Last night my wife made chocolate chip cookies. For those who don’t know it, my wife makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the entire world. She only makes them to torture me. She fills the entire house with the aroma and then the cookies sit on the cooling rack saying, “Eat me now.” (It’s true. I can hear them.) They are never satisfied. If I eat one, the others just start calling louder: “Eat us too.”
I love food. I love all kinds of food. The problem is that I am also very health-conscious and it turns out that not all the foods I like are healthy. I don’t think I am alone. How do we justify our (sometimes uncontrollable) desire to eat something delicious that may not be “good for us” and at the same time remain true to ourselves in eating healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle?
In treating many patients in my weight-loss clinic and teaching many others to eat healthy, I have developed the 85/15 rule of eating. It goes like this. We eat to survive 85 percent of the time. We need to grab some breakfast in the morning so we can go to work. We grab a mid-morning snack around 10. We eat lunch around noon. The day continues and we eat because we need the nutrition and energy to live.
The other 15 percent of the time we eat for social reasons. We may be going out to dinner with friends or we get invited to a party. Or my wife makes cookies. We are not really eating to survive or for energy or to stay healthy. During these times we are eating because we want to, because it tastes good or because we are at a social event.
If as individuals and as a society we can learn to eat only healthy foods during the “85 percent times” we would solve our obesity problem. And we’d still be able to have occasional treats. If we choose items that will provide us with good nutrition and energy 85 percent of the time, then the other 15 percent of the time it won’t matter what we eat.
I believe that is the secret to solving the dilemma of being a “health nut” and still being able to have the occasional “bad thing.”
My healthy eating plan consists of these building blocks:
Fruits and vegetables. Eat at least four helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. In addition, I try to vary the color of these items. Each color represents different nutrients. So try to have something green, yellow, red, orange and purple to get a wide variety of nutrients.
If eating four helpings of vegetables a day is difficult, which it can sometimes be, then getting a juicer will help. I am a big fan of juicing and feel so much better when I am doing it. It is hard to eat an entire bunch of raw carrots, a cucumber and an apple in one sitting – but very simple if you juice the same products. Make sure you buy a quality juicer – the cheaper ones just make you more frustrated.
Protein. I am also a big proponent of eating more protein and less simple carbohydrates (sugars). We need at least 1 gram of protein for each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. I recommend even more protein: 1 gram per pound of body weight. Do this and keep your total number of calories the same and see if you don’t start losing weight, increasing lean muscle mass and losing fat. Inevitably, if my weight-loss patients quit losing it is because they do not have enough protein in their diet. Your diet should consist of at least four servings of protein a day, including meats, protein shakes, protein bars, nuts, dairy products or any other source of lean, healthy proteins.
Water. Make sure you drink enough water. I do not believe, as some others do, that you need to be constantly carrying a water bottle with you and flooding your kidneys. Our bodies have evolutionary adapted an amazing mechanism to keep us from becoming dehydrated. It is called thirst and you should listen to it. But when you are thirsty, instead of reaching for a soft drink – or some food – drink some water first and then see if you still want anything else. Chances are you will not.
Vitamins. I also think you need to supplement with some type of multivitamin. They are inexpensive and easy to take. And there is ample evidence to show they can help in preventing disease. You can get these in pill form, as part of your protein drink or in a variety of other forms.
Timing. Eat six meals a day. Last week I told you to eat like a 2-year-old. They graze, eating small amounts of food throughout the day instead of in three big meals. That makes sense for adults too. It helps you keep a better balance of insulin and other hormones. And it keeps you from getting really hungry, which means you will be more likely to eat nutritious foods instead high-sugar foods.
So go ahead and splurge occasionally. You don’t have to feel guilty as long as you are following a common-sense eating plan 85 percent of the time. Today I have eaten my four helpings of fruits and vegetables, I took my vitamins, I’ve had my protein and I drank plenty of water. I think it’s time for another cookie.
Tim Reynolds, M.D., is a board-certified emergency medicine physician, managing partner of Healthcare Express and the chief medical officer of Urgent Care America. He is a health and lifestyle expert and his self-help journal and DVD Series, Living Every Minute: A Stealth Tactic for Success.