Wednesday 1 October 2014

Dieting Do's and Don't's

   Do you think your body is smart? That it works well and efficiently? Well, it isn't. In fact, it can be pretty bloody stupid. Do you know why losing weight is so hard but gaining it is so easy? It's because your body doesn't want to get rid of anything. It clings onto everything thinking you'll need it sometime soon - otherwise surely you wouldn't be eating it if you didn't, right? But when you don't use it up, it stores what's left as fat 'just in case'. So, to lose weight, you need to eat right as well as use up a lot of energy. I'm going to talk over some of the popular dietary choices people make from research and experience.

   You could say "well surely if my body is storing fat to be used later, eating less is good!" Yes, eating less is good if you're eating too much to begin with, or eating too much of the wrong thing. But going a whole day without eating and calling it 'fasting' or a 'cleanse' is just wrong. It takes very little for your body to go into 'starvation mode' - it sounds extreme, I know - just a step away from the norm, and when it does that it clings onto fat more tightly. Your body goes into power-saving-mode and is less efficient, and your metabolism slows down because there's nothing for it to do, and as a result you get weaker and focus less because despite what logic would tell it, your body doesn't want to let go of anything; it's saving up to survive rather than live, and worse still, it's a hoarder.
   Yes: Instead of skipping meals and sacrificing your concentration, you can either: eat little but often, and make sure you're eating the right things. Fruit and low-calorie snacks are your friends in this case. Or, if you're being strict on yourself and you're not happy about the idea of 'snacking', then reduce the size of your meals - but don't sacrifice breakfast. If anything, give your breakfast a boost. Smaller meals but a bigger breakfast, and the right exercise like interval training, can keep your metabolism active and speed it up a little, and your body will become more efficient for it.
Cold Turkey.
   Unless we're talking about drugs, don't go cold turkey on things you love like sugar. 9 out of 10 people who go cold-turkey on the things they love end up running back to it at high speed within a week on average, and they end up eating more than they would have if they hadn't changed a thing. Instead, practise self-control and reduce the bad stuff. Doing it slowly helps the transition. For example, I used to eat an entire 135g bar of chocolate in 10 minutes every other day. I felt sick and awful afterwards, but I did it often - I couldn't help myself. In the end I said enough was enough and started cutting back. I practised leaving a few pieces, and once I could do that I started leaving entire rows of the chocolate bar. After a few months I was more than content with 2 rows of a 6-row chocolate bar in a single day, then a few days without, then with, because I stopped thinking about it as often. I got used to eating less of it, which let it slip off of my mind. I still buy one of those chocolate bars every week even now, and I currently have four unopened in the cupboard because I just don't think about it anymore. They end up being used in birthday cakes or being given to friends when they're down, otherwise they just build up. But even with all my fitness posts, I will never stop eating sugar, unless I'm medically forced to. Which is why you will still see baking posts or reviews of sweet shops and products. You just have to learn to take it all in moderation.
   Yes: there's nothing wrong with having something you like, just don't go over board. Practice leaving a bite or two of the cake at the end. If you're worried about being wasteful, instead of leaving a bite or two, just have half of the slice and put the remaining half away in the fridge for the next day, giving your body the chance to use up the energy of the first half over the course of the day. It gives you something to look forward to the next day, and less of the guilt factor.

'Cheat' Days
   Oh, goodness, no. They seem like a good idea, rewarding yourself for 6 days of watchful eating with a day of blindness, but unless you know how to control yourself, they will destroy you. Just because it's a 'cheat day' doesn't mean a piece of devil's food cake, a chocolate bar, three beers and a bowl of popcorn are 'okay'. A surprisingly number of people think this way on cheat days, and so did I. I caught on quickly and after 3 weeks I quit because it was doing more damage than if I hadn't changed my eating habits at all.
   Yes: Don't do 'cheat' days. Instead, tell yourself that a little something sweet is just fine any day. But make sure you realise that a 'little something sweet' really is just a little something. A small piece of cake, a normal sized chocolate bar, a couple of beers with friends if it's an occasion. But you also have to keep in mind that just because you were planning to allow yourself a little something small every day and went three days without doing so, eating perfectly instead and feeling wonderful and proud of it, doesn't mean that you can have 4 days' worth of 'little somethings' on that 4th day. It doesn't work that way, your body still needs the time to use the energy instead of storing it up like a Meditite.

   Here's a perfect option for something small but sweet every day! OhsoLovesYourTummy is similar to Graze in the sense that it's a weekly subscription of £3.99 a week (£1.99 for your first week with no minimum subscription), but rather than Graze giving you 4 snacks picked at random, you get 7 small dark Belgian chocolate bars in either plain, orange, sugar-free plain or sugar-free raspberry - mixed packs or one variety. They're really, really good, too, and so cute! They're 63-72 calories per bar depending on the flavour, and are, put plainly, good for you. But their website will tell you more.

   Humans were never meant to be vegetarians. Look at your teeth, that right there is the most obvious proof: you have incisors at the front for breaking leaves, like a herbavore - think giraffe and horse; you have canines nearby for ripping flesh, like a carnivore - think lion and ferret; and you have molars and pre-molars (half way between canine and molar) for grinding everything up, like all of the above. Ferrets and lions have dominant canines which are much larger than their other teeth for ripping through flesh, while giraffes and horses have dominant incisors with much smaller canines, if any canines at all. All of the above have molars to grind their food. Their diets are also specialised, ours are not; we are omnivores. We have 8 incisors, 4 canines, 8 pre-molars, and 12 molars. What does that tell you? That you're supposed to eat it all. (How many of you just counted your teeth with your tongue?)
   Collagen is really important - it's the building blocks of multi-cellular life; a prime example is a sea sponge. It holds us together, keeps your skin plump and holds wrinkles at bay, supports cell shape and differentiation, and is essential for healing. And what makes collagen? Amino acids. Where can you find amino acids?Protein. And where do you get protein? Eggs, fish and poultry, with eggs being the best of all. There's a reason why vegetarians are typically weaker and age worse than people who eat properly, and that's because proteins are the building blocks for cells.
   Yes: this one is simple: for the long-term, don't go vegetarian. Eat white meat, fruit and veg like you've been designed to. Most vegetarians are, in actual fact, unhealthy because they cut out key things for one reason or another (and there's a special place in hell for people who make their pets vegetarian). Eating well certainly means cutting back on red meat and introducing more fruit and veg into your diet, but it also means a good amount of fish and lean meats, too. Yes, you can just use protein powder as a boost, but there are other benefits to naturally protein-packed foods than just the protein alone.
   If you really must go vegetarian, make sure you get enough nutrients. Vegans especially will need supplements if they're to get the full range of nutrition their body needs (a hint, perhaps, that we aren't supposed to survive without meats). Take a look at some health stores. And if you work out, take a look at some effective vegan supplements at Vegan Liftz.

   This one is difficult, and it can easily be done wrong. People on a self-arranged calorie-controlled diet - ie the type that says "I should be taking in 2,000 calories a day. Well, I'm going to knock off 500 and say 1,500 because I'm trying to lose weight. That means that I'm allowed this 300 calorie chocolate bar." Wrong. Calories and sugar don't always work in harmony. A 300 calorie bar of chocolate and a 300 calorie salad are not the same thing. A problem I found with calorie-controlled diets, and have observed in friends in the past even before I was interested in getting into shape, is the idea of snacking "because I'm allowed". Rubbish. Are you hungry? No? Then why are you eating that whole bag of low-calorie crisps? Because you can? Bad answer. That's not to say that you should only eat when you're hungry, but it is to say that you shouldn't just eat because your diet says you're allowed to. Be smart about it. If you're peckish, fine, if you're hungry then certainly, but if food isn't on your mind, and you're only eating it because you know it's there, then you shouldn't be having it.
   Yes: if you're desperate to try a calorie-controlled diet - because they can work quite well - go for one that's worked out by a professional. Get yourself a dietician or join Weight Watchers. Yes, it's expensive, but it's smart. Just buying their products is no good, because everyone's calorie needs are different based on activity level; people who work out for an hour a day 3 days a week need less calories than those who work out for an hour a day every day, and those who work out for 3 hours a day 4 days a week need more still. It's very complicated, and it isn't something you can just work out yourself unless you know exactly what you're doing. To a degree, a calorie-controlled diet is rocket science.

   "Well, all right, what they hell should I do, then?! You're bashing every dieting option I can think of!"
   Have you considered that keeping active and eating clean might be exactly the right thing to do? It's simple, but it's the most effective. There are no quick fixes with this - like I said, the human body is stupid in this respect, it doesn't know what's good for it - and with temptations like Subway and giant chocolate bars, it's not easy, but as I said above: a little something sweet every now and then makes it a little more bearable.
   But you should also really try not to view dieting as a punishment. There are so many different fruits and veg, and there are bound to be some you like, and if you get inventive with your meals you'll grow to love eating well. The best place to start is by adding a colourful mix of veg to your meals, eat fish, eat chicken, and eat a little bit of sugar. Don't cut things out right away, don't snack 'because you can', and try to remember that you should be eating to live, not living to eat. I am certainly guilty of the latter, and it's been tough but I've been moving past it.


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