Moderation: the true answer to fitness and weight loss

Last week, despite my efforts to adhere to our USF fitness challenge, I ate too many Rubio’s fish tacos in Santa Monica. I can justify this by saying that a fish taco contains all three of the major macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrates), but then again, so do burgers and pizza.

Let’s face it: There are a lot of tasty places to eat here in the United States. Almost every town in America with more than ten residents has a McDonalds or a KFC. No matter where a person is, there are tempting fast food joints, vending machines and junk food advertisements (“Eat Mor Chikin,” for example, is a famous Chik-Fil-A ad).

As a food-oriented culture, we positively cannot celebrate any major or minor holiday without food. There’s Thanksgiving turkey, Halloween candy, Christmas and Hanukkah food, Valentine’s Day chocolate, ice cream for well-behaved children, cake for birthdays and so on. In light of these holidays, is anyone really surprised that Americans are a little chunkier than, say, Somalians? With one-third of our population overweight, America is one of the fattest nations in the world.

So what is the solution? The late Dr. Atkins recommended a low-carbohydrate, high-protein and high-fat diet. The Lindora Center advocates cycling between between high- and low-carbohydrate days. Suzanne Somers warns us to stay away from “funky foods.” Xenadrine promises that taking four little pills a day will make dieters lose weight, and Slim-Fast swears that replacing meals with its canned sugar water will turn a person into a supermodel in no time. These are just a few of the mainstream diets. Books have been written about weight-loss methods ranging from daily enemas to jogging in plastic suits. The question is, if these methods work, why are there still overweight people?

I understand that this may sound more than a little discouraging for all those brave students who accepted the challenge. But it’s important to keep in mind that it is still possible to succeed in losing weight. In fact, I happen to have the secret formula to losing weight and getting healthy. And this secret is: Exercise and eat in moderation.

That’s the only secret, the one that everyone knows but no one likes to hear. Runner and writer Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World says, “Don’t go on a restrictive, very low calorie diet. This will only lower your metabolic rate. Eat breakfast and other carbohydrate-packed meals, and snack regularly throughout the day.”

Remember that active people need foods from all three groups — carbohydrates, proteins and fats. If you eliminate or cut back drastically on one of these groups, you won’t have energy to perform well in the sports and activities you like.

But why the emphasis on not dieting? It’s all in the mind. If students tell themselves that they can’t have a certain type of food, such as carbohydrates, sweets or fats, they will start craving that food all the time. This leads to an unhealthy relationship with food that can make people miserable at best and lead to a serious eating disorder at worst. Trainer Chad Tackett at Global Health and Fitness phrased it best when he said, “Dieting can help us lose weight (fat, muscle and water) in the short term but is so unnatural and so unrealistic that it can never become a lifestyle that we can live with, let alone enjoy.”

With this said, USF challenge participants may want to know how they are supposed to lose weight with the vague instruction to “eat in moderation.”

First of all, let me clarify that the challenge is not about who can lose the most pounds. The challenge is about getting fit. I’d rather a woman send me a picture of herself before she started running and then again 8 weeks later at the finish of her first 5k run than a man who starved himself and worked out four hours a day and now looks like a cadaver as a result.

Secondly, if students are attempting to lose weight, chances are this is not the first time they’ve tried. Many people struggle with emotional eating and yo-yo dieting. For those people and everyone else, I offer this piece of advice from the Zen masters: “If you do not aim at the target, you will hit it.”

Okay, so I’ve waxed lyrical about how not to eat for good health and athletic performance. But what’s the right way to practice moderation and still lose weight — especially during the holiday season? Assuming students are already getting a fair amount of exercise, here is what they can do:

1. Establish a baseline. In other words, find a healthy eating plan that is comfortable, fits your lifestyle and feels good. Students with questions should ask a nutritionist or read a book that advocates a healthy, balanced diet (try The Abs Diet and The Way to Eat). For example, a student may decide that he or she likes to eat cereal for breakfast, salad for lunch and then a frozen dinner in the evening with fruits and string cheese for snacks. If this is the case, make sure to eat enough calories to keep up energy levels and eat a balance of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and heart-healthy fats.

2. Don’t feel guilty about eating an occasional treat. If it’s no big deal to have a taste of dessert once in a while, then have a couple of bites instead of eating a mammoth slice of pie.

3. Be flexible. If students eat a McDonalds Value Meal for lunch, they should balance the fattening meal by having fruit for dinner instead of eating nothing or giving up on a healthy eating plan.

4. Stop eating recreationally. There’s a difference between eating a tasty treat because of boredom, because it’s there, because grandma said to eat her cookies, because it’s someone’s birthday or because everyone else is eating it and having a bite of something truly enjoyable due to genuine hunger.

5. Don’t believe the snake oil salesmen. Eating in moderation and exercising will not produce overnight results. Be patient, and don’t run out and immediately buy every new diet book or magic pill that comes out.

Food for thought

Life is too short to worry about dieting and too long to neglect your health. Find a happy medium. Balance isn’t just for tightrope walkers.

Tereza Zambrano is a junior majoring in international studies. Students with fitness and health related questions can send an e-mail to .