How I Did It
It took a long time for me to get to a point in my mind where this daunting task didn't seem completely impossible. I mulled it over in my head for what seemed like forever. Day after day, feeling lousy, tired, depressed, worthless.
My breakthrough moment came one day as I was channel surfing one morning after work. (I worked 10 pm to 7 am at the time.) I happened to come across a news/talk show and the guest was one of the co-authors of a book titled "Ultra Prevention," written by Mark Hyman and Mark Liponis. By the end of the interview, I was convinced I needed to read the book, so I immediately ordered it online. Several days later it arrived, just as my weekend was starting and I read it straight through, cover-to-cover, in 8 hours. Although this book deals much more with nutrition for the sake of wellness and longevity and is not strictly directed at weight loss, it set me on my path. ">Click here for more information on the book "Ultra Prevention."
…so I’m just going to tell you what worked for me. Keep in mind that I did not necessarily make all of these changes in the order listed. I certainly did not make them all at once, although some were incorporated at the same time as others. The most important thing is just to do something, get the ball rolling. As you achieve your goals, however big or small, the momentum from those successes will inspire you to push yourself farther.
One of the first changes I made was to start paying attention to my portion sizes. It was not at all unusual for me to eat an entire 12-inch pizza in one sitting. On top of that, I would then watch TV on the couch for two hours and go to bed.
I won’t say that I immediately started weighing my food, or even counting calories. I simply started looking at the amount of food I was eating. I would ask myself, would I eat like this in front of other people? Would I be embarrassed if someone walked in the room right now and looked at my plate of food? At the time, I was living with my boyfriend, and he was used to seeing me eat like this, but what if another person were to walk in?
In fact, to be brutally honest, the chances were slim that anyone would walk in. I didn’t have any family or friends around me at all. I lived 12 hours away from my nearest family member; I didn’t associate with any of my neighbors, and I had zero friends outside of work. I worked third shift, so I ate dinner at 11:00 in the morning and then slept all day. It didn’t leave much room for socialization. During the entire duration of my “overweightness”—even when I wasn’t working nights—I lived my life like a recluse. It was one of the psychological barriers that would eventually make its way onto my transformation list.
My boyfriend and I would do what we called “pig and pass.” We would make huge meals, gorge ourselves (pig out) and fall asleep (pass out) on the couch. We would share an entire meatloaf, plus mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and usually dessert. I always included a large glass of milk; I measured my cup once: 32 ounces, one full quart, in one sitting. Or an entire pound of pasta covered with an entire jar of sauce, which was in turn covered in Parmesan cheese, plus garlic bread. Plus a quart of milk. Plus dessert. Then to bed!
So, for starters, I got real. I mean seriously, if I continued to eat like this, I would die. I will admit that I wasn’t entirely enamored with my life during this particular decade, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to ever enjoy living if I kept this up. But I wasn’t ready to give up my favorite foods, either. I’ve always been an all-or-nothing kind of person, so I wasn’t certain I was going to be able to manage a “balanced” diet, but I had to give it a try. Try eating like a normal person. Start practicing portion control.
I didn’t even own a dining table, so I portioned out my food in the kitchen—one “mound” of pasta, a sprinkling of cheese, one small slice of garlic bread, an 8-ounce glass of milk. Then I immediately put away the leftovers, portioning them out into containers for future meals. If I was having pizza, I put two or three slices on my plate, then put the remaining slices into individual freezer bags and straight into the freezer. That would make it more difficult to grab a cold slice from the fridge in a moment of weakness. Desserts were easy for me…I’d never really had much of a sweet tooth, but I especially would crave something after a spicy meal. So I would eat a couple cookies or a small brownie and put the rest away. Eventually I learned the trick of brushing my teeth as soon as the sweet craving began.
The next change I incorporated was to eat more protein. This turned out to be a big one for me. I have never been much of a meat eater, and I’ve craved starches—bread, potatoes, pasta—for as long as I can remember. I suspected I needed more protein—it helps build muscle, too, you know—so I began eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, eggs, beans, veggie burgers and meat. Almost immediately, my carb cravings disappeared! Weeks went by before I noticed I hadn’t even thought about spaghetti.
Speaking of spaghetti, because I was a big pasta eater, I used to buy a lot of it because it’s cheap, fast, easy, and it keeps well, both before and after cooking. I would always stock up when it was on sale. I had learned long ago about the differences between whole (complex) grains/carbs and white (simple) grains/carbs. Whole grains are much more nutritious and break down slower in your digestive tract. You can actually get a “sugar high” from eating a lot of white starchy foods, just like sugar, because that’s how your body deals with them—the same way as sugar. In addition, excess calories from carbs convert more easily to fat than does protein.
When I first decided to make the switch to whole grains, I experienced “sticker shock.” At first glance, whole grain products such as whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread, and brown rice all seem to cost more. But here’s a little surprise…even without factoring in reduced portion sizes, I found them to be so much more filling and satisfying that I automatically ate less, which effectively cancelled out the higher price tag. And if you think you don’t like the taste, start slow. There are white whole-grain breads available now (although I don’t recommend them for other reasons), and with pasta you can mix half white with half wheat until your taste buds adjust. If you are using pasta in a casserole with a lot of other tasty ingredients (like veggies!), you probably won’t even notice. If you like to bake, substitute whole-wheat flour for some of the white flour. Every little bit helps give your meals and recipes a nutritional boost. Give it a try!
Okay, back to protein. I am not recommending eating more red meat, especially if you don’t already. But meat is a nutritious food, providing B-vitamins, protein….There are a lot of options. Chicken breast is one of my favorites, as are refried beans (fat-free, no lard, please!), fish, soy products like tofu and textured vegetable protein, veggie burgers, eggs, nuts and nut butters, seeds (like sesame and flax), dried beans (load them up in homemade chili, soups and stews), milk, yogurt, cheese, butter (or other spreads, but read the labels—you don’t want trans fat, more on that later), turkey…really the list is pretty long. It is not difficult to find healthy, lean sources of protein.
More to come…