I certainly don’t claim to be a weight-loss expert. But, after years of being over-weight, my husband Bill and I finally got frustrated enough to take charge of our bad habits and figured out a plan that actually works. First a little history…
I had my right knee replaced in 2012, a stage 2 (out of 3) meningioma brain tumor removed in 2013, radiation (for what remained of the tumor) in 2014 and a broken ankle in 2015. Combined with recovery times, lack of exercise and crazy medications, my weight kept creeping up. I was uncomfortable and tired. I couldn’t find anything to wear much less recognize myself in the mirror. After going off the tumor meds, I lost 10 pounds. A colonoscopy helped me loose another 4 (who knew). Later that year, my father was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor and died…that’s when something inside of me snapped. I was sick and tired of feeling this way. My father’s previous encouragement and the memory of his strength empowered me to make some real changes in my life.
Bill has high cholesterol and I’m pre-diabetic. With heart disease in his family and at our ages, we decided enough is enough. So, we put our heads together and came up with a plan that actually worked for us. We didn’t go on any special diets, eat any pre-packaged foods, participate in hypnosis or take any weight-loss supplements. No, we did it one meal, one day, and one pound at a time. It took 10 long months, but we each lost 30 pounds. Combined with the weight lost before the diet, I was down 44 pounds and back to what I weighed when we got married. Now to the secrets of our success…
The first thing we did is research…we read all of the diet and nutrition articles we could get our hands on. We learned that losing weight could most literally save our lives. “Belly fat is linked with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The deepest layer of fat that you can grab is the most dangerous. The fat cells produce hormones and other substances that affect your health, increasing insulin resistance and the risk of breast cancer”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdominal_obesity)
Next, we made a spreadsheet of the information we gathered, created our eating and life-style plan and then set weight-loss goals. On the first Monday in January of 2015, we began by recording our weight. The rest was just plain old hard work and good old tenacity. Here’s a summary of what we learned and how we did it:
Step #1: Find a dedicated partner.
I’ve dieted for years with very little success. Name a diet plan and I’ve probably tried it. I HATE dieting because, honestly, I love food! How could a foodie like me change my eating habits and be happy? How could I lose weight when I was already eating fairly well? The single most powerful key to my success was…my husband finally joined me on this quest! No more staring at his French fries and saying, “no thank-you” because he stopped ordering them. Find a completely committed partner…someone to encourage you, report to, and discuss successes and set-backs with. It can be a spouse, friend, sibling or co-worker. Just be sure they’re as determined as you are to succeed.
Step #2: Make at least a 1 year commitment.
I know that sounds brutal, but the time will pass whether you try to lose weight or not. You may even lose all the weight before the year is up (depending on your goals). But remember, this is a lifestyle change and you’ll want to keep the new habits you’ve adopted for the rest of your life. This type of change takes time and once you get through an entire year, your metabolism, goals and mind-set will be adjusted to allow you enjoy a long-term healthier way of living.
Step #3: Get a fitness tracker.
Two brilliant family members gave Bill and I “Fitbit’s” (www.fitbit.com) for Christmas just before we began our diet. When I unwrapped mine, I thought “seriously, I can barely walk 2 miles (a little over 4,000 steps) a day; how will I ever get to 10,000 steps?” In spite of my cynicism, I strapped it on and started to measure my daily activity, including sleeping patterns. There are tons of fitness trackers out there designed to monitor your activity, some are more robust for less money, others less expensive with similar features. Just get one. It will change the way you look at your daily activity and encourage you to step it up!
Step #4: Use a calorie counter.
“Calories in, calories out” is factual. What you eat is what you get. We started using My Fitness Pal (www.myfitnesspal.com), which is a free app for the iPhone. It’s easy to use, has over 300,000,000 foods and links with Endomondo, Fitbit and other fitness apps. At the end of each day, I would see how many calories I had left and then happily consume a much-anticipated snack. My Fitness Pal also tracks the percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrate we ate. We set goals for each (40% carbs, 25% fat and 35% protein), then ate the foods we were lacking. Using a calorie counter with a weight tracker was a huge key to our success!
Step #5: Determine your eating plan.
Notice I didn’t call it a “diet plan” because, it needs to become your new way of life. The word “diet” automatically conjures up thoughts of starvation, lack of comfort and serious personal neglect. From our research, we came up with a plan that worked for us. Here are some of the most important habits we adopted:
- Eat only whole grains No refined flour, white bread, pasta or rice. Grains help to change the glucose and insulin responses in the body and hasten the melting of fat. Any change that actually melts fat seems like a no-brainer to me! We began eating whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread and brown rice. It’s that simple.
- Drink lots of water 8 ounces of water 8 times per day or 64 ounces total is the old minimum recommendation. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine determined an adequate daily fluid intake is: about 15.5 cups of fluids for men and 11.5 cups a day for women. Those hospital mugs they give you are ideal. If you don’t have one of those (I’m lucky ‘cuz I have several) then buy some kind of water jug with measurements on the side. Weight Watchers also makes a perfect one.
- Cut-out sugar drinks Sodas contain high fructose corn syrup which is one of the leading causes of obesity in the United States. Sports drinks contain more sugar and sodium than sodas. Fruit juices are also high in sugar and thus carbohydrates which all lead to weight gain. It’s tough, but you can do it. Start by eliminating one thing and then keep going. Drink iced herbal teas in the summer, barley drinks in the winter (sweetened with Stevia or Agave) and more water. If you must, wean yourself with diet drinks. I don’t recommend those long-term, but some here and there will actually help you survive.
- Cut out sweets and sugar I know, this is a total bummer. But honestly sugar is such a hindrance to weight loss and, in fact it actually makes you gain weight. Because I’m pre-diabetic, I’ve been eating very little sugar for years and it’s great not being addicted any more. If you can’t cut it out completely, reduce your intake. Maybe have 1 dessert per week and work it into your calorie counter. Have just a bite of ice-cream to satisfy that sweet tooth. Eat a piece of fruit or some strawberries with a little whipped cream. I’ve used some sugar-free treats, which really helped too. My favorite: Russel Stover Sugar-Free Pecan Delights.
- Avoid trans fats These are the awful fats contained in much of the food we consume (crackers, cool whip, peanut butter, chips, donuts, fries…the list goes on and on and on), otherwise known as “hydrogenated vegetable oil”. This is important: STOP eating potato chips, French fries and anything deep fried. Foods fried in oil are especially bad, can raise your cholesterol and lead to heart disease and strokes. Over the years, I’ve managed to cut trans fats out of our diet almost completely. I can go through every item in your cupboard and tell you what brand to replace it with to avoid these awful killers. But that’s another post for another day. If you remove trans fats from your diet, it may just save your life!
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep This one seems mostly impossible to me, but it’s worth a try. If you can, I promise you’ll feel and function better. Sleep is actually a key to weight loss. Think about it, if you’re overtired, you won’t have the energy to prepare healthy meals or exercise. I learned on webmd.com that there’s also a physical benefit: “the hormone leptin plays a key role in making you feel full. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels drop. Result: people who are tired are just plain hungrier—they seem to crave high-fat and high-calorie foods specifically.” Sleep is a key to successful weight loss and healthier living!
- Measure and weigh portions I avoided this for years and years. I hated the idea of it and thought I would feel cheated somehow. This strategy was a huge key to our success. I know it’s a hassle, but it really works. By measuring and recording everything you put in your mouth, you will lose weight. It’s that simple. We tend to eat way more food than our bodies really need. Try it, I promise it works!
- Eat veggies, lots of veggies Vegetables will fill you up and not count against your calories or fat. But you have to choose the right ones. For us, dinner usually consisted of some type of chicken or fish, rice or pasta and tons of salad and veggies. I kept grilled or roasted around for egg white frittatas, scrambled eggs or to have as a snack. Raw veggies are great to munch on with some hummus for snacks. I mix the hummus with greek yogurt or cottage cheese to make it go further while avoiding the extra fat.
- Eat good fats Olive oil, nuts, avocados…focus on these but make sure to work them into your calorie counter as too much of the good stuff can be bad for loosing weight.
- Eat more protein This is the best strategy we found. It can reduce your cravings, boost your metabolism and help you to lose weight. Choose low fat protein like chicken, turkey, fish yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts and tofu. Also, before bed eat protein, not carbs. Aim for 30-35% of your daily calorie intake. Bill and I discovered that drinking a protein shake for breakfast with a piece of toast or fruit really helped us hit our goals each day. There are all kinds of powders on the market so do your research and find one that works for you. While we were dieting, we used a powder from Costco called “On Performance Whey Protein Powder” with 30 grams of protein per serving. My research says whey is the best; but opinions change all the time. A down-side of many protein powders is they contain Sucralose, an artificial sweetener. Research isn’t conclusive and moderation is in order as always…but for a short time, we figured the benefits outweighed (no pun intended) the risks. You can get a protein powder from health food stores sweetened with Stevia. I like to mix the powder with unsweetened almond milk which has only 30 calories and 1 carb, compared to 1% milk which as 102 calories and 13 carbs per serving. If you can find a protein powder made with whey, sweetened with Stevia which has 20-30 grams of protein per serving, is affordable and tastes good, buy it!
- Exercise, exercise, exercise We aren’t able to do heavy exercise so walking was our go-to program. We tried to walk at least 2 miles 3-4x per week. Lifting weights would have been good as well, but we didn’t work that in. Just do whatever cardio and strength-training you can handle and try to do it as often as possible. The more you exercise, the quicker you’ll lose the weight and the healthier you’ll be.
And that’s the basic plan. Take what you like from it and add your own twist. When you lose weight the RIGHT way (1-2 lbs per week) you’ll keep it off…as long as you don’t return to old bad habits. Slowly but surely, you’ll see progress which will give you more strength to stay focused. Each pound adds up and pretty soon you’ll reach your goals. Some weeks you’ll hit plateaus and feel less motivated, but don’t give up! Just make adjustments and keep on going. Your health will improve. Your self-confidence will grow. Your clothes will fit better. You’ll feel more empowered. You’ll recognize yourself in the mirror again. You’ll have more energy. Lose weight, feel great!