How to Have Your “Baby Back Ribs” and Eat Them Too

There we were – six people from the fitness industry – sitting in a Phoenix, Arizona restaurant having “baby back pork ribs” for dinner. Mind you, no one was sharing their dinner or having a half slab. Every single one of us had ordered a full slab of mouth-watering finger-licking ribs. What gives? Aren’t people who advocate fitness and make a career out of it supposed to avoid such unhealthy food like the plague? Were we being hypocrites -- preaching one thing and practicing another?

I agree it must have been an ironic sight and we did joke around that if anyone from our respective countries had taken our picture, they could easily have blackmailed us. After all, among us we had fitness professionals, fitness equipment distributors, and the president of one of the world’s largest associations for fitness professionals.

But let me assure you that we did nothing wrong. We did not behave like two-faced fitness charlatans. It was just an example of how something like baby back ribs can fit into a healthy diet as long as it is done only once in a while. Now, “once in a while” is a relative term and if you define it as three times a week, you are fooling no one but yourself. But if your definition is more like once a month, then you are on the right track.

Eating food like that on a regular basis is a ticket to blimpdom and heart disease. But if you only eat it occasionally, you can enjoy unhealthy but yummy food without guilt and without damage to your waistline or your health. After all, food is one of the great pleasures in life. Nature made it that way so we wouldn’t starve to death due to lack of interest in eating. That’s why sleep and sex are also pleasurable – to make sure we get enough rest and to make sure the human race continues. However, too much of anything is not good for you. So balance and moderation are key principles in maintaining your weight and health.

In spite of having weight problems in my teens and inheriting “chunky” genes, I have been able to maintain my weight for twenty-plus years without having to resort to diet pills, strenuous diets, skipping meals or other extreme forms of weight control. I believe it is because I exercise regularly and I practice the 80-20 eating rule. I eat for health 80-percent of the time and for taste 20-percent of the time.

Eating healthy for me means a diet of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain sources of starchy carbohydrates (examples are brown rice and whole wheat bread), legumes (mongo or red/white beans), and low-fat sources of animal protein and dairy products.

Eating for taste can mean anything from Oreo cookies to tiramisu to crispy pata. Chocolates, Pancake House pancakes (the best in the world!), Max’s fried chicken, pork barbecue, and chicharon also make well-spaced appearances in the 20- percent part of my diet. However, much as much as I love these kinds of food, there is no way they can be my constant companions without affecting my weight and my health.

It’s important to me that I have the freedom to eat these types of food because I used to have the “all or nothing:” attitude. I was either on a diet (by this I mean a weight loss diet) or I wasn’t. I was either “good” or “bad”. When I was on a diet, I would meticulously count calories, carbohydrates, fat, or whatever was the reigning diet demon, skip meals, and eat miniscule portions. Then, when I had had enough of diet hell, I would binge and have all-out pig-outs for days. Ultimately, this kind of behavior led to bulimia, a binge-and-purge (translation: vomiting) eating disorder.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t take very well to deprivation. The more forbidden something is on a diet, the more I end up wanting it. And will power? Forget it; I don’t have much of it. It took me a couple of years to figure out that dieting was totally counterproductive for me. It was actually making me fatter because I would gain everything back and more when I would binge. It was only when I learned to make friends with food and live within the boundaries of balance, moderation, and compromise that I was finally set free.

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