Life’s too short to miss out on the delights of food.
Photo by Magic Mind on Unsplash
I gain weight easily, but eating is one of my favorite things on Earth. This is an eternal dilemma.
I’ve counted calories. I’ve worked out intensely. I’ve banned alcohol. I’ve experienced guilt after eating. I’ve read tons of words on the subject. And then I got tired of it all. Our stay on Earth is too short to be burdened with prohibitions and unfulfilled cravings.
But the problem remains the same: I don’t want to gain weight. Thinking about it for a few years now has led me to develop a few easy-to-follow principles that allow me to stay in shape effortlessly. This is the best I’ve found so far. These principles form the basis of my healthy relationship with food, alcohol, and sports. They are the safeguards of my physical and mental well-being.
I hope they can help you on your journey towards balance as much as they have helped me.
1. Dialogue with your cravings
Go ahead. Talk to them. It’s the only way to know if they’re real or not. Look, there’s no point in depriving yourself of this (whole) pizza (it’s so sad to only have two slices). Again, life’s too short to deny yourself the pleasures of enjoying the food you want. I’m not saying that we should eat every day as if it were our last day on Earth, but still, there is a balance to be found.
But there is a condition to that. When you crave something, whether it’s that ice cream that you know sits in your freezer and would be a perfect accompaniment to that TV show you’re lounging around with, or that huge hamburger with homemade fries, don’t get up right away to get it. Take a moment to sit down and ask yourself a crucial question.
“Do I really want this?”
By “really,” I mean “REALLY.” Be 100% honest in your answer.
The other day, I felt like having a pizza. I asked myself the question, and I found out that I really wanted it. I went home and ordered it. End of story. It was delicious.
Question your cravings. If they’re real, satisfy them. There’s no point in ignoring them, you’ll create frustration that will inevitably lead you to overeat later on. On the contrary, if you know that you can have anything at any time, cravings will diminish considerably. We’re all kids when it comes to rules, you know. The fewer they are, the less we’re attracted to transgression.
2. Have that beer
Aperitif with friends is one of my favorite moments. But I now have a rule with alcohol. A fairly easy rule to follow, though. It works the same way as the previous one.
Only go for alcohol if you really feel like it.
A few months ago I got tired of drinking alcohol by default, whereas sparkling water would have done the trick. Alcohol is not a trivial thing. It’s a poison for the body. In fact, that’s largely what made me put on weight two years ago. I drank beer almost every day.
I found out that most of the time I don’t want it that much.
3. Don’t drink your calories
About drinks… You may have noticed that I talked about choosing sparkling water instead of beer when I could have said “juice” or “soda”. I have another principle, which is not to drink my calories. I believe that my calories are what are supposed to feed my body. Not hydrate it.
My problem isn’t the calories but the sugar these drinks contain. And sugar is the primary cause of fat gain.
That’s why I only drink 4 different liquids. Water (a lot), black coffee (one or two cups a day), tea (sometimes), and sparkling water (when I feel like having something a little fancier). And I’m fine with that.
Of course, according to the first two principles I’ve stated, if I really want something else, I just get it. We’re talking about principles here. No absolute rules!
4. Watch your sugar intake
One thing leading to the other: pay attention to the amount of sugar you eat daily. Simply put, sugar increases insulin.
“Insulin is a hormone made in your pancreas, a gland located behind your stomach. It allows your body to use glucose for energy.” — Healthline
When we digest sugars, the pancreas immediately produces insulin to allow the cells to use the glucose and prevent it from staying in the bloodstream in too large a quantity. When the blood sugar level rises a little too much as a result of consuming sugar-rich products, the insulin is responsible for transporting this excess sugar to the reserves, where it is stored.
There are 3 reserves: muscle tissue, liver, and adipose tissue (fat). The first two reserves are quickly saturated. Insulin therefore transports the excess sugar, already transformed into glucose at this stage, to the adipose tissue, where they are stored as fat.
Read the labels on the food you buy. Check for added sugar, which are becoming more and more common. Sugar creates cravings for sugar, which is why many manufacturers add it to their products, so you’ll want to buy more.
Focus on unprocessed and whole foods. Limit your intake of processed carbohydrates, mainly white pasta and white bread. Keep soda, fruit juices, and other sweetened beverages for special occasions. And only eat sweets, candy, and ice cream when you really want them.
It takes time to kick the sugar addiction, but once it’s gone, curbing cravings becomes a thousand times easier.
5. Choose whole carbs. Always
I knew that processed carbs were not to the best. But I didn’t realize their full impact until I did the research myself.
I had a salad for lunch. It came from a salad bar where you can make your own recipe. My eyes fell on the pasta. I hadn’t eaten pasta for a long time and I felt like having some. I looked closer and saw that it was white pasta. So I chose brown rice instead. No doubt in my mind.
If you visit my kitchen, you will find whole carbohydrates everywhere. My granola. My rice. My bread. It’s everywhere. I don’t even buy processed carbs anymore. It allows me to stay full longer, avoids insulin spikes and crashes, and therefore helps me stay in shape.
6. Veggies. Proteins. Fruits. And water
These are the 4 elements that make up most of my diet. I start every day with water, and it accompanies me everywhere, all the time. I drink maybe a little over 3 liters a day right now — I’m in Mexico, it’s very hot. Water is crucial for your health and well-being. Do you feel tired? Perhaps you are dehydrated. Are you hungry? First, make sure you are not thirsty.
“Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 50% to 70% of your body weight. Your body depends on water to survive,” explain the experts at MayoClinic.
Vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and full of fiber. They keep your insulin level low and provide your body with lots of nutrients. Proteins are a great source of energy and keep you full for long. They also help you build muscle, which then replaces fat. And fruits are full of benefits too. The sugar they contain is natural, and they constitute a good choice to satisfy an afternoon craving, instead of having a cup of ice cream.
7. Make walking your default mode of transportation
Walking burns calories while being gentle on the body. It is one of the only forms of exercise that can be maintained for a long time.
“A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those who adhered to a walking program showed significant improvements in blood pressure, slowing of resting heart rate, reduction of body fat and body weight, reduced cholesterol, improved depression scores with better quality of life and increased measures of endurance” — NBC News.
Walking 10,000 steps a day is considered the ultimate goal. It’s a myth. It will certainly do your body good, but a little less is great too. There is no substantial evidence that this goal will contribute to your health. In fact, this figure is taken from a Japanese marketing campaign for a pedometer in the 1960s. It was a “manpo-meter”, “manpo” being translated as “10,000 steps”.
But it can still be a good target. Make walking your default mode of transportation. Once you get used to it, it really feels good. I bet you’ll even get hooked on it eventually. I am. When I don’t walk enough, I can feel it.
8. Move daily
I walk every day. Sometimes to get from point A to point B. Sometimes to clear my mind or to trigger my creativity. Sometimes just because I want to move. I also train 5 days a week. Not long, 30 minutes is good enough.
What I mean here is: get your body moving. At first, it feels uncomfortable. I was a couch potato. But when you focus on doing it regularly rather than intensely, and you discover what you like and what you don’t like, it suddenly becomes a pleasure.
If you’re not an athlete, you can walk. Walking actually counts as a sport in a fitness journey. You can make it more difficult by walking in water. You can also cycle outside or buy an indoor bike. Or play tennis or soccer with your friends. Or put on some music and dance until you can’t anymore. Just find a way to move that you genuinely enjoy.
9. Eat when you’re hungry
I’m serious. Eat when you’re hungry. Starving yourself will create an excessive desire to eat, and you’ll end up losing control and eating anything, or just overeating at the next meal. I’ve been there.
But on the other hand, don’t eat when you’re not hungry. Again, it’s all about self-awareness. Take a moment to find out if you’re really hungry before you head to the fridge.
This is called intuitive eating. I used to put so many rules on my eating schedule. Now I don’t have any. Hungry at 10:30 a.m.? Let’s eat. Not hungry at 1:00 pm? It’s going to turn into a late lunch. Listen to what your body is telling you. It knows better than you do.
10. Have dinner early
Of course, it depends on your schedule, whether you live alone or not, etc. But still. If you can, have dinner early. It has two advantages.
First, it avoids overeating. Sitting at the table with a starving stomach usually doesn’t lead to anything good. You’ll be better able to control the quantity and quality of what you eat if you’re still clear-headed.
Second, you will fast naturally. Fasting has many benefits, but to keep it simple, it allows your body to burn the fat that you have stored. We tend to eat too frequently, so the body never burns it. Fasting helps. It starts at 12 hours without eating or drinking anything other than water, black coffee and unsweetened tea. If you have dinner at 6 or even 7 o’clock, you will have fasted for 12 hours before having breakfast the next morning. Easy and effortless.
Of course, it doesn’t allow a midnight snack. Unless, of course, you really crave it!
To sum up
- Find out whether your cravings are real one or not
- Don’t drink alcohol by default
- Don’t drink your calories
- Limit your sugar intake
- Choose whole carbs
- Focus on eating vegetables, proteins, fruits, and drink plenty of water
- Walk as much as you can
- Find ways to move that you like, and do it as often as possible
- Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not
- Have dinner early, so you fast naturally
We are human beings, creatures of fluctuation and weakness. Especially when it comes to our most basic need and pleasure: eating. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Being healthy is based on your lifestyle in general, not on occasional deviations.
Life is far too short to make yourself feel sad or guilty about what you indulge in. Just focus on balance and be aware of your choices.
And most importantly, find what works best for you. You’re not me. Some of these principles won’t work for you, others hopefully will. Stay open, try what you find interesting, keep what you think is good, and throw out the rest.