Let’s start this year’s Revolutions big. You may be shocked to know the number one most popular New Year’s Resolution is … drumroll please…to lose a few pounds. Shocking, I know, but there’s a reason this one keeps coming up. Obesity now tops hunger as the world’s biggest food problem, though now you can also use your weight loss to fight hunger as well. So to combat this particular scourge, let’s break it down into 2 other common resolutions:
Most people think of diet as a 4-letter word. In truth, everyone is on a diet, since it just means what, when and how much food we usually eat. You can have an all-junk food diet if you’d like, though don’t expect to squeeze into your college jeans on that one. There are many different versions of the miracle diet, spanning from A to Z (or Atkins to the Zone). Let’s not forget Mediterranean, Weight Watchers, Paleo, Grapefruit or Cabbage soup in this mish-mash.
The common ground for most diets (or at least the more nutritionally sound ones) is they encourage eating sensible portions:
- more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, unsaturated fats,
- less processed food, fewer refined grains, and less saturated fat.
But my favorite diet advice was summed up by Michael Polan in a mere 7 words “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.
So let’s start with “eat food”. That’s a simple way of saying avoid those overly processed science experiments. You can tell if you eat food by looking at your trash. If you eat a lot of frozen/processed/takeout or fast food, your recycling bin will be chock full of packaging and containers. If you eat a more back-to-basic diet, cooking real food with actual fruits and vegetables, your compost bin will be the full one, happily brimming with carrot tops and apple cores. If it’s all going in the trash, you should seriously think about recycling and composting, whatever you eat. And in the bigger picture, think about supporting organic and/or local farmers so that your food choices help curb climate change as well as your waistline.
“Not too much” is the simple way of saying portion control. We North Americans have often gotten a little out of hand with this one. I remember going to a Denny’s once and having breakfast served to me on 3 plates. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but no single person needs 3 plates worth of it (unless you’re Michael Phelps).
And finally, “mostly plants”, which does not mean becoming a macrobiotic vegan, but does mean getting more fruits and veggies in your diet. If you want to be a macrobiotic vegan, that’s a lovely life choice that I admire (in others). In order to make sure these fruits and veggies are in good supply, hopefully we keep our winters cool so that we don’t confuse the fruit trees again. Who knew they need to feel the big chill to go dormant, reset, then bud at the right time? Cold weather makes me pretty dormant too. What a perfect segue into the next section…exercise.
There are many great reasons to start exercising. My favorite is being able to eat more delicious yummy food (though see above for guidance). The more you burn, the more you earn, with the extreme prize going to Michael Phelps’ 12,000 calorie-day diet. If you’re wondering if you should try this at home, ask yourself if you swim at Olympic-record-breaking speed for 5+ hours/day. No? Me neither, though I have been known to run a little.
One of the best ways to keep exercising is to build it into your day. Since you already have to drag yourself to work, why not make that time uber-energizing and try an active commute like walking or biking? From a personal perspective, you’ll burn calories, increase your fitness, and save money on gas and parking. And the big picture? You will ease traffic congestion (I remember a bumper sticker that said “you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic”). You’ll also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help reverse global warming with every step and pedal. Major bonus, I find I get to work faster by bike than by car.
We’re learning that the more people travel actively in a city, the slimmer the entire population becomes. And of course, the flip side is the less people travel actively, the more obese that population becomes. The city design comes into play here. If a city has side walks and bike paths that make travelling actively possible and even pleasurable, the more people participate (the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy). Looking at a study on walkability and weight, the most walkable section of Toronto had 36% lower obesity rates than the least walkable section. If you want to know how walkable and bike-able your address is, check your walkscore here.
Granted, not everything is as utilitarian as activity for transportation only. We need to have some fun! And to me, fun is getting outside to play with nature (maybe with a friend or your kids). Like our post Take 2 trees and call me in the morning our nature deficit needs a nature prescription. Exercising outside will boost your mood, vitamin D levels and burn calories. And the more we get outside, the greater our urge to protect it. CPAWS and the Nature Conservancy of Canada both try to protect wilderness areas in Canada, and Environmental Defence has an Ontario Greenbelt campaign.
So if your resolution this year is to lose weight, your new diet and exercise program may not just change the number on the scale. It may change, well, just about everything. Good for you!