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 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?