Incremental Change – The Real Game

July 16, 2013 in Cooking & Baking Hints, fiber, Foodland, General, Health, Mediterranean, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

I know that case studies are not powerful; statistically speaking that is. But I must confess that I really enjoy reading case studies of those who have lost weight – made lasting change to their eating style. Besides the joy of reading about someone’s success, what cases do offer are ideas about what might work for you. That’s probably why I like books like Thin for Life, a collections of ‘masters at weight control.’ And I like to read stories like the one about Tony Posnanski; who lost weight by eating less; moving more; and increasing fruits and vegetables. People lose weight and move toward a nutritionally healthier intake in many ways, but the real game, the important part of the entire process is the formation and honing of new habits; learning what works for you – creating habits you can stick with for a lifetime. That is a main message of the book: different people can come up with different ways that work for them to get weight off and keep it off, and no two methods are exactly alike.

If you take the word of those who have made big changes in a healthy way and have maintained those changes for years, you learn one really important bit of information - you don’t have to go on an unbalanced or weird diet, cutting entire food groups out of your life; nor do you have to cleanse or use gimmicks or pills. You can become healthier by making mindful changes that can last; changes that are not just for the period of ‘dieting.’  Those successful people that we read about in the case studies can say, ‘this is how I eat now, it evolved and it did not end when my weight loss period ended.’ For some it’s not even for weight loss, but to become healthier, though managing a healthy weight often goes hand in hand with eating healthily.

The plight of many Americans is that there is no single change in their eating behaviors that will produce all the necessary new life-long habits.  These new habits will be made up of a wide variety of choices. A few such choices that pop to the top of my mind include:

  • Eating smaller portions, especially of desserts and high calorie items
  • Eating more vegetables, especially the non-starchy types (long list)
  • Being careful with the starchy vegetables, eat them in moderation
  • Remembering to include fruit in menu planning
  • Cutting back on simple calorie-containing sweeteners (like sugar, and honey) – goal less than 100 “sugar” calories per day. Take a look at Detoxing from Sugar?
  • Cutting back on animal products, especially processed and red meat
  • Cutting back on processed foods
  • Cutting back on fast foods and restaurant meals
  • Including fish in menus
  • Using whole grains and seeds, and cutting back on processed grains (think about cutting back on enriched flour, white pasta and white rice)
  • Including nuts, seeds, legumes
  • Cutting back on fatty dairy products
  • Avoiding junk food – you know what it is!
  • Controlling your food environment

In reading case studies, one of the most popular, and helpful, first steps to moving toward a more healthy eating style that I’ve observed is that many individuals stop drinking calorically sweetened soda pop. Some people have come to recognize what soft drinks and fruit juice are doing for their blood sugar (blood sugar spikes) and not doing for their satiety (liquid calories don’t really satisfy hunger). They just make the decision to stop drinking soft drinks sweetened with caloric sweeteners and juice. I’ve noticed that it’s one of the first high-impact choices for those who have made big changes in their eating life-styles.

Eating less meat seems to succeed better if the transition moves one small step at a time. One of the first steps may be to eat processed and red meat less frequently; eventually far less frequently. When it is eaten, successful habit-changers learn to enjoy smaller portions than in the past. Beginning to use meat in stir-fries and casseroles is another way to use less. Move incrementally toward chicken and fish and eventually toward some meatless meals. Often it is just a matter of thinking of ways to cook differently or recalling something that you already know how to cook. Moving meat to a supporting role rather than being the star attraction often involves learning to cook differently, as well as learning to think differently about the high cost of excessive meat consumption to yourself, your loved ones, the cruelly treated animals, and the planet.

Just last week, I was in a relative hurry to get dinner on. That morning I had harvested some beets (that I roasted in the oven for a different meal). When cleaning the beets, I noticed the greens were beautiful, so I put them in a plastic bag in the fridge having no plan of what I would do with them. On that hurried night I took the beet greens, removed the stems and chopped the leaves and the stems separately. I sprinkled some red pepper flakes in extra virgin olive oil and added the beet greens and stems and a sliced onion. Amazing how fast they wilt! Then I added a drained and rinsed can of great northern beans and 2 cups of cooked brown rice. Last, I sprinkled it with a little black pepper and some balsamic vinegar. It was fast, it was cheap, and it was a nutritional power meal. What more could a grandma ask? A few years ago I developed a recipe for Grandma’s Greens and Beans, I just noted how this week’s experience was different. In the picture for Grandma’s Greens and Beans was salmon; this past week it was combined with brown rice. We’re making incremental changes toward a more plant-based diet.

The point here is really that if we have healthy ingredients on hand, and we’re thinking creatively we may surprise ourselves. I didn’t grow up in the south or in an era when beans and rice were commonly served. But the funny thing is that when I looked at my beautiful beet greens, the thought of beans and rice instead of meat came to my mind. This meal wasn’t missing anything; the fiber, the carbs, a little fat, loaded with phytonutrients, plenty of protein, and most important of all, good taste. Note: Vic (Dr. Grandpa) kept making remarks that this should go on a “make it again” list. Well, I don’t have that list, but I think that I should.

I’ve heard so often that keeping the food budget in check doesn’t fit with eating nutritiously. But if you’ll allow me to linger on the previous paragraph for a few more thoughts, I’d like to tell you a bit more about legumes (beans, lentils, peas). They’re not only a good source of protein and fiber, but they’re also low in fat. I’ve not done an excellent job at serving legumes, but in the past year or two, I’ve served homemade green basil hummus as our salad dressing fairly frequently. Since I make it with greens, chickpeas, basil and toasted pine nuts it is an important nutritional addition to the meal.

The funny thing about beans, they used to be the butt of jokes about being the poor man’s meat, but now Americans are slowing moving back to legumes not only as a cost effective choice, but in addition, a nutritionally superior way to get protein that fits into their flexitarian eating style. Unlike soy and peanut products, legumes are not high in fat; so if you’re trying to tamp down your fat intake, beans are a good choice.  In addition, with so many people eating gluten-free, beans are an ideal alternative.  If you’re worried about the time involved, used canned beans or try some recipes using lentils, which cook quickly with no soaking.

If you’re thinking about the environment, nitrogen-fixing legumes are not only benefiting our bodies, but also our environment; therefore, they are considered a much ‘greener’ food than many crops and, of course, animal products. Legumes are a food that can really benefit your nutritional profile, your budget, your goal to reduce animal products and their impact on the environment.

The answer to maintaining normal weight while improving your nutritional profile is not a one-step easy decision or resolution. Those that succeed long term generally do it in increments. In my opinion, learning to make great delicious food is an important part of the decision; because I believe that you won’t stick with a new eating style if you don’t enjoy it. If fast food and processed food could be made profitably out of whole foods, it would be, but you do not see it happening. These unhealthy foods are easy to buy, store, and prepare, and are profitable for the food processor. However, learning to prepare whole foods yourself is the best way to get both yumminess and nutrition. It may take many attempts to learn what works for you as an individual. Certainly it’s no surprise that consuming moderately is key. But learning to use greens and non-starchy vegetables to provide the volume that you need can be learned incrementally. Try it; you might really surprise yourself. There are so many delicious ways of filling up on veggies.

One way to get the volume up is to make a giant salad. Check out some of our salad ideas and recipes. Note: You can incorporate beans into the salad, either as the dressing (hummus) or sprinkled on the salad. Hey, that’s a twofer. See this year’s grow box full of lettuce below; I don’t think I’ll run out of lettuce for a while.

Changing attitudes and eventually habits is not the fast and easy way to achieve the weight loss and improvement in nutritional status that so many are striving to achieve. But it is the way to stop the rebound weight gain from dieting on an unbalanced diet that restricts carbs (whether they’re complex or simple. Allow me this one little rant – an eating plan that doesn’t allow carrots, apples, cherries, watermelon……  No!) Changing attitudes and habits is a way to design an individualized plan that can work for you.

If you’re trying to decide upon a place to start: read the bulleted points at the end of The Boring Tortoise Technique. You may discover after you’re off soda pop, juice, and junk food that you’re ready to move toward less meat, or more veggies – it’s your plan, your decision and your success. Plan the first step and then the next – stick with it, you’ll be glad you did.

Our lettuce grow box - It appears that we will not run out of lettuce soon.

Our lettuce grow box - It appears that we will not run out of lettuce soon.

The beets from the story above came from this grow box.

The beets from the story above came from this grow box.

Swiss chard waiting to be used in one of our favorite recipes.

Swiss chard waiting to be used in one of our favorite recipes.