Finally lose those extra pounds by simply shifting the way we think about our food choices – No calorie counting required.
By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
If you are one of the many people who have had a hard time losing a few pounds using traditional approaches of counting calories and fat grams, then it’s time for a new approach. New Year’s resolutions give us an enthusiastic opportunity to seize the day, but how do we really make change happen and stick to it in a sustainable way? “Sustainability” has become such a buzzword that can all too easily lose its impact or become cliche. But making choices that are sustainable for our bodies, our busy lives, and the environment is exactly what we have to do to make a lasting difference. The beauty of the sustainability approach, is that when you stop obsessing over calories, fat grams, and carbs, you open yourself up to making delicious food choices based on more positive criteria.
#1 Eat Real Food
Before you make a food choice, ask yourself if it’s real food. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Michael Pollan’s famous quote sounds so simple, but in this day of ultra processed food, we have to actually define “real food”. This means fresh, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts and whole grains. If the food label is longer than a typical tweet, or if you don’t recognize some of the ingredients, then rethink eating it. This doesn’t have to be hard. Instead of a pop tart for breakfast, grab overnight oats out of the fridge. Instead of cheese puffs from the vending machine, pack almonds and a clementine. Instead of chicken nuggets for lunch, have a hummus, cucumber, spinach sandwich on whole grain bread with lentil soup. Don’t stress about calories, simply plan ahead to aim to get a fruit or veg at each meal and snack.
#2 Eat Clean
Eating real food (not from packages, boxes, cans, or plastic) automatically limits your exposure to some substances that have been linked to weight gain, learning challenges, and even sometimes cancer. Packaged, conventional products often have more sugar, salt, fat, additives, preservatives, colors, dyes, GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, and nasty chemicals like BPA. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in the lining of canned foods, plastic packaging, and some drink bottles. There are numerous studies linking BPA and the rising rates of obesity 1,2,3,9. The obesity epidemic is multifaceted and bigger than just our over consumption of calories, but chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics in our food are thought to be contributing factors 1,2,3,10.
When you consider what else could be in your food besides calories and fat you automatically begin to make choices that support a healthy weight. Don’t be misled by healthwashing claims that your bag of chips are “natural”4. The word “natural” on your food package isn’t clearly defined in the U.S.. Instead, take 15 minutes to boil some quinoa, toss with dried fruit, nuts, and some olive oil dressing and presto you have dinner without any packages going to landfill. Throw some beans, onion, and green pepper in the slow cooker, serve with rice, and dinner will be waiting for you when you get home from a long day. Make extra to save. No packages required, the calories will naturally be lower than something from a box, and you limit your exposure to obesogenic substances. The Centers for Science in the Public Interest and The Environmental Working Group have wonderful tools that allow you to know more about how substances can affect the human body 3,4,8,9.
#3 Your Food Choices Affect More Than Just Your Waistline
Your food choices affect others. When you make the decision to buy a burger and soda you choose food products that come from a very unhealthy system. Sodas and even bread contain high fructose corn syrup which is genetically modified to withstand spraying of industrial herbicides. The meat is likely from a factory farm that routinely uses antibiotics which contribute to antibiotic resistant infections in people (in the U.S.). It is estimated that 90,000 people die each year from antibiotic resistant infections and resistance is a major public health crisis10. Children who live near factory farms have higher rates of asthma and farm animal waste runoff has been linked to e. coli outbreaks10. Red meat production contributes heavily to pollution5,6,9,10. Choose a veggie burger instead, you’ll get less calories and fat but you also positively impact others on the planet.
Ultimately you are voting with your fork to decide what kind of future you want. This New Year, instead of worrying about calories, make a real sustainable difference by eating clean, eating less meat and dairy, and eating with the seasons. You just might be surprised how sustainable eating affects your waist line (and waste line) well after January’s burst of motivation has worn off.
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Association Between Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration and Obesity Prevalence in Children and Adolescents. JAMA. 2012;308(11):1113-1121. jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1360865
2. BPA in food packaging tied to childhood obesity: http://contemporarypediatrics.modernmedicine.com/contemporary-pediatrics/news/modernmedicine/modern-medicine-feature-articles/bpa-food-packaging-cont?page=full
CDC.gov, Overweight an Obesity: www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html
3. Center for Science in the Public Interest: Chemical Cuisine, Learn about Food Additives: www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm
4. Center for Science in the Public Interest: Eating Green. www.cspinet.org/EatingGreen/
5. Live Science: www.livescience.com/22050-heat-waves-high-death-tolls.html
6. Years of Living Dangerously: http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/topic/heat/
7. Healthwashing: www.huffingtonpost.com/andy-bellatti/healthwashing_b_4101450.html
8. CSPI Food Day: Food Impact Quiz: www.foodday.org/14questions
9. Environmental Working Group. ewg.org
10. Industrial Farm Animal Production in America: a report of the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 2010.