The Calorie Conspiracy

We are not talking about pot-bellied men in gray suits sitting around puffing cigars in some back room. No, this conspiracy is all around us every day, and involves every one of us. Like cigar smoke, one can think of it as “calorie pollution.” Not even the people pumping out the extra carbs and fats may be aware of the destruction they are raining down us. But most of them are, and that is where they make their money.

Focus on the word diet, as little as you like to do. Most of us have been on one. The term “crash diet” scares the hell out of us, and conjures images of calorie counting, lonely hungry nights, and injury to our bodies. That is what the food industry would like us to think. There is the food industry, and then there is the diet industry; and never the twain shall meet, right? Well, that is what they would like you to think, and that is where the conspiracy lies.

Here’s the scoop: We all consume 2 to 3 times more calories per day than our bodies need.  You heard right, we could get by on one-third of our current calorie intake, and be healthy as horses, fit as fiddles. That’s crazy, you are saying. Read further: Dieting is a scam, because it is based on the mentality of discipline and punishment. It goes back to the Puritans and the Protestant work ethic. We must work, and work hard, to maintain that body that suddenly came upon us when our metabolism slowed down in our late thirties or early forties.

When we were young, we made fun of the middle-aged and scoffed at ever being bound by the realities of life. And that reality is, if we take in more calories than we burn, then we gain weight, and gain weight fast. As a beer drinker and snacker, I went from 210 pounds to 250 pounds, simply by enjoying myself with Bud Light and Nachos every night.  At 100 calories per beer, even a few beers would increase my daily calories by 40%. Who knew? Who cared? It’s just me, right, some single old bachelor sitting around in his shorts watching the tube and playing video games.  Well, “they” did know. When I walked down the street, “they” started staring at my huge belly, whispering that I looked pregnant. No, daddy don’t want that.

But where to start? I had tried diets before, and had great success. I am ex-military, so I thrive on programs. Follow the book, drink the shakes, eat “sensible” meals. All in a days work, as I weighed myself each morning and stuck to the regimen. I even got down to my ideal Body Mass Index, BMI, at 177 pounds. My wife was impressed. My kids were happy that daddy was not going to have a baby. But then the stresses of life and my thirst for alcohol, cravings for munchies, and generally not caring crept back up on me.

That’s probably the pattern for most people. As it was true for me, probably so for many other people; that the financial crisis of 2008 put us all back in the mood to live life one day at a time and enjoy every minute of it. That included smoking, eating, and drinking whatever we liked, whenever we wanted. Now that the economy is back on track and McDonald’s is not part of the daily budget routine, many of us are returning to our roots and wanting to feel better about ourselves and our health.

So here’s the skinny: We are swimming in a cesspool of calories. Like light, water, and air pollution, calorie pollution comes in clouds of simple sugars in our food, corn syrup and soybean oil in our sauces, and crud in our snacks. It’s relentless. Most of us give up on dieting, because that is just what it is: A long, hard break from our normal eating habits. We see it as something to do for a “while,” all the while wanting to get back to being full all the time. And that is what most of us do to get satisfied, stuff ourselves full. The thought of getting hungry terrifies us for some reason, as if we are going to turn into Ethiopian poster children for some Sally Struthers late-night TV ad.

Stop the fear. Number one, forget what the medical and food industries are telling you.  They lie. An adult does not need over 2000 calories per day to maintain healthy weight. The mid thousands, 1400 to 1800 calories per day that are purported to take off a pound or so a week is total misinformation. These numbers in the mid teens are your UPPER limit for normal eating, not dieting. That’s right, you should be able to feel completely satisfied on only 1400 calories per day. Some of you are shaking your heads right now. But what about the muscle emaciation, what about the strain on the heart and the body, most of you are asking right now. Relax, it is a complete myth.

Some of you are heading for the little red x at the upper right of your screen now. Read on: Not everything that makes your food taste good has to add another 100 calories to the meal.  This is where we pick up nearly double our calories. It’s all in the trimmings, the extras, the add-ons. Most of you know this, but you let it languish in the back of your mind because you can’t stand the thought of unfulfilling “rabbit food.” And that is what the industry would love for you to keep thinking. They want you to keep thinking all the misconceptions about food intake, because more is more, right? American industry, from housing, banking, manufacturing, and yes, even food; is all based on growth. Am I right? And that translates to growth, and girth, around your beautiful body.

Here is how you take control: Start counting calories (Ugh!) No seriously, look at how many calories are in each meal you eat. You can google it as quickly and easily as you can slide it down your esophagus. Most meals today are based around 400 calories, reaching toward 600 by the time you slather on all your dressings, sauces, toppings, and what-not. If I told you that you could cut back 10% of your calories, you would listen, right? Well, I am telling you that you can cut your calories by 50%, and still feel satisfied. It all starts with trying.

Most entrees sold by “diet” companies today hover between 170 and 250 calories per meal. Add all the salad you want, and drink water with a squirt of lemon, lime, or Mio flavoring in it, and you have a respectable looking meal. Add a chocolate Atkins or Nutrisystem bar as a desert about a half hour later, and you are still under 500 calories.  That’s your evening. If you are like me, and cannot go to bed hungry, another snack bar or Nutrisystem similar snack is only 150 calories. You have cheated without breaking the calorie bank.

Then, something amazing begins to happen. Your waist shrinks; but more importantly, your stomach and your “eyes” shrink too. You actually start to feel full, and sometimes bloated, on the smaller meals. I build a big salad every morning, and dip from that big bowl throughout the day. Fill your spice cabinet with these essentials: Onion flakes, basil flakes, black pepper, red chili powder, vinegar, soy sauce, curry, and your favorites. Sprinkle the heck out of that salad, then cover. I leave mine out of the fridge, because it starts to ferment a little and harvest all those flavors. Skip the OIL! Vegetable oil is what is getting most of us. It is over 100 calories per teaspoon, people. It just is not worth it to kill all of your menu building and weight loss efforts for a little comfort of oily goodness. No, banish it. You will feel amazingly full on a well-crafted salad without it.

Between meals, it is baby carrots and broccoli. You would die of a burst stomach before you gained an ounce from eating these. Insist on some sauce? I have discovered quite a few low-calorie dressings that you can dip into, if you absolutely have to. But remember, write down the calories on you daily chart; otherwise those stray calories are conspiring to sneak up on you. Get a sauce cup, and dip only, don’t slather!

Just to bring it home, let’s summarize. Look at my daily intake: Cup of black coffee in the morning. A Nutrisystem breakfast bar is a luxury at 150 calories; and I have started to skip them. At 10 am, what are you looking at? Is your stomach growling at you? If not, consider making it to lunch. If you can’t make it, shovel some of that 0 calorie salad you made, or have a shake (150 calories). You will be amazed that you get the same sugar buzz and long-lasting satisfaction from the smart diet shake as you would from shoveling some store-bought food down your gullet. Now it’s lunch time! An entree? A snack bar? More salad? Mix it up, but don’t go over 200 calories. Eat your afternoon snack at 150 calories. Now, amazingly, you are somewhere around 500 calorie heading into dinner.

Imagine that freedom: You can pig out on a 250 calorie entree, eat a chocolate bar for desert at 150 calories, and still have the evening to munch another 100 calories before you hit a thousand. Some of you are thinking that you will binge and hit 1600 calories. Perish the thought. After a few days of eating like this, you will feel bloated and hate yourself for going over 1500 calories for the day. Trust me, you can beat the calorie conspiracy.

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