One of my neighbors is considerably overweight. Like many obese people I’ve spoken to about nutrition and weight loss, he can talk the talk about how to drop pounds (i.e., “I just need to [yada yada yada]”). It’s always curious to me that folks like him who are interested in decreasing their girth don’t ask me how I stay trim. Anyway, his doctors haven’t helped matters—they’ve told him he’s genetically prone to gain weight, which only gives more power to his hard-wired hunger drive.
Of course, his medical caretakers are right, but they failed to mention that pretty much all animals are programmed to gain weight when excess food is available—even thin ones. Who among you does not gain weight when you consistently eat calorically-dense provender and live a daytime-desk/nighttime-couch potato lifestyle?
My neighborhood cohabitant also insists he doesn’t even really eat “that much”. However, in the same breath he mentioned bread, meat, and cheese as staples in his diet. Now, if the preponderance of nutritional research from the last few decades is right, those three nutriment categories are among the least health-promoting (and high-calorie) in existence. Scientific research consistently and repeatedly shows animal foods and refined carbohydrates (bread, bagels, cookies, crackers, soda, etc.) to be major causes of obesity and disease.
Unfortunately, these calorically-dense, overly-stimulating morsels are also addictive, and it takes lots of dedication to break food compulsions and make the switch to high-nutrient eating*. Meanwhile,our minds are crafty and can come up with many meretricious reasons not to adopt a healthful way of eating. (like, “You only live once!” or, “I don’t have time to chop vegetables!”). And, unfortunately, you can’t just add a cup of broccolli to the standard American diet and expect to reap the benefits of weight loss, normalized blood sugar, and reversal of heart disease. A complete dietary overhaul is necessary. For most people, that means cleaning out the cupboards and starting over from scratch because nothing about their diet is health-supporting.
Our brains are also good at convincing us that we eat pretty well, especially compared to our compatriots (we tell ourselves before biting into that Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake). That’s where denial comes into play. My neighborly acquaintance denies the reality of his food choices by recalling only the brussels sprouts he had that day while forgetting the butter and salt they were swimming in. Or, if he acknowledges that many of his food choices are not life-supporting, he simply denies the importance of diet in weight loss and disease cause and reversal. He tells himself, “What difference does it make, I’m gonna gain weight anyway. And besides, my high school buddy ate good and then died of a heart attack,” while ripping into a bag of Lay’s.
Most likely, High School Buddy was just another victim of denial, not unlike a heart attack survivor I spoke to recently. “Yeah,” he said, “I was eating really well and exercising, this caught me by surprise.” He went on to describe the bagel with cream cheese he’d enjoyed a couple of days ago and the medium rare filet mignon he’d celebrated with over the weekend. “You only live once,” he pointed out.
How to Skirt Denial
How is your diet? Do you think you eat pretty well? The best way to side step playing into the hands of denial about your food habits is to keep a food log. Just get yourself a little notebook and keep it with you so you can jot down what you eat right after you eat it. If you wait until the end of the day you’re likely to forget some morsels—especially those that don’t fit into the belief of you as a healthy eater. Please don’t leave out Friday night’s happy hour hors d’oeuvres and margaritas! After a week, sit down and take an objective look. Do at least 90% of your calories derive from nutrient-rich foods (fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds)? Contrary to popular belief, lean meat and chicken, Greek yogurt, coconut oil, veggie ground round—none of these have a high ratio of nutrients (like phytochemical and antioxidants) per calorie.
1. Start noticing your justifications for making bad food choices.
2. Keep a food log for a week so you can see what you really eat.
*High-nutrient foods are those that contain a lot of nutrients/calorie—like kale, collards, spinach, cauliflower, blueberries, beans, seeds, etc.
If you want to know more, read the rest of this blog or check out my website.