One of the most common challenges I encounter with individuals struggling with their weight is the normalization of consuming easily accessible, hyperpalatable foods. It is absolutely bonkers how much we are inundated with marketing or availability to processed meals. The issue is so prevalent that I am now seeing that many of my patients depend on either take out, or restaurant dining for up to 50-75% of their meals.
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, when we eat out, we need to conservatively estimate that each meal equates to at least 800-1200 kcal each. That’s roughly half to two thirds of what your daily intake should be! Remember that it only takes an excess of 3,500 kcal to produce 1 lb of fat. That means going in excess of your day to day calories (which is made very easy with purchased meals) on a regular basis easily favours weight gain.
With the high incidence of meal outings I observe in individuals both in and outside the clinical setting, I can’t help but have these questions fleeting across my mind on the daily:
When did brown bag lunches ever go out of style?
When did preparing a dinner at home cost as much if not more than having a dine-out meal?
When did it become trendy to glorify meals like deep fried ice-cream in a waffle cone, or croissants that blend into donuts (because butter and flour just isn’t enough anymore).
I work in the downtown core of Toronto and I am appalled by the number of Prairie Girl Cupcake shops or Lindor shops that I see within a 5 km radius of my clinic. How are these places staying in business in such expensive real estate! Who’s buying this??? Ah!
I’ve come to conclude that the root of the problem lies in our culture’s romanticization of tasty food. Think of the types of programming you see on television, or the images you come across on social media. Food is sexy these days. In those who wish to control their weight, however, the purpose of food needs to be reframed.
80% of the time its purpose is to nourish us; Enabling us to function optimally day-to-day at work,in physical activity, with our families, to prevent illness and to promote longevity. This often entails keeping the meals simple, homemade, fresh and minimally processed.
20% of the time it may be used for both pleasure and nourishment.
One of the most challenging concepts for many about living a healthy lifestyle is getting back to the basics. And I mean going back to the things we learned in Home Economics Class when it still existed. If you care about your health it is IMPERATIVE that you get comfortable in the kitchen and start preparing and eating HOME COOKED MEALS.
“But I can’t cook.” – Similar to how you learned that dreaded calculus course in high school, and how you learned to do your laundry, and how to train for your current place of employment, you have the CAPACITY to learn to cook. The more you practice, the more you’ll master, the more creative and tasty your meals can be. Have faith. Youtube. Read. Ask your Mom. Just do it.
“I don’t have time.” – You are the ultimate decision-maker of how you spend your time. Meal prep takes about 2-3 hours per week once you start getting experience. This should include 1 hour of shopping, 2 hours of prepping. Otherwise, grocery stores make it ultra easy to buy veggies that you can steam in bags. All it takes to cook protein is a pan or an toaster oven – it just takes a couple of attempts at this and it gets easier. Heck, use eggs as protein if you’re in a pinch. Or even canned tuna. Not every meal has to taste spectacular — most times we should be eating for nourishment rather than strictly pleasure.
“I don’t need to watch what I eat as much if I put more time in at the gym.” No. No. No. This is not true. Unless you are a high performing athlete you simply cannot outrun your fork. Despite what your My Fitness Pal tells you, 500 calories burned from exercise does not afford an extra 500 calories to your daily intake. Your body is smart and has defensive strategies to preserve weight when it knows we are trying to shed it. This is not to say that exercise is bad – it is excellent for weight maintenance. Just not a great tool for weight loss. Diet matters.
I feel like we’ve become used to the idea that every meal has to be a great meal, or that having a cupcake at the office on a workday is normal. It isn’t. I should disclose that there are some days at work that I have back-to-back patients leaving me little time for eating, let alone, preparing a lunch. My go to is often – as sad as it sounds – a can of tuna, rice cake with humous and loads of spinach. It’s not the most exciting meal but it gets the job done. And trust me, I am a person who LOVES food – but if I ate according to how the reward centre of my brain wanted to, Doctor Sandy would just not be well. Trust!
Should meals and snacks be balanced? Yes. Satiating? Yes. Nourishing? Yes. But aesthetically pleasing, tasty and ultra palatable? No. If we want to maintain our weight and wellness, we can’t be treating every day like it’s our birthday.
In good health,