Not all Calories and Pounds are Created Equal: Food as Fuel

I’m getting ready to have this baby, and I’m also getting really ready to not be pregnant anymore. I know that our bodies get all out of whack postpartum, but I’m also not too worried about it taking forever to get back in shape. The reason is not that I’m some kind of naturally skinny person (far from it) but because I’ve learned a couple of things over the past several years that have taught me what my body needs to lose weight and be healthy.

These things spring from two basic statements.

Not all calories are created equal…and neither are all pounds. The struggle to realize the truth of these statements is the reason that so many people yo-yo back and forth over those 5 pounds on the scale, and why, when they tell us, “I’ve lost 5 pounds!” sometimes we have to squint at them really hard to see it.

As a pre-teen and teenager, I struggled with my weight. I was never obese, but I was always a bit plump, bigger than average, despite my best efforts. I tried all the low-fat options. I tried calorie counting. I danced. I walked. I was jealous about my skinny friends who could eat whatever they wanted and still be tiny.  Sometimes I would lose weight for a little while, but never long. I figured it was just a part of my genetic code that couldn’t be overcome.

When I got to college, I really took control of my eating habits…maybe too much. Though I did get a lot more into healthy foods, I also have to admit to myself that I wasn’t eating enough some of the time by my senior year. I think it started with stress and time management, but by the time I graduated I had lost about 40 pounds since my freshman year of college. However, I felt awful most of the time.  I’m still not sure if I maybe had mono that year, but I do know that my food choices-while healthier than they’d ever been-weren’t giving me the energy I needed to feel better.

It took me about two years after graduating college to start to really get into figuring out what it meant to “eat healthy” and how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight without suffering for it.

Here’s what I had to admit to myself:

The whole “Losing weight and being healthy is all about calories in versus calories out” thing that you read pretty much everywhere? I think that mindset is bull.

This would be why- for myself and many others that I know- calorie-counting doesn’t work in the long run. Weight watchers doesn’t work for me. The Lose-It app doesn’t work for me for anything other than maintenance, and then only at a ridiculously low goal of 1200 calories a day. Not sustainable.

Let’s think about why this might be the case for a lot of people. The appeal to the calorie -counting method is the fact that you get to enjoy more variety, right?  You can eat that piece of chocolate cake  (or even”healthy” banana nut bread) if you only subtract the calories elsewhere. Or you can stock your cart at the grocery store with those little “guiltless” goodies and feel like you’ve indulged a lot for a little calories. I’ve been there. Not gonna lie. Growing up, my mom was always on a diet like this, and we always had the low-fat or sugar free versions of everything around the house.

The problem with that occurs when you ask yourself the very simple question, “What is food?”  The answer? Food is fuel. Food is fuel, and when you consume empty calories, you are not fueling your body the way it needs to be in order to function correctly. This not only results in lots of nutritional deficiencies but also HUNGER. So even though you may feel full,  even though the scale is slowly moving downwards (or maybe it’s not),  your body is literally is starving.  It’s saying, “I’m hungry, let’s store some of this as fat so we can survive!” Ultimately, counting calories and not optimizing your food choices will be your downfall. You might lose weight through a combination of muscle, fat and water, but you WILL feel awful eventually. You will crack. So if diet cokes and lowfat popcorn are your meal of choice, be prepared to suffer and to gain those 10 pounds back the day that body begins to scream in rebellion.

*Sidenote: I do realize that there are some people who count calories AND still make healthy choices. It’s just the general mindset of this approach to eating/weighloss  that ticks me off*

The point of all this? Healthy eating and weight loss is all about the WHAT instead of the how much.

I’ve tested this theory out. I’ve done it, and it WORKS. It’s not anything mind-blowing.

The easiest way to test this out for yourself is to try a detox. Two weeks.  Emphasize fresh, cleansing  fruits and vegetables and lots of lean proteins. A few complex carbs here and there are good too. However, if I really want to kick my metabolism into gear, I know the way to do it is to keep those complex carbohydrates separate from anything fatty (even good fats like nuts or avocado) and strictly before afternoon/evening. And here’s the hardest part for most people. You have to kick the sugar. Not just the tablespoon in your coffee. The sugar in the desserts, sauces, processed foods. That will make the biggest difference of anything. The other hard part? You got kick the fake sugar too.  Fake sugars are the emptiest of empty calories, and all they do is tell your brain that you want more *real* sugar.  Aspartame is also linked to Alzheimer’s and cancer. Cancer loves sugar, fake sugar and fat. Those four are like melodramatic teens in an endless series of love affairs and heartbreak.

So try this, give it two weeks of your life. See how you feel. The first 3-4 days will be the hardest because you will want the sugar. It might scare you how much you want it. Do it anyway. Do it because of that.

I know from experience that if I eat like this, it really doesn’t seem to matter HOW much I eat. I can eat all I want and still see weight loss and improved muscle tone and energy.  And eating this way is sustainable because you’ll feel good. Plus,  as a lifestyle option, you don’t have to be 100% perfect all the time, just stick to these general guidelines.  Another reason the two week detox is a good idea is that, if you CAN be perfect for that short amount of time, it will help you break that sugar addition.

Supplementing is also a very wise add-in to your diet. As great as fruits and veggies are, you would have to eat SO MANY to meet the daily recommendations. An impossible amount, almost. Personally, I use  Shaklee  Vitalizing Smoothies as a supplement, even a meal replacement. They are extremely low in sugar but really high in protein…my favorite part is probably that they are also packed with Omega 3s and lots of other good vitamins that I’ve been able to feel really good about my growing baby girl reaping the benefits of as well.  The Leucine in them helps you lose fat instead of muscle.  My husband and I have already decided that the Shaklee shakes are actually going to be our initial go-to  for breakfasts/lunches after having the baby. Not a full-on detox, but they are easy and fast and good for all three of us.

And here’s another thing about healthy weight loss through healthy nutrition. Whether you are doing it from a food, supplement or complimentary standpoint, if you are eating to fuel your body appropriately,  the pounds you lose should be fat and will be noticeable.

When your nutritional needs are met, everything works better (including your metabolism). Suddenly you feel GOOD, like you should get out and do stuff! When you get out and do stuff, you burn fat and build muscle…this is in turn supported by your intake of a nutritious, protein-loaded diet (and/or supplements). When you are healthy and fit, not skinny and tired, it makes all the difference in your quality of life.

I wanted to share a couple of pictures of me, taken about a year apart, to illustrate how this concept worked in my life. It was after I’d gotten into healthy eating, Shaklee, and of course, Zumba. (I’m super gross in the second one because it was after a good class and I was proud to be gross)

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Can you see a difference?

Here’s the thing about these photos. Technically, I was at a “healthy weight” in both of them…there is probably only a difference of about 5 pounds between them (even though there is a size difference of an 8 to a 2). People often commented that I’d lost a lot of weight. Actually, I hadn’t, I was just healthier.

The biggest deal about this for me was that those 5 pounds  pretty much all came off my waist, where I’d been storing them in response to some serious grief the year before (thanks Cortisol/stress hormone). This is the kind of weight that is worse for you long term and CANNOT be addressed through calorie counting. Speaking of which, hormones also be another reason that calorie counting just might not be working for you.  Again, you can’t get the machine running right without the right kind of fuel.

For me, these two pictures reflect a huge change in the way I looked and felt. They reflect  changed emphasis in eating, incorporating stellar supplemental nutrition  and making exercise a priority. I initially made these changes to take better care of myself after some difficult things happened in my life. However, I ended up finding out how big of a role good nutrition could play, not only in my appearance, but also in my emotional state, energy level and confidence! For goodness sake, I ended up  getting licensed to be a Zumba instructor, moving to a new state and starting graduate school all in a matter of months! I also got pregnant (another thing about those Shaklee smoothies is that they are nutritionally very supportive of that reproductive system.) It’s been a wild ride of a year.

So, baby Kora is coming soon, and I’m so looking forward to having her out of my belly and in my arms. I’m also looking forward to start working on getting my body back to where I feel like me again.  I feel pretty confident that I know just how to do it. I’ve been pretty healthy during this pregnancy, but I have also let sugar creep back into my life.

My postpartum eating plan is simple, starting with my Shaklee smoothies and an emphasis on lean proteins and green stuff, more water, supplements. Once we get into a good rhythm I will probably do a sugar detox …after the free food stops coming, of course. I’m not an idiot. 😉

Would anyone like to join me?

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