Lose Weight and Feel Healthier with Just One Tweak per Week
The best diets aren’t really DIETS. Diets, to me, and I would imagine to you, evoke fads, temporary stints of sacrifice, discomfort, and even suffering that are likely successful in the short term, but rarely beyond that. That’s because when we Diet with a capital “D,” we ask too much of ourselves, and in the process we put far too much of our life’s focus on the diet, while traumatizing our body through the drastic changes of what we do – or don’t – eat.
This may well familiar to you, and you may already know, or at least not be surprised, by the fact that gradual, not abrupt, changes to our Lifestyle are ultimately the key to making us healthier people, whether our goal is to lose weight, lower our heart rate, improve our complexion, have more energy, or all of the above. For me, the key has always been to identify the parts of our basic, everyday diets that are problematic, the ones that are weighing us down, literally and figuratively, and ways that we can both reduce these rogue foods or food substances, and in turn find healthy alternatives.
My first line of defense, and therefore yours, is to defend against too much refined sugar. Just about every food we consume that comes from a jar, bottle or package has added sugars. Now, we don’t necessarily need to ban them from our lives forever, as that’s totally unrealistic…I have a hard time eliminating certain sugar-added foods myself. But, that said, we can pay closer attention to what we’re eating, and in turn decide what we’re willing to live without. Here are some predictably sugary items that you can analyze in your own diet and start reducing and, ideally, replacing, with far healthier alternatives:
1. Cereal: whether you live in the U.S., as I do, or in a country with far fewer cereal boxes to choose from, the overwhelming majority of cereals contain added sugar- even the ones in the “health food” section. Sure, cooked oatmeal that you sweeten yourself only with raisins and cinnamon every day would be ideal, but if you’re like me, you need variety, and while making cereal ourselves would be a vast improvement over store-bought items, this is a highly time-intensive and ultimately unrealistic prospect. I buy store-bought cereal, and love many of them, but I make it a point to set a maximum for the amount of sugar I’ll allow per serving.
Shredded wheat (unsweetened, of course), has no or almost no sugar; puffed rice or puffed millet also have no sugar, though they may taste like packing peanuts. Cheerios has just a couple grams of sugar per serving, unsweetened corn flakes about the same; Rice Chex and Corn Chex, or its generic equivalents, are also very low in sugars. As long as you’re not living off the stuff, these are fine cereals to add to your regular rotation, as you gradually eliminate the sugary cereals, which include obvious picks like Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms, but also less obvious items such as Honey Nut Cheerios, Raisin Bran and many granolas.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: for every 30 gram serving, aim for no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving, or no more than 12 grams of sugar for every 55-60 gram serving (the size for most granolas and heartier-type cereals). This is a quick and easy target to start tweaking your sugar intake.
2. Snacks, including protein/health bars: What’s your go-to late morning or mid-afternoon snack? If you said a piece of fruit, I commend you with great honor. Transitioning from sweetened items to fruit (even though most fruits contain large amounts of natural sugars), however, is not a quick and easy change. Sure: bring a fruit for a snack, but also recognize that it probably won’t satisfy you completely – especially if you’re taking in a substantial amount of calories per day – because a piece of fruit alone is not what we’re used to, and because may need a few extra calories to meet our daily needs- or, if you’re wanting to reduce your calorie intake in order to lose weight- then you have to at least recognize what your body is used to. Two pieces of fruit would be great, but I fully recognize that most of us are going to crave something else, whether it’s chips or something that’s actually healthy. Nuts, ideally ones that not only are free of added sugars, but also added salts, are a wise choice here.
Protein bars, or health bars, are an inevitable snack reality for many, and not necessarily a bad one. Fortunately, as this market has continued to expand, healthier options have come along. I would urge you to check labels- the majority of the prototypical “protein bar” may have lots of protein per serving, but it also has significant servings of sugar, or, if low in sugar, then it has numerous chemical additives which are obviously less than ideal. As with your cereal consciousness, aim for low sugar amounts per serving. Read various protein bars reviews to guide you in the right direction, and keep in mind that sugar rates can be higher, as long as they don’t come from added sugars, but rather, simply from dried fruit.
Start with these lifestyle guidelines, and soon you’ll be making a significant impact on your ongoing diet, without the unrealistic sacrifices or the traumatic, whiplash changes that come with a fad diet, and instead something you can live with.
Michael Shaw is a freelance writer who has written for numerous print and online publications including The L.A. Times Magazine and Pain Solutions. He is an advocate for healthier food options in the mainstream marketplace, and writes more on the topic at A No Flour, No Sugar Diet.