Like many women of a certain age (i.e., menopausal), I have experienced the insidious outward creep of my waistline. It’s been awhile since I was last able to fit into my “skinny jeans,” as the girls from Sex and the City named those pants you can’t bear to throw away. But, to my own honest amazement, the day when I can pull ’em out and slip ’em on is coming. Since the beginning of August, 2007, I have lost close to 30 pounds, and it hasn’t even been particularly difficult.
I’ve known for some time that I should make the commitment to lose weight, but I haven’t had much success with diets in the past. I used to be a thin person. Unlike many young women, I spent my youth and my 20s blissfully ignorant of the anguish so many other girls experienced as they tried to fit their healthy, naturally rounded figures to the norm of increasing slenderness that has created the anorexic “I wanna look like a starving model” cult of today.
Tall, thin women like my young self didn’t have to diet. Or even (horrors!) exercise. We could eat and eat — pizza, chocolate, ice cream — you name it, and never gain an ounce. We weren’t accustomed to dieting. We didn’t know how.
I did, however, acquire a health foods bug during my 20s, after reading Adelle Davis’s Let’s Eat Right To Get Fit. Unfortunately, Ms. Davis died of the cancer that was supposed to be prevented by her consumption of a healthful diet, so I didn’t stick to her more extreme recommendations. But I never forgot some of her rational, sensible advice: eat a balanced diet with a rich variety of foods, and make sure to optimize nutrition.
In my 30s, after giving birth and living the sedentary life of a writer, remaining thin began to be a struggle rather than a birthright. My naturally skeptical mindset has kept me from drinking the Kool-Aid when this or that bestselling diet fad has swept the nation. I watched my friends try various new diets, lose significant amounts of weight, and gradually regain it. My own attempts to diet, which usually meant eliminating all my favorite foods, were unsuccessful. I could lose 5 pounds, and sometimes even 10, but after a few weeks of depriving myself of foods I enjoyed, I’d go off the diet, make excuses, fortify my willpower, try again, tumble off the wagon once more, get depressed, and a dig into a pint of walnut fudge ice cream to make myself feel better. Or a brownie. Dark chocolate truffles, anyone?
The one time I lost a significant amount of weight was with the aid of one of those extreme diets — you know the type — you drink this liquid protein powder stuff several times a day and don’t eat any solid food. At least, that’s what you’re supposed to do. I’m not good at following the rules, so I insisted to the folks I was paying for this “treatment” that I should be allowed one solid meal a day. To this I added, in violation of the rules, a nice salad of fresh greens. Unlike most of the suckers in this program, I only had about 20 pounds to lose, which actually happened pretty fast (too fast). The poundage gone, I started eating real food again, et voila, you guessed it, I slowly gained back all the weight.
The sad thing about this was that even though I knew I had set myself up for re-gaining the weight (by choosing an eating plan that could not possibly be maintained, and wouldn’t be healthful even if it could be maintained), I still felt like a failure. I had been delighted with the 20 pound loss. I’d bought new clothes! Part of the diet plan had included daily vigorous exercise, which was great, but when the diet ended, I slacked off on that, too. What a loser! I deserved to get fat. Bring on the taco chips.
To make matters worse, a couple of years ago I got a scary result on a stress test. This put me in the hospital for an angiogram. Heart disease runs in my family, and I was still leading a sedentary lifestyle, which is a well-established risk factor. Blood pressure and cholesterol were ok, possibly because, despite the dark chocolate and the chips and salsa, my eating habits were healthier than most folks’. I don’t particularly like red meat, so I rarely eat it. I’ve been drinking non-fat milk and consuming other non-fat dairy products since they started appearing on supermarket shelves. I gave up cheese — even on pizza — many years ago. I avoid processed foods, and anything containing high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and high sugar or sodium. I love fresh fruits and vegetables and eat them often. I love bread, but only the dark, crunchy, whole wheat and rye berry type. I eat beans many times a week; in fact, legumes and soy products have been my primary protein source for years. Heart disease? Ok, maybe it’s in my genes, but I haven’t helped it along.
Fortunately, the angiogram revealed only a small amount of coronary artery narrowing — about the amount that would be expected, the docs told me, in someone my age. Still, it was a warning. I don’t think anybody is certain how fast this sort of thing worsens.
So…this should have resulted in major lifestyle changes, right? Well, sad to say, it didn’t. Instead I think I went into denial mode, which included continuing to comfort myself with brownies (organic), chips (low sodium), dark chocolate, peanut butter (sugar-free, no salt added), and too much of that delicious whole wheat bread. As for exercise? No way! It was running on that treadmill that had made my heart go all jumpy and put me into the hospital. Forget THAT.
I began wearing increasingly baggy clothes. And I didn’t go out much. What if I ran into somebody I knew? My alter egos — characters in novels and stories — could all be nice and slim, no problem. And I had other alter egos in the form of computer game characters in Guild Wars and LOTRO — not only were they slender, attractive and sexy, but they could run all over Middle-earth without ever breaking a sweat or gasping for breath.
One night early in August of last year, I woke from a deep sleep and stumbled to the bathroom. On the way back to bed, I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror — there were no baggy pants to hide what was wretchedly obvious in the mirror’s glare: my belly was fat. The waistline of my skinny youth had completely disappeared. I looked like I was carrying twins. And for some reason, that was it. The “this far but no farther” moment. No more denial. The fatness of my belly, which I had been ignoring, was now assuming almost mythical proportions. It appeared to me to be HUGE.
Something had to be done. And it couldn’t just be another diet, because diets don’t work. It couldn’t be a new eating plan that I would “go on” for a few weeks or months, because sooner or later I would “go off.” It had to be an entirely new way of eating.
I began my new life in the morning when I got out of bed. The basic idea is so simple that I have to wonder why there is such a thriving diet industry in the U.S. There are two parts to my plan:
1. Eat less food.
2. Make sure the food you eat contains all the daily nutrients you require for good health.
How can you make sure you’re eating less food? I do it the old-fashioned way: by counting calories. The easiest formula for losing weight is to consume fewer calories than your body burns. Most of us in the U.S. and in other developed countries do the reverse — we eat far more calories each day than we need for our body’s metabolism.
But cutting calories is not enough to improve your health. You could lose weight by eating 1200 calories per day of nothing but potato chips, but you’d be harming your body chemistry in the process. We all need certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids (i.e. protein), fatty acids, carbohydrates, and various other biochemical compounds in order to carry on the natural processes of our cells and organs. Without these nutrients, our bodies will be weakened, harmed, and will eventually start to break down.
None of this, I’m sure, is news to anybody who happens upon this blog. What might be news is that there are many, many delicious foods that are both rich in nutrients and low in calories. One can feast on these foods (in moderation) and lose weight without feeling deprived.
This is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past seven months, and I am happy to report that that belly fat is very much reduced; indeed I’ve dropped a couple of dress sizes and am beginning to feel like my old self again. It might not work for everyone, but it has certainly worked for me.
Some of the foods I’ve been eating, with gusto, since August include:
And many, many more.
What I don’t eat:
Basically, my eating plan is similar to, and owes a debt to, the food choices made by various groups who practice calorie restriction (CR or CRON, for calorie restriction optimal nutrition) to improve their health (and perhaps to prolong their lives). I’m not really into the live-to-be-100 thing, but there has been a lot of exciting and interesting research done on the effects of calorie restriction on aging in various animals. More about that, and more details about the specifics of my eating plan in another post.
This article was written by Linda