I grew up in New Orleans, where every weekend is another reason to celebrate with great food and drink. When the rest of the country is finished with big eating after the holidays, we are just starting with king cake and daiquiris for the Mardi Gras season. Thank goodness for the Catholic Lenten tradition of “giving up” something between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It’s the only time of year there’s any excuse for not overindulging.
I was blessed with a decent metabolism. It’s always stayed slightly ahead of my eating habits. Even with that, I carried an extra ten or fifteen pounds all through my 20s.
Once I reached my early 30s, I found the secret way to think about food that has helped me stay lean into my late 40s.
I learned that food is much more than celebration, comfort, or even nourishment. More than all this, food is the most powerful drug we will ever put into our bodies.
Here’s why I call food a drug: what else is a drug but a delivery system into an organism to create an altered physiological state? Think about caffeine jitters and sugar crashes. These examples are just the more obvious of the continuous, subtle effect what we put in our mouths has on our energy, blood sugar levels, weight, and our long-term health.
We’re all aware that all food is made up of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Understanding how much of each nutrient is contained in what we’re consuming over the course of one day is the most important step in gaining control over our weight and health.
Dr. Barry Sears, author of “The Zone Diet”, proposed that the optimum ratio of each of these nutrients is 40% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein, and 30% fat. To lose excess fat, without losing muscle, try to meet this ratio at every meal and snack. What’s the tricky part? Knowing what you’re actually eating.
For example, most of my clients consider steak to be a great protein source. However, a nutritional breakdown of a filet reveals that it contains 56% protein calories and 44% fat calories. This 8 oz. meat serving packs 539 calories into one meal, and that doesn’t include any sides, butter, or dressings. Obviously, this isn’t the best choice when you’re trying to lose excess body fat!.
How do you learn what’s in your food? It’s simple: track what you eat! How many grams of carbs are in a baked potato? What’s the ratio of fat/protein in any nut or nut butter? How much fat is in a pat of butter? Until you know the answer to these questions without looking it up, you don’t know what you’re putting into your body.
Using one of the many free or pay apps available makes food tracking much easier and less expensive than it’s ever been in the past. My absolute favorite website for this is sparkpeople.com. Setting up an account and getting started on a desktop is free, and when you get proficient, the mobile app is very inexpensive. It seems challenging at the outset, but, I promise, if you stick with it you will be amazed at what you learn.
Sparkpeople.com sets up guidelines for you, based on your age, weight, activity level, and goals. Once you get started, it lets you take a snapshot at any time during the day to see where you are with calories and the protein/carb/fat ratio, so you can make adjustments before you eat your next meal.
Over the years, I’ve found that I can be a bit more free with the hard-and-fast of eating this way for each meal, and instead, apply the 40/30/30 ratio over the course of a day. For instance, if I decide to indulge and have a cinnamon roll (or a piece of king cake) for breakfast, I make certain to have a lean protein and vegetable only, with no high-density carbs, for lunch. By applying these guidelines, I have fantastic energy levels and maintain a great muscle/fat ratio.
Many of the diets that come into fashion, and then fade away, are built loosely on the 40/30/30 ratio that Dr. Sears first proposed in “The Zone Diet.” Pick up this book and learn the science behind the guidelines. You’ll never have to look at another vogue diet again.
Most trainers will tell you that 70% of weight management is your diet. Therefore, to reach your fitness goals, Sparkpeople.com or a similar program is the most powerful weapon you’ll ever have in your fitness arsenal.