Fresh and Fit: Cook at home to lose weight, save money in February

Authored By jaymckenzie86

I try not to focus on weight loss too often with my articles, but I think it’s probably the biggest health issue Americans face on a day-to-day basis. I don’t mean obesity is the most difficult disease to combat by any means but it’s one that almost everyone deals with every single day. Whether you’re overweight, underweight or anywhere in between, our weight matters to us. If you’re overweight, you may be struggling with a new diet that isn’t cutting it. If you’re underweight, you probably struggle just to eat and keep down enough calories. However, even if you’re in the best shape of your life, your body won’t stay that way on its own. I’m sure it took time and discipline to get the results you were after. If you cut back on exercise or if you stop eating healthy, those results will slowly drift away.

So, one way or another, we’re all worried about our weight to varying degrees, and if you made a resolution to lose some this year, keep at it! Even if you’re not making the progress you hoped, remember that small improvements (even if they’re nowhere near what your goals were when you started) are better than doing the same unhealthy things over and over again. However, if you really want to make a drastic change and difference in your life, consider this: stop dining out entirely for the month of February.

Benefits of eating at home
My wife and I plan on eating only home-cooked  meals for all of February for two reasons. One, it means we’ll save a significant amount of money. Dining out doesn’t always seem too pricey if you take each meal by itself, and we don’t even go out all that often on weekdays. But on weekends it’s another story. Sometimes we end up going out (either getting drive-thru or going to a restaurant) between three to six times from Friday to Sunday night. You know how much that can cost, especially if you end up getting drinks, appetizers or desserts. Yeah, it’s fun, but it’s still money better spent almost anywhere else, especially since both of us enjoy cooking.

The other reason we’re doing this is because, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 92 percent of 364 measured restaurant meals from a variety of large-chain and local restaurants exceeded recommended calorie requirements for a single meal. The researchers looked in three separate cities-Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock-and they tried various cuisines-including American, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese. The average calorie counts were highest among American, Chinese and Italian restaurants, which came in at 1,495 calories per meal.

Putting this amount into perspective
In 123 measured restaurants, the research team found a single meal serving that exceeded the caloric requirements for an entire day. That’s without drinks, appetizers, bread or desserts that could go along with the meal. So yeah, drinking water is definitely a good idea in that situation, but it’s also not going to change the fact that you ended up eating way too much.

Do you know how many calories a 30-year-old American woman at 5 feet 5 inches and 150 pounds (the top end of the healthy BMI range) leading a sedentary lifestyle needs per day to maintain her weight? That’s 1,680. For the entire day. Any more than that without additional calories burned through exercise, and weight gain is going to happen.

It’s not entirely our fault for overeating
It takes a significant amount of willpower to not eat everything on your plate, especially when it’s food you really enjoy. It doesn’t matter how much you know you shouldn’t eat another bite, because our subconscious mind is in there telling us more, more, more!

Dr. Andrew Higginson, lead author of a recent study from the University of Exeter, explained:

You would expect evolution to have given us the ability to realise when we have eaten enough, but instead, we show little control when faced with artificial food. Because modern food today has so much sugar and flavour, the urge humans have to eat it is greater than any weak evolutionary mechanism which would tell us not to.

The model also predicts animals should gain weight when food is harder to find. All animals, including humans, should show seasonal effects on the urge to gain weight. Storing fat is an insurance against the risk of failing to find food, which for pre-industrial humans was most likely in winter. This suggests that New Year’s Day is the worst possible time to start a new diet.

That doesn’t mean give up
So, I know some of what he said (and what I’ve said, sorry!) is disheartening, but it doesn’t mean you should ditch your diet or your goals for 2016. To me, it just means this: we’re fighting an uphill battle with a serious incline and we’re going to trip on our way to the summit once in a while. It’s literally in our DNA to want to eat more than we need, especially when we go to restaurants which smell amazing and make us want to eat, eat, eat. We can try and fight against our natural impulses to overindulge in delicious foods, and at least lately, I’ve been able to win more than I’ve lost-but it’s a constant struggle. Food is everywhere. It’s delicious. And I want all of it.

That’s why, for me, the best option is to remove myself from the equation entirely. In February, I’m making all my own meals and hopefully trimming up a bit in the process. Will it work? I hope so. I hope you’ll try too, whether it be for a weekend, a week or whatever amount of time works for you. At the very least, by shopping smart, we can at least save a few bucks along the way.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.