Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Weight Loss Hacks

OK, after hitting a rock bottom/red flag weight and having panic attacks as a result (figuratively, not literally), I'm going to post about what I did in the first place, way back in 2007, to lose weight. I'm inspired by a post on Zen Habits that includes weight loss tips from readers. Some of the tips are great, some are downright awful. The Zen Habits list is also missing a lot of things that helped me. Reminding myself of my past success can get me back on track again now, too. In fact, I've lost 1.5 pounds since writing my last post, so I am finding my groove again.

Here are Kim's Weight Loss Hacks, in no particular order:

~ Weigh daily and write it down. The National Weight Control Registry says that the successful dieters they follow weigh daily, so I do too. Weigh first thing in the morning and weigh nekkies. Don't let minor fluctuations make you crazy; women, for instance, will go up a bit when they are pre-menstrual. You will go up if you've eaten a lot of bulk the day before, even low calorie bulk like a huge salad or a lot of watermelon, but that will come off quickly. Note trends. This helps me because I have a tendency to stick my head in the sand about my weight. I am the Queen of Denial unless I have the data in front of me! This also lets me tweak what I'm doing as far as diet and exercise. Is my program working or not? Do I need to make changes? (And lately, yeah, I need to make changes.) I've also found that high calorie binges take about two days to show up on the scale.

~ Use small plates. And I mean really small; I eat on a 7" salad plate. One serving on a 7" plate for lunch and one serving for dinner. Use smaller utensils, too. You get a big spoon, a big fork, a small spoon and a small fork with each serving in a typical flatware set; use the smaller spoon and fork.

~ No "seconds".

~ Have 3 meals and one planned snack every day. If you are hungry between meals then snack on fruit or veggies. Make sure the planned snack includes a little bit of protein.

~ Stick with it 7 days a week; no "binge days". I have to note here that I could get away with binge days when I was younger. No more! The damage from one binge meal can be just about impossible to undo now that I'm in my 40s.

~ Plan treats. Not binges, treats. I happen to like Lindt's Lindor White Chocolate Truffles. When things are going well and my eating is under control, I will have one, not two, not three, ONE, and really savor it. Not one a day, one every now and then. One maybe once a week. I can look at the bag and look forward to my one treat, but not cheat, since I know I can have it when I can enjoy it without guilt. (And treats are not what got me in trouble with my recent gain; it's the between meal grazing on things like tortilla chips, organic of course, and nuts and losing track of portion control that did it.)

~ Remember the two bite rule for those high calorie foods when you absolutely can't resist. I read somewhere that the first two bites of ANYTHING are the best anyway, so have your two bites and move on. You'll have the same taste sensation when you are done whether you've eaten two bites or a whole bowl/box/bag/slice etc., but a lot less guilt. Eat those two bites sensuously. Savor them. Pull the fork out of your mouth slowly and don't start to chew right away. Close your eyes and chew slowly, fully tasting what is in your mouth. Live in the moment as you enjoy the flavors. Then you're done.

~ Don't hesitate to throw away those "red light" foods after you've had your two bites. Waste it or waist it, your choice. I choose my waist!!! I have no problem tossing cakes after the kids have each had one slice, for instance.

~ Portion control, portion control, portion control. Measuring cups and a good diet scale are your new best friends. Now that I'm trying to get back in control of my weight, I'm remembering that I used to use my half cup measure as my serving spoon. I am once again measuring out half a cup of carbs (typically brown rice or pasta) for my two main meals (lunch and dinner). I'm also realizing I have to measure out half a cup of my protein source; I used to weigh animal proteins so I didn't quite know how to deal with beans or soy proteins. Half a cup of that as well. (A vegan friend actually suggested using the half cup measure for the proteins; sounds logical to me so that's what I'm doing!) I also allow myself an additional carb, like a small piece of whole wheat bread or a pack of crackers, (I buy organic crackers that come in little packets of 8, sometimes I give away 2 of the crackers since 6 is really a better portion) with lunch and dinner. Back when I ate dead animals, I would have 5 ounces of animal protein per day, so 2.5 ounces at lunch and 2.5 ounces at dinner. I would let go a little and not measure as carefully when I ate seafood. (Of course, the seafood had to be cooked in an acceptable manner, no fried catfish or heavy, buttery sauces for instance!!!)

~ Make a weekly menu plan every week. Come up with healthy, low calorie, low fat/healthy fat meals you can prepare for lunch and dinner. (We eat both lunch and dinner at home; we don't have to brown bag it, but if you do then plan for that as well.) Buy cookbooks or borrow them from the library, (yes, they have cookbooks at the library) or look on-line for new healthy recipes to try. I have links to a lot of food web sites over there on the right; most of them offer healthy recipes. Cooking Light is a good place to start. They have a web site, cookbooks, and of course the magazine, all with fantastic recipes and lots of nutrition advice. Make your plan for the week with your calendar/schedule in hand. Look at any days where you know you'll need something quick and easy and fill those in with appropriate recipes. Plan out "pantry meals" for days when it's been a while since you've grocery shopped. At least once a week on a day when you have a little more time, try a new healthy recipe. Make your grocery list from your menu plan so you won't be out of ingredients when it's time to cook.

~ Go for whole grains and healthy fats. Make brown rice instead of white. Whole wheat bread (NOT honey wheat, which doesn't use real whole wheat flour) instead of white. If you don't like the taste of whole grains, start developing a taste for them by mixing whole grain with white versions. I can make a batch of rice in my rice cooker that's half white and half brown. Try different brands, too. There is one brand of a mixed whole grain rice that I don't care for, but I like brown basmati rice. I can even eat brown rice without mixing it now. (We won't talk about pasta...) For fats, choose the healthy fats such as olive and canola oil. (Go for organic; the non-organic canola is made with GMOs.) Use them in moderation, of course. Watch the fat content in foods like cheese and butter. I've started using Earth Balance instead of butter recently and it's really good! The Eldest and I both like it better than butter now. (But I don't use it often.) Use fat free milk, and that's another one some people have to get used to. I grew up on skim milk so regular milk tastes bad to me, but if you're not used to it then step down gradually. If you drink regular milk, then step down to 2%. From 2% go to 1%. From 1% mix it, half 1%, half fat free, then gradually increase the fat free to more than half, and so forth.

~ Always eat breakfast. I have the same breakfast every day so it's pre-measured and automatic. I will occasionally switch what I'm eating, but currently I eat oatmeal. I mix a pack of organic regular and a pack of organic maple and brown sugar. I add freshly ground organic cinnamon (which has anti-inflammatory properties) and about two tablespoons of organic raisins (for the iron). I've also tried adding ground flax seeds (for the omega 3 fatty acids), but I slack off on that a lot. I shouldn't, though; those omega 3s are vitally important for good nutrition! Sometimes, if I'm not adding the flax seeds, I'll add a bit less than 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts since they are a good source of both protein and omega 3s. (I always add the walnuts when I'm on a trip since I don't know if I'll be able to get decent protein later in the day. Oatmeal makes a great breakfast for trips; I take a hot pot to heat the water.) I top it all off with a big glass of seltzer water (that's what I drink all the time), my daily multi-vitamin, and an Aleve for the fibromyalgia and arthritis. When I want a change, I might go back to Kashi Go Lean Crunch. (Although the milk is an issue for me now.) I kept a one cup measure in the cereal bin so I couldn't help but measure. Just keep it in there! If you eat cereal on a regular basis, you need to measure it out on a regular basis, so keep the darn measuring cup in the box just for that purpose.

~ No fast food from the big chains. No KFC, McDs, Burger King, Wendys, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Sonic, etc.

~ There are some places where you can get acceptable take out. Pollo Tropical, since they grill their chicken, is OK but be careful about portions and side dishes. (Now I eat the beans and rice and skip the chicken, which makes it really inexpensive! Watch out for the plantains; they are good but fattening. I'll get them for the family then eat one small one as dessert.) There are a couple of local burrito places where they use fresh ingredients and customize the burrito for you. I'll order a veggie burrito, hold the sour cream, when we get take out there, then I eat half. There are also a couple of bagel places I like; I get a bagel sandwich with egg and a slice of swiss then eat half. There is another local place that serves a vegan sandwich made on a whole wheat baguette with hummus, sprouts, cucumber, shredded carrots, and sunflower seeds. I'll eat half of that sandwich; The Middle Child eats the other half. Finding healthy take out options is important; sometimes you just can't conjure up the time or energy to cook a decent meal.

~ Eat only half at restaurants. Order as wisely as you possibly can.

~ No sodas, even diet sodas. Period.

~ Don't drink.

~ Eat the way you want your kids to eat. Remember you are setting an example for them; make it a good one by caring enough for your body to eat right.

~ Drink water. (I like seltzer water.) DH likes tea and there's lots of research showing that certain kinds of tea (like green tea) are very good for you, but like all good southern girls I like my tea sweet. That means adding either calories or artificial sweeteners, and I don't want to do either, so I stick with water.

~ No artificial sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup. Period.

~ Buy organic as much as possible. I've read some research recently that links pesticides to weight gain, so, while I don't think the research is conclusive, go organic anyway. It can't hurt. Plus it's better for your body in other ways. I mean, think about it. Why would you WANT food that has pesticides on it, pesticides that are designed to kill living creatures??? I'm not fanatical about organic, but when it's available, that's what I get. I also try to avoid food made with GMO ingredients. Again, it's because of the pesticides, not specifically because I have a problem with genetic modification. (Although I'm not sure I trust it at this point; it's still too new.) My problem is that the common use of GMOs is to allow farmers to use MORE PESTICIDES!!! So by default, GMO food is LOADED with the bad stuff. Yuck.

~ Avoid processed food as much as possible; be choosy about the processed food you do use. Having said that, there are a few processed foods I like, such as Zatarain's Jambalaya mix; The Eldest can make dinner for the family with that. She throws it in the rice cooker with a chopped up onion and bell pepper and a can or two of drained and rinsed pinto beans, add slightly more water than it calls for on the box, turn on the rice cooker and let it rip. Dinner's ready 45 minutes or so later. Organic vegetarian sausages are also great for "Joggin' John", a Hoppin'John variation by Robin Robertson that basically involves throwing together cooked rice, a can of drained and rinsed black eyed peas, sauteed onion, seasonings, and the cooked sausages. That's the other meal The Eldest makes for the family. We also use soy bacon for BLTs. (Actually, they are BLTCs since we add cucumber slices to our sandwiches.) The soy bacon is good for omnivores as well- try it! We all liked regular BLTs back when we ate dead animals, but with regular bacon you are left feeling all bloated and vaguely ill from the fat so we rarely indulged. With the soy bacon you don't get that blech feeling after eating, so we have the fake bacon sandwiches every few weeks now. (I don't like the soy bacon by itself but it's great on the sandwiches.) I have to admit I do use a lot of convenience foods, which I look at a little differently than processed foods such as TV dinners. To me convenience foods are single ingredient items such as frozen fruit, canned beans, canned tomatoes, and veggie broth. I use a lot of canned beans. I bought a pressure cooker to start getting away from that but we haven't used it more than a couple of times yet since we still have a few kinks to work out. It bothers me that the cans are lined with the bad plastic; we have to get away from that. We also use a lot of store bought organic veggie broth. I couldn't function without some convenience foods, but to buy a frozen lasagna or a box of hamburger helper and use that as a meal? No way. Once you get used to eating fresher, less processed food, the highly processed stuff tastes of chemicals, which is really gross.

~ Watch your salad dressings. I'm having a hard time with salad dressings lately. ALL of the grocery store brands, even some of the "natural" brands, have high fructose corn syrup; yuck. The organic brands don't have low cal flavors that I like. I'm making do with the kind that comes in a packet (yes, a convenience food, you got me) then you mix in the oil and vinegar yourself. You can add a lot less oil than it calls for. I haven't found a good, organic light salad dressing; I'm still looking. I'm planning to check my cook books to see if I can find a home made dressing, but I haven't gotten around to that yet. Some of the Newman's Own dressings are OK, but watch the calories and portion sizes. I will take my own dressing when I go out to eat if I can. If I can't, I'll ask for the dressing on the side, then DO NOT pour it on the salad. Dip a little teeny bit of each bite into the dressing, or even (my mom's idea) dip the tines of your fork into the dressing before you spear your bite of salad. That way you are getting just a little bit of dressing with each bite instead of having it saturated. It's all about the portion control.

~ Read labels. Look at ingredients, calories, and fat. Compare brands. I checked bread labels the other day, for instance. One brand of whole wheat bread has 110 calories per slice; another brand has 50 calories per slice. Which brand do you think I buy?

~ Share YOUR food with your kids; don't share THEIR food with them.

~ Have lots of sex; it's fun, you burn calories, and it takes your mind off food. Plus it keeps your spouse really, really happy. :)

~ Exercise daily. It is non-negotiable.

~ Half an hour of cardio. My favorite is a walk around the block.

~ If you can't handle a half hour, just do what I call a "place holder walk". I took a long time to gear up for my 2007 weight loss. Back before 2007 I walked, but not daily and not for long. I popped the kids in the stroller and off I'd go, sometimes just for 10 minutes. What that did, though, was get me into the habit of walking. It wasn't enough to make a difference on the scale but getting into the habit is everything.

~ Keep it fun. I enjoy my walks. I am an introvert by nature so I like to walk by myself now that The Eldest can babysit while I'm out. (Sometimes I walk with DH but he's not always home when I head out.) I put on my headphones and set the MP3 player to NPR and off I go. I also bought a bike a few years ago and I love it. I'll take the kids with me when I go out on my bike and we love pedaling through the neighborhood together.

~ Have a back up plan. I have a treadmill, and while I don't enjoy it as much as walking outdoors (well, actually I detest it, but I'll use it when I have to) it's great for those days when the weather is bad. (And I mean really bad, as in lots of lightening; if it's just raining I have a good raincoat from Outdoor World.)

~ OK, here's what I haven't been doing but I know I should: Strength Training. Get a set of free weights, learn how to lift them properly, (good form is everything), and go to it. Hey- I did do a bit of strength training on Monday!! That's a start; I am hoping to stick with it from now on.

~ Work on your flexibility. Again, this is a "do as I say, not as I do", 'cause I'm a slacker when it comes to working on flexibility. Yoga is good. I'm looking for a good yoga DVD on Amazon; I just haven't made a decision and actually bought one yet.

So that's basically it, even though I'm sure there are a lot of things I'm forgetting. I am proud of putting together my own program. I learned a lot from several sources, among them Weight Watchers (but their program, as a whole, doesn't work for me), from Kelly D. Brownell's LEARN program I took at a local hospital fitness center, working with nutritionists, Cooking Light magazine, various diet books, Oprah and Bob Greene, talking to people about what worked for them, Ellie Krieger on Food Network, and on and on. I read everything I can about nutrition, take what makes sense to me and chuck what doesn't. You have to keep an open mind and keep trying things until you find the right plan for your needs.


aimee said...

Good stuff. The weight training is really important. What most people don't realize is that muscle burns more calories. So simple but a well kept secret.

I would also add to make sure you get enough fat every day. The fat will keep you full. It doesn't take a lot but I can tell really fast when I don't get enough.

I needed this right now. I am trying to get myself back on track too. So thanks. We can trade notes along the way!

Kim said...

I agree about the fats, just make sure they are the healthy kind!!

I am so proud I did my strength training yesterday; that's two days this week. My goal is to lift weights every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The next step is to add the yoga on Tuesday and Thursday.

Maintenance is hard; you have to be vigilant forever. :( At least it's rewarding! You have to recommit now and then, that's for sure. Trading tips would be great!