Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Great Eight for Losing Weight

My gym is crammed to the ceiling these days. It always happens in January, after people have made their New Year's resolution -- once again! -- to lose weight. They start to slack off around March, and then the Bikini Brigade arrives, wanting to get in shape for the beach.

I joke about it, but I'm in sympathy with my fellow gym-nasts. I tried a lot of avenues to weight loss before I zeroed in on what worked for me. Let me share with you a few of the ideas and practices that I have depended on to lose 30 pounds and maintain my weight loss.

Nothing tastes as good as thin feels. This saying has been getting a lot of flack lately for supposedly promoting anorexia. As Mythbuster Adam Savage would say, "I reject your reality and substitute my own!" This is an absolutely true statement. I hope you get to enjoy the feeling, too.

It’s calories in, calories out. Not everyone—especially low-carb aficionados—agrees with this, but it worked for me. In November 2007, when I broke a foot, Heidi Bylsma (whose weight loss story I shared earlier in this blog) encouraged me to keep this in mind. In the three months that I couldn’t exercise, not only did I not gain weight, but I lost two pounds to boot.

Am I really hungry? Once I began asking myself this question, I cut way back on mindless eating. Brian Wansick, the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think, says that in regard to food, Americans have essentially three states of being: 1) I’m starving 2) I’m stuffed, or 3) I could eat more. This is hilarious, but it’s also too true. We're never satisfied! I’m trying to exist in a fourth state, that of contentment.

Salad fills you up as much as a piece of cake will. This is another craving-buster. Although cake might satisfy something in my psyche that salad doesn’t (that’s putting it mildly!), I don’t need to reach for it when I am hungry. Veggies and fruits do take care of hunger, and they keep it at bay longer.

I don’t need willpower; I need strategies. I always thought that losing weight was about toughing it out. Now I realize it’s about planning ahead. Stocking the refrigerator with the good stuff; taking it with you when healthy options aren’t available. I brush my teeth in the early evening, so I’m less likely to snack after dinner. I exercise early in the day, before the pull of inertia exerts itself.

Life can be more than steamed greens. Many weight losers tell me they no longer cook, except to grill meats and steam vegetables. I like to cook, and I need variety. So, I’ll pan-sear or roast vegetables in a bit of olive oil. Steaming vegetables may be healthier, but I love the sweet, smoky taste of charred carrots, onions, green beans, asparagus and snow peas. With a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of sea salt, I can eat a boatload of these veggies! I beef up my recipes with the high-fiber and high-water-content fruits and vegetables of Barbara Rolls's Volumetrics plan.

Walking counts. It’s so silly! I'd drive to the gym to swim my laps, and then spend 10 minutes looking for the parking spot closest to the door. The irony of it struck me one day. Now I park in a spot at the end of the furthest row. It’s never taken.

Fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes. As the mother of a young child, I didn’t have an hour a day to devote to exercise. But I did have fifteen minutes, and my fitful bouts of swimming added up over time. Even now, I rarely have extended periods free to exercise. I’ll have to leave the marathons to others. On the days I don't swim, a swift walk to the post office and back works for me.

These are my Great Eight handy-dandy helpers. I'm sure you have your own. I'd love to hear what they are.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Moderation v. Avoidance

In my last post, I mentioned the ever-raging debate of whether weight loss is better accomplished by avoiding certain foods or eating everything in moderation.

Now that the holidays are over, maybe it IS time to talk about moderation!

To lose my 30 pounds, I relied on moderation in both eating and exercise. I didn't really eat differently than I had been. I just cut down on portions and upped the proportion of veggies. My sweet tooth had always been satisfied by really good dark chocolate, so I allowed myself a bite or two at the end of the day. For exercise, I started swimming laps three times a week. Nothing strenuous, just a half an hour of laps, no matter how fast (or how slowly, more accurately!) I swam.

Feeling a little self-righteous, I was certain moderation was the only approach. But then I talked with -- and observed -- other people who succeeded through avoiding certain food groups, or individual foods they considered addictive. I talked with people who happily exercised several hours a day, people who started running marathons and competing in triathlons.

My closest friend lost 75 pounds two summers ago -- in just 3 months! -- while she was living at the shore. She'd go out running in the morning, sometimes for three hours or more. She prepared her family's normal meals (high-fat, high-carb Italian!) but ate only salads. We didn't know she was doing this, so when she dropped her kids off the first day of school in the fall, our jaws all dropped to the asphalt. What a babe!

I interviewed two people who used Overeaters Anonymous and Recovery from Food Addiction, two groups that agree foods can be addictive and best avoided. While neither group insists on a particular eating plan, many members find success by avoiding whole categories of food, like sugar.

Of course, I also talked with people who used the Atkins plan to lose weight, a plan that allows almost no carbohydrates. Other plans, like Dr. Gott's No Flour, No Sugar plan, also cut out whole swathes of foods, as the name suggests. The Ornish plan almost entirely eliminates fats and Body for Life stresses high levels of protein and exercise.

But on the other side of the fence, I talked with people who succeeded with plans that stress moderation of intake and balancing of food nutrients, plans such as the Zone, South Beach and Weight Watchers. The two major food delivery plans, NutriSystem and Jenny Craig, also stress portion control and a healthy lifestyle.

So what approach should you use? Your best bet is to choose one that suits your personality. My friend who dropped her weight over the summer knows that she is an obsessive person. I've seen her in action! We took a culinary trip to Brooklyn one day, and she ate bagels, cookies, pizza and Italian ice until she was literally sick. She was a gym rat at one point, but stopped going when she realized it was consuming her life. She doesn't exercise now, but because she has remained faithful to her low-calorie intake, she hasn't gained anything back. Myself, I know I'd gain every pound back if I stopped swimming. I can't cut my eating back to the levels she has and be satisfied long term.

Long, long ago, in my first post I think, I mentioned a study showing that people can lose weight on any kind of plan. In 2004, a group of researchers placed 160 people on four different weight loss plans—the Zone, the Ornish Diet, Atkins and Weight Watchers. They asked them to stay on it for a year. Everyone who completed the study lost weight. It didn't matter which plan they followed. The factor that leads to success is sticking with a plan, no matter what it is.

So... take your pick and with it you should stick!