Eating for Health, Not Weight

Eating for Health, Not WeightThis piece by Dr. Dean Ornish, published in the New York Times earlier this week, really resonated with me. It drove home an important point that our health coach has been making, which is that the program we’re following is about more than losing weight. It’s about making choices that lead to optimal health.

While we were certainly drawn to the program by the promise of losing weight, the reality is that the weight loss is a happy by-product of making healthier choices, which have myriad other benefits. In other words, the real takeaway from our program is not the weight loss, per se, but feeling better in our bodies, improving bodily functions, creating conditions to optimize longevity and, yes, looking better in the process.

The passage that really drove all this home for me was this astounding statistic near the end of the piece:

About 75 percent of the $2.8 trillion in annual health care costs in the United States is from chronic diseases that can often be reversed or prevented altogether by a healthy lifestyle.

Makes me that much happier that we’re following the path we are.

You Are Not Alone

Dr. David Kessler's "The End of Overeating"I’m reading a book my trainer recommended that I just have to share. It’s been absolutely revelatory.

After years of knowing that my eating was out of control, but feeling powerless to change, feeling shame for eating in ways I didn’t want to but couldn’t seem to stop, and wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t muster the willpower to change, not only did I learn that I’m not alone in this matter, but that there are scientific explanations for my experience and that the food industry is actively capitalizing on this science in its relentless pursuit of profits.

In The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, Dr. David Kessler dives into the science behind what he calls “conditioned hypereating,” which seems to be driving much of the American obesity epidemic. I was galvanized by the opening passage, in which I saw my own reflection clearly:

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Busy, busy, busy. Who has time to cook healthy?

Busy CookThat’s what we thought, too. Perhaps that’s because when we used to cook at home, we always made a big production of it. Used every pot in the cupboard. Layered one dish on top of another until we put away more leftovers than the food we had consumed. My sister used to tell me “every meal doesn’t have to be a gourmet extravaganza.” Still, we tried!

As a result, we usually ended up with one of us exhausted from cooking and the other stuck with cleanup — scrubbing all those pots and pans. No wonder we preferred the convenience of eating out! When we began to contemplate the notion of cooking healthy, we expected that the effort required to make things healthy would be greater, not lesser. Not so, as it turns out.  Continue reading

Working with Leftovers

Kimchi Chicken Stir Fry

Kimchi Chicken Stir Fry, made with leftover Kimchi Chicken and fresh veggies.

Between overestimating the amount of raw protein we need to yield two five-, six- or seven-ounce portions, and sometimes having to purchase more than we need for a meal for two (two-pound bags of frozen shrimp come to mind), we sometimes end up with leftovers — usually an odd size: not enough for another meal for both of us, too much for a meal for one.

Because we’re controlling our food intake and measuring everything, and only eating the one meal per day, it would be easy to let these leftovers go to waste. It would also be easy to stray off program by snacking on them spontaneously, just because they’re there!

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Lean, Leaner, Leanest?

Healthy Noms recipes involving proteins are tagged lean, leaner or leanest. What’s up with that? Simple: portion control.

The guidelines we’re following sort proteins into those three categories. Basically, there’s little or no protein out there that you “can’t” have when eating healthy. (Well, OK, sausage isn’t a great choice, neither is bacon. But neither of those actually offers much protein either, just mostly fat. You get my drift.)

Lean, Leaner, LeanestInstead of saying we “can’t have” something, we’re saying go ahead and have what you want, but adjust portion sizes and added fat accordingly.

For example, for the proteins that fall in the “leanest” category we can have seven ounces (cooked!) and we can add two servings of a healthy fat to the meal. This category includes many fishes, most shellfish, game meats, and very lean ground meats (>97% lean).

For the proteins that fall into the “leaner” category we can have six ounce portions (cooked) with one healthy fat serving permissible. This includes chicken breast, light meat turkey and ground meats (>94% lean), as well as some fishes.

Finally, for the “lean” category of proteins we can have five ounces (cooked) with no additional fat servings. This includes some fishes, lean beef, lamb, pork, ground meats (>84% lean).

This exercise in portion control has been a real eye-opener. Shrimp falls into the leanest category. Seven ounces of cooked shrimp is a LOT of food! No feeling hungry after gettin’ that down!

By the way, the program does account for meatless options in all three categories, but they often carry their own measures. For example, three whole eggs is a serving of lean, while 14 egg whites are a serving of leanest. Tofu, veggie burgers, EggBeaters and other meatless options can all be worked into the program.

Why “Healthy Noms”?

What’s up with the name “Healthy Noms,” you ask? Simple, really. Years of eating out together and with “foodie” friends had spoiled our palates for home cooking. A lot. Unfortunately, the food we were eating out features oversize portions, and includes excessive amounts of fat, sugar, and carbs. So we’re learning to cook meals that satisfy the senses while staying on program. Nom nom nom, but in a healthy way!

scuse me, HEALTHY NOMS?!

In order to be successful on this program, we had to make eating at home as pleasurable as we’d found eating out to be. To do that, we recognized that we had to put a little bit extra into the preparation of our meals. This means paying attention to details, including:

  • High quality, fresh ingredients (locally grown a plus)
  • Visually appealing plates: presentation matters
  • Packing the meals with flavor: creative use of spices and seasonings

Additionally, of course, like most families, we don’t have the time or inclination to spend hours preparing dinner when we get home from work. Quick & easy is important.

Hence, “Healthy Noms” = healthy dishes that satisfy the senses like chef-prepared meals do.

Getting Started

Scale GuyAfter years and years of eating out more than cooking at home, preparing semi-homemade meals at home, using highly processed foods and lots of oils and butter, consuming portion sizes way larger than needed to satisfy basic nutritional requirements, and fighting weight gain sporadically with a variety of “magic bullet” diets, fasts and other desperate measures, this year Brian and I decided to get serious.

We watched our friend Troy drop some serious weight in a short amount of time. Brian watched this happen on a daily basis, since he sees Troy at work. I see him much more occasionally and my experience was much more dramatic: one day I saw him as he began the program, and then I saw him a few weeks later, many very noticeable pounds lighter. I didn’t know he’d even started a program to lose weight, so the difference was a shock! Continue reading