Sunday, September 6, 2009

How (Perennially) Fat People Diet: Part 4: About Protein

In part 1, I described how lots of (perpetually) overweight people approach (perpetual) dieting. In part 2, part 2a, and part 3, we've been going down the list and finding the mistakes. Now we're up to this:
Low Calorie, Low Fat, Low Protein Dinner
Dieting fat people know to watch their ingestion of calories, fat, and sugar. But they also avoid protein. Why? Because their usual protein sources are caloric bombs. Hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, tacos....all that stuff is, obviously, unfit for dieters. So they sidestep the protein and ingest great big bowls of things like brown rice, vegetable chili, and other virtuous-seeming carbs. Plus, something sweet for dessert - fruit-based, because the sugar in fruits is much healthier and less fattening than other forms of sugar.
I explained last time why great big portions of virtuous food will keep you fat. And how focusing on carbs - even healthy whole grain ones - will do likewise. Now we come to an essential piece of know-how (not just for weight loss; it's the key to feeling great after a meal): you must include protein, as well as carbs, in all meals. And you must balance them (a good rule of thumb is to divide daily calorie intake roughly into 40% carbs, 25% protein and 35% - mostly unsaturated - fat*).
This is not how restaurants cook, and home chefs increasingly imitate restaurant chefs (and obesity is on the rise!). I find myself eating out less and less, though few on God's green Earth have enjoyed restaurants as much as I have. But there's a certain sort of deliciousness experienced not during ingestion, but afterward. After a meal of healthy home-cooked food in good nutritional balance, the result is a sensation of buoyant lightness and well-being. This keeps me on my diet...and keeps me from even thinking of it as a diet. I wouldn't want to eat any other way!

If you're unsure of what it even means to feel great after eating, I propose the following experiment. Here's your shopping list:
  • A jar of organic raw almond butter (budget around $17; this stuff's expensive). Note: I'm not an organic extremist, but concentrated foods (e.g. nut butters, juices, oils, etc.) concentrate pesticides as well as nutrients, so it's worth it to shell out for organic versions.
  • A loaf of high-fiber, high-protein, whole grain bread (look for at least 4g of fiber and 4g of protein; 5g of each is even better - e.g. Milton's 100% Whole Wheat Bread, available at Trader Joe's).
  • Some natural, unsweetened no-fat yogurt.
Ok, here's what you do:
  1. Eat a good healthy breakfast, including some "clean" healthy protein (lo-fat milk, egg white/spinach omelette, etc).
  2. A couple hours later, before hunger turns ferocious, toast a slice of the bread and slather it with a tablespoon and a half of the almond butter (mix in the oil if it's separated).
  3. Eat the toast and the yogurt (if you must, mix in a teaspoon of honey).
  4. Set an alarm to go off in 45 minutes.
  5. Go do something productive. When your alarm rings, observe how you feel.
See what I mean? The satisfaction you feel isn't the coarse satiation of a stomach filled to the brim. It's the result of giving your body what it needs - at a level deeper than mere craving. When meals leave you dissatisfied, with energy crashes and unbearable cravings, it's likely because of lack of protein. You must have protein with every meal. Repeat: you must have protein with every meal!

There are, of course, healthier protein alternatives than fatty lamb chops or wiener schnitzel. Examples of what body builders call "clean" proteins include turkey (breast only!), skinless chicken, any non-fried fish (especially wild alaskan salmon), tofu, egg whites, soybeans, and, in a pinch, protein powder (I go through a lot of this stuff - the vanilla even tastes pretty good). Cook these things simply (don't worry; there are ways to make simple things taste good without degrading their healthfulness. Stay tuned!).

Just as it's important to get enough protein - and the right kind of protein - at each meal and overall in one's day, it's also essential to get enough fat. Unsaturated ones, like canola, olive, or grapeseed oil. And I don't mean frying or sauteeing; either cook it in, or, even better, drizzle it on (e.g. over grains or vegetables).

You'll learn a lot about balancing protein/carbs/fat by tracking your food. It will also help you manage to get enough calories. Yes, you read right: 'enough' calories! Assuming you're exercising regularly, you should eat ten times your body weight in calories each day - and no less, as starving is counterproductive! If you're eating "clean" calories (protein per above; low-glycemic carbs like sweet potato, kasha, al dente whole wheat pasta; and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, or canola oil; no fast food, convenience food, highly-processed food, sugary food), you'll actually find it difficult to meet your caloric minimum.

One trick is to eat four meals per day - four modestly-portioned, well-balanced, home-cooked meals (e.g. the "snack" above would count as a meal, especially if you add a small salad). You will not perceive yourself to be starving, your energy and moods will even out, and your body, which is only trying to accommodate you, will demand more of the same treatment after just two or three days (if you're consistent!).

Until now, everything I've suggested has been easy. Most of the news has been good (you needn't feel hungry, you're going to feel better, not worse, etc.). The most dramatic single change you'll need to make is to eat "clean" healthy protein at each meal. This is key, and there's no way around it. So: stock up on chicken and turkey breasts, salmon, tofu, and egg whites. A small portion of lean beef or pork won't kill you once per week. But stick with grilling, broiling, and steaming, and minimize the sautéing (no deep frying at all). Track your diet to get your calories and balances right. And cook from simple ingredients, not processed convenience foods. This is the only real sacrifice I'm asking of you, and I promise you'll get used to it very quickly. It's amazingly viable!

* - If you're lifting weights (and, as we'll see later on, you ought to be), you'll need more protein still; I aim for 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% fat

Continue to Part 5

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