As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been seriously trying to lose weight for the past 6 months or so and I’ve found it to be much harder this time around. I have successfully lost weight in the past (up to about 10 pounds) and have generally maintained my weight over various periods of time. But what I’ve seen in the last 20 years is that I gain about 1 pound per year. Good in the micro sense, bad in the sense that I’ll be 10 pounds heavier when I’m 50 (about 10 years from now). So I decided to get back on track with my diet and exercise.
First of all, I noticed that it was definitely harder this time around. I decided not to go the extreme route and opted instead to try for simplicity and sustainability. Meaning, find something easy enough to stick to that I could stick to for a very long time. In other words, make a lifestyle change rather than go on a ‘diet.’
First, I established the reasons why I had gained weight (I’m up about 20 pounds since high school and 10 pounds since my mid-20s). I realized something very sad but true. As compared to my early and mid-20s, my lifestyle had completely changed and I hadn’t changed my fitness or eating routine to match it. The ‘success’ I had gained in my business life had translated to a much more sedentary and comfortable lifestyle than the one to which I had previously been accustomed. I kid you not, one of the reasons I used to be so skinny when I was younger was because I didn’t have any money then! After I got my first full-time job at 18, I survived for months on Ramen Noodles, bread and bologna (supplemented of course by a stash of cookies and Hostess products). But even with the junk food I was eating, I didn’t eat very many calories in a day. Mainly because I couldn’t afford to. Now, I can afford to eat pretty much what I want (see the previous article detailing my love of Krispy Kremes, Cinnabons and Auntie Anne’s pretzels) when I want it. Our home, fridge and pantry is well-stocked with a lot of food (I think I’m afraid the world is going to end and I’ll be the first to run out of food) and we actually eat regular meals each day (a dream when I was younger). That means things like bacon and eggs for breakfast (or yogurt and fruit when I’m being good), soup, salad, or sandwiches for lunch and dinner and even going out to eat on a regular basis. And who can eat out without a nice serving of bread or a healthy quantity of dessert to follow? You see where this is leading.
Further, I realized that my lifestyle was much more sedentary now. Right up until my late 20s, I had a series of unreliable cars, which led me to take public transportation often. So instead of getting in some plush vehicle to drive to and from work (where I could park within a reasonable walking distance), I instead had to get up early, schlep to the bus stop, walk quite a distance to get to work and then reverse that trend to go back home. (In high school in fact I didn’t have a car at all, so I actually walked the 40-minute route home at least 2-3 times per week.) Currently, my vehicle works just fine and deposits me within a comfy walking distance of my desk. And my desk is filled with such a wonderful array of comforts as a variety of coffee and tea products, snacks, radio (or my Ipod), internet and a whole host of other things that make me reluctant to ever leave its welcoming embrace. Luckily, as an Instructor, I don’t get to sit at my desk on a daily basis, but walking to my classes and the energy I burn teaching in no way makes up for the fact that I get less exercise than I used to. PLUS, home is an oasis of relaxation as well. I have the ‘good’ cable (i.e., actually have a number of premium channels rather than the basic cable which is all I used to be able to afford), wireless internet, a comfy recliner (with a wide assortment of pillows and the extra blanket for my frequent naps) and tons of snacks (did I mention the snacks???) which are readily available in the kitchen. I mean good snacks too, like kettle corn, Oreos, Nutter Butters, fruit, fiber and protein bars, yogurt, parfait, etc. Not to mention the baking experiments which still live in my freezer (can anyone say cinnamon challah bread?) which I regularly unthaw to eat and enjoy.
And as far as exercise, as I mentioned earlier, I no longer ‘killed’ myself, but worked out at a moderate - even conservative - rate. I had good reasons for this, mind you. School and work took up most of my time and I felt like if I at least did the bare minimum, that was better than doing nothing. And it was fine for what it was worth. But the bare minimum (and the above factors) only contributed to that slow creep of about a pound a year. Needless to say, by doing the bare minimum, I also consistently lost muscle tone (which burns more calories than fat), which led to me actually needing fewer calories now than when I was younger. And that’s a serious issue. Most of us don’t realize that as we get older and particularly as we become more sedentary, our dietary needs change. Though it’s a hard truth to face, unless you are working out on a serious basis (meaning 4-5 days a week of intense, hour-long exercise), you probably don’t need as many calories as you used to.
So when I started re-focusing on my diet and exercise about 6 months ago, I tried some old strategies, experimented with some new ones and pretty much figured out what ‘worked’ and did not work for me.
Overall, my diet now is pretty simple. As is obvious from reading these posts, I absolutely love desserts. So I decided giving up desserts (or at least being more moderate with them) would be the last thing I’d eliminate. I stopped eating three meals a day (which was something I’d never done when I was younger) and reverted back to my typical ‘grazing’ behavior. Meaning, a little of this and a little of that every 2-3 hours (basically what the experts recommend – eating small meals 6 times a day rather than eating three large meals with snacks). I usually have just one ‘main’ meal per day – usually lunch. My main meal would just be a more complete meal with probably a protein, starch and vegetable (and maybe even a piece of bread!). That one larger meal would pretty much satisfy me for hours, allowing me to then go back to my normal grazing behavior.
Below, you’ll find a list of the things I generally eat. Because I am not certified as a nutritionist or fitness expert, I can’t recommend that you follow these guidelines, but I have found that they contribute to my own personal success (even if it’s a slower process now):
Chicken, fish, seafood, steak, eggs, cheese, yogurt, etc. I eat at least one of these per day (usually eggs) in smaller quantities (think a 6 ounce steak rather than a 12 ounce one or half a chicken breast instead of a full one).
This means whole wheat or whole grain breads, cereals, fiber, fruit or protein bars and pastas. Everyone makes a whole grain version nowadays and all you have to do is read the label to determine what you’re eating. Whole grain pasta tastes just like regular pasta, so it won’t be much of a change.
Fruit and Vegetables
I eat pretty much all the fruit and vegetables I want (or can take). I tried the low carb approach where I rarely ate any fruit and then I realized I was probably shooting myself in the foot when it came to getting adequate nutrition. I figure eating 10 apples is not going to make me fat, so if that’s what I want, then that’s what I eat.
Fiber, Fat & Protein for Satiety
I make sure I have an adequate amount of fiber, fat (generally the good, unsaturated kind) and protein so that I stay full throughout the day. It’s a well-known fact that these things (fiber, fat and protein) make you feel fuller and help you stay on your diet. In particular, I eat something with fiber or protein before I have anything sweet to avoid the blood sugar rush (and subsequent crash). Foods in this category include nuts, cheese, dairy products and fiber and protein bars (and of course eating my dessert after a well-balanced meal helps).
I generally don’t drink my calories as they don’t seem to help in any discernible way. Drinking juices (for me at least) simply adds calories and sugar that I don’t need and don’t make me feel full. I instead opt to have the fruit itself (which has fiber in it) rather than fruit juices (which are usually over-processed and overly sweet). Or dilute juice with water. Other than that, I usually stick with water or artificially sweetened tea, coffee or juices. I prefer Splenda. And, yes, I’ve read all the reports about artificial sweeteners and decided I can live with the risk of Splenda (which has not yet been shown to have any adverse health effects). Choose wisely for yourself, but Splenda seems to work well for me.
This, of course, has always been my Achilles heel, but I’ve learned that consistency over a long period of time (much like investing money) pays the biggest dividends. It’s better to work out 2 times a week for 10 years than spend 2 years working out 7 days per week. In order to get the most out of exercise, you have to condition your body (get it used to the level of intensity you’d like to accomplish) and the only way that happens is by regular exercise. I’ve read that for every week you don’t work out, it takes two weeks to get back to where you were and I really do believe that. My take-away from that is that if I just do enough from week to week, I won’t have to work so hard to get back to where I was. Therefore, my goal is to work out 5 days per week, for at least an hour at medium to high intensity (meaning sweating, rapid breathing, but not about to keel over from exhaustion). I’m at 3-4 days per week consistently now and it’s finally starting to pay some dividends.
Other general things that seem to work are eating moderate portions, only eating when I’m hungry (an art, to be sure) and not splurging at social occasions. Though I still am more likely to eat junk if I’m out with my friends or at a party, I generally feel okay just sticking with the above categories of food.
Last but not least, I still eat my sweets. As I write this, there’s a bag of kettle corn (which is about 150 calories per 2-3 cups) sitting on my desk looking at me. I’m looking back at it, thinking, I can’t wait to eat you later! Having and enjoying sweets is one of my main motivators in terms of sticking to my diet. It’s much easier (for me at least) to eat moderately, with lots of fruit and vegetables and lean protein if I know the big payoff is right around the corner. Knowing I can freely eat this kettle corn at some point today makes it so much easier for me to have the cherries I’m going to have as a morning snack and the chicken vegetable soup I made myself for lunch and maybe the toast I’ll have for dinner later.
So that’s what’s working for me. I’d be interesting in hearing what’s working for you. And at some point, I’ll post a list of the low-calorie, delicious foods I’ve found that have basically saved my diet.
Happy Dieting :)