The Skinny on Eating Healthy

Everything is bigger in Texas, including our belt size. Find out how to slim down and still enjoy a brisket sandwich or two.

I love rolling in to a good old Texas smokehouse for a slice of juicy brisket or a couple of falling-off-the-bone-good pork ribs. And, naturally, I like to polish off my big plate of meat with a dollop of potato salad and a tall stack of white bread. What Texan doesn’t? In the land where cowboys mingle with oil tycoons and high school football games mix with world-class museum exhibits, most everything is grand.

Ask anyone outside Texas what they know about the Lone Star State and you’ll likely hear something that amounts to “I’ve heard everything’s bigger in Texas.” Indeed, we have big trucks, a plethora of barbecue joints, gregarious characters who seem larger than life, vast wide-open spaces, tall buildings, sprawling ranches, and tall tales. We’ve also added another notch to our extra-large belt: Texas is one of the fattest states in the U.S.

The Texas Department of State Health Services found in 2007 that as many as 11.4 million adult Texans were overweight or obese. In 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 26 percent of the adults living in Texas were obese. Texas has ranked as high as ten among U.S. states in obesity rankings. We Texans have many things to be proud of, but being one of the most overweight states in the nation should not be one of them.

So how can we continue to hit roadside barbecue joints, chili cookoffs, and small-town cafes? Or devour those delicious corn dogs at a game at the Darrel K Royal—Texas Memorial Stadium? How can we fight the growing trend of obesity? First and foremost, we need to start thinking about what we’re putting into our bodies—and what kind of effect that food (or foodstuff) is going to have.

Start by looking at your food and figuring out how natural and “whole” it is. Humans were created to eat natural and whole foods. Try to stay away from the processed stuff that infiltrates seemingly every space of the grocery store. Read some labels. It won’t take you long to realize that many processed foods have ingredients that the average Joe Bob can’t pronounce (much less figure out what it is). Pay attention to the nutrition facts and find out things like how many grams of sugar are in a serving or how much sodium the item contains. Nutrition Action Healthletter states that men should intake only around 150 calories per day of sugar (about 38 grams) while women should intake only about 100 calories (25 grams). The American Heart Association recommends that the average American intake around 2000mg of sodium per day. Watch out: Those processed foods are riddled with sugar and sodium.

Once you start taking note of what you’re putting into your body, then you can focus on eating more good-for-you foods and fewer cheats. My nutritionist told me that an easy way to stay the course is to allot yourself a certain number of cheats per week. Don’t eat chocolate chip cookies every day (or other sweets or fats). It’s okay to indulge yourself every once in a while and cheat, but don’t make it a habit.

So what exactly is a “cheat”? A cheat is a single item, such as a corn dog, pizza, cheeseburger, dessert, funnel cake, or anything fried (the list goes on). A good rule of thumb to remember is that if you have to ask whether something is a cheat, it probably is. Because I’m an athlete and always training, my cheat limit is two per week. You might be okay starting at five per week or maybe even six. The key is to stick with whatever limit you decide. In time, you will actually crave cheats less and less (due to your palette changing and the realization that you are getting in shape) and in turn, you’ll lower your limit (maybe just one chicken-fried steak plate a month instead of three).

Becoming healthier is easier than you think. All you need to do is make the choice. Choose to take control of your weight, your life, and your health. If Davy Crockett and James Bowie can survive thirteen straight days of fighting at the Alamo, then surely we can cut out some of the garbage in our diets. Let’s be proud Texans.

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