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The Get with the Program! Guide to Good Eating

Great Food for Good Health

Bob Greene's bestselling Get With the Program! showed hundreds of thousands of people how to make a habit of healthy living and fitness. Now, in The Get With the Program! Guide to Good Eating, Greene presents a blueprint for a lifetime of healthful eating, with detailed, easy-to-follow guidelines and 85 delicious recipes.

Greene knows that you're not going to stick to an eating plan if you're bored or feeling deprived, so he's developed a program based on balance, moderation, flexibility, and variety. After you make the commitment to Get With the Program!, you'll discover the keys to boosting your metabolism. Next you'll take the four steps to healthy eating, making one change at a time: eating a nutritious breakfast, setting an eating cut-off time, redistributing your calories, and making healthful food choices. Greene shows you how to determine the perfect way to eat for your unique needs, how to stock a healthy kitchen, how to dine out enjoyably, and how to “cheat” without guilt.

Finally, there are eighty-five easy-to-prepare recipes that are as full of flavor as they are good for you. Try a Peaches and “Cream” Fresh Fruit Smoothie or some Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes for breakfast. Salmon Burgers or Tomatoes Stuffed with Couscous, Cucumber, and Mint make a satisfying lunch, and how about Spinach Penne with Spicy Roasted Pepper Sauce or Baked Lemon Herb Halibut for dinner? Hungry for more? Satisfying soups, tasty side dishes (including luscious Mashed Potatoes), and tempting desserts, like airy Pavlova with Raspberry Sauce or Chocolate Almond Angel Food Cake, make healthful eating a pleasure.

The Get With the Program! Guide to Good Eating is an effective and enjoyable approach to good health, good eating, and weight loss that you can trust.

Part One: Committing to a Healthy Lifestyle

Getting to where you want to go in life is a process. It takes time, commitment, and a series of accomplishments -- some big, some small, but each important. Change is a progression, and each bit of progress you make gives you confidence to take on the next challenge. In Get With the Program! I introduced readers to several important behaviors that would powerfully alter their physical and emotional well-being. In case you missed Get With the Program, I'll quickly go over four of the most crucial of those behaviors in order to bring you up to date. If you read the previous book, this will serve as an excellent refresher course and help you stay on or get back on track.

Among these behaviors are two different types of exercise: aerobic workouts and strength training. You might wonder what exercise is doing in a guide to good eating, but I strongly believe that you can't separate the two. If you want to achieve wellness and weight loss, you have to do both: eat well and exercise. So why am I discussing exercise first? Because exercise can provide you with a powerful incentive to eat well. When you exercise, you really feel it if you're not properly fueled -- it's hard to keep your energy up. Knowing that good nutrition will give you the strength and stamina you need to perform your workouts properly is going to make you want to eat well. You'll become much more conscious of what you're consuming. And exercise keeps your metabolism revved up, helping to counteract the metabolic slowdown that naturally occurs when you start cutting calories.

Exercise is an important part of the foundation upon which to build healthy eating habits. But another important -- in fact, absolutely essential -- component is your attitude. Your level of motivation and the way you think about your prospects of success are key. Just by reading this far, you're moving in the direction of change, but before you go any further it's time for an "attitude check."

Attitude Check

  • Reaching a certain size or weight won't necessarily make me happy. Not unless you identify and deal with any underlying problems that have made weight an issue in your life.

  • There are no shortcuts to achieving what I want. Dedication, commitment, and effort are needed to accomplish anything worthwhile.

  • Excuses ("I don't have time," "I'm too tired to exercise," "I've already blown it today, I'll start again tomorrow") just won't wash. If you're ready to change, you're ready to stop making excuses.

  • Each improvement I make, not just pounds lost, is worth acknowledging and praising myself for. Feeling better, sleeping better, feeling stronger, being less stressed, looking healthier -- focus on these aspects of improvement, and you will keep your motivation up.

  • Setbacks are going to happen. Setbacks are a natural and inevitable part of any progression and are no reason to throw in the towel. If you can overcome setbacks and reach your goals in spite of them, you have shown true strength of character. Ultimately, your sense of accomplishment will be that much greater.

  • Losing weight takes willpower. As much as some people (those selling gimmicks under the guise "Weight Loss Made Easy") would like you to believe that you don't have to give up anything to slim down, the truth is that you do. Your commitment to your health and well-being will require some small sacrifices, but the return on your investment will be large.

  • Physical activity is nonnegotiable. You have to move to improve.

  • I can love my family and friends and be a good employee and still take care of myself. Get those close to you to support your program, and from this point on, consider your health and well-being sacred. Don't let your obligations to others interfere with your obligations to yourself.

If any of these statements makes you feel unsure about whether you can truly make a commitment to yourself right now, I recommend that you consider holding off until you feel ready to handle the challenge. And you will eventually feel ready -- but you need to do it within your own time frame. If you do feel prepared for the challenges to come, keep reading. Some of what lies ahead may be tough, but it will be very rewarding.

Maximizing Your Metabolism

Let's talk about your metabolism. You're going to be hearing a lot about metabolism throughout this book, because the rate at which you burn calories (that's the definition of metabolism) is critical to maintaining a healthy weight. And increasing your metabolic rate is critical to losing weight permanently. Everybody burns calories at his or her own individual rate; if you've always had a sluggish metabolism, you'll probably never get it to run at the same speed as that skinny girl's from high school (who turned up at the class reunion twenty years later looking just as skinny). But you can maximize your metabolism's potential so that it burns at its highest rate for the largest number of hours per day.

One thing we know about metabolism is that it changes throughout the day; it is slowest when you're sleeping (even though you're asleep, you still must burn calories to maintain your body's basic functions, such as breathing, heartbeat, and digestion). We also know that certain things you do can give your metabolism a boost. Eating is one of them. Exercise is another (although exercise raises your calorie-burning rate much more than eating). As soon as you begin exercising -- whether doing aerobic exercise or strength training -- your metabolism increases, and it continues to increase in direct proportion to the length and intensity of your workout. Best of all, the boost your metabolism gets from exercise can last for hours after you've stepped off the treadmill or put down the weights. But the really good news is that you can increase your metabolism 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with consistent exercise. This is how dramatic weight loss occurs.

In the pages that follow, you'll learn a lot more specifics about your metabolism and how you can change it. You already know that burning calories through exercise and eating fewer calories will help you lose weight. But metabolism is another and entirely separate piece of the puzzle. Boosting yours is the first order of business. Let's identify the four behaviors that make up the foundation of good eating and that will keep your metabolism running efficiently.

1. Staying Hydrated

GOAL: Start drinking a minimum of 6 eight-ounce glasses of water a day, and work up to 9.

Since water has no calories, most people think it doesn't have anything to do with weight loss. But it does, and it's essential for good health. When you're dehydrated, your body's ability to perform virtually every physiological function, including the important process of fat metabolism, decreases. Dehydration can make your body go in search of water, signaling you to eat more, a phenomenon I call "artificial hunger." Dehydration also causes your digestive system to work at a diminished capacity, potentially preventing you from getting the nutrients you need and triggering unnecessary eating to make up for the shortfall. On the other hand, if you drink adequate amounts of water throughout the day, it'll not only keep all systems functioning smoothly, it'll fill you up, helping to curb your appetite so you eat relatively less, not more.

It's especially important to be hydrated when you exercise; your body can't cool itself adequately when it's low on fluid. What's more, being adequately hydrated during exercise will help you stay energized so that you can maintain an appropriate intensity and not quit early, and end up burning fewer calories both during and after your exercise session.

If you can work up to drinking nine eight-ounce glasses of water a day, great. But at the very least, try to get up to eight glasses -- you'll need at least that much if you're moderately active. (When you exercise more and at a higher intensity, you may need even more.)

Most people drink only when they're thirsty, but by the time you feel thirsty, your body may be already dehydrated. Drink water throughout the day, and don't consume too much at once: drinking more than one to two glasses at one sitting stimulates the body to rid itself of the water.

Your water requirement is over and above the water you get from foods such as soup and other beverages. What counts as water? Fresh, noncarbonated water. Carbonated (or sparkling) water, which can have somewhat of a diuretic effect, doesn't count. Neither do drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol, for the same reason. Remember, active people need more fluids than people who don't exercise, and pure water is your best source.

How to Work More Water into Your Day

  • Start the day with a glass of water. Drink another glass before you work out, then two afterwards. Have another one a half hour before lunch, then one at lunch, and you'll already have had six glasses by midday.

  • Buy a water filter for your home. Filtering makes your water taste better. It's also safer than drinking unfiltered water and cheaper than buying bottled water.

  • Carry a bottle of water with you at all times. You don't have to buy bottled water to do this; just use a refillable sports bottle.

  • Any time you see a water fountain, stop and take a few sips. Every little bit helps!

2. Working Out Aerobically

GOAL: Perform aerobic exercise for a minimum of 50 to 150 minutes per week, depending on your goals.

Aerobic exercise -- the kind of exercise that makes your heart beat faster and your breathing accelerate -- is one of the cornerstones of an effective weight loss program. For most people, changing their eating behavior means eating fewer calories, a move that can cause their metabolism to drop. If you bolster your metabolism with regular aerobic exercise and then begin to gradually eliminate unnecessary calories, your weight loss results will be dramatic.

That, though, is only one of several significant reasons for adding aerobic exercise to your life. Aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular fitness. That is, it improves the ability of your heart, lungs, and arteries to deliver oxygen to working muscles, as well as your muscles' ability to use that oxygen to fuel its efforts. By getting your cardiovascular system into shape, you'll bump up the total number of calories you burn in a day. You'll also receive the other perks of cardiovascular fitness: lower cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease (and some cancers), better toned muscles, increased energy, and a more shapely body, just to name a few!

What Kind of Aerobic Exercise?

When weight loss is your goal, it's critical to choose a form of aerobic exercise that is highly aerobic. The more highly aerobic an activity is, the more aerobic enzymes it will cause your body to produce. These enzymes, found mostly in the muscles, help you burn fat, so you want your body to produce as many of them as possible.

The workouts that I consider the most effective forms of aerobic exercise -- my A list -- are powerwalking, jogging, aerobic dancing, and stair climbing. On the B list are stair stepping, elliptical exercise, spinning, stationary cycling, indoor rowing, and indoor cross-country skiing. Other workouts can help keep you healthy and contribute to weight loss, but these give you the most bang for your buck.

How Much?

One well-kept secret is that many of the beautiful bodies you see in movies, on TV, and in magazines, are the products of hours and hours of exercise. It's not that the glamorous owners of these bodies aren't busy, but often before being photographed they put a considerable amount of time into refining their shapes. It's part of their job.

In the real world, most people don't have that much time to devote to exercise, and I'm not expecting you to work out for hours at a time. But if your goal is to lose weight, you'll typically need to do at least fifty minutes a week of aerobic exercise. (Many people need to do more.) You can break up those minutes to best fit your schedule, but keep in mind that you'll need to do at least ten minutes of continuous exercise at a time to make any appreciable increase in your aerobic enzymes and thus your metabolism. If you hit a plateau in your weight loss, try adding more minutes of exercise each week; that should stimulate your body to start shedding pounds again.

How Hard?

The more aerobic work you perform in a given amount of time, the better cardiovascular shape you'll be in and the less body fat you'll retain. Perhaps you've heard that if you want to burn fat, you should stick to low-intensity exercise, but the rationale behind that recommendation is faulty. It's true that at higher intensities your body tends to burn more carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen, stored in the muscles and liver) than it does stored body fat. However, it doesn't matter that much which fuel you burn the most of during exercise. What does matter is that by exercising at a higher intensity you'll increase your metabolism, thus burning a higher rate of calories 24 hours a day!

The difference in the amount of fat you burn if you go slowly for thirty minutes and the amount you burn if you go at a moderately high pace for thirty minutes is pretty negligible. But the difference between the amount of fat your body will burn if you have a highly fit cardiovascular system and a system that's just so-so is significant. In the end, a revved-up metabolism will play a bigger part in ridding your body of excess fat than a low-intensity workout ever could.

So what is the ideal intensity? One that gets you "in the zone." Being in the zone means exercising at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum ability. There are two ways to figure out if you're reaching that goal.

The first method is a numerical equation that calculates what's known as your "target heart rate range." This is the recommended range of heartbeats per minute that you should achieve during exercise in order to train your cardiovascular system safely. To estimate your target heart rate range at 75 percent of your maximum ability, start by figuring out your target heart rate: 220 - your age x 75 percent (.75). So if you're forty years old, your target heart rate is 180 x .75 = 135 beats per minute. To get the target heart rate range, add and subtract 5 (beats) from your target heart rate. For a forty-year-old, that comes out to 130 to 140 beats per minute. So if you're forty, after you warm up for five minutes or so, your heart rate should be between 130 and 140 beats per minute for the duration of your workout.

The thing that's difficult about monitoring your heart rate this way is that you have to take your pulse during exercise, which can be sort of tricky. That's why I prefer that clients use the second method of determining if they're exercising in the zone: perceived exertion. (Of course, if you've been told by your physician not to exceed a certain heart rate, then stick with the first method.) Perceived exertion is a subjective measure of how hard you're working, based primarily on your breathing. The scale goes from zero to ten, with level zero being how it feels to be at rest and level ten being an exertion so difficult you could probably maintain it for only a few seconds. On this scale, being in the zone means being at level seven or eight. At level seven, you feel fatigue but are certain that you could maintain the pace for the rest of your session. Your breathing is deep, but you can still carry on a conversation. Level eight is slightly more vigorous. If you asked yourself if you could continue at that pace for the rest of your workout, you might not be 100 percent sure. You could still carry on a conversation, but you wouldn't feel like it.

It may take you a while to consistently maintain level seven, but don't be discouraged. If you can't exercise at that pace for your whole workout, start at a lower level of exertion, then increase to seven for one or two minutes at a time. Probably within a week or two you'll be able to exercise at level seven for at least ten to fifteen minutes. Remember that highly aerobic exercise isn't supposed to be completely comfortable. You need to challenge yourself if you want to see some results.

3. Eliminating Emotional Eating

GOAL: Begin to understand the causes of and eliminate your emotional eating.

No matter what you learn in this book about nutritious eating, it will be difficult for you to apply the information to your own life if you are struggling with emotional eating. If you sometimes (or often) eat because of how you feel rather than because you are truly physically hungry, you are an emotional eater. You may do it at meals, in between meals, at social occasions, or late at night (for more on the connection between emotional eating and late-night snacking, see page 42). You may do it for any number of reasons. Some people eat to comfort themselves in stressful situations. Some eat due to boredom and/or loneliness. Others eat when they experience turmoil or disappointment. Often people eat to fill a void when something or someone is missing from their lives.

Whenever you do it and whatever the reason, if you can eliminate emotional eating, you will achieve weight loss success and feel a greater sense of self-worth. Emotional eating is a viscious cycle. You eat to make yourself feel better but just end up making yourself feel worse by giving in to self-destructive impulses. But you can break the cycle. It does take time, and you must be gentle with yourself as you go along. However, with diligence, you can find other, healthier coping mechanisms and slowly but surely begin to understand and alter this behavior.

Overcoming emotional eating requires making some changes -- some subtle, some bigger in scope. Here are the ones that I think will help you achieve success.

  • Organize your eating, and eat consciously. When you don't have a plan, it's easier to give in to an emotional impulse and eat haphazardly. Limiting yourself to three meals and two snacks a day, as well as not eating at least two hours before bed, will give your day some structure. That structure will make it easier for you to take the time to enjoy each meal and snack as a conscious act. By a conscious act, I mean that you should make each meal an enjoyable event -- whether it's with music and candles or just the company of someone you like. Reading, watching TV, or working while you eat doesn't allow you to register the experience and will leave you hungry and yearning for more food later on.
  • Learn the difference between physical hunger and emotional eating. If you feed yourself out of emotional need, it's possible that you may have lost the ability to recognize what physical hunger feels like. Choose a day and delay your normally scheduled mealtime so that you can feel what it's like to be hungry. (If you have a medical condition such as diabetes, you must consult a physician before you try this.) Being familiar with this feeling will help you be a better judge of why you're eating whenever you eat. If you don't feel physical hunger, don't eat.
  • Identify the reasons why and occasions when you eat due to emotions. If you're not hungry, why are you eating? This is an important question to ask yourself since it will help clue you in to what triggers your emotional eating episodes. I strongly suggest you keep a journal so that you can write down what you're feeling instead of eating. A journal is a great tool for identifying patterns and behaviors that you may not even be aware of -- and of course you need to know what they are before you can change them! (See page 47 for more on keeping a journal.)
  • If you're depressed, consider seeking professional counseling. There are many issues you may be able to deal with on your own and others that you can manage with the help of family and friends. But if you are continually and deeply depressed -- or even if you just feel overwhelmed by life and need someone impartial to talk to -- it's a good idea to seek the help of a professional counselor or therapist. For some people, this is a very hard step to take, but sometimes an outsider's insight is just what you need.
  • Use the moment of temptation to learn what needs to change in your life. Eating can be an anesthetic. Sometimes people eat because they don't want to think, but thinking is exactly what I want you to do. Every time you're tempted to eat and you know it's not because you are physically hungry, you have a golden opportunity to learn something about yourself. Go to your journal. Think about why you are eating, and write it down. This is your chance for change -- seize it!
  • Look for healthy outlets for your emotions. There are many enriching alternatives to eating, and it may be helpful to keep a list of them handy to remind yourself of what they are. What do you like to do? It could be anything from reading a book to phoning a friend. Taking classes, taking up a craft, surfing the Web -- all these can help. Perhaps the best substitute is exercise, even if it's only a walk around the block. Exercising won't just distract you, it will improve your mood and help counter the effects of stress.

4. Strength Training

GOAL: Incorporate strength training into your exercise routine three times a week.

Men and women have been strength training for years, but it's only recently that we've come to understand how beneficial strength training can be. If for no other reason, you should strength-train because it combats two profound effects of aging: muscle loss and bone loss. But strength training also has significant weight loss and weight maintenance benefits. The strength you gain from working with weights makes you capable of doing aerobic exercise at a higher level so that you ultimately burn more calories. Usually, lifting weights will also cause you to build muscle tissue, and since maintaining muscle requires a lot of energy, this will increase the number of calories you burn. At the very least, just by helping you retard age-related muscle loss, strength training will keep you from losing much of your body's natural calorie-burning ability.

When you strength-train, what you are essentially doing (or should be doing) is fatiguing your muscles to the point where they will rebuild themselves in order to handle the strain better next time around. Each exercise builds only certain muscles, so you need a regimen that includes exercises for all the major muscle groups in your body.

It's very important that no matter what strength training exercises you perform, you perform them properly. At the very least, bad form while exercising can cause aches and pains, and in the worst case it can cause injury. I give detailed instructions for an effective, easy-to-follow routine in Get With the Program!. You might also consider consulting a personal trainer or exercise specialist to teach you some weight lifting basics. If you do, I recommend that this person be certified by either the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

How Often?

If you strength-train once a week, you will maintain your muscular strength, though your muscular endurance might decline some. Training two times a week will improve your muscular strength and more or less maintain your muscular endurance. Three times a week -- the magic number -- will improve both your muscular strength and your muscular endurance. (If you want to work up to four times a week, great, but it's not essential.)

How Many Sets and Repetitions?

A repetition (or rep) is one completion of a given exercise. If, for instance, you're doing a biceps curl, every time you raise the weight to your shoulder, then lower it back down to the starting position, you've completed one rep. Sets are groups of repetitions. I want you to do between eight and ten repetitions per set. Take a break between each set -- but not too long a break. Limit your rest to fifteen to thirty seconds in-between sets. When you allow too much time to elapse, your muscles recover too quickly, lessening the effects of training. Begin by performing one set of each exercise; then, after about a month, progress to two sets. After another month, consider progressing to three sets.

How Much Weight?

To have an effect, the weights you use must cause fatigue in your muscles. But you don't want the weights to be so heavy that you strain yourself attempting to lift them. My suggestion is that you begin using a very light weight that you know you can lift without much effort. Increase this weight gradually until you arrive at a weight that makes you feel fatigued (or gives you a slight burning sensation in your muscles) after eight or ten repetitions. Before you go into your regular routine, do a warm-up set, which will help you avoid injury: using half the amount of weight that you've selected for the exercise, do four or five repetitions. Then proceed with the actual set.

Which Exercise?

The beauty of strength training is that it really doesn't take very much time and you don't have to do a million different exercises to get results. I've gotten great results with what I call the Essential Eight. These are basic exercises done with dumbbells that work all the major muscle groups and are relatively uncomplicated. If you're not familiar with strength training exercises, I refer you back to Get With the Program! or to an exercise professional for details. The Essential Eight are:

The Squat

The Lunge

The Chest Press

The Shoulder Press

The Butterfly

The Dumbbell Fly

The Biceps Curl

The Triceps Extension

Copyright © 2003 by Bob Greene
Reggie Casagrande

Bob Greene is an exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer specializing in fitness, metabolism, and weight loss. He holds a master's degree from the University of Arizona and is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. For the past seventeen years he has worked with clients and consulted on the design and management of fitness, spa, and sports medicine programs. Bob has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He is also a contributing writer and editor for O the Oprah magazine, and writes articles on health and fitness for Greene is the bestselling author of The Best Life Diet Cookbook, The Best Life Diet, Revised and Updated, The Best Life Diet, The Best Life Diet Daily Journal, The Total Body Makeover, Get With the Program!, The Get With the Program! Daily Journal, The Get With the Program! Guide to Good Eating, and Make the Connection.

More books from this author: Bob Greene