My Basic Plan and Philosophy on Weight Loss
The diet industry in America has created a culture of hopelessness. All the diet “rules” that we have been fed are good for those who already live by them or for those who have the determination to follow them . . . for a period of time. If you are part of the latter category or don’t fall into either, you’re likely going to start off on one of the many programs and at some point fall off the wagon. Why? Because it is impossible to follow all of them or even half of them. You’re set up for failure from the beginning.
Many of the “gurus” we follow never had a real lasting weight problem. How many fitness experts actually overcame any real struggle to become fit? I am not a fitness or diet expert. I am a person that has lost a lot of weight and did it without following the rules. For people who are really overweight, the rules become a barrier physically and mentally to any lasting weight loss results. For those that have just a few pounds to lose and have some event coming up that motivates them to lose the weight, almost any plan can work for the short term. No matter your situation, there is no doubt that losing weight with any method will benefit your health. If you have a specific medical concern that requires a special diet, this website may not be the answer for you. My real goal is to help everyday people that have a weight problem and cannot follow the conventional methods for weight loss.
How did I go from a size 22/24 to a size 2? After years of dieting, I figured out that I could not stick to any plan that included a complete change to my normal pattern of eating and physical activity. I could do almost any plan for a period of time, but inevitably I would go back to my old habits. Because I had ballooned up to 250+ lbs, the mountain seemed too far to climb.
I have a busy, demanding and stressful job – this has not changed in 10 years. I can make time to work out, prepare meals and do all the things I’m told that I “should do”, but that means something else has to suffer in my personal life – sleep, housecleaning, time with my husband, time caring for my pets or, until just this year, caring for my mother. The level of stress this causes is overwhelming. Also, add on guilt every time I failed to meet all the requirements. For the sake of my sanity, well-being, spouse and those that interact with me (employees, family, etc.), it would be better off for me to be fat and happy than to make myself do all the things the diet industry tells us to do.
I grew up overweight and continued getting bigger and bigger as an adult, but it seemed that I was always trying to lose weight. My mom put me on my first diet in the 2nd grade. I had had most success following a low carb plan. In the early 2000’s, the low carb diet craze was in full swing. More of the fast food restaurants were familiar with ordering a menu item “protein style” (no bun). In 2002, I began losing weight by eating plain eggs for breakfast from McDonald’s, plain chicken patties from Carl’s Junior or cheeseburger patties for lunch and dinner from the drive-through window at McDonald’s. Over a three year period, I lost down to about 160 lbs. Reaching 160 lbs was a huge accomplishment and I felt good in my clothes at that weight. My ultimate dream, however, was to be get down to 125 lbs. I started dating and met my husband in late 2004 and was married in 2005. After the first year, I put back on 20 lbs. I just could not go back to the low carb diet so I tried several different plans. I started working out – jogging and weight training. I would get down to 155 lbs for a time and then ended up gaining back 10-20 lbs. a few times. Finally, in February 2009, I had gotten back up to 172 lbs. It was Valentines day, and I had flown to Houston to meet my husband to spend the weekend. My husband had flown in early to spend time with his family and had bought me flowers and a red size large dress in a stretchy material. I tried it on and it fit, but my lumps and bumps were not attractive. Needless to say, I did not wear the dress when we went out. On the plane ride home, we sat near a reality star that I recognized. My husband and I got a photo with her at the airport. After looking at the photos, I vowed to lose back down to my lowest weight.
Just before New Year’s of that year, I had taken a fall in my kitchen that re-injured a past back problem and I tore the ACL in my left knee. After the MRI, I also found that I had been born with my kneecaps facing outward rather than sitting face forward. The combination left me in a physical condition that I could not exercise normally.
My job was just as hectic as ever and I could not work out even if I wanted to. I started basic calorie counting. I looked up the calorie counts for all of my normal fast food items. I tried out several low calorie frozen dinners and started taking one to eat at my desk for lunch every day. Soon, I knew exactly what I could eat from the drive-through that would fit within the 300-400 calorie range for breakfast and dinner. My goal was to eat 1500 calories a day. With 3 meals in the 300-400 calorie range, I just added one snack in the late afternoon and a vanilla cone for dessert each night. I had my fastfood ordering on auto-pilot.
My weight started dropping. I got to my lowest weight of 155 lbs again. I was feeling good, but I wanted to go all the way (125 lbs.). In the past, I would get super motivated and freak out at the 155 lb mark. I’d go crazy exercising and trying to eat stricter/healthier. Soon after, I’d crash and burn and end up back on the upward climb on the scale. This time, I made a conscious decision to just stick to my plan. By the end of the year, I was within ten lbs of my 125 lb. goal. I started blogging in January 2010 to talk about the last ten lb. journey. My goal was extremely reasonable – lose the last ten lbs by June (6 months) which would mark the ten year mark of when I reached my highest weight. At that time, I was still under the impression that I was “big-boned” and that 125 lbs would be very difficult. I dropped my calories down to around 1200-1250 a day. I had a lot of travelling and my mom passed away at the end of February, but because my eating was on auto-pilot and my stomach had adjusted to true portion control, I found that I could eat out at any restaurant and just eat enough. I met my goal weight by the end of May and by the end of June I was under 122 lbs.
I’ll be posting some more details, but for now, here are my top ten rules of thumb:
#1: Forget everything you’ve been told and read about weight loss. Start from scratch. There is no miracle diet or special combination of food. You don’t have to exercise to lose weight. You don’t have to eat “healthy” food or give up the foods you enjoy. You don’t have to prepare all of your meals. You don’t have to cook. You don’t have to spend a lot of money having special food delivered to your door. You don’t have to stop eating (insert #) hours before bedtime. You don’t have to count calories for the rest of your life.
#2: It is imperative that you analyze your normal eating habits to figure out your pattern of eating. Figure out what are the go-to menu items at the fast food restaurants you frequent and the times during the day that you get hungry. If you really like french fries, you may need to eat half of your burger or eat a small sandwich item. If you are a burger person and don’t need the fries then cut them out so you can eat the sandwich that you really want. Never order larger than a small fry. You’ve got to focus on getting your portions under control. Calorie counting is the training wheels in the beginning so that you begin to know what a true portion looks and feels like. If you are eating meals and feeling full immediately, you are probably eating too much. A true portion is going to take a few minutes to hit your blood sugar.
For meals that you don’t eat through the drive thru, you’ve got to pay special attention to the labels and make sure you know the calories you are consuming. Almost every fast food restaurant and many chain sit-down restaurants have their nutrition information posted online or on brochures at the store. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT FAT, CARBS, ETC. Just focus on the calories. I’m a personal fan of frozen dinners – specifically Lean Cuisine – for lunch because there is no meal preparation, the food tastes great and I don’t have to leave my desk to eat my lunch at work.
If you prepare meals at home, it is really important that you pay attention to the portions and make sure you figure out the amount you can eat and stay within your daily calorie count. Everyone assumes that eating at home is healthier, but the problem is people don’t really know what a true portion should be and there are those pesky leftovers that call your name. Your eating has to be on auto-pilot. If you have to continually count your calories, you’ll get frustrated and end up eating more than you should. If you are cooking for your family, make just enough for a portion for each family member so that there are no extras or immediately package up the additional food and put it in the refrigerator. I personally hate leftovers. I feel cheated and unsatifisfied when I eat old food, but this is completely a personal choice. Again, you need to go with the grain and not against it. If you are thrifty and are used to making batches of food and having it for more than one meal, just be sure you are putting away the additional portions in the refrigerator so that they are not lingering around to be gnoshed on later in the day/evening.
#3: Forget about exercising for now. Just focus on one thing at a time. The food part is going to make up the majority of your weight loss sucess. If you try to tackle both at one time, you are probably going to feel hungry, sore and overwhelmed all at the same time. If later you feel the energy to exercise, do what feels natural. Don’t push yourself to to the point that you start feeling guilty if you missed a workout or do so much that you start to dread the activity. I am a proponent of doing what comes naturally. If you enjoy dancing, go out with some friends for a fun night out – focus on the dancing and not on the drinking – or take a dance class. If you feel like taking a walk to clear your head – take a walk. Don’t beat yourself up by setting up an unrealstic exercise schedule.
Also, please keep in mind that cardio exercise WILL INCREASE YOUR HUNGER! Many people fall into the trap of exercising and then eating way more calories than they have actually burned. This is another reason that you must get your food intake on auto-pilot before you start any exercise regime.
I personally, have done very, very little exercise and have lost beyond my goal weight just by portion control and keeping up with my normal house cleaning regime. It is killing two birds with one stone. I feel that I have that time to myself to think and I have the added reward of having a clean home. For some of you, you may be running around to take care of your kids. There are times in your life where it is more important to take care of your family than to go make yourself do something that takes away from that. Don’t get discouraged. Do what is most important to you. If you need time away from the kids and exercise is an outlet, there is no reason you should feel guilty, but you also shouldn’t feel guilty if you would rather be with your family over the exercise. IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO LOSE WEIGHT.
#4: If you find yourself busy during the day with little appetite and hungry at night, save a little bit of your calories for the evening. This is completely contrary to what most “experts” tell you. I personally believe that I became overweight because I needed food as a sedative to put me to sleep at night. I cannot go to bed hungry so I eat my dinner very late. I know this about myself and doing otherwise just ends up in me eating extra calories or not being able to get to sleep. You may be the opposite and can’t eat at night. My mother always had the problem of not being able to sleep if she ate at night. You really have to listen to your own body to figure out how you distribute your calories over the course of the day. Weekdays may be a different schedule than weekends. It is important for you to figure out what is the most compatible with your normal eating habits.
My normal routine is to stop at McDonald’s on the way home from work. I order a lowfat vanilla ice cream cone (150 calories) and a diet coke for the drive home and a sandwich for my dinner later that night. The combination of the ice cream and soda fills up my stomach. I get home, take care of feeding my cats, scooping litter boxes, taking off my make-up, changing my clothes, etc. and then I sit down IN FRONT OF THE TV and eat my dinner. Some nights I’m really craving french fries so I’ll order a smaller sandwich with a small french fry. I always try to not eat all of the fries – just enough for me to get my fix. I watch a little TV with my husband and then drift off to sleep.
The bottom line is that you need to be in tune with your body and your normal habits. Tweak them but don’t do a major overhaul that goes completely against your normal routine and cravings.
#5: Diet sodas and artificially sweetened drinks are not off limits!!! I hate to hear this myth over and over again. So what if I have a little bit of water weight because of the soda. I don’t need to be in a bikini everyday so who cares!! I was addicted to regular coca-cola, and it was contributing to many extra calories per day. I switched to diet soda and am perfectly happy. I strongly advise to keep your calorie comsumption limited to food items. Sugary drinks do not process the same in your system as does solid food. You are better off eating something sweet than drinking a sugary drink because your body will naturally send signals to your brain that you have had calories and will self-regulate the food intake craving for the next meal – when you eat solid foods. Calories in drinks do not register the same way. It is as if the body does not recognize them and will not self-adjust.
One of my tactics to combat hunger is to drink a lot of fluids during the day. I start off my day with a caffeinated no or low calorie beverage – Coke Zero is my favorite, but most McDonald’s serve just the regular diet coke. This is the most convenient for me so that’s what I drink on the way to work. I try to drink water throughout the day and evening. By constantly sipping on a beverage, you can begin to wean off of the need to have some food in your mouth. Having water is important, but I don’t believe you have to drink tons of it every day. Try to get in eight serving of eight oz per day. Also, hot liquids (green tea with artificial sweetener or coffee) can be a real help in filling up your stomach so that you don’t have those feelings of hunger.
#6: Supplements are key. It is unlikely that most Americans are able to fit in the recommended nutrients into their diet even if they cook every meal at home and eat “healthy”. Make sure you have a good multi-vitamin supplement and, at minimum, add fish/borage oil/flax seed oil into your daily routine. Many places (Sam’s club, Wal-mart, Trader Joes, Costco) sell very good high quality oil supplements. Find one that has all three elements and are quality checked for mercury or other contaminants. Oil supplements have so many health benefits and are GREAT for suppressing the appetite. I have some other supplements that I recommend in my other blogs, but I feel that these two are the only ones you absolutely need for weight loss. Your doctor may have some specific supplements to recommend for you so please check with a professional for your particular situation.
#7: REWARD YOURSELF!!! This may take some thinking, creativity and soul-searching. You need daily rewards, weekly rewards and rewards for meeting a goal. My daily reward is my McDonald’s ice cream cone. It fits within my daily calorie consumption and it truly satisfies my sweet tooth. If ever I am tempted to go off the deep end during the day – I just think about that ice cream cone on the way home from work. I also advise to have one cheat day or meal once a week. It helps you stay on track all other 6 days of the week when you know you have one day that you can eat whatever you want. You will find over time that these days become less and less important as you are eating foods every day that you actually like to eat. Also, you’ll start to experience the sick feeling you get when you overeat after the portion control you master during the week has really taken effect.
Find other non-food rewards. Ladies – RETAIL THERAPY if you can afford it. I personally love to bargain shop, but I often leave the store after only trying on clothes that would not have fit before. It is exhilerating to find out that you can wear something that you never would have been able to just prior. If you have a shopping addiction, I don’t recommend this reward for you. If you are going to buy a “goal” outfit, limit it to one outfit at a time. Having a bunch of clothes in your closet that don’t fit is depressing and is a waste of money. You can always take your clothes to a tailor and have them taken in as you lose weight but you can’t do the opposite. Take an art, dancing, music class that you’ve always wanted but never had the courage to do or believed you deserved. Start making a list of rewards that you can look forward to as you reach each 5 lb. milestone or even just for making it through a tough week. Some rewards, like a trip or vacation, you will need to save up in advance. It is good to have something to look forward to as you go through your journey. Some other ideas include a manicure/pedicure, a massage or going to a show or movie.
#8: Pick yourself up with each meal. Stop thinking in terms of days, weeks, months, year. Think of one meal at a time. If you screw up and eat to much at one meal, just self correct with the very next meal. Don’t let yourself think that you’ve messed up the day/week and will need to start again tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. If you think in terms of meal to meal, you’ll always stay on track.
#9: For once, don’t look at the forest – focus on the individual trees. If you have a lot of weight to lose, you’ll just get discouraged if you think about how far you still have to go. Celebrate each lb – set short term goals like five lbs. Give yourself credit for meeting these small goals. The diet industry has lied to you telling you that you can lose 30 lbs in a month or 100 lbs in a few months. This is not realistic without getting a gastric bypass or going on the Biggest Loser, but even these are not going to transform your life. I am a proponent of any method that anyone uses to lose weight. I am always happy to hear when someone has been able to shed unwanted weight, BUT many people who get the lapband/gastric bypass or go on the Biggest Loser just end up gaining the weight back. It is so important that you hone your daily routine into one that is liveable and maintainable for you. You probably gained your weight over a long period of time and the most lasting weight loss is the kind that also happens over time. Don’t get caught up in the trap of discouragement because you didn’t lose 2 lbs. per week in a month. Any progress is good progress. I often found that I would go a week or more without any weight loss, but then out of the blue I will have found I dropped a few lbs all at once or can fit into a smaller size of clothing. During those special times of the month, I don’t even get on the scale.
#10 – Don’t listen to any outside negativity and if necessary, remove people from your life. Unfortunatlely, your overweight friends probably don’t really want to see you succeed unless they are on the same path. If you are ridiculed at lunch with your friends for what or the amount you are eating or being encouraged to go ahead and have that extra portion, be strong. Politely yet firmly, let them know that this is not acceptable. Stop eating with them if they continue. You are doing this for you and no one else. There also will be a lot of well intentioned people that tell you that you need to do x, y and z to lose weight. Let everything they say go in one ear and out the other. There are people that will tell you that you look just fine and should not lose any more weight. Unless you have an eating disorder, ignore those people. If you struggle with perfectionism, find someone that you can really trust that will be honest with you – that may be a close friend (preferably a person at a healthy weight) or may be your doctor. You are on a journey to be happy with your body and no one should discourage you from going all the way. You can do it!