March is National Nutrition Month: Lose weight by eating real food, not by counting calories

by Jill Fleming, MS, RD/LD, Veterans Memorial Hospital

March is National Nutrition Month. As spring approaches, many of us wish to “lose a few pounds.” Sounds simple enough, but where to begin?The key to losing weight, almost effortlessly, is to eat real food most of the time and listen to your body.
A great goal is to eat real food 75-80% of the time.  The term “real food” may be defined differently according to other health professionals, but my definition is:
• Any whole food that has only one ingredient, such as “brown rice,” or no ingredient label at all, such as fruits and vegetables.
• Packaged foods made with no more than five unrefined ingredients.
• Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs and cheese.
• Breads and crackers that are 100% whole grain.
• Wild-caught seafood and fish.
• Meat, chicken, pork, beef; ideally locally-raised.
• Dried fruits, nuts and seeds.
• Naturally made sweeteners like raw honey and 100% maple syrup.
The three F’s to avoid, that are not “real food,” include: Fake, Fried and Fast. Fake foods are those that are made with refined sugars, refined oils and refined grains. Their ingredient lists are usually long and they are found in the center aisles of the grocery store. Deep fried foods in refined oils are best to be limited or avoided. Good choices can be made at fast food restaurants, but it takes a little planning.
To know if you are reaching the goal of eating real food at least 75% of the time, you just need to balance the meal or the day. This means that if you are eating four different food items at your meal, three of the four foods should be real foods. If you are eating three meals and two snacks today, four of the five feedings should be mostly real foods.
Occasional treats that include highly processed, refined or fried foods should be kept to a minimum. When you do consume these foods or beverages, eat or drink them slowly and really enjoy.  Do not have guilt over eating a food or drinking a beverage that is not considered healthy.  It is a “treat,” not a “cheat.”
When you listen to your body’s hunger and satiety signals, you will not have to count calories. Your body will tell you when to eat and when to stop eating once you learn how to trust it. Babies and young children are great role models for all of us, as they are very in-tune with their hunger/satiety signals.  Have you ever tried to get a baby to drink that last ounce of milk? Once they are satisfied, they clamp their mouths shut. They know that eating or drinking too much volume will make them uncomfortable and they choose not to.
Resist the urge to ever go on a restrictive diet. When you go on a restrictive diet, you will feel deprived and usually consume fewer calories than your body needs for basic daily functions.  This will cause your body to conserve energy and will lower your metabolism. This makes it easier to regain any weight you may lose.
Sure, doing some exercise most days is important, but not just because you will burn calories. You should move your body because it feels good and releases stress-lowering chemicals, called endorphins. When you feel better, you will be more likely to eat foods that are better for you. Exercising daily will also improve the quality of your sleep, which helps control your appetite the next day.
So if one of your 2016 New Year’s Resolutions is to lose weight, start treating your body better by fueling it with real food most of the time. Listen to your body’s hunger/satiety signals and stop eating once you are satisfied, not full. You do not need to aim for perfection, just a few small changes each day that eventually become habits.