Physical Fit: The “D” Word

Before the 12-year-old mentalities start kicking in, I’m going to let you know that the D-word in this case is DIET. What? You weren’t expecting it? Of course you were. I even warned you in an earlier post that it would happen. However, more than that, it is a new year. One of the most popular resolutions for the New Year is related to weight loss, physical changes, and nutrition.

I am already completely over the number of different diet plans that are currently vying for my attention and hard-earned wages. The holiday jewelry, vehicle, and electronics commercials have given way to various diet programs, weight loss supplements, and work out videos. Every other commercial on radio or television right now is some type of weight loss, weight management, quick fix, just-send-your-money-and-you-can-look-like-a-pro-athlete program… Social media is no exception, and they are tricky: “Look at what this celeb has been lying to you about!… See how this starlet lost 30 pounds in just 6 weeks!… These exercises will lead to a firmer backside in just a month!… Five surprising food items you should never eat!” It is overwhelming and really, really annoying.

There are a lot of people that on January 2nd (let everyone have their holiday) said they were changing their approach to life, liberty, and the pursuit of junk food. Sadly, New Year’s resolutions frequently lose their resolve right around Superbowl Sunday. I mean, seriously, who can resist the Superbowl party foods and … yeah, party beverages.

The upshot of all of it would be that people kick themselves for falling off their proverbial wagon and their resolve for better living, healthier eating, and a smaller waistline tends to find its way into bin 13.

As a species, humans are indolent. I don’t mean that necessarily as a criticism. We are designed to be efficient in our use of energy so that we can put more of that energy into survival replicating our genetics in the next generation. The more efficient; the more energy. The more energy; the more available for the aforementioned survival and replication processes. So, we tend to crave high calorie and high fat foods and expend as little energy as we can. It isn’t really laziness or gluttony. It is merely a factor of evolution that said ancestors who put on enough fat to get them through the lean times survived while those who didn’t pack on enough storage perished. If you think about it that way… it’s not really our fault.

However, we live in a society and modern era where food is generally available to most. Even the destitute have options (despite what the commercials on the television will tell you). Unfortunately, the most available and least expensive foods generally have the least nutritional value and are, for the most part, horrible for you: Packed with processed sugars and preservatives that most people cannot pronounce. It is an unrealistic goal in this day and age, but I personally feel that if I can’t make it come out of my mouth readily with correct pronunciation, it probably shouldn’t go in my mouth and body. Just a thought.

So, back to what I was saying: The diet thing. Part of the problem is the word itself. Seriously. Just think about it. You hear the word “diet” and immediately, you mind jumps to every wonderful comforting edible that you will have to deny yourself until the pants fit. This is never a good way to approach a lifestyle change. The word itself really doesn’t mean that. In fact, the first definition in the dictionary isn’t related to denial or restriction at all:

Diet /ˈdīət/ noun. The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.

As you see, the word was completely innocent; innocent of negative connotations and ill feelings towards calories and restrictive eating habits. It just meant what we eat, but now… it to most people, it means counting calories, giving up favorite edibles, crying into our bowl of rabbit food… <sigh> Am I right?

This is a recipe for disaster and sets us up for failure in the healthy goal-setting scenarios. Initiating any change with a negative feelings and expectations does not bode well for making that change a habit. The human brain is more likely to adopt behaviors that relate to all those positive, feel good brain chemicals. The fact that in modern, western cultures we equate diets with punitive measures just doesn’t help matters at all.

You know what else doesn’t help? Television. The boob-tube, the idiot box, the… well, you get the idea. There are so many reasons why our electronic masters counteract positive measures in the dietary line. If you are a curious sort and are interested in how much our brains are assaulted by the visual and auditory media of the television, sit through an hour long television show and let the commercials play. Yes, I know, most of us DVR or record by whatever device we can to avoid that precise thing, but just for one show, try it. While you are sitting through the show and all the commercials count the number of food commercials (pizza, fast food, buffet restaurants with all-you-can-eat blazoned on their ads and signs). I’ve actually remarked on this little phenomenon for years, and mostly bitched because they would show the most mouth-watering deliciousness after closing hours for those particular entities that might provide said sustenance. The thing is, all of these commercials are designed to make that food look appealing. They are trying to get you to come in and drop monetary reward upon them in exchange for the feast laid before your eyes. However, you know what happens when the commercials play with their beautiful food items? Your brain thinks it is hungry. Seriously, even if you just had a meal, your brain says “Ooooh, I need that. Look at it!” And… your stomach ignores that it is full and prompts you to seek out something to make the brain shut up.

Other ways the telly is not your friend: Eating in front of one generally increases the amount of food you consume. That’s right. If you sit down in front of the tube and eat your meal while watching your favorite shows, you are likely to eat more because you are paying more attention to the show than on what you are eating or the sensations of fullness. This is true of snacks, too. So… here’s a scenario with which I am sadly too familiar. I’m watching a show on the TV and the first commercial break shows steaming, delicious food, piled with all the best and most favorite flavors. Brain says, “Hey, that looks sooooo good… I want some of that.” The body is a willing follower and suggests, “We might be hungry.” So, instead of leaving the house and going out to the establishment responsible for the suggestion, the legs take brain and body into the kitchen where upon the eyes stare into the pantry or fridge. Though the beautiful and appealing food from the television is not present, I grab any old snack to satisfy the perception that everyone wanted food. The giant bag of chips from the pantry is brought back to the couch and opened. The show is back on, and the hand to mouth ritual begins. The show being a riveting appeal to the other senses, attention stays focused until the cliff-hanger ending and credits roll. The eyes look down and find what, do you think? The entire bag of chips is gone. I have consumed an entire family sized back of greasy, salty crisps and barely even noticed. Does this sound familiar?

Another big enemy of healthy eating: Boredom. Yes, friends, being bored can lead to eating when we are not hungry. Our bodies seem to mistake all sorts of emotions for hunger, but the boredom aspect is definitely a big one. For me, it usually manifests as feeling antsy and “blah” and then, I go to the kitchen and stare at all of the things that might be edible, but nothing really screams “EAT ME!” So, I grab something… anything really. I eat that, but it wasn’t satisfying. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. By the end of an inactive day, I could have eaten a fridge full of food and not one bite satisfied.

Getting too hungry is possibly my biggest pitfalls. I’m one of those people that doesn’t plan well when it comes to daily nutrition intake. It is a combination of time constraints, laziness, and distaste for grocery shopping bordering on the pathological. It probably wouldn’t take all that long to just prepare a week’s worth of lunch and snack options that I could take with me to work, but even with the best of intentions, this doesn’t seem to occur. Instead, I frequently get caught in projects, meetings, and crises at work that occupy my mind and distract me from a growling belly only to find that somehow it is close to 3:00PM… and why eat at that point? Close to quitting time and then can just eat dinner when I get home. Yes, this is a routine for me. The problem is that by the time I leave the office (often later than I expected) and run to the gym, it is even later than I expected to get home. At this point, my stomach has given up on subtle hints and is loudly proclaiming that hunger strikes are not ok! Anyhow, instead of eating a reasonable meal with appropriate helpings, I am prepared to eat an entire herd of cattle by myself with accompanying sides. When we get too hungry, we eat more and we eat fast not giving our system time to recognize that we are full.

Temperature is also a trigger for me. When it gets cold, my appetite skyrockets. Perhaps my body is trying to add blubber to help insulate, but along with not being able to feel warm, I seem to always be hungry.

Oh! While we are exploring all the various ways we can be enticed into less than appropriate intake, let’s not forget the ridiculous portion sizes at most restaurants. This is possibly a touchy subject, but I cannot help but think that eating out is more of a detriment to healthy eating and diet, not because of the quality of the food, but because of the portions. I can almost hear the willpower-gifted among you say “well, you don’t have to eat it all…” Um… yeah. So, I see things like “$5 for two feet of sandwich! What a deal!” What?!? Who needs two FEET of sandwich. That is 24 inches. Let’s put it in perspective. The most calorie conscious of the commercial sandwiches is 230 calories for the vegetarian option and 280 for turkey… for 6 inches. That is also with no condiments. So, no mayo. No mustard. No cheese. Do the math. That is 920 calories for your $5 value of two feet of sandwich with nothing but vegetables and bread. That is a lot of calories. Now, if you were sharing that deal with 3 other people, it’s not a bad situation. Each person for a little over $1 can have a 6-inch sandwich, or if one person buys the $5 worth of sandwich and eats one 6 inch portion, they could save the rest for later. Potentially, they could have 4 meals worth of sandwich for five bucks! Not bad at all, but the truth is that if someone goes in and spends $5 for two feet of sandwich, they are probably going to eat every blessed inch themselves. There are too many people that do not have the willpower to divide an oversized portion appropriately and save it for later, share it with someone else, or (heaven forbid!) leave it on the plate. It just is not going to happen. And why won’t restaurants serve appropriate portions with appropriately divided prices? Because they have market analysts and business planners who know psychologically people are more likely to pay the higher price for larger portions than the cheaper prices for what they may see as inadequate portion.

For what it is worth, I honestly do not know the magical formula and perfect nutritional plan to increase satisfaction and decrease adipose tissue. If I did, I am fairly certain I would be getting paid for my valuable insights instead of just ranting about my feelings of frustration. There are some remarkably successful plans out there that are not crazy, unhealthy, or astronomically expensive. The best diet is going to be sustainable and safe. Everyone is different. The same diet that worked perfectly for your friend may not have the same results for you, and it is a good idea before embarking on any drastic changes in lifestyle or diet to consult your doctor. Yeah, I know, it sounds trite and cliché, but it isn’t a bad idea to get some baseline measures, too (like your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.). Also, restricting your intake of edible nutrients can also impact your intake of water (we do get some of it from the food we eat) and natural vitamins and minerals. So, it’s important to stay hydrated and a good idea to take a multivitamin.

Anyhow, for myself, I believe that my approach will be to avoid boredom, avoid a lot of television, try to eat at regular intervals to avoid being over hungry, and pay more attention to the food I put in my mouth overall. We’ll see how that goes.

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