I like to think I'm a glass half full kind of guy. Unless, of course, I'm A) trying to find something I've misplaced, B) making a Target run that will "only take 2 minutes," or C) find that an hour of my writing has instantly disappeared into an internet/blog writing black hole.
And yes, that last one just happened. Damn you, interwebzzzzz!
ANYwho, I'm a firm believer that if you solidly put your mind to something - yes, pretty much anything - you can accomplish it. Maybe I've read one too many self help books. Or maybe I was cheerleader in a previous life, I'm not really sure. (<----And if I was, you can bet I was at the bottom of pyramid!)
Suffice to say, I want nothing more than to see people succeed, but especially when it comes to losing weight. Yet, I've seen too many people get tripped up in the destination, rather than the journey. In other words, if all you want are the results and you don't care about the process - "just tell me what I should and shouldn't eat" - you're not going to see the results you want.
With that train of thought, I decided to make a list of three guidelines that many people want, but they probably shouldn't have. Why? Because it hurts their progress and/or doesn't set them up for long term success.
1. A Meal Plan
More often that not, when someone asks me what they should eat, I usually stay to the basic guidelines. Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.
Sidenote: that popular phrase has been coined by Michael Pollan. And if I'm ever in the same room with him, you can bet he'll receive one of these:
Beyond that, I'll admit that I'm not the best person to give you answers. Sure, I'm an expert in implementing healthy choices in my own life....but you have different dietary preferences, tastes, social commitments, and most importantly, a different relationship with food, than I do.
Let's face it: it's usually not what we eat for breakfast that makes us gain weight. Instead, it's the cookies, takeout, and alcohol that usually finds its way into our diet because we're stressed and didn't plan well; out with friends who may not have the same goals; or are so incredibly hangry that we could eat that driver who cut us off and has left their blinker on for 2 miles (not that I've been there.......)
If I gave someone a meal plan, it may work for a little while. But what happens when they don't go shopping for a week because they're too busy at work? Or, how about when they can't prepare their own meals because their fridge just bit the dust? Life will inevitably take your plan off the rails, so the secret isn't a meal plan...it's creating great habits.
In the book Willpower, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney argue that the individuals with the strongest willpower avoid situations where they might be tempted. Piggybacking off that idea, is a meal plan going to help? No. A better use of time would be to identify the poor planning and impulse control that led you to those "unfriendly belt buckle" situations in the first place.
2. Daily Calorie Estimates
When I think back to the 1990's, I think of a few things:
1) Riding around in my Dad's car listening to Meatloaf ("And I would do aaaanything for looooove. But I won't do....that")
2) Multiple New York Yankees World Series Championships.
3) How the entire decade could be considered the "Dark Ages" of nutrition.
Let's think about it: what was the biggest nugget of nutrition constantly thrown at consumers in the 90's? Eat less fat. How did we ever think that crap like this was OK for us to eat!?
Fast forward about 20 years, and "low calorie" has become the new "low fat." How?
Besides the fact that counting calories is wildly inaccurate (and it also takes the pleasure out of eating), having a strict focus on calories gives us a tainted view of food quality - which we now know is like, kind of a big deal. I've overheard people worrying about eating too much cottage cheese and avocados as they're both calorie dense, while they happily pop Wheat Thins and 100 calorie packs of Oreos as a daily snack.
All calories are not created equal, just like one size will never fit all. Eat more fruit, eat more vegetables, and worry about the calories only after those two make up the bulk of your diet.
3. Food Groups to Avoid
On the same note as #2, we know there are certain food groups that correlate pretty well with better health and longevity. In fact, people have made their careers out of finding the more nuts you eat, the better health you generally have.....while the more bacon you eat, the more you'll be beggin' (get it, like bacon?) for better health.
I'll admit that when I was first starting out with nutrition coaching, there were times I told people to stop eating "starchy carbs." Breads, pastas, and even potatoes were all to be avoided if someone really wanted to lose weight. Sure enough, it never worked. There would almost always be unintended consequences, where someone's diet would actually get worse because they were trying to avoid carbs. In short, I wasn't fixing the real issue.
I realize now that instead of coaching people away from food, we should actually be doing the opposite. Food is not the problem, food is the solution. While the easy route is to demonize specific food groups (see Eat This, Not That!), the much more effective route is helping someone achieve a healthy relationship with food. Because in the end, that's really how you measure success, with weight loss simply coming along for the ride.