When I was 13, I asked my dad if he would give me $100 if I lost 20 pounds. I got the idea from a friend who had just earned such a dieting reward from her own father.
My dad responded to my challenge and agreed.
Thus, I embarked on my very first diet, consisting of skipping breakfast, eating an unbuttered bagel for lunch, skimping on my dinner portion and drinking copious amounts of instant diet iced tea. I remember tracking my calories and trying to stay well below 1,000 per day.
Sure, I lost the 20 pounds, but at what cost to my health, not to mention my stomach lining?
All through adolescence and much of my adulthood I battled the threat of the dreaded flab – so frowned on in our society. All the while, I searched for the ideal eating plan that would finally, once and for all, stabilize my weight – preferably at a svelte level that matched the frames of movie stars.
I’d probably still be yo-yo dieting and starving myself on a regular basis, had I not stumbled into a community where whole foods and natural living were not just embraced, but practically revered.
I was also lucky enough to have my awareness raised early in adulthood about why our society idolizes the almighty god of thinness – especially in women. Unfortunately, knowledge does not always translate into behavior change – those childhood lessons about body image had been hammered in deeply. I’m still learning how to expunge them from my psyche. But that’s a whole other topic for a future post.
Although I began to eat more healthfully in my 20s, I still struggled with dissatisfaction at my body size. I eyed the slender bodies of friends and strangers with green eyes. How did they do it?
What was the best way to stay trim and feel energized? Macrobiotics? Raw Foods? Regular fasting? Vegetarianism?
The choices were endless, and I tried most of them: Eat Right for Your Type, The Zone, Fit or Fat, Weight Watchers, The Master Cleanse… I couldn’t understand why an eating plan that caused a friend to drop pounds and glow with health, would make me feel sick and miserable while the scale stubbornly refused to budge.
I remember getting so inspired one day, when an old friend wandered into my store. I hadn’t seen him in years and he positively radiated well being. His eyes sparkled, his skin glowed, he boasted about boundless energy and climbing mountains.
“What have you been doing?” I asked.
“I’ve been eating raw only for the last year and a half,” he responded. “In fact I’m opening a raw foods restaurant next month.”
Wow, I thought. Maybe raw foods is it!
But some weeks later, another former acquaintance stopped in the store. Her feet dragged and her long hair hung limp and lifeless. Her eyes were dull and her voice barely audible.
She looked like her feet weren’t even touching terra firma. And she needed help. She was sick with a staph infection that had been going on for weeks and was seeking herbal remedies.
Then she told me she’d been living in Hawaii and eating only raw foods for the last several months.
“I really don’t want to go back to eating cooked foods,” she breathed. “But now that I’m back here I’m really not feeling so good.”
Uh, time to put on a pot of heart soup, honey. And I told her as much. And gave up my plan to convert to raw foodism.
It took me decades to realize a simple truth: There is no perfect diet. We all have different physical constitutions. Every individual possesses their own unique body chemistry and must discover the nutrition regime that works best for them.
It’s not a very satisfying truth. It forces us to have to pay attention to our body’s responses, rather than just blindly follow some eating plan that has been promoted by someone else.
Today, even though I’m knocking on 50’s door, I’m happier with my weight and size than I ever have been.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not perfect, there’s tons of room for improvement. Self-discipline has never been a strong point, and I still consume foods and beverages that that my wiser self knows I’d be better off without.
Of course, part of the reason I no longer stare with angst at my image in the mirror is I’ve accumulated enough life experience to feel more comfortable in my own skin. But the other big reason is that I’ve ceased my frantic search for The Answer.
Now, I tune into my body and follow some age-old, simple health adages:
Sometimes the meal is just so good, you just have to scoop up a second helping. Resist! In my house, we’ve found it helpful to refrain from ‘family style’ meals, where all the food is placed in the center of the table. It’s just too easy to go for more.
Fill your plate with a reasonable amount of food and bring it to the table. Leave the big pot on the stove or counter, or wherever. When you’re done, wait – even if you still feel hungry. It takes 5-10 minutes for your brain to process the fact that you’re satiated.
2) Don’t Let Yourself Get Too Hungry.
This is especially true for folks like me who transform into raging banshees when their blood sugar dips below a certain level. But anyone can benefit maintaining balanced blood sugar.
If you skip a meal, or wait too long to eat, you are much more likely to scarf up way more food than you really need. Your body is screaming FEED ME, FEED ME! And by the time it realizes that it’s actually full – well, you’re stuffed. And kicking yourself for eating the entire bag of chips.
3) Cut back on restaurant eating.
I love nothing more than a lingering evening sharing wine, candlelight and a gourmet plate of food with my husband. And sometimes I’m just ready to ditch the cooking and cleanup to opt for a burger or burrito in town.
But, even if I had unlimited income to enjoy restaurant food – I try to limit it to no more than once per week. Because, let’s face it – the #1 reason the food tastes so good is because it is prepared with gobs of oil or butter. When I cook at home I have control – not so in most restaurants.
And, most restaurants here in the U.S. pile up the plates with enough food for a small family in many parts of the world. There goes portion control!
If you find yourself in one of those eating establishments that features super-sized portions, the best thing to do is ask for a to-go container right when you get your food. Then, avoid temptation (because it is so-o-o good!) by offloading half your plate into that container.
Or better yet – save a few bucks by sharing a meal with your dining companion.
4) Emphasize Whole, Unprocessed Foods.
Contrary to popular belief, these foods can actually taste great!
Whether you are planning your meals for the week, throwing together a simple lunch, or enjoying dinner out – reach for the whole grains like brown rice and quinoa instead of bread or crackers, and fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned or frozen.
When grocery shopping, stick with the aisles on the periphery of the store. All the packaged and boxed up foods live in the inner aisles.
I like to use fresh herbs, lemon, lime and interesting seasoning blends to jazz up simple steamed vegetables or brown rice. Give it a try – you might be surprised. And it’s important to include some healthy fats even if you’re on a weight-loss regime. Try avocados, nuts and olive or coconut oils.
It takes a while, but taste buds do change. After a while you might even find yourself craving some kale.
5) Balance calories in with calories out
This has got to be the oldest tip in the book, but it never goes out of style. It is a basic physiological fact that if you don’t expend the calories you take in, they must be stored in your body – usually as fat.
You don’t need to work out for four hours a day to burn enough calories – just be sure you get enough physical activity to burn the calories you are taking in. If you know you’ll be sitting at the computer all day, it might not be the best day for that pint of Ben and Jerry’s. On the other hand, if you’re taking a 5-mile hike with friends, maybe a visit to the ice cream shop is okay that day.