Still with me? OK, so now I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned so far about losing a lot of weight in as non-technical and simple a way as I can. This is the game. I can’t say that it’ll work for you or for anyone else, but this is what has worked for me so far. I think I’ve distilled everything I’ve learned down to something that seems workable and in line with common sense nutritional advice. This one is deliberately short and offers no recipes or shopping lists or any of that sort of thing. And I want to be frank and acknowledge this at the outset: This is somewhat costly and inconvenient, but it’s focused entirely on “real” food that you can get at most grocery stores. Eating this way doesn’t eliminate the suffering of weight loss, but it manages it in some useful ways, I think.
Some of this is adapted from the book Minimalism: Lead a Meaningful Life by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, but only because of how succinctly they summarize what I had already been doing for months before I read their book:
THE FOOD I EAT:
(1) I avoid these things:
- processed and packaged foods and just about anything that can’t spoil
- sugar and corn syrup. This is critical. At the same time, this stuff is ubiquitous. Whole books have been written about the topic. Some of those books seem absolutely crazy, so be prepared.
- bread, pasta, and anything made of flour. Yeah, I know.
- Dairy. Really. All of it. I’ve even given up on most substitutes except unsweetend almond milk with my cereal.
- any drinks with calories (including booze except on rare special occasions when one serving is OK)
(2) I eat these things
- vegetables– tons of them.
- lean meats
- legumes and beans
- cashews and some almonds
- some low-glycemic load fruits. Knowing the difference here is really important. Some fruits are actually not helpful for stabilizing your cravings.
- some eggs
- some grains, but very few and always whole-grain. I eat ½ cup of Ezekiel 4:9 flax cereal with berries (fresh or thawed frozen) and almond milk for breakfast most days.
(3) I drink a ton of water. I don’t even know how much. But I aim to go to the bathroom at least once an hour. I’m guessing I drink somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-100 oz of water on a normal day, more when it’s hot.
I think that the very simple equation is this: You have to eat fewer calories than you burn in order to lose weight. So, at its core, weight loss is about calories. But although at one level, a calorie is a calorie, the way your body processes certain kinds of foods results in some foods leaving you feeling full sooner and longer. Most of the successful weight loss programs seem to suggest some variation on what I’ve written above, leaning heavily on lean (even non-animal) protein, mounds of vegetables, healthy fats, a little fruit, and little or no processed foods or things with sugar/corn syrup or refined flour. As Michael Pollan sums it up: Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
At a practical level, what this means is that you’re always, always shopping from a shopping list. You avoid almost every damn thing in the aisles of the grocery store. You check carbs and especially added sugars on everything. If you don’t know what the ingredients are in something, don’t eat it.
Snacks: You need some snacks that you can live with but not over-indulge in, and you need to stash them everywhere you are just in case– some at work, one in the car, some at home, maybe even something in your bag. I prefer roasted, salted cashews and raw almonds. I like both because I find a handful to be exactly the right portion for me, and I almost never want a second handful. Carrots are good, too, and so are apples.
Shopping: I’ve recently learned that I prefer Trader Joe’s, and it’s for a pretty straightforward reason: They don’t have many things, but they have all the things I eat. So, a trip to the grocery store doesn’t feel like a hunting expedition. It’s all right there, and I can get in and out before temptation gets the best of me.
Money: This way of eating is more expensive and less convenient. I have deliberately reduced expenses in other areas of my life so that I can afford to eat this way. But, still, my way of eating requires a certain amount of privilege and money on my part, which is disturbing. I am hoping, over the next few months, to grow in my understanding of how to do this inexpensively.
Bad Situations in Travel: We all get into situations where all we have are bad options. Here’s how I handle those:
- Eating at gas stations: This might be the absolute worst. I almost always just go for nuts with no sugar added. Some type of jerky with the least amount of sugar is usually my second choice. I always just try to quiet my hunger for long enough to get to real food. Strangely, I’ve gotten a couple decent apples at gas stations. It’s amazing what you find when you’re looking carefully at the things a store has in stock.
- Subway: These guys are ubiquitous on the American landscape, so you might as well have a strategy in case you need to eat there. Chopped salad, double meat (roasted chicken) spinach, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, and some pickles chopped in for flavor. If you keep asking for more spinach, most places will keep giving you more until it gets ridiculous. I have never had anyone refuse me more spinach, though I’ve gotten some real funny looks.
- McDonalds: Salad, no dressing if you can handle it. Add a grilled chicken sandwich or two, but get them with no sauce or mayo, throw out the buns, and cut the meat onto the salad. It’s kinda disgusting to do this, but I consider it an emergency situation.
The truth is that, the longer you eat like this, the more “natural” it feels, and the more clear you get about what is and isn’t good for you. And really, what you’re shooting for is not perfection. It’s getting it right almost all of the time. You’ll know you’re getting it right most of the time when you cheat with a fast food burger and fries and find that it makes you feel disgusting. After eating healthy food for a while, your body really does adjust to it and comes to prefer it. A burger and fries used to be my favorite meal, but I haven’t had one now in months and don’t miss it. But if you’re sneaking with sugar and Doritos most days, that’ll never happen.