to turn that reward mentality around. Look at healthy food choices and say to yourself, “I can learn to like this. I can make most of my food choices good ones. I can resist eating junk food. I can do this.”
Because I exercised.
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