All week I’ve been posting about getting in shape and improving your health. Today’s subject is really simple: it’s about the food you eat. This isn’t a lecture like earlier in the week when I made my case for you going vegetarian or vegan – no, this is something that applies to carnivores and omnivores all the same. If you want to lose weight and get fit, you’ve got to exercise and eat better. You can’t do just one and expect to go from looking like Mama Cass to Michelle Pfeiffer. You can’t go on a diet of ‘Lean Cuisine’ or ‘Healthy Choice’ and call yourself eating better. You see, the only way you’re going to eat better is if you control the content of your food.

Learning how to cook is a skill everyone needs to possess. It really gets on my nerves when people laugh and jokingly say they can’t cook. It’s not an excuse and it’s not cute or charming. You can’t cook? You can’t follow directions and measure things with measuring spoons and cups that are clearly marked or read directions off packages? If you can’t do that, then you seriously shouldn’t be allowed to drive or do other daily tasks. Cooking is pretty simple. With the internet, there are hundreds if not millions of free recipes online. If you’re worried about them not tasting good, then simply search out recipes from a reputable source. RachelRayShow.com has tons of free recipes as do a lot of the other celebrity chefs and cooks. Your library also has tons of cookbooks for loan for those who want to try out recipes without committing to purchasing one. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, a great website of recipes for you is vegweb.com. You can even go onto PETA’s website and have them E-mail you a recipe of the week. SELF magazine also has a newsletter with healthy, low-cal, low-fat recipes that are great for vegetarians and meat lovers. Nowadays, even non-health or food magazines and publications carry recipes. Men’s Health, along with exercises and fitness tips, has a good selection of cooking tips and recipes that any man can pull off. Men’s Fitness, Details … you name it, there’s something about cooking. The point is that cooking isn’t physics (well, it sort of is but it should induce stress like High School physics class). There are recipes and those contain a clear ingredients and instruction list. All you do is gather the ingredients, follow the directions, stay mindful of the time and poof, you’re a chef!

Part of how I shed 60 lbs was learning about nutrition and learning the proper way to cook. Instead of frying everything, I learned the joy of cooking using a mini indoor grill. I also learned to steam veggies, how to bake over deep frying foods, how to use extra virgin olive oil instead of fatty oils that give you a lovely bloated, sack-of-potatoes look. Here’s another tip- part of cooking is also what you’re cooking with. I love microwaves as much as the next guy but the best food you’re going to eat is that which you’re cooking on a stove top. Buy a good set of stainless steel pans to use – these will reduce the harmful chemicals that Teflon gives off (using pans with that dark/black inner coating can actually put chemicals into your body that’ll bloat you and prevent you from slimming down). Instead of microwaving in plastic containers, microwave your food on plates and in glass bowls. Microwaving in plastic actually leads to the consumption of BPA, another harmful chemical you should avoid like the plague! Instead of dumping tons of salt into your food, switch to sea salt: it lacks iodine (a chemical your body needs) but just a little of it is potent and unlike regular table salt, it won’t bloat you or cause you to retain water. Instead of using tons of white sugar, try sweetening your food with sugar alternatives like Truvia, Splenda or agave. These swaps are easy for you to make and will aid in your quest to lose weight. One last swap tip, eat off of a saucer instead of a big plate. Saucers will help you with portion control.

Now, the food itself. EAT MORE FIBER. Fiber (beans, grains) will help rid your body of all that stuff that’s stuck inside of you. It’ll clean out your body as it moves through your digestive track, giving you a feeling of being full without eating too much. Eat vegetables. Your plate should be 2/3 or more vegetables. People rarely get fat from overeating vegetables. If you like pastas and rices then switch to whole grain, quiona or give Shirataki noodles a try. These options are far healthier than their starchy, fattening counterpart white rice and white pasta. As mentioned earlier, don’t be fooled by ‘low fat’ or ‘healthy’ food options. Consider them the posers of the grocery store. You know that guy/girl online who claims they’re hot and in reality they’re really hideous and disgusting looking? That’s what all of these ‘low fat’ and ‘healthy’ options are. Frozen dinners often are low in calories but have 600+ mg of salt or high fat contents. People, that’s not a healthy choice or a lean cuisine! The healthiest frozen food you can buy are frozen vegetables (none with those pre-made sauces already saturated on the veggies!) and frozen fruit. Otherwise, cook your own food and then freeze it. I lost a lot of weight by planning out my meals for the entire week and spending one day cooking and packaging them up, freezing them. Believe me, it makes life a lot easier when you can come in after a hard day at work and not have to worry about what you’re going to cook, order or eat.

Which brings me to the last part of the food equation: stop wasting your money on eating out. Do you know what’s in your food? Do you know how much salt was used, how much sugar, how fresh the ingredients are? In most cases, you don’t, and that’s killing your diet. Some restaurants are cool and are starting to post their nutritional info online or on the food wrapper itself. Google your favorite restaurant or dish and check out how many calories it is and how much fat it has – you’d be surprised to find out how even the healthier options are the gut busters. Salads are the hidden danger; often thought to be a healthy option, and they are, until you saturate them in the fattening salad dressing they come with. Chicken is always a healthy option for meat eaters – until you slap on a sauce like BBQ (nothing but sugar). I looked up the nutritional information for a ‘vegetarian’ burrito at Moe’s Southwest Grill. Know what I found out? Even without having everything on it, this ‘vegetarian’ option weighed in at over 1,000 some calories! It was something like 1,300-1,600 to be exact. You’re only supposed to be eating about 1,600 or less in a DAY, not in one meal! Don’t trust labels but you need to READ those labels if you’re eating out. If no label or nutritional info is offered, skip it, you’re probably making the healthiest choice.

I could go on and on about food but the point is if you’re preparing your food with fresh ingredients you purchased and picked out then you’re going to be eating healthy and getting in shape. You’ll control the fat content, the sodium, the sugar, the portion. Women seem the most willing to do this but men need to step up, too. Men, it’s all right to cook – there’s nothing feminine or weak about it. I personally like a guy who’s willing to get his hands dirty and cook. I think one of the best dates a guy and a girl (or a guy and a guy) could have is one where one decides the menu and then invites the other to help cook the meal! It’s a great bonding exercise and I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they conduct themselves in a kitchen. Plus cooking together a very vulnerable and intimate experience and definitely shows more thought and consideration than spending tons of money to go out to a restaurant with unhealthy, fatty food that someone else barely prepared. So redo your kitchen, find some recipes and get to get to fixin’.

Follow me on Twitter @decaptain

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