This isn’t a confessional or a Dear Abby response, and when I say alone, I don’t mean by myself in a dark room watching TV. I mean without the addition of fat or protein… but please read on.
Carbohydrates have been vilified in the weight loss world since the end of the low fat diet era. It was almost like one day someone woke up and realized, when people stop eating fat, they get, well, really fat. About that same time the Atkins diet was on the rise and someone else was trying to make a few million (perhaps billion) dollars by figuring out a quick way to send every house wife in America to the health food store to purchase a wonder food called “protein powder”. This left the industry needing to find another reason to blame for everyone getting fat. In terms of macronutrients: carbohydrates were the only one left. So began the era of low carbohydrate dieting.
Now let’s get real for a minute. Who wants to live forever without pizza, pasta, bread, fruit or the countless other wonderful foods that have higher amounts of carbohydrates? When I was a young child unless a food was white and fully carbohydrate, there was no chance of me eating it. When I say white I mean: mashed potatoes, noodles (with parmesan), bread, macaroni and cheese (you are right, that is yellow), and frozen waffles. I have had a love affair with carbohydrates my entire life. I promise you, it is not about to end here and now.
As a nutrition professional what I understand now is that there really are two ways to alter your diet to induce weight loss: lower your calories OR lower your carbohydrates. The problem with these two approaches is that in most cases they are not long lasting and sustainable. Since this is the case people enjoy weight loss for a season, and then when diet habits change back over time, the weight comes back with a vengeance. Hence, Americas billion dollar industry feeding our yo-yo dieting habits.
The answer to losing weight over time and keeping it off lies not in a simplistic caloric restriction or carbohydrate restriction which are very near sighted and proven not to last. Rather the focus needs to be in speeding up your metabolism. It also lies within telling your body through hormone signals that you don’t need to store fat right now; instead you can tap your fat stores consistently when you need more energy.
Carbs are not the enemy. However, eating carbs alone is the enemy of weight loss. Let me explain why. When you eat carbohydrates alone your stomach empties it’s contents faster into your small intestine where most absorption happens. Let’s call this mostly carb meal white bread and jelly. This type of meal allows for very fast use of these carbs. In all of evolutionary time, this is a good thing, when needing to run from predators or catch a beast for dinner. However, in modern times with very processed food this makes for a huge up surge in blood sugar levels. Blood sugar is not a bad thing, but a huge spike in it is. The spike leads your pancreas to excrete a huge amount of insulin to combat the large surge. And insulin tells the rest of the cells in your body to absorb the sugar floating around in your blood. This is what it is supposed to do, however it also tells certain portions of your body to store energy as fat. When it is STORING energy as fat it is of necessity not utilizing fat for energy.
Now consider if you instead of having toast with jelly chose to have toast with peanut butter or a slice of deli meat on it. The fat and protein from the peanut butter or deli meat make your stomach do some extra work as it empties it’s contents. It blunts the effect of a quick raise in blood sugar. This slower increase over time allows your pancreas to produce less insulin. Your body still gets all the necessary signals for it to absorb blood sugar for energy, but it doesn’t send out the entire arsenal of insulin tipping the threshold and making it so your body doesn’t respond by storing fat.
This may seem like a super scientific explanation, but if you think about it you may realize there are many things you eat regularly that don’t have the added combo of protein and/or fat. Something as simple as a piece of fruit.
Carbs are not the enemy, eating carbohydrates alone will cause you to store fat, making it more difficult to lose weight. Eating simple carbohydrates and very highly refined and processed carbohydrates will do the same thing. Think about the difference in the look of a whole grain bread vs. a white bread. You can see the difference with your eyes, believe me your intestines, pancreas and liver can see the difference too. The fiber helps in slowing down the digestion and the added protein and fat from a whole grain provides the added benefit of slowing absorption.
There are foods that have high carb and high fat levels which some of you may be reasoning are still going to be okay to eat. These are foods like tortilla chips, potato chips, donuts. You are thinking, come on there is fat to slow the process down and blunt the blood sugar response. You are right, but they are still providing you little to know benefit in terms of nutrients. You are getting a whole lot of calories without any vitamins and fiber. Say no to these foods more often than you say yes. And join me in not eating carbohydrates alone. Have a handful of peanuts when you eat a piece of fruit, grab a piece of cheese if you are about to have a slice of toast, instead of eating spaghetti marinara add some meatballs to the mix.
We all have times we really want a specific food. Sometimes it is an unexplainable urge to have a random food you haven't eaten in months, other times it is cyclical and relates to chocolate and hormones, sometimes a visual cue or a smell will trigger a memory that gives way to your want for a certain item.
Whether something is a true craving or just something you really want, don't worry - you are just human. This happens to everyone. There is a theory that cravings are your body’s intuitive needs speaking to you. For instance if you are calcium deficient perhaps you would crave milk. In modern times where most people take vitamins and have a healthy and consistent food supply, this may be less the real cause. It is more likely that in this "instant" world, when you want something, it is most gratifying to get it as quickly as possible. The point I would like you to keep in mind is this: You are in charge of what goes into your body and what is done to your body. You get to decide that the craving for ice cream is worth satisfying or not. You and you alone.
Below are some suggestions for beating the cravings.
Listening to your body is important. It isn't wrong to give in to cravings now and again, but building habits where you can willy, nilly eat anything you want at anytime will quickly derail weight loss efforts and other lifestyle patterns painstakingly gained when investing in your health.
What's your favorite way to beat a craving? Comment below or on my facebook page.
Many of my clients lately have expressed difficulty with meal planning. I realize I may not be a normal segment of the population who has fun thinking about what to cook for dinner Monday so that I can use components from that meal again on Tuesday, and so on. I get that I’m not normal, but I figured for those of you who view it as a chore or find it overwhelming, boring or a time consuming task, we could strategize some tips to arm yourself with.
First of all, meal planning supports your health goals and sticking to a grocery budget. More than half of Americans don’t know what it is they will be eating for dinner when they wake up in the morning. Without a plan, those with busy lives can easily be tempted to reach for easy, less healthy options. I’d like to help you become a better food planner. You will cut down on food waste, save money, reduce cooking time, dirty less dishes, and may even eliminate some stress(not to mention last minute trips to the store for items you didn’t know you needed when you shopped without a plan). So without further ado, let’s try to lessen those obstacles in the way of you and your plan for next week!
Tip #1: Shop in your pantry first! Do An Inventory
Look through your fridge, freezer and pantry for items that will expire soon. If you have roast meat in the freezer, or ground turkey in your fridge, write these items down so you can look for recipes centered around what you already have in your kitchen. This will help you reduce food waste and avoid unnecessary extra spending at the store.
Tip #2: What Are You Craving? What Inspires You?
This week I saw a recipe for tortellini soup and I wanted it so bad! So, I looked in my pantry and saw I had beef broth, tomatoes canned, and in the fridge I had celery, carrots, and some diced onion. All I really needed was the tortellini at the store! I wanted that soup so badly, I cooked it up as soon as I got home. I found a recipe on pinterest. Think about foods you may have wanted over the last week, whether it is a pesto chicken dish or a savory soup and look for recipes that seem easy enough for the amount of time you would like to spend cooking. If you go with what you have been craving or what inspires you, then you won’t be in a position on Tuesday wishing you were making sausage and peppers when all you’ve wanted since Sunday is taco salad.
You can decide on your meals for the week depending on the inventory you saw in tip 1, what may be on sale this week(call you butcher at the grocery store and ask what organic, well-sourced items are on sale – that way you can know as you are building your grocery list). Areas to look for inspiration are: cookbooks, magazines, blogs, pinterest, even facebook these days, there are videos showing up in my feed all the time of people making food.
Tip #3: Consult You Calendar
Consider who will be home what nights, if Johnny is at soccer on Tuesday and Thursday consider a meal that could be in a crockpot that everyone can grab on the go that night. Consider if you are all going to be away from the home one night, so you don’t over purchase items that won’t get cooked and may be wasted. Look for when you will need quick and easy meals, and when it’s okay to sip on a glass of wine and cook for an hour or two (oh, no one else does that?).
The main thing I would suggest in this section is to try to make two meals out of every meat selection, so you can buy in larger bulk, that way you can save some money. So ground turkey can be apart of turkey burgers AND taco night, or turkey chili and healthy turkey lasagna. You get the point. Try to pair of meat nights back to back. You can even do something like greek turkey meatballs on Monday and spaghetti and meatballs the next night. As you make the meatballs use two bowls when you get to the seasonings, in the Italian mix use basil, oregano, and garlic powder. In the greek use parsley, oregano, and thyme.
Tip #4 Write It All Down
Right out the meals like this:
Monday: Arugula Salad with Strawberries and Grilled Steak
Tuesday: Steak Fajitas
Wednesday: Greek night with Pitas, Hummus, and Turkey Meatballs
Thursday: Spaghetti and Meatballs with a Ceasar Salad Kit
Friday: Salmon, Rice and Asparagus
Saturday: Going Out
Sunday: Stuffed Bell Peppers (use left over meatballs, rice and anything else)
Tip #5 Plan Your Healthy Snacks
You can leave your list vague like: 2 kinds of fruit. Then when shopping look for what is on sale. But, even if you have a vague plan, have a plan. This will help you to avoid forgetting to pack a snack and instead grabbing a snickers out of the vending machine at work, or making a stop for an expensive treat at a local coffee shop where you will waste money and calories.
Tip #6 Keep It Simple and Be Easy On Yourself
Just like anything, the more you practice meal planning the better you will be at it. I suggest saving your weekly menus. Once you develop 4 or 5 weeks worth consider rotating them. That way you can just redo your shopping list real quick and the work is already done for you. You can also involve your family or room mates. Ask them what they are interested in eating this week. Maybe your partner is just waiting for you to make that delicious Indian Curry recipe again. Ask them, they will tell you.
Tip #7 Be Flexible
Some nights will inevitably not go as planned. No problem! Quick meals can be easy and healthy enough, you can always make an omelet or a quick soup or stir-fry whatever protein you have with a couple veggies. I like to always keep some easy to whip up items around so that when life gets hectic, dinner doesn’t have to be. It could be an already prepared tomato soup, and you make a quick cheese quesadilla to go alongside it with those whole wheat tortillas you are making lunch wraps with. That won’t take you more than 5 minutes to do.
Tip #8 Batch Cooking
I find this to be the best piece to meal planning. If you know you will need brown rice twice this week, why not cook it up while you are putting away groceries on Sunday afternoon. You can cook up batches of lots of things to make dinners or even packed lunches an easier task during the week. Consider cooking batches of chicken breasts, eggs, quinoa, lentils, veggies, you can pack salads at the start of the week with dressings on the side. A large pot of soup made on Sunday can be made into Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays packed lunch. When you are putting it away, put it straight into the pyrex or Tupperware you will bring to school or work. You can even freeze extras in small, air-tight, labeled containers.
You can also buy bulk from places like Costco or when you see chicken breasts on sale. Then just freeze some of these bulk items. I like to keep a list of what I have put in my freezer, because sometimes it has a way of eating those items up and sending them to the bottom never to be found again. If you have a list, you can always know what to be searching for.
What other tips do you have and use? Please comment below or on facebook.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
218 W. Carmen Lane, Suite 108
Santa Maria, California 93458
Hours: Mon-Fri 9-5 PST