So, did you stuff yourself at the Thanksgiving table yesterday?  Did you watch Al Roker in his battle with butter?  Great!  Let’s talk about diets!

To get rid of the Thanksgiving calories, you should go Paleo.  No, go Vegan.  No, fast a bit.  Go for a run.  Go low carb, slow carb, no carb, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, South Beach, Bulletproof… whew – way too many choices.

Really, there are some good choices in there, but that’s not where I’m headed.

We are getting bombarded with food-related information.  Between all the “breaking” information in our news feeds, healthy magazines at the Whole Foods checkout, and late night commercials for every chain restaurant under the sun, we are obsessed with food.

We’re also flooded with information on getting the perfect body.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you all about that.

Full disclosure before we go on: I’ve never been skinny.  I’ve always had some degree of extra padding, and it’s been a sore spot.  I’m currently 50 pounds lighter than my peak weight (ok, maybe 40 after last night, but who’s counting…), but by any metric (BMI, body fat %, inches), I’m still overweight.  So, I’m highly interested in this area.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, podcast-listening, research on weight, metabolism, and overall health  Let’s talk about some important aspects of weight loss.

First, about exercise.  More and more research is indicating that the “calories in, calories out” formula just isn’t correct.  Further, weight loss – or rather fat loss or body composition change – isn’t primarily from exercise.  Don’t get me wrong here – exercise is healthy for the heart, brain, and many other aspects of our bodies.  It’s just not the primary mechanism for fat reduction.

Speaking of mechanisms, researchers and practitioners are uncovering a bunch of factors affecting fat loss.  The bad news?  It’s complicated.  The good news (for those who’ve tried all the diets and not gotten great results)?  It’s complicated.  Inflammation, hormone imbalance, gut microbiome, chemical and metal toxicity, mold exposure, brain trauma (even minor), previous illness – all can have an impact on body composition.  I highly recommend the route of functional medicine (google it) to uncover your unique situation related to these things.

But here’s one big factor: the Standard American Diet.  Even if you’ve never heard this phrase, I bet you already know what it is: Fried foods, highly-processed “stuff”, sugary sweets, and so on.

Over the last century, we’ve shifted from eating foods grown in our garden, meats cut in front of you at the butcher shop, and the occasional sweet to “food” that comes in boxes from a factory.

Go into a chain restaurant and look at the menu.  Those chains are now required to publish the calorie count of each meal.  Some of those meals are over 2,000 calories!  On a normal day, my body needs about 1800 – for the whole day!  And they’re full of sugars, simple carbohydrates, unhealthy oils for frying, and more.

I can’t connect all the dots on all the problems with the Standard American Diet in one blog post.  It’d be far too long.

But somewhere along the road, a few things happened:

  • Corn, wheat, and other commodity crop growers started lobbying Congress for “support” in the form of subsidies, legislation, and incentives to grow and sell more.
  • The US government published the “food pyramid” and other diet guidelines that put carbs (breads, cereals, etc.) as the biggest part of our food intake.
  • Restaurant chains decided they can increase profitability by increasing plate and helping size, while using cheap, processed ingredients.
  • Food producers set up “taste labs” where they minimize “sensory-specific satiety” and maximize “vanishing caloric density” to make you crave more junk food.  Also in the name of market share and profitability.

If you haven’t noticed, this is a topic that gets me fired up.  It takes everything I have to keep me from going on to all the other ways we’re practically forced into unhealthy lifestyles…  But I’ll save all that for other posts.

The diets I mentioned above?  Those, and other healthy choices, tend to have some commonalities: Low/no sugar, low/no simple carbs (wheat, rice, corn, potatoes, etc.), organic produce, low dairy, “natural” meats.  The main difference tends to be proportion.  Oh, and many of them don’t talk about tracking calories.

So, how can you avoid the Standard American Diet and get a start on a more healthy you?

  • At the grocery store, work your way around the perimeter.  Produce, meats, etc.
  • Avoid “food” from factories.  If you can’t avoid them altogether, read the ingredients and look for sugars, flours, etc.
  • If eating out, choose restaurants that focus on the positives above, and just make good choices – onion rings aren’t really a vegetable choice…

You and I? We’re on this journey together – let’s “starve” the food producers and be healthy.