I've been on the road a lot recently, in hotels and airports, traveling for my upcoming program, "The 20-Minute Body." Making the right food choices for me is much harder with the stress of traveling and not having convenient access to certain supermarkets or healthy restaurants. So I feel your pain if you too are having a difficult time making the right decisions when it comes to eating. One thing that helps keep me on track is that age-old saying, "You are what you eat."
Every cell in your body replicates every second by using the nutrients and energy from what you eat, so your facial skin, eyes and other organs can either be made from the fast-food burger you scarfed down or the organic food you ate – you decide. When it comes to my body, I'd rather have it be produced, regenerated and fueled by the latter ... except for some peanut M&M's once in a while.
[See: Top-Rated Diets Overall.]
Food as a drug
A "drug" is made of chemicals, and so is food. Food is the No. 1 most abused over-the-counter drug in the world and will affect your weight, sleep and emotions. I remember filming a show where I was helping an entire family get in shape. A five-minute shot with the 8-year-old daughter, Kimmy, took two hours because she could not sit still and was screaming the entire time. She had napped or tried to nap, and her parents said, "she's just like this."
But I noticed the girl constantly drinking from a thermos that her mother would fill, so I asked her mom what was in the thermos. She answered, "iced tea – that's Kimmy's favorite drink." When I read the label on the iced-tea container, I saw that there were 40 grams of sugar per serving – that's 10 teaspoons! Kimmy had probably had 30 teaspoons of sugar while I was there, and unfortunately, was already overweight and showing signs of childhood diabetes. When I broke the news to her mom and suggested this may be the reason for Kimmy's erratic behavior, and not an "attitude" problem, she broke down in tears. She was shocked, angry, a little shamed and very enlightened.
Food as a disease
By 2030, an estimated 56 percent of Americans will be clinically obese and prone to a myriad of medical issues such as diabetes and heart disease. Chances are, every one of us has already been affected by obesity, perhaps by a parent who is battling diabetes or a friend who struggles with weight loss. If you haven't been affected yet; in 2030, all evidence suggests you will be.
Obesity is a disease, yes – an epidemic – but it can also be a choice. The science surrounding obesity sources the disease from a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Your genetic code, family heritage and income do affect your chances of becoming obese, but at the end of the day, what you put in your mouth is a choice. I've heard a lot of good "reasons" for making bad food choices – trust me when I say I've told myself plenty over the years. But there is never a good enough reason for giving up on yourself.
As an overweight teen, I finally chose to stop lying to myself, stop abusing myself and start living, rather than dying. Today, I have motivated, trained and watched hundreds of others do the same thing. The keys to overcoming weight gain, no matter how much or how little, are knowing your "why," self-discipline, exercise and eating clean – no matter who you are.
The simpler the eating regimen, the easier to follow, so I'll keep it really simple. Eat "single-ingredient" foods that were here 1,000 years ago. No, there wasn't a bagel bush or an ice- cream tree back when we were cavemen; but yes, you should still use your silverware. Single-ingredient foods like kale, apple, beef, chicken, fish, almonds and eggs are examples of what I'm talking about. Anything with more than one ingredient or that comes out of a box, bag or can is probably processed and worth avoiding. And eat a rainbow. Colorful foods are high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and much more.
Single-ingredient foods are key, but some need to be kept in check, like certain carbs. Eat "slow carbs" that take more time to digest, helping to stabilize your blood sugar, energy levels and hunger. Good slow carbs include legumes or beans, grains like quinoa and root veggies such as sweet potatoes and yams.
Caveman food only goes so far, so I'm not saying you shouldn't ever get your chocolate on or indulge once in a while, but try to stick to the 80-20 rule: Eat clean single-ingredient foods 80 percent of the time, and then indulge a little 20 percent of the time. But just make sure your "indulging" isn't creating a "bulging."
[Read: How to Conquer Food Cravings.]
Foods to avoid
When it comes to choosing foods to avoid, I keep it simple, too. Avoid foods that are going to have not only a bad caloric impact but, more importantly a bad hormonal impact. The No. 1 type of food to avoid would be what I call the "white devils" – white sugar, white flour, white rice, white milk and white salt. These all have been processed and can have a very bad caloric and hormonal effect on the body. It's better to replace these with all-natural cane sugar or stevia, whole-grain flour, brown or wild rice, almond or rice milk and sea salt.
"Fast carbs" are also at the top of my list of foods to avoid because they will spike your blood sugar and insulin and usually result in hunger, energy crashes and fat production. They can also slow your metabolism over time by damaging your hormones. Some of the worst fast carbs to avoid include high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, fruit juice from a carton or can, bread or pasta that is not made from whole grain as well as white potatoes and white rice.
[Read: Whole Grains, Whole Diet.]
Last, but not least, is alcohol. "Brett, please don't take away my skinny margarita," you say. Fine, but can you cut down a little? How about just drinking on the weekends, and keep it to a few drinks only. Besides the empty calories from the alcohol, the more you drink, the more likely you are to eat later that night.
Foods to splurge on
Rather than a "cheat day," I like to call it a "high-calorie day." Plan a day, once a week, that you are going to splurge and have foods that fall into the 20-percent "indulge" category. As long as you can plan these days, you will look forward to them and work harder for them. You will respect that day, you will truly enjoy the foods, and you will celebrate being able to eat them, rather than shoveling these foods down mindlessly and then beating yourself up about it later. I've been there – the beating yourself up and regretting what you ate is no way to live.
Bodybuilders actually plan high-calorie days to help boost their metabolism, so if done correctly, you can get that red-velvet cupcake to work a little overtime for you – make that cupcake work!
If there's one take-away from this article I'd like you to have, it's to incorporate more fresh single-ingredient foods into your nutrition. If you do, you shouldn't have to count calories and can change your relationship with food for the better. Hopefully, you've been inspired to make better food choices. Your family, friends and body will thank you for it. Because when it comes to nutrition, weight loss and general health, you must always remember: You are what you eat!
Sound off: What is on your plate today? Be honest.
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Well known for his work as a trainer on NBC's The Biggest Loser, Brett Hoebel is one of New York and Los Angeles' most popular fitness and nutrition experts. In addition to his certifications in nutrition, yoga and functional training, Hoebel was trained in martial arts (Capoeira and Muay Thai kickboxing) and has a pre-med, neuroscience background. He is the founder of Hoebel Fitness, a body-mind approach dedicated to inspiring healthy living, as well as the creator of in-home lifestyle-fitness programs RevAbs, reVamp, and his new 20 Minute Body program to debut in 2014. Hoebel believes in "fitness from within," acknowledging that a healthy life starts by changing yourself from the inside out