I am lucky that my partner has been with me every step of the way in my weight management journey. He's got some food issues - but most of them are good. He prefers to eat real food instead of most of what is being hawked to the general public as 'food.' As a result, we don't have margarine in the house. We have butter. And we use it. Probably a bit too much. We don't have 'light' anything in the house except my Laughing Cow cheese wedges. We don't have any rice mixes. Or frozen dinners. The only frozen vegetables we keep are english peas, butter beans and brussel sprouts. We don't keep that much meat in the freezer either. AND we eat a home-cooked meal every night.
Last night's meal: leftover collard greens, black eyed peas (started from dried peas, not a can), ham steak and corn bread. The original meal took about 4 hours to prepare. Last night's dinner took about 15 minutes. And it was wonderful. Maybe a bit too much sodium in the ham, but I was careful and made sure (by weighing) that I did not get more than 1 4oz portion.
Tonight's meal: some kind of chicken (either slow roasted whole chicken or stir-fried chicken breast) and steamed broccoli. Maybe some rice. Maybe some mashed potatoes. Not sure what starch. He has to have a starch. But it's real. This meal will take about 1 hour to prepare, but not all at one time. I'll work out, he'll start dinner. After I shower, we'll sit down for 'cocktail hour' and I'll enjoy a cup a tea while I try to beat him at a hand of gin. If we have roast chicken, it will be in the oven making the house smell yummy. If we have stir-fry - all the veggies and chicken will be ready to go in the wok.
What's the common thread here? We don't take shortcuts with our food. We do our best to follow Michael Pollan's guidelines for determining what is real food: Would our grandmothers recognize it? Can we pronounce all the ingredients? Are there more than 5 ingredients? And for the most part I have no cravings when we eat this way.
This way of eating takes time and effort. And when I think back to when I started having serious issues with my weight, it's when I moved away from this type of eating. I grew up eating fresh veggies from our garden in the summer. Frozen or canned veggies from the same garden in the winter. Meats were simple - or prepared with other vegetables in 1-dish suppers. We always had vegetables. But no bread on the table unless it was "Sandwich Saturday" or a winter meal and we made corn bread. We didn't look at fat grams. We didn't look at calories. We ate normal portions and didn't gorge ourselves. And except for my father, we were all healthy.
My father, though, was an exception. He was on his way to developing Type II diabetes. It runs in the family and we thought we were doing enough by substituting saccharine (shows my age) for half the sugar in our sweet tea. We drank a lot of sweet tea. It wasn't enough - but I'm happy to say he has his diabetes under control. And for the most part - he eats real food. Sweets, though, are prepared at home with Splenda.
When there are medical reasons to avoid a food that is basic to one's diet, (and sugar was very basic to my father's diet - that man has a sweet tooth that rivals mine) I can see limited use of artificial substitutes. But when we start replacing fat with more sugar, salt and high fructose corn syrup, we are robbing our bodies of essential nutrition and filling it with chemicals we don't need. Many of those chemicals create cravings to have more of that food - and we overeat.
Yesterday for my afternoon snack, I ate 1/2 of a baby butternut squash, lightly sweetened with Splenda (I'm cutting my sugar consumption to avoid developing diabetes) and seasoned with cinnamon. It was like eating a yummy pudding and I was incredibly satisfied. In my obese days, when I did eat processed foods and take all kinds of food shortcuts, I would have started with 1 sugar-free pudding. And then had an other and another because it was 'diet' food and the chemicals making it 'diet' were not providing me with REAL nutrition and I craved more.
Read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma. If you still want to eat at McDonald's or have one of those Fiber1 bars, I'll be surprised.