Last week I was off gigging, and had a conversation with a friend & colleague about my weight loss. She wanted to know what I was doing to lose the weight, and we chatted briefly about mainstream weight loss plans. She had had some success following the South Beach Diet, but had ultimately put some of the weight back on. Another friend of ours regularly does Atkins, but I think he's been gaining and losing the same 15 pounds for 10 years now.
I have chosen to not go on a diet plan at all. I think that diet plans are great if you are only looking to lose maybe 20 pounds or so. Read the fine print on those Nutrisystem or other weight loss plan commercials whenever someone says they lost 50 pounds: it says, "Results not typical." Personally, I really need to lose a total of about 115-120 pounds to put me where I'm "supposed" to be. Programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are better suited for more significant weight loss, but still, for many people much of what you achieve is often through their pre-prepared meals (especially on Jenny). Not only are the programs pricey, but you often have to buy their food, ostensibly for the rest of your life, to maintain your weight loss. That's just too many frozen dinners for me, who loves to cook!
I do have a couple of friends who have lost huge amounts of weight on Weight Watchers. One lost over 100 pounds, and another is starting to near the 200 pound mark. That is incredible and inspirational. I also know, though, that they will be counting points for, well, the rest of their lives. One of those friends I called once at 3:00 p.m. seeing if he wanted to grab dinner later. It had been a travel day for us both, and he said he couldn't because he's bad when he travels and he'd already used up his points for the day. At 3:00 in the afternoon. Now that's just not healthy to go from 3:00 p.m. to breakfast the next day, if you ask me. I applaud him for sticking to the program, though!
For me, whenever I try to keep track of my food to the calorie and limit the number of calories I eat, all it does is make me think about food. Suddenly, it's "I'm hungry but I only have 76 calories left for today." Or, "I really want a ________, but then I'd have to basically not have dinner because I don't have enough calories allotted." Really, it should be about a weekly amount, so if you do splurge one day you can still lose weight over the course of several days. Still, that is very hard to do when you are counting every little calorie that enters your mouth and you feel guilty for that indulgence.
So what am I doing? Better eating habits, period. Here are my "rules," for lack of a better term.
1) Eat three meals a day, and especially be sure to eat breakfast. This may seem like a Captain Obvious moment, but ever since I had 7:00 a.m. classes in high school I haven't been a breakfast eater. I love breakfast foods, but I just don't usually wake up hungry. Then, I overindulge in the afternoon and evening, when my body needs the fuel the least. A bowl of healthy cereal, or a bagel, or some yogurt and juice in the morning makes a huge difference throughout the day. Occasionally I'll have something with eggs if I have time and want more protein.
2) Eat more whole grains and fruits/vegetables. I've never been great about the fruits and veggies thing, but as I get older I realize that I don't mind a lot of the vegetables that I used to deplore. I'm still not fabulous, but I'm getting better. Soup is a very easy way to get those vegetables in, and when it is 20 degrees outside it is also a tantalizing way to warm up. When it gets warmer, I'll be back to my love of salads, as long as I keep tabs on my dressing. Even now, though, it is very easy to throw some spinach on a sandwich or into some pasta, or saute some peppers and mix them into scrambled eggs. Whole grains are easy to work into your eating habits, especially with the new dietary guidelines and everybody making or marketing whole grain products.
3) Try to not eat much later than 6:00 p.m. This one is trickier, especially when I am travelling. When I am home, and often getting up for work at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m., I head to bed around 10:00 p.m. so eating at 6:00 isn't that early. When I'm on the road gigging, often I don't get out of rehearsal until 6:00 or sometimes 7:00. Eating earlier in the evening helps me with that breakfast thing, since I'll wake up hungrier. And I do occasionally have a light snack before bed.
4) When possible, make lunch the biggest meal of the day. This is one thing European cultures do, and how many studies, best-selling books, and reports have we seen about how healthy and thin European people are? Americans tend to make dinner the big meal, but by that point of the day we've already used most of our needed calories. It's like doing a long car drive, then filling up the gas tank before putting the car in the garage. Rather than immediately using the gas, it just sits there. In the case of putting fuel into our human bodies, that unused fuel becomes fat.
5) Only eat red meat once or twice a week. I was raised a beef and potatoes kind of girl, and I loooooove my hamburgers. When I'm home, I don't cook red meat that often, but when I'm travelling or eating out suddenly anything red meat on the menu becomes like crack. There are benefits to eating lean red meat, but there are also some negative things, too. Limiting my intake not only helps me find the balance between the two, but it also gives me additional reason to ignore the McDonalds on the corner across from my apartment.
6) Don't deny myself. So many people backslide or put the weight back on because for so long they denied themselves something, be it chocolate, sweets, chips, butter, etc. It is all about portion control, and we are better off having a little bit of something bad than trying to fill that desire with low-calorie/low-fat/low-whatever foods that are ultimately filled with sodium and chemicals. I crave chocolate like most women, especially once a month. (Ladies, you know what I'm talking about!) Rather than just try to say "no," I have those 100 calorie packs of Hostess Cupcakes. They didn't really change the recipe, they just made them much smaller and they don't have that extra white icing on top. I think the three cupcakes in the package come to about 2/3 or 3/4 of a single regular-sized cupcake. But, I've had my chocolate and I'm generally sated, and I don't have any guilt. The same is true for cheese; a smaller portion of full-fat cheese is much more rewarding in flavor and ultimately healthier than having more of the low-fat (or, God forbid, fat-free) cheese, which is full of chemicals I'm not sure we were ever designed to actually consume. Quality over quantity.
7) Less alcohol. (Aaack!) When I'm home, I really don't drink that much, maybe the occasional cocktail or glass of wine. A contributing factor is the Kansas liquor laws, where anything other than a "cereal malt beverage" has to be purchased at a liquor store. (A "cereal malt beverage" would be beer or drinks like Zima or Mike's Hard Lemonade.) We can't even buy wine at the grocery store. Now the Missouri border is about 6 miles from my apartment, and in Missouri I can buy hard liquor at Walmart. Either going to the liquor store or Missouri, that's a special trip just for booze, something I have a hard time justifying. Consuming less alcohol is much trickier when I'm travelling and gigging, for where there are 2 or more musicians gathered there is usually a fifth. Alcohol is full of empty calories, although I do sometimes justify my Cosmos and Cape Cods by saying I'm getting my vitamin C in the cranberry juice. (If you want to feel guilty about drinking, look up how many calories are in a typical margarita.) This is just something I monitor like the above rule about moderation.
8) Consume more calcium. Apparently there have been some recent studies linking calcium consumption with weight loss. I haven't read them, but I'm still incorporating calcium not just for the weight loss but also because I have a history of broken bones and need the calcium and vitamin D for my skeletal health. Sometimes I feel like a little kid, having a glass of milk with my dinner, but that's okay!
9) Eat out less, and it is okay to get a doggy bag. The first part of this is easy, since I'm broke. It's not so easy when I'm travelling, don't always have accommodations where I can cook, and have a meal stipend, albeit a modest one. When I do get to eat out, I have to remind myself that it is okay to not clear my plate, no matter how I was raised and reminded of the starving children in the world. In fact, not clearing one's plate at a restaurant should be encouraged. Unless you are at one of the chains with the "right sized" portions section on their menu, most of the time what you get is equivalent to 2 or maybe even 3 servings. (Be wary of those "right sized" things; Weight Watchers tested their own meals at Applebee's and found that the nutritional information frequently didn't match -- the actual meal prep was higher in calories and sodium, mostly.) Also, having left-overs takes some of the sting out of the cost of eating out, since you're getting two meals for the price.
These are just my personal guidelines. This is not a diet plan, and I am not a medical doctor or nutritionist. This is something I can personally stick to, and I am definitely seeing results. I'm losing weight, I have good energy and mental clarity, and my insomnia is well under control. I credit those things with the combination of these adjustments to my eating habits as well as my obsessive gym time. If they work for you, that's awesome, and I'd love to hear about it!