9 Diet Strategies for Fighting the Food War
Bottom Line Up Front: As I discussed in my rant in the last post, we are under attack from bad food all day every day everywhere. Given this operational environment, I have compiled 9 diet strategies for fighting the food war!
It takes a lot of willpower to resist temptation. It is really hard to resist specific primal temptations that fall into the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, namely the Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc. If you are freezing, starving, dehydrated, or tired, you will not focus on the meaning of life or how you fit into society or whether or not your life has balance. You are too concerned with this base element of life to be thinking further up the ladder. Your body is built to fight to get these essential resources at all costs. You will seek them out consciously and subconsciously.
With food particularly, your body is looking for the easiest, fastest, most energy dense food it can get its hands on. Sweeter foods, fattier foods, saltier foods all carry special appeal. It is the reason you can eat a bowl of cauliflower and easily pass on seconds, but you can eat cake until you vomit. The unfortunate part is the things that the body will always choose first are being engineered by scientists so you buy them (Doritos, ice cream, Big Macs). They make food combinations not found in nature that are irresistible. They also make them with the cheapest ingredients so they cost very little relative to healthier options. Think about how having too little money in the United States is more likely to lead to obesity. Wait…what? Yes, the poor people are the fat people more often than not in the US. In the third world, this is most assuredly the opposite. The poor in this country have less access to whole foods, are more likely not to care about their health, and are most likely to buy cheaper, better tasting food that is highly processed.
Even if you aren’t poor, you are still under attack by this food everywhere. At my local farmers market, you can find fruits and vegetables, bison meat, pastured pork, free range chicken and eggs…along with two booths selling candied nuts and baked goods. I have tried them both and they are magical. Given this fact, here are some tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs for the Soldiers out there) to deal with this enemy force:
- Don’t have it in the house. If it’s out of site, it’s mostly out of mind (turn off your TV to keep it out for good). If you have a guilty pleasure that you stash away for a treat, it is much more likely you will eat it if it’s in close proximity. If you have to go to lengths to get it, chances are you won’t.
- Block out a period of time to eat what you want and then return to abstaining. Plan it so it isn’t random. This is the “treat meal/treat day” idea. Some call it “cheat meal/day” but that implies there is something wrong with it. It is OK to eat fun things. It should be the exception, not the rule though. The rule I use is what I call the Birthday Party Rule. It means if I am at a birthday party, I usually partake in the cake, pizza, and other foods you find there. The assumption here is I only go to birthdays on occasion, so it’s fair. There are times I stay out late, drink alcohol, and wear clothes that are nice but uncomfortable. No one is saying no ice cream, pizza, high-heeled shoes (for ladies…), or going to bed at 3 AM ever again. Occasionally is the key.
- To further combat the effects of a bad meal, fast prior. If I know I am going to a birthday party at 5 PM, I will not eat at all before. By the time I get there, my body is ready for nutrients (any kind) and it is much less likely it will get stored as fat than if I ate breakfast and lunch before. Some will call this an eating disorder. I call pizza, cake, alcohol, and chips abnormal, so “normal” eating strategies don’t apply.
- Limit carbs before treat meals. If you can’t bring yourself to eat nothing, limit carbohydrates prior to splurging. Kind of the same effect as fasting, the lack of carbs will mean your body actually can use some of your treat meal crap as usable energy. This also will limit fat storage.
- Exercise immediately prior to or after treat meals. The addition of an exercise stress, particularly resistance training or sprinting will find a usefulness to all that energy your crammed down your throat at your party. Contrary to popular belief, long distance/long duration cardio has very little use for carbohydrates. The basic rule is the more intense, the more need for carbs. Sprints or lifting weights will have your body ready to put some carbs to good use (better than storing it as fat) inside your muscles.
- Drink a lot of water. Next time you feel a binge coming on, chug two 16 oz. glasses of water quickly. Bet you aren’t as excited to crush that pizza. It will expand your stomach and make you probably feel a little sick. Not a bad strategy to counter apple pie a la mode.
- Buy in small portions vs large boxes/bags. If you do have some fun food at home, buy it already packaged in smaller amounts. This smaller package will give you a sense of finality when it’s empty. Think small bags of chips vs. a large bag. We all know it’s bad news to eat right from a big bag or box. While less economical, these smaller sizes may lead you to have one or two small bags and be satisfied.
- Find an adequate substitute for your craving that is less bad. When I have a sweet craving, I can eat greek yogurt and satisfy it. I’d prefer ice cream or cookies, but the yogurt works wonders for me. Fruit may work. I find chewing sweet sugar-free gum works well too. Find something that is less bad for those non-birthday party times.
- Have healthy food around you at all times. If you have some pre-made healthy food in the fridge, you can go to that versus something else. If you come home from work starving (stress and lack of sleep increase desire for unhealthy food), you may WANT to make that pork roast and vegetables you said you were going to make. But fast food sounds so much quicker, cheaper, and tastier. If the food were already made or the ingredients were already prepared waiting to be thrown in the oven, you are much more likely to choose them. Prep ahead of time to avoid the inevitable willpower challenge that will come when time is tight and you are hungriest. Bringing lunch versus going to get something has the same effect.
These are a few tips you can use to fight the food war. When you think you are developing an eating disorder, think again. You are adapting and overcoming the unnatural food landscape all around you!
QUESTION: Do you have any other tips to deal with unhealthy food? Post thoughts to comments.
References & Further Reading
- What Food Properties Make Food “Addictive”?
- Learning to Control Your Hunger and Cravings
- Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs