Standard American Approach to Weight Loss Isn’t Working

I haven’t posted in a few weeks and every few days I come up with what I think is a great idea, but right now none of them seem that interesting to me. They all seem to be centered around weight loss, even though I hate the pressure that it puts on us – and even though I advocate eating for health and not necessarily weight loss. However, if we’re eating and living well, our appearance, which includes our weight, should reflect that. And right now, I’m stuck. I’m not unhappy with my physique, but I really want to lose those last 10 pounds. Or at least, I want to see some “trouble areas” tightened up. I stalled a few months ago and was just about to accept that this is the best I can do. But recently I’ve had several conversations and have been inspired by friends and family who are also struggling with this.

I think I know what my road blocks are right now – not exercising enough (which I am finally doing now and loving it) and eating too much, too late in the day. I’m not following my own advice on this last one. I was really gung-ho about switching up meals a month ago (i.e. a big breakfast and lunch and small dinner). But it’s proving to be difficult.

I haven’t been giving meal time the priority I normally do, and I’m still not doing great with keeping them simple. (Ugh! Where’s that Mark Bittman book?) Now would be a good time for me to really focus on that. I’ll be incorporating some leftovers from a weekend get-together into our meal plan this week, so I’ll probably freeze some of the groceries I bought for the week. It’s the perfect opportunity. I also am finally harvesting more tomatoes than we can eat, so it’s time to get to canning and freezing some of them. (Yay! Looking forward to home grown tomatoes in January!)

I know this will be an equally busy week for me, so I’m going to do a little inventory and plan some really simple meals. You know that excuse we give ourselves for eating quick, unhealthy meals or snacks or worse – picking up fast food? “I just don’t have time.” It’s really no good excuse, with some planning. And it’s a good idea to always have a few easy to prepare meals on hand for those times. Here are some examples:

  • Frozen leftovers. You can freeze just about anything. Pastas and soups freeze well and there are usually leftovers. If not, make a little extra next time. Most microwaves these days have some preset defrost settings and even if they don’t, just remember to thaw foods at a low temperature (maybe 20 – 30% power) for a longer period of time.
  • Pasta. I keep a couple different kinds of pasta and some canned tomatoes on hand at all times. At the very least, you can boil some pasta, open up a couple cans of tomatoes and add some veggies (even frozen veggies) and cheese. You can also make a classic white wine sauce with some wine (of course), olive oil or butter (not margarine) and garlic (three more things I always have on hand.) You can make a cheesy Alfredo sauce with a little bit of cream or whole milk and butter and some Parmesan. Add different combinations of fresh and/or dried herbs for some variety. (I’ve mentioned this before, but never under estimate the power of herbs. Most of them have huge health benefits and have been used traditionally for centuries to treat illnesses and alleviate an array of symptoms. Many are still used today. I think they can be effective for minor symptoms on a person who is in fairly good health. If your symptoms are severe, or your body’s immune system is already tapped out from an unhealthy lifestyle or disease, they would be less effective, I think, in alleviating your symptoms.)
  • Canned beans. Make hummus with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), fresh garlic (or powder if that’s all you have), olive oil, lemon juice, tahini (if you have it), paprika, cayenne, fresh parsley – or something like that. You could also saute some canned beans with onions and garlic, fresh herbs and whatever veg you like and throw that over some brown rice (another staple I always have on hand). Make a  quick soup with some Kidney beans (really good for you), chicken stock, onions, fresh tomatoes and whatever other veg you have on hand (zucchini, peppers, potatoes, kale, green beans, corn… you name it).
  • As for snacks, fresh fruit and veggies, whole wheat or gluten free toast or crackers with some cheese or peanut butter, a quick salad, a handful of nuts, a few cubes of cheese or homemade popcorn.
  • And for the sweet tooth how about some fruit (again) or some whole wheat toast with chevre or cream cheese and good quality jam (this totally curbs my cheesecake cravings, oh and try it with hot pepper jam… O. M. G.), some dried fruit or an ounce of dark chocolate (70%), and if you are craving ice cream, try some plain, Greek yogurt with honey (preferably raw and local), walnuts and blueberries (“super food”) or whatever fruit or nuts you like and anything else you might find in your favorite ice cream, like dark chocolate. Now don’t go crazy and crumble up cookies or candy bars in there. If that’s what you love, try to find a healthy alternative instead. Instead of Reece’s peanut butter cups (I used to love these Blizzards at Dairy Queen) maybe some real peanuts, a table spoon of peanut butter (with no added sugar) and some dark chocolate chips or shavings. Imma have to try that one soon!

Another bit of advice would be to change something – a habit… your surroundings… Let go of the Standard American Diet and step away from the Standard American way of dieting, i.e. low fat, calorie counting and substituting horrid  processed foods with slightly less horrid “reduced calorie” or “reduced fat” processed foods. This includes those frozen weight loss meals from Weight Watchers, Atkins and South Beach Diet. I should also include the Lean Cuisine meals. The fats in most “low fat” or “low calorie” processed foods are replaced with something worse – refined carbs, most often – sugar. The savory ones (like those frozen dinners I mentioned) are ridiculously high in sodium. These foods are actually worse for you. Yeah – I’m totally serious. Nothing about the Standard American Diet or the typical approach to weight loss is healthy or sustainable! Nothing. Period.  (Ah! There’s a title in there somewhere.)

Let’s face it. We’ve all tried this sort of dieting, and I’ve never met anyone that succeeded with long term health and weight loss. Have you? I’m not saying that people don’t lose weight this way. What I’m saying is that they rarely keep it off. The pounds come back fast and usually they gain more than they originally lost. In my brief research (and personal experiences), I’ve seen this fact repeated time and time again. So when someones tells me they lost weight with some typically American way of dieting and actually managed to lose weight, or maybe they “know someone” who did, the first thing I want to know is whether they kept the weight off. I especially love when they say something like “I lost a lot of weight on that diet. I should go back on it.” I watched this PBS special where a lady had eight or nine diaries or cards (?) from her past attempts at Weight Watchers… And she was doing it again. Huh? Repeating the same behaviors over and over again and expecting different results = insanity.

Try something new instead. Give your pantry and refrigerator a makeover. Kick this new age Standard American Diet and the Standard American approach to weight loss to the curb. Throw out all that junk. Eat a more traditional diet of whole foods instead – vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, dairy, meat, unrefined carbs – mostly prepared at home – real foods (not frankenfoods) that have been around for more than say, 50 to 60 years. It’s better for you and it tastes better. And don’t drink your calories. Skip sodas and juice. Make fast food off limits, period. I’d rather go hungry for awhile longer than stop at a drive-thru.

Next time you go shopping, don’t put anything in your cart that you know you shouldn’t eat. Be honest with yourself here. If you bring it home, there’s a good change you’ll eat it. Your family members don’t need it either. If they want junk food, let them go get it themselves. If they’re too young or unwilling to do that, then this might be easier for you.

You’re probably going to face some anger, maybe even tears, but don’t be too quick to give in – especially with kids. They are your responsibility. Plan to have a serious discussion and explain how this will benefit them as well – especially if they have health problems or weight issues of their own. I mean actually take the time to consider your approach and what you’re going to say. Who knows – your partner and/or kids might want this too. Maybe they’ll be indifferent. But, if you lose the battle this time, at least lead by example. Once they start to see how it’s benefiting you (and once they are more accustom to seeing healthier foods in the house) maybe they’ll be willing to give it a try.

Lastly, avoid pitfalls like binge eating. When I was a kid I remember watching some after school special about some girl who exercised like a mad woman and then snuck off to a distant convenient store and filled her basket with things like cookies and chips and soda. She locked herself in her room and gorged herself. Then she threw it all up and ate some more. If this is you, then – in all seriousness – get professional help. Stop reading this now and go call your doctor or at least call a friend. This is a serious eating disorder. But I wish they had toned the severity down just a little. Because there are more of us that binge on a smaller scale. There have been many times in the past when I’ve given in to temptation and eaten nearly an entire bag of chips in one day (some at lunch, some before dinner, some after dinner) or and entire sleeve or  batch of cookies, a double serving of ice cream – maybe even twice in one day, a double serving at dinner, and then a second double serving. This is binge eating too.

We can easily sabotage and entire weeks worth of weight loss in just. one. sitting. Not just because we ate those unhealthy extra calories, but because we’ll feel defeated and will be more likely to give in again next time. It will negatively affect our mood and energy level meaning we’ll have to work twice as hard as we did before. (This is also why eating to “feel better” is really an oxymoron. It won’t make you feel better. It will make you feel worse.) So don’t give up. We just have to admit that we’re sabotaging ourselves and stop repeating our bad habits. And soon, it becomes a lifestyle and not a diet.

I’m happy to say that I haven’t eaten a bag of chips or a batch of cookies in over a year. But I have been doubling up my portions while eating a late dinner too often (particularly carbs – rice, pasta and potatoes)! I’m going to work on modifying that behavior.

Every change you make toward a healthier lifestyle is empowering. Before you know it your will power, confidence and constitution will have snowballed into something fierce. Food temptations will tremble in your presence. No really – It gets easier as you become stronger.

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About Michele
Wife and Mom of three girls doing her best to lead the family into a healthier lifestyle and evolve gracefully.

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