I think I'm a "snap back" type of person. I allow myself freedom to get messy, eat poorly (within my fish-only "quasi-vegetarian" lifestyle), get out of shape... until BAM, I "check myself." What I mean is ... when my household disorder becomes too much to bear, I clean ... sometimes to the nth degree. It's like a short-lived temporary obsession. When I get close to being "clinically overweight," that is a BMI index of 25 or above (for me at 5'7", that is 159 lbs) I often up my exercise, and reform my diet. That sometimes involves a cleanse which can include some fasting. More about that later...
Diet is a very personal thing. Americans, especially here in the South, are some of the fattest and least healthy people on the planet. What works for one person, may not for another. I know that I tend toward being hypoglycemic and have tried many different diet regimens in the past. I DO NOT follow conventional wisdom all the time.
What is an ideal weight?
Depends on what you want to do. If you want to ride the couch for life, you can be obese and probably live happily into your 70s, that is, IF you have good genes, don't smoke, and have good health care. But if you want to be a traveler, athlete, hiker, outdoorsman, etc... you'll not do well as an obese person. Here's why (... and this is my theory).
Most humans are physically mature (on the average) by their late teens. During this time, your musculature, joints, and connective tissue develop to support your specific weight. Even 10 lbs more than you weighed in your late teens will put added stress on your joints in later life since your joints weren't "designed" for this weight. If you wish to remain physically active, you should endeavor to maintain this weight or less - your weight at approximately age 18. As we age, our bodies don't repair themselves the same way as during adolescence which makes weight gain even more debilitating to the joints. Of course there are other factors, weight is just one, but one that we have control over.
Here is a list of things that work, and don't work for me, along with some pet peeves.
Three meals a day
If I ate the "normal American 3 square sit-down meals a day," I would be overweight, absolutely no doubt about it. Some diet plans involve eating several small meals a day with precise proportions. On it's face, this may be healthy but I find that so much meticulous attention to eating is psychologically counterproductive. Simply put, the more you eat, the more thought you put into dieting, the more you crave eating, and vice-versa. It's hard to stay fit living a 'food-centered life.'
Great American Breakfast
If I ate cereal, bread, waffles, pancakes, hash browns ... any grain, flour, or potato based item in any substantial amount in the morning for breakfast, I would be seriously crashing by late morning, needing a nap or strong coffee to keep me going. The idea of a large American pancake and hashbrown breakfast is deadly. I might as well take a large dose of sleeping pills. It truly is like a drug to me. Sometimes, when I'm home with my girlfriend on a Sunday morning, I will take this drug - known as a "Cracker Barrel pancake breakfast"... and spend the afternoon luxuriating in slovenly slumber... falling asleep to a movie or football game. Been there? Conventional wisdom calls for a substantial breakfast that includes whole grains. Sorry, doesn't work for me. An apple, and a hand full of almonds is perfect. Or, simply tea with raw sugar. Just enough to keep my blood sugar stable.
Sweeteners vs. Sugar
I don't get it. Why do people who think they are informed and "healthy" put chemicals like sucralose and aspartame into their bodies instead of the meager 15 calories per teaspoon that raw sugar provides? It's gross, disgusting, unhealthy... like trying to get healthy from a pill. The only good news you'll get about chemical sweeteners are from their corporate websites. Sucralose (Splenda) was discovered by scientists doing pesticide research, it contains chlorine, a carcinogen, along with a laundry list of chemicals not found in nature. One recent study compares Splenda to putting pesticide in your body. Diet sodas are the worst because they contain aspartame which has clearly been linked to a variety of side effects including dizziness and panic attacks. Sugar is painted as evil. I agree, white sugar IS evil. Not all sugars are created equal. Raw natural sweeteners are absorbed by the body more slowly than refined white sugar and corn sweeteners. I use raw sugar and maple syrup as my primary sweeteners. People dieting tend to eat foods loaded with chemicals. For example, fat free ice cream contains: dextrose, palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, mono and diglycerides, polydextrose, inulin, microcrystalline cellulose, cellulose gum, locust bean gum, calcium sulfate, polysorbate 80.
Yuck.... not that I'm saying real ice cream is that much better for you, but... why don't people read labels? If they do, why would they consume such a host of chemical crap? I guess it's part of modern society where people think there is a chemical solution to any health risk or illness.
I almost never do a complete fast for more than 24 hours. When I do, I may still drink a bit of juice to keep my blood sugar stable. When I "check myself" and start a weight loss diet, I often start with a brief fast and then slowly start eating raw fruits and vegetables - what I call a cleansing period. My most recent cleansing diet consisted of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, oranges, grapefruit, and tea with raw sugar. I ate just these items for four days. With daily exercise, my weight dropped 9 lbs in 4 days - after ballooning up to 160 lbs during the holidays, down to a nominal 151. During these times, the digestive tract shrinks and the less I think about food, the less hungry I get and the less I eat. When I do get hungry, some tea with raw sugar eliminates hunger.
Again, this is what works for me. And, I can say that it does work, proven by the fact that I am one of the only people I know that is about the same weight as I was in highschool and can (and sometimes do) wear the same clothes that I wore as a teenager... AND, I'm fairly healthy in that I rarely get sick, and I'm fit enough to have had success as a competitive athlete in my late 40s (age group awards in 5k races, national ranking as an age group sprinter). Soo... if it works for me, it may work for you, (especially the bit about eliminating most carbs and obsessing about diet).
A pet peeve I have about vegetarians is that many eat high fat dairy products like cheese, whole milk, ice cream, eggs, etc... eating these foods in abundance pretty much negates the healthy lifestyle that vegetarians try to achieve. I haven't cooked an egg in 20 yrs but I will very occasionally eat baked goods that contain them. A good substitute for eggs in recipes is a mixture of soy milk and corn starch. I don't drink cows milk although I'll occasionally put it in my coffee if I am out and about.
- What I eat
Overall, simple is best. Less refined, more fresh, no processed crap or chemically laden foods, smaller wild-caught low toxicity fish, and a creative and colorful variety of produce that includes fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, melons, greens, tomatoes, beans, squash, and of course ... dark chocolate.
- Weight loss
I've observed stages of fat loss. Most people, probably 95%, have a band of 'firm fat' in the usual places. When I'm actively fasting, cleansing, or dieting, it is usually because I am "snapping back" from a period of weight gain when I feel an excess of firm fat on my body. For most, these bands of fat will remain for life, which I don't think is particularly healthy since toxins can be stored in fatty tissue.
A chemistry professor I once had, who was an outstanding marathon runner into his 40s, noted that the human body must 'learn' to burn it's fat reserves. That is why I continue my exercise routine even when fasting or dieting, because my body has no choice but to burn it's fat reserves. It is interesting to observe the stages of fat reduction. First, the firm fat on my sides and abs becomes soft and jelly like. Then it slowly disappears. When I am running competitively, I try to get as light as possible without sacrificing strength, that means reducing body fat. My normal average weight is about 148-150. My best competitive weight is about 9 lbs less. 9 lbs in a 5k race is huge for me.
- Last word
Most importantly, don't obsess about diet. Don't make food the center of your life. Be a doer, not a sitter. There is always time to ride the couch. It only takes 20-25 minutes to get a killer work out. Even 15 min is better than nothing, especially if it is intense, like running 2 miles at 7 min pace.