To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast

When and how often people eat meals is actually influenced by their culture. In Mediterranean countries are known for long, leisurely, filling lunches followed by some down time. This approach is very different from that in the U.S. and U.K. where dinner is typically the largest, most involved meal of the day, while lunch may be eaten at a desk. In Indonesia, it’s common for the main meal to be breakfast, with subsequent left-overs consumed throughout the day. In a variety of countries around the world, people eat just two meals–some due to lack of food, but more often just out of custom.

A very typical Malaysia breakfast of noodles and vegetables

So is breakfast worth all the hype or not? It seems like very few things in the world are definitive: Is (fill in the blank) good or bad for us? Breakfast is no exception. The adage that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is ingrained in most Americans. It kick-starts the body’s metabolism and offers fuel for the brain. A study by the American Heart Association on the impact of when and how often we eat cited numerous studies that link obesity and/or higher body fat mass to skipping breakfast. Other research, like one out of Canada and another out of the U.K., found that skipping breakfast did not have much of an overall impact on determining health. Some go so far as to argue that not only breakfast, but the whole three square meals a day regimen is not only unnecessary, but undermines our health (see Fasting is Great, Unless You have Food Issues As with most research on health, so many variables come into play that it is difficult to offer blanket recommendations.

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Skip the Entreé

One of the biggest challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is managing the seemingly constant barrage of food images tempting and encouraging us to indulge.  “Eat me!” they scream at us, enticing us with gooey cheese dripping off of a slice of pizza, chocolate drizzled over a perfect slice of cheesecake, and every salt crystal glistening on a golden-brown soft pretzel. Watching T.V. or movies requires navigating a minefield of product placement to resist caving. Indeed, during my lifestyle change, I cut back considerably on T.V.–especially shows on the Food Network–because I found myself craving so much of what I saw on the screen, even though I wasn’t hungry.

So what happens when you go to a restaurant and the visual stimulation of people’s food and menu pictures are coupled with the aroma of food? Stepping into a restaurant immediately sets us up to fail, with enormous portions, multiple course offerings, and complimentary foods like tortilla chips and bread. To survive, it’s important to have a strategy upon entering restaurant, as I discussed in My First Restaurant Visit.

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Setting Goals

The benefits of planning and setting goals are well known. People are more likely to achieve reasonable goals by setting objectives than by saying they want to accomplish something without setting a plan of action. Use this same advice to develop a lifestyle change plan.

The key to achieving an objective is twofold. First, identify what you’d like to accomplish and set a realistic time-frame to achieve it. That’s the easy part. The second piece of the puzzle is to figure out how to do it.

Is your goal to eat less junk food? If so, it’s useful to know what triggers you to turn to junk food. For this issue, it’s helpful to keep a food diary to track when you eat it and briefly note how you’re feeling at the time. This strategy will reveal patterns of behavior that you might be unaware of that you can then address.

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You Can Quit a Lot, but You Can’t Quit Food

I’m a food addict. I clearly remember one time during grad school that I bought a bag of miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I took out a few and ate them, but before I knew it, I was digging into the bag and had binged on half it before I was able to stop myself. It was one of the many times in my life that I wished I could just avoid food altogether instead of having to figure out how to limit myself, because clearly, I thought, something was wrong with me. I took the rest of the bag to class to give to anyone who would take them to release the grasp they had over me.

The pretzels are good, but to me, they’re just a vehicle for this very addictive ranch dip.

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But I’m Starving Hungry!

Many traps lie in wait to trip us up, foiling our best-laid plans. One of the biggest hurdles to conquer with weight loss is dealing with feeling hungry. It’s miserable. For me, it means being grouchy, frustrated, and irrational. Physiologically, it’s against our nature for our bodies to cut back on calories. We’re programmed to consume to survive and crave fat and sugar to store up for future shortages. Fast forward to the age of mass consumption and we’ve got a problem.

Before my lifestyle change, my body was accustomed to getting loads of calories. Sure, I went through bouts where I deprived myself out of guilt, desperation, or sheer will-power, but I only set myself up for future binging. Cutting back calories results in feeling hungry; there’s no way around a body rebelling against suddenly getting shortchanged and screaming in retaliation. Surviving calorie deprivation has got to be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome because of this biological resistance to a lifestyle change.

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Inspired by the New Year

New Year’s Resolutions offer the impetus for us to make a commitment to something we want to change in our lives. I’ve only ever made one resolution, when I eschewed meat many moons ago, because I stuck to it and was afraid of ruining my perfect record. But at the end of every year, I find myself reviewing my life and evaluating what changes I could make for the better. So even though I haven’t since officially declared a resolution, I’ve certainly been inspired to act.

I’d love to make a resolution to travel more, to see amazing site like these wart hogs playing near a campfire in Swaziland, but it’s unrealistic.

Whether you are a resolution maker or, like me, just someone who reconsiders your life with the hope of a new start in the New Year, the biggest reason for failure is a lack of strategizing. Even the best of intentions won’t materialize without figuring out how to implement changes. A perfect example is the surge in gym memberships every January.

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So Many Diets Out There!

With so many diets out there, how do you know what to choose to get started? Actually, it’s imperative to avoid choosing a diet, but rather, adopt a regimen that offers a template to get started. Since the key to success is a lifestyle change, instead of starting a (or another?) diet, it’s much more useful to find a plan that offers some useful tools. Well-known diet plans are set up to keep customers dependent on them rather than show them how to live in the real world.

That I love vegetables definitely gives me an advantage to maintain a healthy body. I learned to make all of these veggie dishes at a cooking class in Morocco.

As I mentioned in Start NOW!, it’s best to choose a regimen largely based on the foods you regularly eat (unless it’s all junk food, though I’m sure someone has proposed a junk food diet. Even then, I’m just not sure how successful it could be for long term health…). Along with laying out the science behind nutrition, I discussed the reasons for my regimen choices over the last 15 years in My Food Education, which might offer a useful starting point.

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Start NOW!

It’s the New Year, and with the New Year comes resolutions. Not surprisingly, the number one resolution made by Americans is to get fit. But how to get started, especially if you’re feeling down on yourself, gained weight over the holidays, or have loads of food you feel obliged to consume: Leftover Christmas cookies, boxes of chocolates, Swiss Colony beef log, and loads of junk food from New Year’s Eve?

How to get started: Decide you want to make a change. If you’re like me, maybe you’re in denial about having food issues. I was dead convinced for the longest time that I didn’t really overeat, but I had earlier in my life, so if I could just drop those unwanted pounds, I’d be able to carry on with my life. I expect others might feel this way, judging by how many people successfully lose weight only to regain it once they stop dieting.

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Phase 3: Challenges

In my series on Knowing What to Expect when embarking on a lifestyle change, last time I left you hanging (with baited breath, no doubt) by mentioning that during Phase 3 I encountered three challenges that weren’t exactly eating-related. Phase 3 was a time when I was in a routine, established and reinforced good habits, started exercising, and–best of all–I wasn’t starving hungry all the time.

What better on Halloween than some roasted garlic to ward off the vampires?

What better on Halloween than some roasted garlic to ward off the vampires? It’s ‘cheap’ and super good for you. Just cut the top off of a head of garlic, sprinkle with oil, wrap in foil, and bake at 400 degrees for ~20 minutes.

By this point, I had lost a substantial amount of weight. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn’t weigh or measure myself when I started, but I knew from how I felt and the way my clothes fit that I had lost more than a few pounds. What I learned during this time, however, was that I had to rely on the self-gratification of my success as my sole source of inspiration because no one seemed to notice I’d lost weight.

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Phase 3: You’re on a Roll

Phase 3 is the next stage in what I experienced in my lifestyle change. Phase 1 was the easier follow-up to getting started, while Phase 2 was battling the constant hunger demon. Phase 3 is where I finally overcame the initial resistance of my body to consuming fewer calories.

Phase 3 lasted a long time for me. I felt far less frequently like I was going to starve to death. When I did cave and over-indulge, it was easy to immediately get back on track and forgive myself for feeling like I really needed to eat. When I indulged, I tried to stick with stuff that was on the plan, so I wouldn’t be tempted by a lot of junk food. As I encouraged in a previous post it’s important to consider when to start a lifestyle change. Starting around the year-end holidays adds an extra challenge on top of how difficult sticking to a weight loss plan already is. However, always using upcoming occasions as an excuse means never starting a program, so strategize the best you can.

It’s important to remember that this plan isn’t a diet, but a lifestyle change. What helped me to succeed was recognizing that I did not live in a vacuum and didn’t want to eat pre-packaged program food my whole life. What that meant for me was integrating ‘real’ food in as soon as I felt responsible with portion control. So in addition to transitioning the program plan into real food, it also meant learning to be responsible when I didn’t cook for myself. I already talked about my first restaurant visit, which was both satisfying and scary at the prospect of being derailed. Another thing I had to learn was to how to eat at parties and holidays.

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