I posted on Facebook the other day that I hit another weight loss milestone this week (another 10 pounds down — woot!) and, as a result, a ring that I haven’t been able to wear in over five years finally fits again. I’m also pretty close to being able to put my original wedding band back on, after several years of wearing my much larger band that was originally purchased for my pudgy pregnant fingers.

I’ve gotten some questions about my how I’m eating in order to lose weight but also still be fueled properly for my long-ass runs, so I thought I’d do a post on it because naturally I have some things to share (I mean, DUH), but I’m guessing that y’all will have some good advice too. This is a long post, so I apologize in advance. I did try to condense as much as possible, but I am, as you know, a wordy chick.

I don’t believe in diets. Diets do not work. You force yourself into extreme deprivation for a short period of time, hoping for a quick fix, and while you might lose some weight short-term, long term you haven’t fixed the underlying issues. I do believe in healthy eating in healthy amounts and if you can change your habits a bit, I think that the rest will follow.

I did do Weight Watchers for a couple years and learned a lot about healthy portion sizes from them. But I also learned how to cheat on my points, so that it was possible for me to eat crap all day but still stay within my points range. That’s just not healthy.

I also don’t do any food plans like Jenny Craig because I don’t like any plan that requires you to buy their foods, which are usually full of unpronounceable ingredients and/or chemicals. I know that for some people, the prepared foods are a convenience but for me, I don’t want to spend money on faux foods with artificial ingredients. I can cook and I cook from scratch, so that’s my personal starting point.

As for Atkins and other similar plans, I firmly believe that giving up any major food group in order to lose weight is a bad idea long term. Obviously, there are a some exceptions among you who have your own health things going on, but in general, humans need balanced diets of healthy foods. Some people would have you believe that carbs are evil, which is not true for the average person. That said, some are better than others. Multi-grain or whole wheat bread is one thing, freshly-baked French baguettes are another thing, and Wonder Bread is another thing altogether.

I know someone who latched onto the idea of the Atkins diet when it first was getting a lot of press. This was a person who did not have weight or health issues, plus he exercised almost every day, yet he decided to go on Atkins because it was the trendy thing to do. He didn’t even do it do it properly; he just cut out breads and increased the amount of meats he ate. I once watched him eat an entire pound of deli meat (no bread) for lunch one day, with some chips and a soda on the side. Now I ask you: Which do you think is healthier — a pound of processed meat with salty and sugary accompaniments or a sandwich made from two slices of multi-grain bread, a slice of roast beef or turkey, a slice of tomato, and maybe some lettuce?

The same applies to to fats — your body needs some fats in order to be healthy. But those need to be healthy fats. Olive oil is great. So is butter, but in small amounts. Other fats, like the grease found in chips or fries, obviously aren’t healthy.

When Snackwells low-fat cookies were popular back in the 80′s, one of my aunts would eat an entire box in the course of a day because they were low-fat, so surely they were good for you, right? NO. They were loaded with sugar, sodium, and plenty of crap ingredients. If I’m going to have a cookie, I’m going to have a real cookie, probably baked by one of my daughters, and it will be made from good ingredients. I’ll enjoy that one cookie, maybe two, and then I’ll be done.

As for sugar, I’ve told y’all before that sugar and I have a bad relationship, so I try to stay away from it, other than fruits, small amounts of good quality chocolate, other special treats, and a little in my coffee (and I’m trying to ease that downward too). I totally avoid  high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet.

All this is to say that I don’t shun any food groups because I don’t think it’s healthy. I also think that total deprivation leads to binging and gorging later on, so I eat different things and I enjoy them all in moderation. I think balance is important. And I’m not a total food purist. You will occasionally see me have, say, a few Cool Ranch Doritos or a small number of M&Ms.

So, no eating plan for me. I know that some of you are on plans and that they are working for you, which makes me happy because I want all of you to be the healthiest people you can be. Just because something doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.

So here’s how I eat:

  • I eat mostly real foods, not processed ones.
  • Plenty of vegetables and fruit. There’s always a bowl of fruit (right now, apples and oranges) on the counter, plus ready-to-eat options in the fridge. I wash and chop produce every couple of days, so that there are always options.
  • Healthy grains, like multi-grain and whole wheat breads, wild or brown rice, oatmeal, and so on. I don’t totally shun white bread, because I will have a small amount if it’s worth it (e.g. it came out of our breadmaker or from a local bakery or I’m in Paris and there’s a bakery on every corner). I also eat pasta once or twice a week. I think the whole wheat versions taste like cardboard, so I make the regular kind, but have it in small portions.
  • Dairy, such as milk in my oatmeal, Greek yogurt, and a little cheese on crackers or on a sandwich.
  • I tend to have some sort of nuts and seeds every day, such as a sprinkle of slivered almonds in my oatmeal or a couple of tablespoons of roasted unsalted edamame for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
  • Beef and chicken once or twice a week, pork maybe once or twice a month, and fish every few months. I know that I should have more fish and less other stuff, but we don’t like the smell in the house, so we don’t cook it unless it’s warm enough to grill outside.
  • I still eat chocolate and other occasional treats, but in small bits only. I make sure the treat is worth it and nothing something crappy.
  • I mostly drink water, a lot of it, starting with a large cup every morning. I drink a cup of coffee most mornings and occasionally tea. I don’t often drink sodas or fruit juice, maybe once or twice a month. And I rarely have alcohol, although I did enjoy a splash of Bailey’s in my cocoa at Christmas.
  • I’m careful about portion sizes, which is an area in which a lot of people goof up. I found this helpful illustrated guide by the Mayo Clinic and think you might find it useful too.
  • I still eat pretty much what I want, but I find that I don’t usually want crap foods. When I do crave something, I decide if it’s something worth eating or if it’s something I can work around. For example, I love grilled cheese sandwiches, but I almost never eat them. When I do want them, I’ll toast a little cheese on multi-grain bread and that usually satisfies the craving.
  • But you know what? Pizza and burgers taste good, damn good, and I’m not going to give them up. But, I do pay attention to my portion sizes. We usually have pizza on Friday nights and I’ll have a slice (or maybe two) and I don’t feel guilty about it. When we go to our favorite local burger place, I cut my burger in half as soon as it arrives and wrap up one half to take home for Pete to eat for his lunch the next day. And when I know I’m going to have pizza or burgers or nachos, I eat more vegetables earlier in the day and I’m generally more careful, knowing that I’m going to splurge later on.

That’s pretty much it.

Since I have harped so much about portion sizes, let me also say that while I used to measure carefully, I don’t now because I can eyeball reasonably accurately. If anything, I’ll err on the side of caution and go with less. And since putting a small amount of food on a large plate can make it look lonely and like not very much, I trick my eyes by using smaller dishes. Check these out:

The plate is two-thirds the size of a standard dinner plate. Here’s a better comparison of how the bowls are sized:

The bowl on the left holds 1/4 cup and that’s what I use for snacks like almonds or pretzels or treats like chocolate. The bowl on the right holds 1 cup and that’s what I use for chopped veggies and fruits and also for a serving of Greek yogurt mixed with nuts and chopped fruit.

The two best books I’ve read about eating are French Women Don’t Get Fat and Food Rules. I come back to them time and time again because they contain so much wisdom, but it’s all common sense — Eat real food. Don’t eat too much. The end.

If I stick with this way of eating, this plan, and I pay attention to portion sizes, I will lose weight, even if I don’t exercise.

Here’s a quick run down of a typical food day:

  • 1st breakfast – A glass of water and some fruit eaten at dawn while we’re getting the girls out the door for school. This takes the edge off my hunger until I have time to sit down and eat.
  • 2nd breakfast – A small bowl of oatmeal or homemade granola. Eaten around 8:00. This is when coffee happens.
  • Lunch – Leftovers from dinner the night before or maybe just the aforementioned toasted cheese sandwich with carrots or cucumber slices on the side.
  • Mid-afternoon – An apple or some grapes or maybe a small amount of nuts.
  • Dinner – I usually mention on Facebook what we’re having that night and I’ve posted some recipes here. In general, I’ll eat a small serving of the main course and have at least one or two vegetable side dishes.
  • After dinner – A square or two of good chocolate. I’m working on my late-night mindless snacking and am making progress. If I find that I’m hungry, I’ll have an apple or some popcorn.
  • Throughout the day – Lots of water. Apples, carrot sticks, broccoli florets, cucumber slices, etc. whenever I want them and am feeling a bit peckish.

So how does all this fit in with running and other physical activities? I don’t make a lot of adjustments, actually. If I’m going on a long run (7 or more miles), I’ll pack an applesauce or chop a granola bar into bite sizes so that I can fuel up mid-run. If I’m ravenous when I get home, I’ll grab an apple or a few carrot sticks. Some people say that they feel like they’re hungry all the time when they exercise a lot, but for me, I find that my appetite is usually a bit suppressed by a long run.

Okay, so this was really wordy and I’m sure I lost a lot of people along the way, but I had gotten a number of questions about this and wanted to address it all in one fell swoop. I should also mention that I am not a nutrition expert or medical professional, so if you have any health issues (such as diabetes), you should talk with your doctor and not listen to me.

Everyone else add your wisdom now. How do you eat? What’s working for you and what’s not working for you? Are there any books or websites we should know about?

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14 Responses to Eating

  1. Becky says:

    Everything in moderation, including moderation.

    I have to have that chocolate no later than mid-afternoon or it will keep me up all night. Ah, the joys of middle age. But otherwise, my eating habits are somewhat similar. Much less meat though. I am fond of whole wheat pasta and that is primarily what we eat, when we eat pasta. I have friends that think the same thing as you about it, but have eaten it at my house and said mine doesn’t taste that way, so I think it might be because I tend to cook it just a little bit longer? It also depends on the sauce – some tend to go better with whole wheat noodles than others.

    What kind of fish are you cooking that leaves your house smelling? We eat a good bit of fish and the only one I have issues with are farm raised salmon, which are nasty and full of crap and should not be eaten. The only other things that leave my house smelling unpleasant are indian curries and fried foods, so I tend to only fry things during warm weather when I can open the house up. (And since our fried foods tend to be fried green tomatoes, okra and vegetable fritters of whatever is in season and needs to be moved out of my fridge, it’s fitting we only eat that way during the summer.)

    As much as I love to bake, when I do so, I tend to give it away, or freeze leftovers in small portions, because some days, you just want a freaking piece of cake with your afternoon tea and it’s glorious to be able to pull out just want you want.

    Me for the key is portion sizes and exercise. I find I can eat just about anything I want, as long as I exercise.

  2. Hee. First breakfast, second breakfast–you remind me of Hobbits! And my youngest, come to think of it, who eats all day long.
    So true about REAL food. I remember those Snackwells days when people ate whole boxes, justifying the “low-cal” treat. Just the idea of the ingredient list makes me feel sick.

  3. Jenn3128 says:

    Hope that link works. My eating lifestyle is very similar to yours. I take it a step further and am aware of my ph levels everyday (that’s the site above). We also as a family don’t do any artificial sweetners, this includes chewing gum even, it is all chock full of aspartame. I could go on & on, but as this is an “eating” post I’ll stop now and not go into the other products we (not me) all use that are not healthy.

  4. Kat says:

    I completely agree with all of it. This is basically how I eat too. Although lately I think I’ve been snacking too much and exercizing too little. Ah well. ;)

  5. Julie says:

    Eat less, move more. Simple is the way to go! and the French Women book is what my brain goes back to time and time again. I’ve done ALL the diets, except for Weight Watchers–somehow couldn’t get my brain to want to do all the gymnastics I’d heard my other friends talk about when they were on it…Jenny & Nutrisystem were what got my last 20 prego pounds off, after each child, so it worked for that–when I was sleep deprived and insanely preoccupied–no thinking required, just eat the food they tell you to eat.
    That said, I’m post menopausal, and pre-diabetic (with a recent abnormal thyroid blood test result looming large in the background) so my extra poundage has got to go. No diet will work for that. It’s just drop the weight to near normal, the pre-diabetes will retreat into the background (1 point away from “high normal” now) and who knows, I may find that if my thyroid needs addressing with medication, the weight may come off faster/easier? Or, not. I’m not banking on that. Eat less, move more, do not eat until full. Or, what the french women book says!

  6. Kris says:

    Hee, you’re like a hobbit! Second breakfast indeed.

    I need to get some smaller plates and bowls. Ours are huge and I always want to fill them up. That does not help with portion control. Have you seen that little rubber “portion control” thing on Pinterest? They sell it for $20. I just use measuring cups.

    I just barely got back into my wedding band last month. I liked my fake ring better (it was stainless steel and I got it for $8!) but it’s too big now. Nate and I got matching wedding rings and when we were married we had the same size fingers. Now he has gained 100 lbs and can’t get the ring off. It scares me. Titanium is a scary metal.

  7. Aunt Snow says:

    Portion size is very important to me. I think less about the ingredients and more about the quantity. I am no longer embarrassed to leave food on my place when I eat out – it either comes home with me or unfortunately gets thrown out, but I will not eat more than I’m hungry for.

    I find when I pack my lunch for work I eat a more healthy meal than when I eat out. So I try to do that at least 4 of 5 days.

    Sweets aren’t my temptation, but I do like a glass of wine with dinner.

    I seems to have plateaued at my current weight. It’s not my ideal weight, but it’s not bad. At my age, it’s all right.

  8. I always have food and water with me. With all the running around I do, it’s important to have something good on hand so I’m not tempted to hit a drive through.

  9. Cassi Renee says:

    I did Weight Watchers online once (the idea of meetings is a bit creepy to me), and it worked quite well and quickly, as long as I always over-estimated my points. But like all other “diets” you either have to be obsessive about it, or it doesn’t work. Once a life event interrupted and I couldn’t obsessively track my every bite, it stopped working. Plus, I just got tired of paying that much attention to my food.

  10. WHEN I eat like that it works. I’m getting back to it.

    My daughter and I have been exercising a lot. Kayaking, walking or biking every day and then yoga/Pilates at night. She’s dragging me to spin class on Saturday. I’m not sure that it’s a selling point that it’s “How all the MILFs work out.”

  11. Karen says:

    Don’t you find that after eating healthy food for a while if you DO eat crap your system kicks it back? I ate fast food several weeks ago and boy did I regret it!

  12. After trying a number of low-fat diets (including WW), I am convinced that REAL food in reasonable portions is what truly works for a forever-lifestyle of eating. My problem lies in 2 main areas: “reasonable portions” hasn’t quite clicked with my brain & stomach (although we do have smaller dinner plates here, too), and I am a sugar addict. *sigh* My husband is working with me on all of this, but it’s tough.

  13. Suz says:

    I read the whole thing!

    I have two major issues in my diet: (1) Lunch while at work (easily solvable once I put my mind to packing healthy lunches); and (2) not having control over the dinner menu – coupled with a husband who feels that the amount of food that he prepares and that I eat is directly proportional to my love for him. He has been working on healthier meals, so maybe once I figure out the lunch deal, I will do better all around.

  14. An absolutely amazing post. Thank you.

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