I said something in my post yesterday that I want to elaborate on:

Many children’s “main sources of food” are “school lunches and convenience foods (Kraft dinners, Tyson nuggets, Betty Crocker pot-pies, Lean Cuisines etc.). The problem with those foods is not so much that you can’t make a meal plan of them that fit the dietary guidelines because you most definitely could.”

I used to count calories when I needed to lose weight. Admittedly it is a very useful strategy to expose and examine your current lifestyle. For awhile I chose to believe the “calorie is a calorie” hype and ate whatever I wanted while “dieting” and just stopped eating when I hit my meal totals. I clearly remember days where I would eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, grab a Twix bar and a pop for lunch, and a Happy Meal for dinner and be well within my calorie limits. Obviously this is a ridiculous way to eat, but I was a “normal” weight in college and arrogantly thought that meant I was healthy. I did not even suspect that I was sabotaging my body.

But let’s paint this picture with shades of gray and see how it gets more complicated. Here is an example of a nutritionist approved meal plan from my gestational diabetes days:

Nutritionist Approved Meal Plan:
Breakfast:
1 cup Cheerios cereal — 110 calories
3/4 cup skim milk  — 85
1 cup Tropicana OJ — 110

Snack:
Yoplait Light Yogurt — 100

Lunch:
Turkey sandwich on white bread — 320
1oz pretzels — 110
1 mozzarella cheese stick — 100
Lite applesauce — 50
Pepsi — 150

Dinner:
Lean Cuisine Sweet and Sour Chicken — 300
12 oz Crystal Light — 10

Snack:
1 cup Edy’s Slow Churned Rich & Creamy Light Chocolate Chip Ice Cream — 240

Total: 1,685 calories

That looks perfectly acceptable on paper, doesn’t it? At my current weight and activity level, my body will burn 2,300 calories a day. So 1,600-1,700 is a great caloric intake for weight loss. The above looks like the perfect plan. All those items can be purchased at any grocery store and whipped together quickly and cheaply. And since meal plans like this are all over the Internet for free, I don’t even have to think ahead or plan! So here you go everyone…. go forth and be fat no more!

But wait… why isn’t this happening?!  No one is pulling this off!  I like all of the above foods. This really sounds like a diet I could stick to. It has ice cream and pop in it for crying out loud!!

To be honest I have pulled this diet off in my day. When I was 21 and needed to lose weight to get into the Air Force, I ate like that for four months and lost 20 pounds. I lost weight this way again when I was put on the military’s “Fitness Improvement Program.” I even managed to lose a few pounds eating like this once I was diagnosed with the gestational diabetes (no small feat when you are pregnant).

But are you noticing a pattern here? Is there something wrong with this picture? Whilst I lost all this weight by counting calories, I also put the weight back on every time. Undoubtedly the calorie counting works to lose. But I never kept the weight off or was able to stick to this sort of plan to maintain. It was never an enjoyable lifestyle. And each time I tried it, I fell off the wagon sooner. My body wasn’t going to live that way and my brain could not overcome what my body wanted.

So for contrast’s sake, here is the clean eating menu I (mostly) stick to now:

Daily Clean Eating Meal Plan
Breakfast:
Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats w/ Craisins and whole milk — 225
Coffee w/ stevia and heavy cream — 50
1 medium banana — 100

Snack:
1 cup homemade vanilla yogurt from whole milk — 135

Lunch:
Chicken sandwich (leftovers on homemade bread) — 500
Apple slices — 60
Carrot sticks — 10
Iced tea w/ lemon and stevia — 0

Dinner:
Large slice homemade meatloaf — 300
Potato wedges — 100
Green Beans — 25
Side Salad (bacon bits, no dressing) — 50
Water — 0

Snack:
2 cups popcorn, oil-popped 110

Total: 1,665

Most of my dinners clock in around 450 calories, lunch is around 600 and breakfast is generally 350 with two light snacks. But I am never hungry. On weekends we make homemade brownies and on Fridays we order pizza. But I am slowly losing weight. If I can eat well, not be hungry, splurge every weekend, and lose weight… what more can I want in life? And I am not dieting. I am eating real food with realistic portion sizes.

So why is it that I can’t maintain the first plan? Well for starters… I don’t eat those portion sizes. 1 cup of cereal? Maybe I pour exactly one cup the first few days of a new diet, but I am never satisfied, and that never lasts. And am I going to teach my kids to weigh and measure every bowl of cereal as well? Is that the lifestyle I want for them? Counting every mouthful? Is that realistic or the recipe for an eating disorder. Or rebellion and an obesity epidemic?

The point is, the first menu gets a USDA stamp of approval. You could find something like it on most of the big food manufacturer’s websites because they are happy to promote the myth that losing weight is simply a matter of cutting calories with the occasional splurge. All of them reformulate and repackage their products to line up with the newest government health claims (“Low Fat”, “Whole Grain”, “No HFCS”).

But the first menu does not lead to a healthy lifestyle. Improvements are temorary. It doesn’t last! You don’t feel good eating this way. You don’t feel full and you never feel satisfied. You roam around your kitchen opening and closing cabinets and poking your head into the fridge. These processed, refined foods turn immediately into sugars that go right through your system and send you scrambling for more.

I don’t like to talk about weight loss on this blog, because I don’t think we should wait until we are obese before re-evaluating our food priorities. Especially where the kids are concerned. I wasn’t raised to eat right but I was thin. I didn’t even know I was “broke” until the weight packed on in college and I didn’t know how to stop it. My parents were great in every other way, but they didn’t have this information. We do. Let’s change.