Losing weight, getting fit and eating healthier are the top New Year’s resolutions that are the most often… forgotten. There are many reasons for this. One is often that the required changes are too drastic, too sudden, and don’t integrate well into your established lifestyle. For instance, a diet that changes most of your meals can’t be reasonably followed for long despite the best intentions because it requires too many additional changes (getting more informed about food that can vs. cannot be consumed, buying different food items, learning different cooking methods, getting used to new tastes, etc.) all in a matter of days. Another reason is that resolutions are too ambitious: adding to your new diet a workout schedule (which demands even more commitment, planning and time) just adds too many changes that before long are all dropped because they are unsustainable.
A better approach is to focus on one single goal and integrate it into your lifestyle one step at a time. This has better chance to succeed because the long-term goal is broken down into smaller steps that you follow at a pace that makes them stick to your lifestyle. It’s even better if reaching that goal brings extra benefits without requiring additional efforts from you.
Losing weight, getting fit and eating healthier are just different ways of achieving one goal: regaining your health. So make that your goal: to regain your health. To your friends, it’ll be eating a little better, exercising a little more. To you, it’ll be a series of small dietary changes that will give your body what it needs to grow, sustain health, resist diseases, heal itself and be loaded of energy. Plus you’ll get some extras, without even trying: weight loss (without the nearly-impossible burden of counting calories) and the envy of exercising (because you will feel the need to burn all that energy you will be gaining). By gradually eating better, feeling better, losing weight and exercising, you will quickly enjoy the rewards of living healthier. This will increase your motivation and confidence to further improve your lifestyle, which will fuel an upward spiral of healthy eating and living, self-confidence and accomplishments that will lead toward succeeding your goal: to regain your health.
What follows is a 4-month plan to reach that goal. It consists of gradually eliminating from your diet food that are known to be hurtful to your health. Each month is focused on eliminating one food group (meat, dairy, fats and sweets) from your diet by phasing out specific food each week. As a result, you don’t have to drastically change your eating habits overnight, but instead one week a time. For instance, the first month is focused on eliminating meat: you start by removing processed meat (e.g. sandwich meat) from your meals while following your regular diet otherwise; the next week you remove red meat, and so forth. At the end of the first month, you will have eliminated meat from your diet. As a bonus, you will already feel better and have lost some weight, without even trying.
You will achieve the best results by following the plan entirely. However that demands to keep an open mind toward your beliefs regarding food. There are a lot of misinformation and myths that are forcefully, repeatedly and consistently perpetuated by the billion-dollar food industry that is feeding us regardless of the consequences on our health, for the specific goal of getting money from our pockets. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just another industry motivated by profits. But the more you understand this, the easier it’ll be for you to ditch those products that have and still do sicken hundreds of millions of people before you, in favor of food rich in nutrients that are genetically designed to help your body grow and sustain health.
Month 1: Meat
It’s believed that we need meat for the proteins they contain. It’s now known that even world-class athletes need far less proteins than previously thought, that consuming animal proteins and the inherent fat are incredibly harmful, and that proteins from a whole food, vegetable-based diets are amply fulfilling. Any dietitian not paid by the food industry will assure you that the myth that only meat provide complete proteins is only that: a myth. What is not a myth is that meat, any kind of meat, not only lead to atherosclerosis (heart attacks, strokes) and cancer, but to a myriad of other crippling diseases. Saturated fat and cholesterol have a bad name for a good reason. Meats have no vitamins nor minerals which are essential to growth and health.
- Week 1: Processed meat: sandwich meat, salami, hot dogs, etc. The sort of food that resembles nothing of what nature makes on its own.
- Week 2: Red meat. A recent study confirmed that it shortens your lifespan.
- Week 3: White meat. Know that chickens are grown and slaughtered in atrocious conditions, and that you end up consuming the antibiotics they were fed with.
- Week 4: Fish. Farm fish is also fed with antibiotics, and natural fish is heavily contaminated with mercury.
Consume more veggies (so many to choose from, aim for the dark green type), beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, whole grains (corn, wheat, quinoa, rice, etc.) and fruits. Keep an eye on vitamin B12 by consuming food that add it (e.g. fortified soy milk). That’s likely the only nutrient you need to watch for specifically. Avoid commercial “fake meat” products (e.g. meatless patties) because they are very much processed on their own and not nutritious as they may seem; make instead your own (burger patties made of beans, potatoes, rice, and spices) that are both tastier and healthier.
Month 2: Dairy
Another strongly-perpetuated myth is that calcium must come from milk. It seems that without milk, our teeth will promptly decay and our bones will bristle in no time. The truth is, calcium is abundant in natural food and it’s nearly impossible to be deficient of it when eating a plant-based, whole food diet. Besides, the calcium from milk comes from the plants the cows consumed (cows do not synthesize – generate – calcium but simply metabolize it – pass it – from the food they eat). So it’s best to leave the cows ruminating on their own and consume the actual source (not previously digested) of calcium: plants. A little dirty secret that the dairy industry keeps for itself is that countries that consume the most dairy have the highest rate of osteoporosis (bone diseases) and cancer. Not only that, but all dairy products contain a protein called casein that is known to promote the growth of cancer cells, and when removed from a diet, enable the body to destroy those cancel cells.
- Week 1: Cheese. It’s loaded with bad fats and casein.
- Week 2: Yogurt. Often loaded with a lot of sugars too.
- Week 3: Milk. Do we really need to consume another species’ milk? If calves are weaned by six months, exclusively turn to plants afterwards and grow big bones and muscles, why could we possibly need cow milk?
- Week 4: Milk-based deserts and treats. Loaded with casein, fats and calories. Not loaded with nutrients. Not healthy by any means.
Aim for plant-based milk, such as soy milk, rice milk, almond milk and derived products if desired. Don’t be turned off by their somewhat light brownish color: whitened products are specifically depleted of some their nutrients to achieve their whiteness. It’s best to consume products that are whole and unprocessed to get all the nutrients they contain; that’s what the body needs.
Month 3: Fats
By now you will have already lost weight. But get ready for some accelerated weight loss by dropping fatty products. The body is very efficient at converting the fats we consume into body fat; conversely, it’s far more difficult for the body to convert carbs into body fat. Also, there’s no such thing as “healthy oils”: oils are pure fats extracted from food items that have severely been depleted of most, if not all, of their nutrients. A nasty side effect of fats is that they are twice as rich in calories than carbs and proteins. So grams for grams, dropping fats reduces your energy intake twice as fast as carbs and/or proteins. By dropping fatty products and replacing them with natural food, you not only drop excess energy from your diet, you also significantly increase your consumption of essential nutrients and vitamins to give your body what it needs to grow and sustain health. Equally important, fats are the cause of type 2 diabetes and heart diseases, so dropping them will not hurt a bit. Natural food items such as plants and fruits contain all the essential fats we need, and in quantities we need them; there’s really no biological need to add any more than what nature intended us to consume.
- Week 1: Dressings and sauces. Eliminate them to finally enjoy the real taste of natural food.
- Week 2: Cooking oils. Simply use water or fruit juice and you will achieve the same results. Besides, frying vegetables results in them being cooked by their own water, not the cooking oil.
- Week 3: Packages food (cans, commercial cereals, etc.) They almost always contain additives that your body does not need at all.
- Week 4: Prepared meals: pizzas, frozen meals, coffee shops’ drinks (those lattes damage your blood vessels), etc. They are loaded with fats, sugars and/or salt in quantities that damage your body.
Month 4: Sweets and Bad Carbs
What is becoming a very significant health threat is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Derived from corn at a very cheap cost, it is used as a taste enhancer in most products. The downside is that it’s nutritionally empty but packed in calories. It gives nothing to your health and makes you heavier and larger. Sweets are great when consumed in moderation, but extreme care must be used because they are in most processed foods and it’s very easy to over-consume them.
- Week 1: Sodas, sweetened drinks and most commercial juices. They have recently received really bad press, for a reason.
- Week 2: Sweetened cereals, syrups, jams, sweetened condiments (e.g. ketchup), etc. Those contain very high amounts of HFCS, giving you calories without any nutrients.
- Week 3: White breads, white rice, white pasta. “Enriched” food is all but; see below.
- Week 4: Candies, treats. Once in a while is fine. Every day is way too much.
The so-called “enriched” products (white breads, pasta and rice) are made of grains that are whitened in a process that so severely removes some of their nutrients that the government bodies require the food industry to artificially add those nutrients back. The food industry’s marketing wizards answer back by calling those products “enriched”, but they are not better than the original food items they are made of; they are instead severely depleted. So when you read “enriched flour”, “enriched wheat”, etc., substitute the word “enriched” by “depleted”, and this is exactly what you’d be eating: depleted flour, depleted wheat, and so on.
Aim for whole grains, such as whole wheat, quinoa, etc. Quinoa-made pasta taste better, have the same consistency and are far more nutritious than regular (depleted) pasta. Be aware that some grains have so badly been genetically modified over the years that they are barely comestible for some. Those who experience bloated stomach and other digestive problems should go gluten-free for at least two months to see if gluten is the source of the problem.
Eliminating those products might seem impossible to achieve, but millions of people have done it before you. Most have said that is was easier than thought, in part because the results are so impressive. Indeed, science has demonstrated that they not only live healthier, they live far longer (10 years on average).
The good news is that eliminating any of these food items will help you getting healthier, so any commitment you make and stick to counts toward a “better you”.
For those who are into reading, there is also a lot of literature that explains why and how ditching those food solidifies your health. There are also countless recipe books featuring meals of all kind that only use healthy products and that will fully satisfy your taste buds.
Make 2013 the year where you regained your health, one step at a time. Happy New Year!