Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, I am not a dietician, I am not a nutritionist. I am an average, overweight guy, who happens to be a prepper and believes that, after trying numerous ways to lose weight and a great deal of reading, research, trial and error, he may have a solution to wading through the sea of dietary B.S. that many people get lost in. All those who take this advice, do so at their own risk and are encouraged to seek the advice of a medical professional first.
Many of us, including survival/self-sufficiency minded people, have a problem with maintaining or getting rid of our excess baggage and I don’t mean the spare sets of luggage you’ve accumulated throughout your life. Losing or maintaining a healthy weight is a national and personal problem especially in this country, myself included. Despite all of the different dietary options available such as, low-fat, low-carb, low-fat & low-carb, smaller more frequent meals, calories in – calories out, selected starches and meats, and the ever popular liquefied wheat grass, spinach, kale, and black bean smoothie with low-fat vanilla soy diet (yea I made that last one up, but doesn’t it sound about as terrible as some of these healthy food options). Dieting can be especially difficult for some “preppers” because we’re spending money, very precious money in this economy, on what I call “future-food” (long-term food storage), that often times don’t think about what we’re eating and doing right now to ensure that we will physically be able to survive and then eat that “future-food”. Several issues need to be addressed in relation to this topic. First the root cause of most weight related issues. The second is portion sizes. Third, stock what you eat and eat what you stock.
One of the biggest questions concerning weight loss or gain and healthy living concerns what the root cause of weight gain is. Taking out hormonal changes, water retention and temporary fluctuation in weight, most dangerous weight gain is caused by an increase in the consumption of calories without a corresponding increase in the expenditure of calories over an extended period of time (the reverse is true, a continued consumption of calories with a drop in calorie expenditure over an extended period of time).It only gets worse when you increase the number of calories you ingest and decrease the amount of calories you normally expend. When looking at society as a whole we see that the third option is what has happened. Our serving sizes have been increased well beyond what “most” (Henry the VIII basically ate himself to death) of our ancestors consumed on a daily basis. While our daily lives have become mostly sedentary.
I will use myself as an example for the individual case study on this issue. While I try to watch what I am eating and when I am eating it, I am still a pretty hefty person and I would like to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. At restaurants I tend to eat everything on my plate (bad idea, restaurant plates are notorious for being over-portioned), because growing up it was drilled into me that I had to eat everything on my plate. As a teen I ate everything on my plate because, “Yea, I am manly and eat a lot, arghghghgh”. As an adult I continued to eat everything on my plate mostly because I didn’t think about it, at that point it was just routine and normal. Now, when I make my own plate, I try not to pile it high with any kind of food (except meat, cause, “Yea I’m a man and I eat charred animal flesh, arghghghgh”). Now, as a prepper I am facing the often-seen-as-insurmountable problem of losing this weight that I have accepted all my life.
Excess weight is much harder to take off than it was for a person to put on. It requires almost a gutsy, grim, determination that is just too much for most people to assume. Overweight and especially obese people have to make a clean break (much like addicts do), with the things and the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to. Their lifestyle has become an addiction, and “Supersize Me” (the movie about McDonald’s making people fat, where Morgan Spurlock basically eats himself into poor health by consuming an all McDonald’s diet for one solid month) has some great commentary on the topic. Other addictions including certain snack foods at certain times, like popcorn at movies (I’ll address another factor of this in a second) chips or cookies with our TV shows, etc. We will indulge ourselves and eat an entire bag of chips or popcorn in a single sitting without ever thinking of the cost, not in dollars but in pounds (and I don’t mean sterling). Even when we have the knowledge of this, when we know what we’re doing is bad; we will still do it, because it is an addiction. We have developed an addiction to bad food. Think about this, if I were to give you the option orange/yellow unnaturally colored, fake butter flavored, overly salted and oiled, movie theater popcorn and homemade popped corn made the same way, in a pan with a little oil and a dash of salt, which would you prefer? I know that I would take the homemade popcorn, because that stuff rocks. I think most people would choose homemade popcorn too, because honestly movie popcorn is terrible, and yet most of us will eat and entire bucket of it. Why would we eat a bucket of something that we don’t even like, that we know is unhealthy?
Because it is an addiction. If we want to lose weight, we must make a solid break from that lifestyle and it requires a deep inner strength. When you’re an adult who can go anywhere, anytime and purchase anything you want without answering to anybody it means that in the weight loss game your ability to control yourself will be the only thing keeping you from falling off the wagon. Just like no one can stop you from buying cigarettes or consuming a fifth of whiskey in a night, no one can stop you from eating a whole fast food menu. To lose weight, you must be able to control yourself and your addictions. The good news, much like other addictions, is that once you’ve distanced yourself from the bad foods and food choices that set off cravings, it becomes easier to avoid them (I can honestly say that I once went a week without eating a McDonald’s sandwich, and when I tried to eat it again the taste made me want to be sick).
Once you have made the decision to get serious about losing weight it becomes a matter of two things, 1) decreasing the number of calories you consume (where those calories come from, and when those calories are consumed is important too, but the number of calories comes first), and 2) the number of calories you expend. That means altering our diets; NOT DIETING! The concept of “dieting” implies denial and restriction, which you don’t want, you want as many options on the table as possible without those options consisting of bad imitations of good foods. A burger, for example, can be a good food item. Grilled lean burger, veggies galore, mustard or even a little mayo, and a whole wheat bun can be a very healthy meal. Just the burger is a good meal, adding in fries or chips, and a soda is where we move from healthy to unhealthy.
The number of calories that we intake is key, and for most of us it is as simple as getting our portions under control. There are some great guides to understanding portions on the web, one of my favorites though is found at the web site for Prevention (it’s the health pamphlet found at the front of most super markets and grocery stores, at the check-out isle so you can pick up a copy after you’ve bought all the necessary items to make your 3,000 calories double meat, double cheese, bacon and fried onion and mushroom burger with deep fried jalapeno bites and chili cheese steak fries dipped in Ranch dressing, yum!). The recommendations I find to be useful are as follows: for most of your starches; rice, pasta, fruits, veggies, a cup is approximately the size of the average woman’s fist. For your meat products; chicken, fish, steak, pork, three ounces is about the size of your palm. For snacking foods like nuts and dried fruit (really high fat or sugar content) one ounce is equivalent to a single handful (not a heaping handful either). For lighter snacking foods like popcorn or pretzels, that same one ounce serving is two regular sized handfuls. Foods like cheese or peanut butter, a one ounce serving is approximately equal to the size of your thumb. For spread, and oil, basically items that are pure fat, a proper portion is equivalent to the end of the thumb.
Using these portions or close to them, for instance, six ounces is a large serving of meat but still an appropriate serving size for a male whose muscle mass burns more calories, we can reduce significantly the number of calories that we take in during the day. Once you do this you will find that you may naturally eat more frequently throughout the day but less in the actual number of calories. Don’t try to force yourself to make that alteration, just let it happen naturally as you change your portion sizes. At this point it is important to note a few cautions and options. 1) Portions are not enough, if you just eat more portions, you must count your calories. A calorie tracker is very helpful, one of the best can be found for free at www.fitday.com, and includes and app for the iPhone. 2) You need to eat when you are hungry, the hard part is stopping before you are full; a) “full” does not describe satiated or satisfied, which is the feeling we’re after, and b) just cause we finished chewing the last bite doesn’t mean that food has made and impact on our body and its chemistry that takes time. 3) Timing; timing your meals and eating when you feel hungry (not to be mistaken with bored) can be difficult but can be manipulated easily.
The sugar and carbohydrates found in starches and grains are necessary for recuperating muscles from strenuous activity and makes for long lasting energy to keep you full throughout the day. So eating them earlier in the day or directly after hard work (whether its lifting weights or a long session of chopping wood) is beneficial to weight loss and maintenance. Proteins require time to break down and provide the body essential nutrients for a variety of functions and so can be eaten anytime but the key is to remember leaner meats later in the day. Fish or seafood is better for dinner as it has the least amount of fat, fattier meats are burned off through activity and are stored when the body is at rest and should then not be eaten before an extended rest. As we can see when we eat certain foods plays a role too. Because so many people take only one aspect of healthy dieting into account and focus on just carbs or just fat, or just calories they often become discouraged and give up on their attempts to be healthy.
The fact of weight loss comes down to a few simple facts that taken together seem complex, 1) control your portions and you will control your calories, 2) don’t control when you eat, but what you eat when and 3) increase your caloric output. The last one is the simplest. Walk more. Walking is one of the best activities to increase caloric expenditure with little strain on the body.
Personal note: I spent a year during college studying in London (I was majoring in English Literature and thought that I might as well study in the land that it came from). When I left I weighed in at a nice round 300 pounds (again, not sterling). I went from not walking much to walking between six and ten miles each day. At first I developed blisters on the sole of my feet, my feet ached, my legs hurt, I lived on the third floor which in England means four flights of stairs. Only after a few weeks all of those problems went away, a combination of rapid weight loss, which decreased pressure on my joints and muscles and a strengthening of the muscles engaged in activity. By the time I came home eight months later I had lost 100 pounds from my six foot, two inch frame, and eight inches from around my midsection and yet I had not changed many of my eating habits. I continued to drink (might have had a few too many some nights), eat what and when I wanted to. This unfortunately facilitated putting most of that weight back on when I returned and was no longer walking miles a day.
Exercise is a critical component of weight loss. Just decreasing our calorie count is not enough to keep us motivated to stick with a weight loss program. To see results more quickly, we must increase the number of calories we use. Most people will think this means they need to join a gym, purchase equipment and clothing and a gym bag and a set of matching 80’s head and wrist bands (no? that was just me? Okay). In reality this means a few slight changes or our daily routine that will take up a small amount of time in our overly busy lives. Park farther away from entrances, take stairs instead of elevators, stand instead of sit, make our own food (yea moving around the kitchen burns calories), or walk around the neighborhood for an hour after dinner and before you watch TV, or walk on a treadmill (if you have one) while you watch your TV shows. This doesn’t even have to be fast or power walking. A normal pace, approximately three miles per hour, is a great start push yourself to do a mile or more depending on your physical ability. Remember it’s about the mileage not the time. Your goal is ten miles per day at a minimum. It seems impossible but it isn’t buy a pedometer and spend a Saturday just walking, no need to go fast, just walk, walk to a store, walk through an entire mall from store to store, wander through the stores, get a diet soda or even a smoothie at the food court, just walk and see how far you go in a day (warning: your feet, regardless of your shoe choice, may hurt the next day, yet your shoe choice will determine if hurt is a dull ache or a desire for amputation). Other than the initial aches and pains of unused muscles, walking is so helpful because it is relatively injury and potential for injury free, which means no downtime due to injury.
Other physical exertions that do not require a great deal of financial expenditure include calisthenics and body weight exercises. These may require depending on a person’s physical limitations modifications or alternative exercises. Weights require some financial investment, but you don’t need a full rack of weights or the fanciest machine you need a bench, and a set of dumbbells at weights of ten, 15, 20 and 25. This should cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $150-$200 dollars. Consider it part of your prepper investments and instead of buying future-food for one or two months buy this. With just these weights, especially if your overweight or obese (cause let’s face it you’re muscle development and tone is lacking), you can burn off a lot of calories and perform hundreds of exercises to keep things interesting. It’s not about getting in the gym and throwing up big weights, it’s about maintaining a focus on calorie output. At first it’s not about perfectly even sets and reps, it’s about good form so you don’t hurt yourself, and about every rep (repetition) being another calorie or ten calories or fifty calories burned off your body. When you’re muscles begin to get used to it then you can start to widen your focus, but at the center needs to be the idea that it’s all about calories out. Many years ago when we worked from before sunrise to sundown, this would never have been a problem, but today with our sedentary lifestyle, and office jobs, we’re less active than ever, and so when we would have been chopping wood and managing a plow, and bailing hay, now we lift weights and walk. Sometimes it’s not fun, but it’s something that most of us have got to do.
Beyond the aspects of portion control (calories in), when to eat what, and exercise (calories out), there are literally thousands of approaches and suggestions and recommendations. I will only make one: do not push too hard. You will want to, you’ll want to buy up the best of everything, the “best” diet food, and the best treadmill. You’ll want to hit the ground running to get this weight off fast cause summer’s coming up and you want to look good in the speedo you just bought while reading this. NO! Pushing yourself to your limits, the limits you remember when you were younger, thinner, stronger, etc. are no longer the limits you have now. Now, you need to take it slow. Speaking from experience it will only set you back or make things worse. Walk, don’t even jog, because your first severe case of shin splints will be nearly crippling and set you back days to weeks of recovery time. Lift light, so what if you think someone else will think it’s girly, man up and do it right. Light weights help to retrain the muscles to get used to strenuous exercise without cause severe muscle soreness and allow you to focus on perfect form and eliminate the possibility for injury. Work your way up slowly, it’s all about climbing that ladder one step at a time. When it comes to food, bypass manufactured stuff, and go after the whole foods. Real food is going to taste better and be better than anything that is processed. Stay to the outside of the grocery stores and when you go to the interior make sure that you’re label conscious. Only buy what you will eat.
This brings us to our last point, “eat what you stock, and stock what you eat”. If we are preparing for long-term, then we have stores of foods that will need to be rotated, and stores of foods that we need to be using. Canned vegetables and fruits, dried rice and beans, and for some of us it’s a metric ton of MRE’s (if they are all chicken and rice flavor, I’m very sorry for you). While long-term storage is important, it is more important to stock the foods you’re actually going to eat and then actually eat them. Rice and beans may sound like good survival food because you know it’s nutritionally sound and that it stores well, but you’ll need to adjust to eating that unless you’re already use to it. Also they don’t last indefinitely, so what happens to your year’s supply of rice and beans if their expiration date is approaching and “the end” hasn’t happened. You have a year’s supply of food to eat that you only planned to eat in a survival situation. If you have a lot of “survival” foods stocked, which mostly consist of starchy carbohydrates and need to lose weight, and so need a more balanced diet, fear not.
Begin by adjusting your food storage plans to a more balanced diet, which includes more proteins frozen, dried or canned (think beef jerky and canned chicken or tuna) and balance out your stores. You might have to can things yourself, which is a great opportunity to learn something new and if you screw up, learn from it. While proteins are not easy long-term storage items, they will keep for a while and can be used easily with other stores. Examples include using canned ham or even SPAM chopped up in navy bean soup, or canned chicken being used for soup or chicken salad. Remember the suggestions from above, you can, while trying to lose weight, basically eat whatever you want by eating the proper portions and at the right times. If you feel like have rice and beans and corn bread prepare accordingly and make it an earlier meal and then have your veggies and ham or beef steak (but not both) for dinner. Vegetables and fruits are somewhat limited storable items beyond canned for long-term storage but you can purchase fresh and froze for the now and canned for the later (or when making awesome chicken soup, which you can then can), and then you can make an infinite number of meal options and varieties. If you have the space set up a small garden there are many ways to garden even in small areas. Grow fresh foods, save money at the grocery store, and have seasonal food source for you kitchen.
These suggestions should enable preppers who are not as fit as they would like to be, to lose some excess fatty weight, develop their physical fitness, while eating from existing stores rather than purchasing both storable food and “diet food”. Hopefully it will help people to realize that it isn’t really “what” you eat, as much as how much and when during the day we are eating it. A final note, is simply to say that if you lose yourself, fall down on or off of your plan to lose weight, don’t be discourage, but chose to get right back on then and there. If that means you’re half way through a terrible meal choice, stop, do finish and if your done eating and allow yourself to realize you just made a bad meal choice, don’t beat yourself up, make an effort to correct it by taking a walk (don’t try to walk off all the calories you’ve eaten in two days to try and make up for it, but take a walk to lessen the guilt) and reaffirm your plan to lose weight.
After having lost weight then you enter the maintenance phase, and now that you have become active, you must stay active. Continue to exercise and mix it up, go hiking, climbing, backpacking if you like the outdoors, if you’re more of a traditional “exercise” person then pick up biking and sports like racquetball, tennis, basketball, swimming etc. and continue to expend those calories. It’s not like a bank and we’re not bears storing up for winter. Continue to watch meal sizes and individual portions, doing so will keep you from slipping back into old habits, and if once in the maintenance phase if you do notice yourself slipping back into bad habits, do not let it continue, stop as soon as you see it.