February 28, 2007

Better Than a Cure: Prevention's 100 Smartest Diet Tips Ever (Part I)

I went home Monday, lay down for an hour, got up for dinner, sat on the couch with a heating pad to combat the sleep-deprivation shivers, forced myself to stay awake for another two hours so I wouldn’t sleep on a belly full of food again, then passed out promptly at 9:30. There are grandmothers with better constitutions. I’m beginning to think I have a serious sugar problem, because the alternative is that I’ve peaked as a human being, which would leave me no choice but to spend the remainder of my life in bed, drunk. And since I have far too many things to do to take that up, denial, she is my co-pilot. And having slept some sixteen hours in the past two days, I feel oddly energized; a propitious time for a phonebook-sized entry--or at least, the first half of one.

A coworker was kind enough to share this list with me [Dawn, this is your shout out. Woot!]; and as we kibbitzed over it a bit, I realized that I didn’t entirely agree with some of the items. It comes from Prevention magazine, who I like well enough in the same way I like my monthly eDiets newsletters; the articles are informative by way of common sense and things you’ve heard before, but once every few issues there’s something worth clipping. The list is good, but not comprehensive; some of the wording is ambiguous, details have been omitted, and there’s a lot of repetition, especially considering some important tips are never even touched on. I spent so long bloviating and editorializing at this poor coworker [you’re pretty; everyone says so] that I finally decided to, as they say, stick it in my blog.

Please note that I, unless explicitly stated, am not calling bullshit on any of these suggestions. I don’t think any one of them is a complete lie; I’ll put enough faith in journalism to say that if it made the list, it’s true for somebody—but this somebody has reasons to disagree. For handy reference, the numbers correspond to the original Prevention list.

1. True, except… 8 -10 servings a day? I get about 5, and I’m mainly vegetarian.

2. True, but again, every meal? Unless serving suggestions have changed, this seems excessive. This kind of diet seems likely to give you citric ulcers—but on the other hand, you’ll stay scurvy-free.

3. True, but, even better? Don’t get a value meal at all. If you have to eat fast food (or enjoy it; I don’t), don’t combo it because the sandwich “isn’t enough;” that sandwich is usually more than enough, calorie-wise. If you must round out the meal, a lot of places offer custom sides, like yogurt, salad or a baked potato—all healthier than fries.

4. Extra True. This has helped me so much in losing weight, I would venture to say it’s the cardinal rule of eating. Even if I have just cheese and crackers, I will plate them and give my full attention to them while I eat them; if I have a PB & BS (brown sugar, and if you’ve never had one you’ve never lived) with my evening cup o’tea, I put it on a small plate and cut it into fourths, rather than jamming the whole thing in my mouth, which I would surely do otherwise. Food is an experience. Put the book down, eat on the commercials, etc.

5. NOT True, but not necessarily False: I usually have oatmeal for breakfast, ranging from100-130 calories, then follow it with a snack two hours later. If you plan to spend the day felling trees or plowing the back forty, a 6:30 AM carb-loading session is mandatory, but if you’re going to be sitting down answering phones and filling in little boxes in Excel, a big breakfast is a long ride through Stuporville on your way to West Nappington. [Note: I do love breakfast foods, pancakes, soy-sage, scrambled eggs; but they work much better as a dinner than a breakfast.]

6. True, but basically a rewording of #2.

7. Tooo True: Restaurant portions are obscene; they are both examples and causes of the current obesity epidemic. America is a place of excess, and that mentality is only harder to fight when the reality is on a plate in front of you. Taking half for lunch the next day is a good idea if you actually eat it—if you chuck it out of your fridge two weeks later, well, that’s just waste. I prefer to order the “half” or “lunch” portion of whatever I want; lots of restaurants offer one, it’s just not listed on the dinner menu. It’s also usually cheaper, has 1/3 to half less calories and fat, and it won’t be staring at you whenever you open the fridge.

8. Well, yeah; True. If you even need the dessert at all. And I don’t say that as a way of encouraging deprivation, but if it’s a dessert you don’t enjoy, and I mean fully enjoy, why order it? I have a friend who routinely orders dessert just as a matter of course, to “round out” the meal—the 5,000 calorie meal she’s just consumed, that is. Also: most restaurant desserts suck. Oreo pie? Crumble some Oreos on lowfat chocolate pudding; it’ll save you untold amounts of fat and calories. My point: eat dessert if you really truly want it, or if you can’t make it at home.

9. Extra True: If you have a big plate, you will subconsciously fill it. See “portion size.”

10. True. Always check the side of the bag for the serving size of crackers, chips, cookies, whatever—then put that amount on the plate before you start munching. After, and you’ll probably chow a few that ‘don’t count’.

11. True: Get those greens in first. I actually noticed this only recently, but my meals are far more satisfying if I eat the veg before the meat, the salad before the pasta. The added bonus is that your mindless hunger is dispatched by the salad, so when the main course arrives, you will fully taste and enjoy it, not wolf it down because you’re starving.

12. True, but who in the hell is still drinking whole milk if they’re trying to lose weight? [Interesting note: I took a poll amongst friends and coworkers a few months ago, and the sad facts are that women actually drink far less milk than men. Men love a big glass of milk whether with or without food; women will put it in cereal or drink it with cookies, but usually don’t drink a glass of milk alone. I’m lactose intolerant, so a glass of milk sounds pretty repulsive to me, but I do drink soy milk and eat Viactiv, which, ladies, you should totally keep in your kitchen, because it’s all the calcium you need and they taste like Tootsie Rolls. OK, PSA over.]

13. True, but misleading. Juice is still better for you than soda, in that it actually contains nutrition, whereas soda is fizzy water and corn syrup. I don’t drink much juice because I prefer the whole fruit, but unless you’re shotgunning a carton of full-pulp OJ every morning, it’s not really a huge deal.

14. Um, True; I kinda jumped the gun. Sorry. [The exception being summertime, when it’s too hot to eat and I make protein shakes, but I’ll wait to talk about them.]

15. TRUE. So true it warrants the annoying caps. A lot of people starting out on weight loss will focus on just exercise and not diet, or vice versa. Let me and my toddler’s worth of weight loss tell you—they are tandem. You need to give equal attention to both, and the easiest way to see what needs work (and later, how far you’ve come) is to keep actual documentation of both. I used a food journal to study my habits and weaknesses until controlling it was routine, but I still use the exercise chart and running logs I started three years ago. It takes five minutes to record my times, and if I want to do a marathon, I’ll know how hard I need to train. The data doesn’t lie; even if the numbers aren’t changing, it will help you figure out why. These are good tools; use them.

16. Um, True? The Chinese say this? [Also, the Chinese don’t reduce their fractions?] In lieu of confusing algorithms, a better phrasing might be ‘don’t stop when you’re full, stop when you’re no longer hungry’. Recognizing the difference takes time, but it does happen.

17. True, but if you like mayo, there’s always reduced- and fat-free versions.

18. OK, I have a problem with both statements here, even though they’re inherently correct: Soup is a main staple in my diet, as I am lazy and frequently cold. They are very filling and nutritious, as long as you opt for the low-sodium varieties. I get Progresso, so that’s where my numbers come from, but one can will yield around 200 calories and 1200mg sodium, compared to Campbell’s Chicken Noodles’ 150 cal and 2225mg sodium. An excess of sodium is never your friend for a plethora of health reasons, but even if you’re only concerned with the aesthetic, that amount is going to make your body swell. Literally. Progresso’s 1200mg are even considered high, but I drink 2-3 liters of water a day (why haven’t we talked about water yet? Shame, Prevention!) and don’t really get much other salt in my diet. The best soup, of course, is the one you make yourself out of low-sodium stock and chopped veg, but again, lazy.

The second hiccup: Cream soups can be fattening, but check the labels; I’m in love with Healthy Choice’s Clam Chowder, as it’s lowfat and its recipe doesn’t hurt my poor intestines the way the classic recipe would.

19. True. Soda is such total crap, I wonder why people even drink it. If it’s caffeine you want, why drink man’s carbonated poison when God has given us coffee? And tea?

20. True. I’m a brown bagger / Lean Cuisine-r from way back.

21. True. As opposed to… swimming? I suspect they mean eating on the go, which is trouble for your diet in many ways. So yes, make time to eat and enjoy food.

22. True, if you drink juice. Even 100% juices are too sweet for me, so I dilute.

23. We covered this. This list is more like 75 things long, with reruns.

24. True, if a little nonspecific.

25. I almost never drink, but I’ll call this one True, and amend ‘to special occasions,’ (which ‘Tuesday’ is not, CD).

26. True, but bleeeargh do I hate V8. Anything is better than the DC, though, so if you can stomach the spicy ketchuppy beverage, go for it—but watch the sodium.

27. True-ish. I don’t see how vegetables aren’t delicious in their own right, but the best low-cal ways to add flavor are roasting, spritzing with the margarine spray, and seasoning them. Mrs. Dash makes an onion blend that I would make out with if it put on a tie; it’s the key to my homemade French fries.

28. Hm. True, I guess; I’ve never tried it. I do keep beans on hand for taco salad, which eat at least once a week and can make in under five minutes. As a quasi-veg, I can not sing the praises of beans enough (not intentionally a fart joke, and yet it kind of is); my mother’s chili is amazing, vegetarian, filling, and takes only five cans of beans and a crock pot. And it is full of lovely fiber.

29. True, but 1) who would forget that? and 2) sodium.

30. Aaand we’re back to the French fries. Slice a sweet potato into steak-fry slices, spray a cookie sheet, arrange, spray, Mrs. Dash, 20 minutes on broil. Alternately, fork it and toss it into the oven for 50 minutes and have a baked sweet potato. [Note: the skin of the sweet potato is full of fiber, and I do mean full. And what I mean by that is, if you’re constipated, skip the prunes, grab a sweet potato, wait 20 minutes. If you’re not afflicted, they’re good anyway, and you’ll never have colon cancer.] OR, bake six of them, discard peels, blend with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and egg whites and bake with oatmeal topping and have sweet potato casserole. Ahhh, sweet potato. Tuber of my love.

31. True. I write haiku to spinach. It’s awesomely vitaminny, and tastes good to boot—one of my favorite pizza toppings. I only like the fresh stuff, but the canned is nutritious as well (but on account of it looks like it was pulled out of a drain and smells of shoe, I will not partake). [Note: Sometimes, sometimes fresh veg has disease. We know. We’re working on it. Meanwhile, wash it thoroughly and write your congressman for better farmland working conditions.]

32. True, sometimes. I buy carrot fingers and mixed veg in bags; the convenience is worth it in many cases, as long as they don’t add any weird ‘butter sauce’ or preservatives.

33. False. I don’t get ‘hating’ vegetables; there are so many to choose from, in so many different ways, it’s like hating music. But, hypothetically, if you truly despise vegetables, you can derive many of the same nutrients from fruit. However, fruits have far more natural sugar than most veg, therefore they are not “just as healthy.” Fruit is still a healthy choice, but leaving veg out altogether is bound to create some vitamin deficiencies. [Damn—why haven’t we mentioned vitamins? You’re slipping, list.]

34. True, but… seven bags? I live in an apartment; I make ice in shifts. If you have a deep-freezer, by all means use the hell out of it; those things are the vanguard of convenient healthy eating. If, like me, you can fit a pint of Cherry Garcia and two cube trays… well, better to shop frequently, all fancy European-like, and keep fresh veg in the fridge.

35. True. Except the best portion of Rice Krispie Treats is of course the pangea-sized one.

36. True. If you crave something for days, then get it. Five minutes, and only because you saw it on TV? It’ll pass.

37. Um, True in a sense? I like the idea of reinforcing a goal, but if you really want a cookie and you’re not morbidly obese… eat the damn cookie.

38. If I weren’t lazy I’d sue, because I say this everyday.

39. Okay, now I am totally suing.

40. Christ, they bugged my kitchen.

The diet is where the structure is; I can watch myself closely at work, but I get home and put on pajamas and there are no numbers. This is a pretty common problem; it’s all about behavior modification, and that takes time, so be patient.

41. True. Portion and numbers. Always pay attention.

42. True, but beware vilifying any one food group; they all serve a purpose. I eat pasta between two and four days a week because the next day I can run five miles without fainting; the bonus being I can eat the hell out of some chicken parm (and not feel a bit guilty). The portion is your real concern, here.

43. Damn, that is a big snack. Bagels, like pasta, are mostly white flour—but that’s some tasty flour, right there. Mmmm, bagel… ahem. But yes, a bagel is breakfast for lumberjacks, dinner for you.

44. Well, doi.

45. True. As the Sooz knows, snacking on nuts is not a meal, but it does add up to one. I put peanuts on my salads and fro-yo, but they’re not really a proper ‘snack’ unless your fridge is empty and your blood sugar is low. And for the love of babies and kittens, do not keep them right next to the couch.

46. True, and a bit of durrr. It must be the packaging that suggests ‘made by Kashi’ = low cal, but any sensible person is going to read the label and decide for herself whether the numbers place it in snack or meal territory. And since you are obviously such a person, we’ll move on.

47. True, but, blech. Add a banana and we might be talking… ohh, frozen fruit. Missed that part. OK, it’s all good, just watch the sugar; I’d add protein powder if it’s replacing a meal.

48. Fine, provided you eat / enjoy meat / fast food. And slashes.

49. Dude, their mini-camera in my cupboard missed the brown sugar again. And it’s tea, guys; if I’m gonna spy on myself, I wanna see some checks.

50. Sounds good, except not breaded chicken strips, and watch the sodium / preservatives.

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