Are you planning a new year’s resolution to eat healthier or lose weight? It’s amusing that the old saying goes “never trust a skinny chef”, implying that the chef’s food can’t be very good if the creator of the food him/herself doesn’t eat very much of it.
A skinny chef rather, should be looked upon as one who cannot only control their passion for food, but also knows how to make healthy food taste great. Not only am I conscious of what (and how much) I am putting into my body; we also have a home gym to help facilitate a balanced healthy lifestyle. I will be the first to say that my job has the occupational hazard of constant food sampling, but I also believe that what goes in needs to be burned off.
Apparently, in order to lose one pound per week, we need to increase the number of calories burned by 500 per day, while keeping our diet maintained at the current level. This can also be interpreted as we can alternatively decrease our intake by 500 calories, while keeping our exercising (or lack thereof) at the current level, for the same affect. The increase in your exercise level however, is the better choice of the two as it will lead to better cardiovascular health and an increase in lean muscle tissue, among many other great benefits.
Regardless, a great way to reduce the number of calories you eat is to consume what are classified as negative calorie or zero calorie foods. These can be described as foods that take just as much, or more, energy to consume the food than the number of calories that are in the food. Although there are no hard fact scientific studies to prove this to be true, these types of foods are definitely low in calories and also very nutritious. Some examples of these would be celery, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, garlic, and cucumbers. Of course what you put on these foods, or how you cook them, can add a lot of calories.
A good habit to get into is to read the ingredient lists of pre-made prepackaged foods. A recent trip to the grocery store to buy some “healthy” cereal revealed that there are a lot of choices that appear to be good for you on the outside, but upon reading the ingredient list revealed that many were high in sugar. Even natural sugars, such as cane sugar, are still sugars and have many calories. One is better off buying rolled oats (not the instant variety) or 100 per cent shredded wheat and adding some fresh fruit, skim milk, and maybe a zero calorie sweetener such as Splenda or Stevia. Obviously if you are used to eating high sugar cereals, these options may not taste as good at first, but if you can find a way for your mind and taste buds to bask in the fact that you are eating much healthier, then this transition will be easier to swallow.
This being said, I believe the main reason why “diets” don’t work is because as soon as one eliminates something from their regular eating routine, they want it more. It is human nature to always yearn for something the more we can’t have it.
I feel that it is so important to have one splurge meal per week. This way you won’t feel like you are eliminating foods from your enjoyment forever. If you get a craving for something unhealthy, just say to yourself, “I am going to have that for my splurge meal this week”. Keep in mind that temptations may happen more often than not, so it is best to keep it to one splurge per week and plan to have that splurge at the end of the week, not only to congratulate yourself, but also you will have the chance to use it earlier if something unavoidable comes up. The more you set yourself up for success (having healthy food options available to you at all times for example), the better your outcome will be.
The battle is mostly mental. I don’t diet — my occupation can’t allow for that, so what I do instead is lifestyle: making a choice to eat healthy as much as possible because chances are I will live longer and have a better quality of life. People always choose to avoid pain (physical or emotional) and always gravitate towards pleasure. If you can find a way in your mind to compute your healthy lifestyle as pleasurable, your chance of success is much greater. Obviously this is easier said than done, but some examples of what you can say to yourself are “wow, I really feel healthy by eating this” or “imagine the good this is doing for my body and life”. Small steps like these are just that, but the more small steps one takes, the greater the distance one will achieve.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the long term goal. Take it day by day and just focus on what counts: today. Do what you can today only. Tomorrow will be another “today” when it arrives, but worry about that then.
» Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary travel host and cookbook author. Visit him at www.chefdez.com or write to him at email@example.com or PO Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC, V2T 6R4