Saturday, September 05, 2009

Weight Loss Lessons


I've lost about 20 pounds since I started taking the train to work. I first lost a few pounds from just walking to and from the train. When I exercise, even a moderate amount, my appetite goes down. This happened back a few years ago when Paul and I started walking the track near my mom's house. I lost between 20 and 30 pounds. Then I stayed the same until we moved. I had to stop walking because there was nowhere except sidewalk and I was getting muscle cramps on the fronts of my legs. I gained most of the weight back.

So, when I started losing again, I decided to do more than just adding exercise to my life. I rejoined Weight Watchers, using their online tools. I get my support from online groups and friends and family. I don't find the meetings help me, personally, very much. I tend to tune it all out because I've been there, done that.

Also, I get tired of people's games to make the scale as low as possible each week. People wear special clothes. Take off their shoes. Even make sure they use the toilet right before they weigh in. Some people don't eat before a meeting. It's crazy!! I don't want to get sucked into compulsive, crazy behavior. If that's what it takes, I'd rather stay fat.

Plus, I get frustrated with recipes and food advice because that's another kind of game. You win the game by getting the most food for the fewest points regardless of the nutritional value of your meal. The fact is that what people are really trying to do is to lose weight without making any real changes. The diet food industry is rife with fake foods that mimic the foods people don't want to give up in order to lose weight.

Weight Watchers sell food that's not as high in nutritional value as the fresh food they promote as being healthier. Yet, despite their healthy eating advice, they don't really want you to eat only fresh food because they make a lot of money from selling you their food products. The last time I attended meethings, part of the meeting time was spent promoting Weight Watchers products and I'd prefer to skip that. I ignore the ads when I'm online.

Lessons Learned So Far

The main thing I've learned is that a lot of the advice the professionals give you is true, but until you experience it for yourself, you don't really believe it. And I learned that a lot of research needs to be done into the effect of female hormones on weight.


1. When I was growing up, my mom decided how much food went on the plate and we were expected to eat it all. If there were leftovers, but not enough to save or the leftovers would tempt her too much, she'd beg everyone else to eat them whether we were hungry or not. Consequently, I have no idea how to know when I'm full. I'm used to eating to overfull.

I decided to try an experiment and not put a bite in my mouth until I've swallowed the previous bite. I still forget. Old habits die hard. But I'm getting more consistent with this. The result: I feel full and more satisfied on less food because I'm eating more slowly. This is especially beneficial when eating higher-calorie foods because they require eating super small portions. A side benefit is that I'm more aware of the flavors in my food and that helps me become a better cook.

2. When I grew up and discovered that canned vegetables were not the only way to get vegetables, I discovered that I love vegetables. So, now I go for the fruits and veggies. I'm starting to base my meals more around the veggies and fruits, adding whole grains, protein, and some fat to them. I'm not a vegetarian, but when I make a meat-based main dish, I keep the portion small so I can have a lot of vegetable dishes, too. This strategy allows me to eat a reasonable volume of food and still lose weight. However, I'm discovering that the total volume of food I'm eating is a lot less. I get full faster when I eat this way, especially when I use whole grains.

3. Whole grains are amazing. When I put one serving of white rice or regular pasta or white bread on my plate and eat it, I feel neither full nor satisfied. I need two or three portions for that. But, when I put one serving of whole grain bread, whole grain rice, or whole wheat pasta on my plate, not only am I both full and satisfied, sometimes I can't finish it because it's too much food.

I think one of the main problems people have with whole grains is unfamiliarity with them combined with the poor quality of a lot of the whole grain products, particularly breads, in the markets. You have to keep trying different types and brands to find what you like. When I first tried whole wheat pastas, they were horrible. But now I prefer them because the quality has improved since then. I solve the whole grain bread issue by making my own. Baking bread is one of the pleasures in my life, so that's a no-brainer for me.

4. Beans are one of my favorite foods. I've always liked them and I've been trying out new varieties lately. They really fill you up. I love to add them to pureed vegetable soups because they also thicken the soup. What I've discovered is that when you buy beans at Whole Foods or any store that has a lot of vegetarian customers, they're fresher and take less time to cook. When I eat beans several times a week, I tend to lose more weight than when I don't. I'm not saying that beans cause weight loss, but they probably keep the total calories lower because they're so filling.

5. I'm eating a lot more vegetarian meals these days because it's cheaper. This will be an especially crucial issue as Paul and I deal with yet one more time he's been laid off. I don't want this to derail my weight loss efforts, so I'm going to have to plan meals carefully, keeping the budget in mind.

Time magazine had a disturbing article recently called Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food. They were talking about how difficult it is to eat a standard American diet and not gain weight. And how the agriculture and industry's subsidies allow them to make cheap, but unhealthy food. I haven't figured out how I'm going to continue to eat high-quality, healthful food on my now super-limited budget, but I'm not giving up on it, at least not while I still have a kitchen of my own to cook in.

6. The food thing is really all about portion control and balancing high-calorie and low-calorie foods. Weight Watchers says that you don't have to give up foods you love in order to lose weight. But when people talk about the program, they talk about OP foods. OP stands for On Program. That implies that there are foods that are off program. They usually mean the foods that have been pounded into our brain as being bad. But Weight Watchers is right. You can eat whatever you want, but you have to be willing to change the portion size and what you eat with it. You have to balance your food over time and you have to learn what balance works best for you.

An example: You can eat real macaroni and cheese, just not a huge bowl full. If you make it with whole wheat pasta, which is how I like it, and add some vegetables, you can eat a nice-sized portion. If you just want the comfort food, without adding veggies to the dish itself, you eat a smaller serving. Then, fill the meal out with a vegetable soup or a vegetable side dish and a salad. That's plenty of food.

The problem is that we don't think of macaroni and cheese as the main course. We eat it with high-calorie hot dogs or hamburgers and buns. If I want a hot dog or hamburger and bun, I pair it with grilled corn and watermelon, plus a salad. And I've discovered that one slider-sized hamburger is plenty, especially if I make the buns myself.

My point is that I've been rethinking what constitutes a healthy, satisfying menu and coming up with a very different combination of foods from what I grew up with. It more closely resembles the types of foods recommended by professional nutritionists, with one major exception--I eat mostly whole fat dairy products. I don't like low-fat dairy. I don't substitute cup for cup, though. When I eat whole milk yogurt, I eat a quarter of a cup with fruit and granola. I couldn't eat a whole cup of it. It's too filling.

7. As for the hormone thing, before I stopped having the monthly hormone swings, I lost about 50 pounds, twice. But then I got stuck gaining and losing the same 5 pounds every month. I gave up and gradually regained some of that weight back. I never got back up to my highest weight ever. I managed to permanently keep off about 20-25 pounds. Back then it was all or nothing. You were a failure if you didn't get to the goal they set, and those goals were unrealistically low. Now, you're encouraged to set more reasonable goals and you don't feel like a failure if you've lost a significant amount of weight, but not every pound the experts say someone of your height and gender ought to lose.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the hormone thing--now that I don't have those monthly food cravings, anxiety, etc., my weight loss has been steady, as has my ability to adhere to the program. If I were a researcher working in the field of obesity, that's an area I'd love to examine. One of the things everyone knows about weight loss is that it's harder after menopause. I'm not so sure that's true for everyone. Thus far, it's not been true for me.