During my interview with Steven Kates, the owner of Santa Monica’s Hyperspace Training Studio, he had a sea salt caramel from the nearby Sweet Lady Jane. This was my first indication that he’s not your standard trainer. I’ve had that delicious morsel before, and diet-friendly it ain’t.
My second indication? When he said that one of his biggest weight-loss success stories with a client started by telling him to eat nothing but junk food for a whole month.
It sounds too good to be true — the idea that you can lose weight while still eating everything you love, whether it’s burgers or Oreos, goes against what we’ve been told by most nutritionists and personal trainers. But Kates, who’s been training people for 37 years, preaches that avoiding those very foods we think of as “bad” will never work in the long run.
“As long as we keep trying to take McDonald’s away from the country, we’ll continue to get fatter,” he argues.
A weight loss coach who advocates fast food? Believe it.
Instead, he says, we need to re-learn to embrace the foods we love, but enjoy them in manageable portions — otherwise, a diet downfall is sure to follow.
The most important question:
“I heard I should eat organic,” “I should not eat dairy,” “What’s this gluten thing? Maybe I shouldn’t eat carbs.”
All these questions start to interfere with the simple question: “What do I want to eat?”
This is the foundation of Kates” weight-loss theory. Eat what you want — just don’t eat so much of it. That means, if you want a bagel with cream cheese and lox, go for it! Just have half a bagel, though. Forcing down egg whites for breakfast? Eat whole eggs instead, but only have two of them. “But I can eat twice as much with egg whites,” you might counter. Sure, but egg yolks contain the fat you need to feel satiated, plus you’ll be eating what you actually want, which is important for mental and emotional satisfaction as well.
His approach is three-pronged:
â–º “Forget anything you were taught about diet and nutrition,” Kates advises. “Otherwise, you can’t figure out what you really want to eat.”
â–º Now that you’re not bogged down by what’s “healthy” or “bad for you,” eat exactly what you’re craving, when you’re craving it. Ah, now that brownie is starting to make more sense.
â–º Determine the correct portions of the foods you crave — and that’s where Kates comes in.
“I’m not letting you eat anything that’s healthy.”
Kates once had a client in his late 20s who was 75 pounds overweight, but still relatively healthy. After interviewing trainers who wanted to put him on a low-fat, low-carb, high-protein diet, he went with Kates, who told him to eat whatever he wanted, but in specified portions. The client was understandably skeptical, so Kates went to the extreme: he told him to eat nothing but junk food for one month to see what happened. “But before anything goes down the chute, I want you to text me and tell me what you want to eat, and I’ll portion it out for you,” Kates said.
So if he wanted fast food, he’d call Kates, who would ask him what he really felt like. A Big Mac and fries? Okay, get a single-patty cheeseburger and a small fries, but no soda. You really want the soda? Okay, no fries, then. Don’t care about the burger? Just get fries and a Coke. (It’s only one meal, after all, Kates points out.)
The result? He lost 10 pounds that month. After proving his point, Kates pulled him off the junk-food diet and the client eventually lost the rest of the 75 pounds.
100 percent healthy diet? Big no-no.
“If 80 percent of the time they”re eating perfectly healthfully, I will make sure that they”re still putting in the good foods,” he explains.
“I’ll say, ‘When was the last time you had a couple of slices of pizza? ‘Well I’m trying to cut that out now.’ NO. You can’t cut that out entirely. I want them to have a couple of slices of pizza, because if they get too excited… it’s like going over the falls.”
In other words, no one can deprive themselves of their favorite foods forever, and if you never learn how to integrate them into your everyday diet without going overboard, you’re sure to succumb to temptation and eat way too much of them as a result.
So how do you practice portion control with the foods you love?
Kates has two rules he asks his clients to follow when eating an indulgent meal:
1. Drink plenty of water. “Dehydration [can read] as hunger,” he says. “Maybe you’re not really hungry; you may be dehydrated.
2. Stop at the halfway mark for a couple of minutes. “I want them to stop and if they have to go back and eat some more, they definitely should. I want them to make a decision. Half the time, they say, ‘Okay I’m full.’ The other time, they may [keep eating]. But half the time, I’m taking the food away,” Kates explains. “Plus they don’t feel stressed out. For the first time maybe in their lives, they realize that maybe if they stop for a couple of minutes, they’re full. That’s huge because they didn’t know their full point [before that].”
The “stressed out” part is really important. How many of us eat a little too much dessert, or have a stretch of unhealthy meals, and then feel guilty afterward? One of the reasons Steven wants you to throw out those “good” and “bad” food concepts is to throw out the guilt along with it. The guilt is an impediment to your healthier relationship with food. The guilt keeps you under the thumb of unrealistic expectations, and a vicious diet-binge cycle.
Slow and steady — and happy — are the keys to long-term weight loss.
“There’s an order of things. Americans are go-getters and it’s why it’s such a great country,” Kates reasons. But we want things very fast, and probably too fast, too soon — definitely in the case of dieting.”
“The first step is to get someone to lose weight, and you get them to do it with their favorite foods.”
The one rule he stresses before you begin:
Before you hightail it to the nearest donut shop, Kates does offer a disclaimer: go to your doctor and get the okay first. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked and make sure there’s nothing glaring, like a high risk of diabetes, that suggests you shouldn’t eat anything you want. Once you’re given the green light, you need to consult with a professional, like Kates, who can walk you through proper portion sizes — and, most importantly, coach you into a healthier relationship with food.