4 Easy Ways to Edit Your Diet
I think there’s a certain ideal in the minimalist’s mind of reducing her or his consumer behavior to only the most essential things. And let’s face it, there’s a bunch of chaff that can easily be removed without too much justification in our quest of this ideal. We can cut out the clothes, the electronics, the new cars and maybe even the extra 500 square feet from our homes. But there’s one thing that seems to defy editing, and that thing is food. Even the most hardcore, tiny-house-dwelling, uniform-wearing minimalist has to eat. But needless to say that just because we all have dietary needs doesn’t mean that all diets are the same. How and what we eat can greatly influence the amount of food we consume. Even if you are a “live to eat” sorta person like me (versus eat to live), buying, preparing and eating food can be an expensive and time consuming affair. And let’s face it, eating a little less is not a bad idea for most of us.
Here are a few tips to consume less food, all without compromising your health, and, in some cases, improving it.
- Skip breakfast if you want. Yes, I know what your mom said. The Surgeon General may have said it too: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Well, turns out this maxim is not rooted in fact. One of big misconceptions fueling this myth is that stoking our metabolism early in the day keeps us from binging later. But a recent Columbia University study found that “In overweight individuals, skipping breakfast daily for 4 weeks leads to a reduction in body weight,” as reported by the Washington Post. Across the board in that study and others, the findings are clear: people who skipped breakfast either lost or maintained their weight, but never gained. Now listen, if you eat breakfast and it works for you–giving you energy and helping you maintain a healthy weight and disposition–rock on. But if you’re eating breakfast because your mom said you should, not because it makes you feel healthier, it’s now okay to put down the cereal bowl.
- You can skip other meals too and skip eating for a while on occasion. A growing body of research supports the idea that the human body not only survives, but even thrives with regular vacations from eating. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. For millions of years, we couldn’t simply reach into our cupboards or fridges to munch or prepare eight small meals a day (we might have foraged, the primal version of snacking, but we couldn’t necessarily do this all year round). Numerous studies bear the power of taking regular–though not necessarily total–breaks from eating. One such study had people alternating between fast and feast days; a fast day would entail them eating 25% of their normal caloric needs and the feasting allowed them to eat what they wanted. Researchers found that following the fast days, people only ate 115% of their normal caloric intake–more than 100%, but lower than the 175% that would logically follow from the previous day’s 75% caloric shortfall. This pattern led to consistent weight loss. Moreover, following a 3.5 day adjustment period to the fast/feast diet, a period when people reported feeling deprived, 80-90% of people were able to stick with a new, calorie restricted diet. Even if you’re not looking to lose weight, restricted calorie diets are one of the few things consistently shown to increase human lifespans and fend off a host of ailments such as cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Another big bonus of fasting is its simplicity. There are no scales, no charts, few do’s and don’ts. Simply eat less for certain stretches of time, or as nutritionist John Bernardi told The Atlantic about the practice, “Relax. So you missed a meal. Who cares? Might even be good for you. Just keep going.”
- Focus on foods that have a high nutrient/weight ratio. If you must eat (it happens to the best of us) try the less but better approach. The fact is many of the constituents of the Standard American Diet (SAD) are like the McMansions of food world–tons of volume and little practical (i.e. nutritional) value. On the other hand, things like seaweed, collard greens and watercress are like the transforming micro apartments of the food world, doing a whole lot without much volume or mass. Take a look at the ANDI Guide (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) to see how various foods stack up in terms of their nutrient density relative to their weights. Kale for example scores a perfect 1000 on the scale. Soda scores a 1. The inventor of the scale, Dr Joel Fuhrman, says we don’t need to excise all foods that are 900 and above to ensure “proper functioning of the immune system and enable the detoxification and cellular repair mechanisms that protect us from chronic diseases”–the ostensible benefits of eating a nutrient–and more specifically “micronutrient”–packed diet. He does say we should have “micronutrient diversity, and eat an adequate assortment of lower ranked plant foods to obtain the full range of human requirements…mostly foods that have an ANDI score greater than 100.” Virtually all of these +100 foods are fiber rich, leading to greater satiation and therefore smaller overall dietary needs.
- Reduce your portion size. This is a topic we explored a while back with the “Small Plate Movement,” which promotes using smaller plates to help us eat less. One study the movement cites says that people will eat 70% of their plate’s portion, regardless of the plate’s size–and 70% of a 10” plate is less food than 70% of a 14” plate, right? I’ve read some of the research and it’s not quite as compelling as the other suggestions on this list, and it doesn’t necessarily jibe with my experience (I have little shame about getting seconds). That said, it might save room in our cupboards and it certainly can’t hurt.
[Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is not meant to be prescriptive or authoritative. If you are considering implementing any of these tips, consult with an expert first.]
Heap of fresh fruits and vegetables in basket image via Shutterstock