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What are you doing on Monday?

Usually we reserve that question for the weekend. “Hey what are you doing this weekend?” or “What are you doing Saturday?”. Ever notice we form plans of action for the weekend in our free time between (or maybe at) work. Is work where we go to spend our time but weekends is where we spend our life? Ironically most of us spend weekdays working and reacting without a heck of a lot of planning while, in detailed fashion, we very carefully organize and plan actions for the weekend to actually live our life. If you want to go to the beach Saturday, you plan it and it you do it. A ballgame? You execute a plan to get tickets, coordinate times with your friends, and be sure you are on the road in time to get a beer and a dog before batting practice. We action what is important to us.

Often during the week we constantly react without much of a plan. It’s all rote. We rush to work, check emails, get pulled into someone else’s crisis, and realize nothing you intended to do today was getting done.  Then we sit in traffic and hope to be on time to pick up the kids so you can run them over to practice. By the time you get home all you can do is grab a quick (and probably unhealthy meal) and binge watch Netflix.

What does this have to do with fitness and a healthy lifestyle? Like anything important it, like your weekend, needs to be planned and actioned as a living part of your life. Health is a priority, probably the biggest one you have. So is “getting to the gym” a plan, one that we action regularly. Do we ensure that, above all, we are able to get a solid workout in several times a week? Do we plan our fitness as carefully as our trip to the beach? Or is it in the laundry list of activities that we routinely drop from our day because we didn’t have it properly planned and didn’t take action.

We need actions in our life to ensure we get things done and reach our goals. Some we do to ensure our financial well being. Some we do to ensure our children have a proper education. Some we do to progress our career. And some we do to have a little R&R over the weekend.

But we also need to take care of ourselves, and that doesn’t happen without a plan, without action. Want to drop a few pounds? You need a plan. Run a 5K. Yup, plan. Look good for that beach weekend? Definitely a plan. Be able to run the bases with your grandchildren? You better action that one now, before father time relegates you to the sidelines.

So what are you doing on Monday?

Minimize Liquid Calories

This is the seventh and final installment in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, are documenting what you eat, measuring your portions, and have mastered your local super market. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”
  • Week 4, “The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels”
  • Week 5,  “Eat More Fruits & Vegetables”
  • Week 6, “Eat Lean Protein With Every Meal”

Week Seven: Minimize Liquid Calories

Phew.   We are at Week Seven.  What a ride. If you have been following along and implementing the practices we have suggested you probably are already feeling better and looking trimmer. Most importantly these changes in diet and behavior have started to feel natural and part of who you are. They say it takes three weeks to break a habit or start a new one. Well, here on week seven, you should be on the road to a healthy diet that can be maintained as part of your ongoing lifestyle.  And we still have one more very important topic to cover: Liquid Calories.

A huge percentage of our population gets way too many calories from drinks. And they are mostly empty calories to boot. Soda, energy drinks, sport drinks (taken at the wrong time), fruit-flavored drinks, practically any premium drink at Starbucks, and even 100% fruit juice are ultra-high in empty sugar-based calories that provide almost zero nutritional value. That’s right. ZERO nutritional value. And they wreak havoc on your hormonal balance, drive weight gain, are linked to disease, and actually drive hunger cravings.

Here is short list of popular drinks and the calories and sugar content:

Liquid calories can add up quickly. For example. let’s say you have a glass of juice at breakfast. No big deal.  You hit the coffee shop for a latte mid-morning because you need a little pick me up.  Have a couple cans of Cokes during the day because you were thirsty and you have a job perk of free sodas in the company refrigerator. Then you grab a bottle of Gatorade before your workout because, hey, I need to have some carbs before I hit the gym. Finally, some 2% milk over dinner. Doesn’t sound like much does it. But do the math. That’s over 700 calories and 133g of sugar. 133g is another way of saying 32 teaspoons. Go get you sugar dish and spoon 32 teaspoons into a bowl. Go ahead I’ll wait………Now look at that pile. That’s the sugar you consumed in one day just from drinks! Doesn’t even count the sugars from solid foods.  It’s over one-third of your daily caloric intake if you are on a 2000 calories daily diet. Ugh.

Obviously, this is a serious issue and one of the leading contributors to obesity in the US and around the world. And with essentially no offsetting benefit except they “taste good”. Specifically let’s pick on soda since, well, it’s an easy target. Suffice it to say that soda is just about the worst thing you can put in your body, diet or otherwise. Really.  Soda has been linked to assorted illnesses such as type II, osteoporosis, dental erosion, kidney stones, and heart disease. If you do only one thing to change your diet, give up soda. Believe me, after 2-3 weeks you’ll stop missing it. A sweetened soda will be repulsive and undrinkable. It will change your life.

And while we are at it what about diet soda? Let’s break down the typical ingredients.

  • Carbonated water: Water dissolved with carbon dioxide
  • Caramel color: Food coloring
  • Aspartame: An artificial sweetener with 92 side effects listed by the FDA and use by pregnant women and young children is discouraged.
  • Phosphoric acid: I actually use this stuff. It’s great at removing rust from iron and steel.
  • Potassium benzoate: This can form benzene, a known carcinogen.
  • Natural flavors: Uranium is natural, but I wouldn’t want to taste it.
  • Citric acid: This isn’t the acids that exist naturally in citrus fruits, it comes from a mold found growing on starchy food crops that is also used as an additive in bathroom cleaners

OK, some carbonated water, rust remover, and a bathroom cleaner. No thanks. I’ll have lemon in my water please.

Enough with the soda. What’s wrong with low-fat milk and 100% squeezed juice? They are supposed to be healthy choices, right? Well they do have vitamin and mineral benefits and are not totally without value, but you can certainly get these benefits without the accompanying sugar. Sugar, in whatever form, is still sugar. And (outside of replenishing your body after an intense workout) your body just doesn’t require vast amounts of sugar. The average human carries around about 130g of sugar in their bloodstream. That’s a full tank. When you supply the body with sugar it tops off the tank (usually just a few grams) and puts the rest into a reserve. That reserve is commonly known as adipose tissue, which can be found in abundance around our tummy, thighs, and backsides.  Something that we are all trying to avoid.   The easiest way to lose weight? Drink fewer calories.

The idea is to fill your diet with nutrient dense foods. These are mostly solids – vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, some grains, and healthy fats. Coffee, certain teas, sugar fee protein shakes, and of course water are excellent drinks, but it essentially stops there. Eliminate the empty, sugar-based drinks from your diet and you’ll be saving calories you can apply to healthier foods. As we’ve said before, fill your plate with lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. Consume water liberally. The other forms of liquid calories just are not necessary and should be minimized. Can you hit Starbucks a couple times a week? Sure, enjoy, but not every day. Orange juice at Sunday morning breakfast? Not going to kill you. But in the big picture those should be treated as treats, not staples.

Over the last seven weeks we have introduced you to concepts and ideas that could change your life. But quite honestly everything we discussed during this journey you already knew. Basics really. Stuff you have heard over and over again, but perhaps took no action on. Drink more water? We are all born with the innate knowledge to consume water. Eliminate junk food from your pantry? There is a reason it’s called “junk food” and we certainly all know why. Documenting what you eat? That’s just a basic list of what you eat, and most of us have used Dailyplate, myfitnesspal, or some other tracker at one time or another. The grocery stores? In this day and age, we all know the dangers of processed food. Eat fruits and vegetables?  Our grandmothers all taught us to eat vegetables before we could read. Lean protein? The value of protein is basic human knowledge woven from eons into our DNA. Liquid calories? Nobody drinks a coke because it’s healthy. The point is we really just teed up some basic principles for you to take action. The rest is up to you. Remember this isn’t a diet. You have seen them come and go and know they fundamentally don’t provide lasting change. This is about behavioral modifications that transform your lifestyle. Forever. Eat better, feel better, look better, live longer, have an amazing life.

And I’ll bet you won’t miss your old way of eating that much at all.  Now stop waiting for Monday. Go drink some water!