Fat loss couldn’t be more simple. Burn more calories than you consume. That’s all you have to do to burn fat! So why is America overweight? Has our education really failed us so much that we can’t understand this simple concept? We’ve all heard that we need to eat healthy and exercise in order to stay in shape, so why does our nation continue doing the opposite?
How We Got Here
What is arguably the biggest contributor to our country’s weight problem is industrial agriculture. Yes we have people sitting at desks 8+ hours a day who struggle to find time to be active. Yes so-called healthy foods are significantly more expensive than unhealthy alternatives. Yes our country is flooded with fast food options and far fewer health conscious restaurants. But ultimately, it’s the ignorance Americans have about what has been happening on grocery store shelves that has our country desperate for fat loss help.
Ask anyone around you ‘How many calories do you eat a day?‘ and chances are less than 1 out of every 10 people could actually tell you how many calories they eat each day. Very few people, even healthy people, take the time to track their calories. It’s for this reason that what we put in our bodies is so important to our health.
Our habit for decades has been to go to the grocery store, select an assortment of foods, and hopefully save money while doing so. What’s changed over those decades is the types of foods available, and the calorie density of those foods. Through industrial agriculture and food processing, we’ve been able to mass produce foods that didn’t even exist years before (think hot dogs, cereals, chips, almond milk) and cram more cheap sugars and fats into those foods to make them absolutely delicious. While many of these foods are relatively harmless in small quantities, industrial processing of these foods significantly strips out a lot of the healthy nutrients and replaces them with unhealthy but tasty ones.
As Americans, we love our tasty foods. We always have, and who doesn’t? Industrial agriculture has made it possible to come up with some pretty delicious snacks (ever had a fried Oreo?). It’s even made a lot of our food options cheaper. What it has also done is robbed us of more nutrient dense food and replaced them with calorie-dense foods. And we haven’t done well at all with educating consumers on how calorie-dense these foods are, and therefore how detrimental it is to your health when you consume these foods on a regular basis, which is sadly the case more often than not.
Manufacturers of these delicious but un-nutritious foods have cleverly made it commonplace to have these foods in pantries across the country. They market to kids who have no idea how terrible these foods are, so kids demand them from unsuspecting parents who assume there can’t be much harm in having some snacks around the house, and year after year more snacks become available, more options appear on the shelves, and next thing you know it’s present day and 75% of American adults are overweight. Yes, you read that right, 3/4 of American adults are overweight, and the amount of obese kids has tripled over the last 40 years.
It’s a sad reality, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent one. Through simple education and instruction, we can all work together to reverse the growing trend (pun intended) and start making healthy choices the new norm. We can change the normal office option of breakfast tacos or donuts for everyone in the morning into a fruit tray with greek yogurt, oatmeal and scrambled eggs. We can make happy hour a time for group exercise rather than alcohol and fried food. We can make eating out a cheat-meal again, rather than a normal breakfast, lunch or dinner.
It would be fantastic if everyone tracked their calories every day so we could really discover the foods that are hiding many of the calories we are currently consuming, but that is an unrealistic expectation. So for the 99% who won’t track their calories, it’s imperative that the foods you choose to put in your body are chosen wisely.
Stay away from most of the aisles within the grocery store. Almost everything that comes in a box or bag on those aisles is processed, nutrient-stripped and calorie-dense. Shop the perimeter of the store first, starting with produce. Fill your basket or cart with a colorful assortment of fruits and vegetables. Starting your grocery trip off with healthy decisions will influence you to continue making healthy decisions as you shop.
After produce, grab some skim or 1% milk, some eggs, egg whites, low-fat meats, fish, and even some low-fat cheese or yogurts (don’t trust “low fat” on the product label, actually check the nutrition label). After you’ve filled your cart with some fresh foods containing a lot of your healthy fats and proteins, you’re ready to venture into the inner-aisles where almost everything is processed carbohydrates. Look for foods that are high in fiber (1g for every 4 or 5 grams of total carbohydrates). Brown rice, quinoa, black beans, lentils and whole-grain foods are what you want to look for.
Understanding the basics of nutrition labels will dramatically improve your ability to make healthy meal decisions. Try to include a protein, green vegetable and starchy vegetable with each meal. Fats almost always make their own way into meals either from oil added during cooking or natural oil within the foods themselves, so plates should just be divided into almost equal spaces for a protein, starchy vegetable and green vegetable. This will almost always guarantee that you’ve created a well-balanced, nutritious meal choice.
For those that feel like their unhealthy meals tastes bland at first, rest assured that it won’t take long for your body to adapt to your new diet. Cheap, unhealthy foods are packed with taste from all the fats and sugars, and our bodies get used to the sensory overload from all of those calories. But once you restrict those calorie-dense foods, your taste buds will adapt to appreciate the more subtle flavors of healthy foods. Your body will adapt too, and within a few weeks you’ll notice that when you try to eat one of those cheat-meals from your past, it will taste too sweet, and/or too fatty, and your body will feel sluggish afterwards because it’s been running off of clean, premium-grade rocket fuel for the last few weeks and you just fed it vegetable oil. It won’t take long for you to realize the benefits of eating healthy every meal, and the consequences of eating poorly even just intermittently.
You may think you can’t do it, but you can. You can do what you can’t.