How I lost over 100 pounds
Yes, yes, I know I said there is no secret to getting fit. And that’s true, it’s all about a healthy diet and exercise. But it’s definitely not an easy point to arrive to. I often get asked about how exactly I lost my weight, specifically, how did I change my diet. Obviously I had to change the way I eat quite significantly to have lost the weight that I lost. Of course it’s not just about the food, but I’ll talk more about exercise in another post.
So, here we go, the food… About 9 months into my weight loss journey, I finally realized that exercising a small amount each day and trying to reduce my portion sizes just wasn’t working to continue to take off the weight. I had hit a plateau already and I was only about 20 pounds down. I realized that if I wanted to get significant results, I needed to change my lifestyle drastically. What I was eating and what I was doing for exercise worked for a few months, then stalled because I never actually changed my eating habits or took my exercise to the next level.
I arrived at the way I eat today over a gradual process of listening to my body and changing my food choices based on how I felt after eating certain foods. I didn’t use a nutritionist, but I did read a lot about nutrition and “clean eating”.
First things first. I had over 100 pounds to lose. This was extremely daunting, especially considering I was NEVER fit, I was ALWAYS significantly overweight, from childhood through adulthood, and I was addicted to food. I made every excuse in the world to avoid changing my habits from “I’ll just go back to worse habits if I deprive myself” to “I really don’t eat all that unhealthy” to “If ‘Suzie’ is so fit, and she can eat junk food, then I should be able to do it too”. I was convinced that there was an easy way that didn’t involve giving up sugar and treats on a daily basis and was minimal effort.
Finally, I was ready to give it a “real” try. I was ready to admit that there’s no magic pill, no quick fix, no easy way, no secret. This was all on me and I had to put the work in to get there.
The beginning of my diet overhaul was probably the most difficult. I was used to eating dessert every night, I was used to eating processed foods, “diet” foods, and foods filled with hidden sugar. My fist step with food was pretty drastic. I completely eliminated white flour and processed white sugar. I forced myself to skip dessert. It was hard! I craved the sugar, I was addicted to it. Dessert had become an ingrained habit. It took about 2 weeks before the massive sugar cravings went away, but I continued with no sugar or white flour in my diet because it was working! Between this change in my diet and a significant increase in my exercise levels, I was consistently losing weight every week.
As the weight came off, I gradually started tweaking my diet. In the beginning stages I was a little bit “afraid” of food. I was afraid to let myself explore too many options, so I would typically eat the same limited foods and snacks every day. At this point, I was still eating packaged protein bars almost daily, Kashi frozen meals, whole grain breads, crackers, pretzels and beans. I still ate a good deal of foods that were “pre-measured” for me. I knew I needed to get out of this tiny box of selections I backed myself into, so I started experimenting with different foods. One of the first things I did was cut out the “safe” 200 calorie protein bars and I came up with little grab and go whole food snacks. I always have an option with me while I am out and about.
After about two months of eating no sugar or white flour, I started noticing that I no longer really craved grains at all. There were many days that I would go without adding any grains in my diet. On days I had grains, I started to notice I didn’t feel great after eating them. I naturally started steering away from grains. After a bit of experimenting, I did find that oats do not affect me if I have them once in a while. Quinoa and brown rice also seem to agree with me in small quantities, once in a while. I generally don’t add these into my diet more than once or twice per week at most. Another food sensitivity I became aware of was beans. Every time I had beans, I would feel awful for up to 3 days after eating them. Interestingly enough, my brother has found he has the same food sensitivities and reactions that I do and we hadn’t discussed it until we had both already figured it out for ourselves. We are both able to have dairy (cheese, butter and ice cream), without adverse reactions, however, I still limit my dairy consumption to greek yogurt in my smoothies and some cheese in my recipes.
For those of you familiar with Paleo and Primal eating, you’ve caught on to where I am going with this. Once I had realized on my own how different foods affected my body, I had started researching recipes and ideas for meals I could make. Of course, that led me to Paleo and Primal eating websites and recipes. All of the recipes I make are made with whole foods, that’s the #1 most important factor. From there, they are typically grain-free and/or gluten-free, primal or paleo but sometimes with cheese. I eat full fat versions of everything, nothing low fat or diet, and I eat lots of vegetables.
I do have people ask me if I recommend Paleo or Primal eating for weight loss. My answer is, no. I believe that everyone is different and every body reacts differently to different foods. What I do recommend is shifting to a whole food, “clean” diet. And from there you can start to experiment and see what foods make your body feel good and what foods you have a sensitivity to. For some people this may mean eating a vegetarian diet, vegan, balanced diet with some whole grains, paleo, primal, or gluten-free. There is no “one way” to eat, but getting rid of overly processed foods is a MUST!
Over the past 2 years I gradually tweaked what I eat and what I feed my family to be meals made from whole foods. I don’t eat frozen boxed meals or “diet foods” any more, and I avoid anything overly processed. Overly processed to me means more than 5 ingredients on the package, but typically I purchase packaged whole foods like bagged spinach or plain greek yogurt or other packaged goods with just one ingredient. I enjoy cooking and coming up with new recipes using all whole food ingredients.
One of the things I find has made the difference in being able to lose the weight and stick with it, (versus the many, many yo-yo diets and failed attempts) is that I didn’t follow a diet plan. I didn’t go on Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, I wasn’t counting calories, starving myself or trying weight loss pills. I learned about white sugar and processed white flour addictions (which are in just about every overly processed food), and I eliminated those and LISTENED TO MY BODY. I refined my diet to consist of the foods that make me feel good and I focus on my body’s hunger signals. It sounds so simple, eat when you’re hungry, don’t over eat, make sure you aren’t snacking just because the food is there or because it’s “time to have a snack”. Yes, though this concept is simple, really honing in and listening to your body takes time. It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger, and it’s easy to keep eating when something tastes good, even if you’ve had plenty to eat. It’s also important not to eat until you’re full. If you keep eating until you feel full, you’ve over eaten.
Anyone that’s binged before or over eaten knows that it’s almost an out of control feeling. You start eating and you just can’t stop. Eating triggers the desire for more food and your brain says “lets eat this fast so we can have the next thing”. It’s something that’s extremely difficult to stop when you’re in the midst of a binge.
I came up with a list of some key things to help avoid binging and over-eating.
- Have a glass of water about 10 minutes before your meal. This will speed along your brain’s hunger signal, which normally takes about 20 minutes.
- Plate your meals on smaller plates and use small bowls. You will see a full plate of food and this helps make you feel like you’re not eating a smaller portion of food.
- Don’t leave food on the table in serving bowls. This encourages “picking” at the leftovers and you may mindlessly plate more food.
- Load up on the veggies. Your plate should be colorful and it should be loaded with fresh vegetables and a small amount of protein (and grains if you eat them).
- Once you have eaten and you begin to feel satisfied (not full), clear your plate away and quickly find something else to do. In the beginning of your journey, you may need to remove yourself entirely from the kitchen until the urge to continue eating passes. This may be 10-30 minutes.
- Brush your teeth/tongue! Most people don’t want to eat right after they brush their teeth because not many foods taste good with the flavor of toothpaste in your mouth. Brush your teeth and/or brush your tongue. Brushing your teeth too often can be bad for your gums, so brushing your tongue also works! You’ll be less likely to continue eating and, bonus, your breath with smell lovely! Brushing your tongue when a craving hits can also help you get past the craving.
- Keep busy and avoid temptation. Whether you’re a stay at home mom, you work from home, or in an office, steer clear of the kitchen and keep yourself busy. Put snacks somewhere that they aren’t readily accessible, so you have to make a conscious decision as to when you actually need a snack. It’s so easy to have that healthy snack ready and mindlessly eat it, rather than listen to your body and eat it when you’re actually hungry. Boredom also leads to snacking, so get out of the house or make a plan of things you need to do. If you need some relaxing time, try to avoid temptation by staying away from the kitchen.
- Eat at the table without distractions. I’m sure you’ve all heard this before, but it’s true. It’s so easy to mindlessly eat in front of the TV or while driving or reading. Practice conscious eating. Enjoy your food with no distractions, and take your time. Eat with others if you can, too. There’s nothing worse than realizing you just polished off an entire bag of chips or carton of ice cream and you barely even remember tasting it.
- If you have a time of day that you normally binge or find yourself over-snacking, make a conscious effort to drink a glass of water before this typical time or have a cup of hot tea. Don’t try to replace your normal “go-to” junk food with a “diet” alternative. It’s likely that your body is craving the snacks you normally choose because they have become a habit. The best way to break a habit is to completely eliminate it rather than looking for an alternative. (Don’t replace a sugary treat with a whole foods sweet alternative, because you’re still feeding that sugar craving. Same goes with salty foods, chips, etc…) It’s OK once in a while to enjoy these foods, but as an overweight person, it is so important to break the habit before introducing these trigger foods back into your diet.
- Finally, if you slip up or have a day that you’ve over-indulged, just forgive yourself and move forward! No one is perfect and we all have days where we aren’t in tune with what our body needs and instead we fuel our emotions. Recognize what’s happening and STOP it in its tracks before you spiral out of control. Remind yourself that you’re in control of your own health and your weight loss success. Don’t tell yourself you’ll get back on track tomorrow, start the moment you recognize what’s happening. Start with a tall glass of water, followed by brushing your teeth/tongue. Then pat yourself on the back and find something to occupy your time. You’ve got this! YOU’RE in control!
Remember, this is not a diet. This is a way of eating that is a permanent lifestyle change. Recently, I had started having a few extra “treats” and snacks here and there (read about it more here). I eat all clean foods that I make from scratch, but I do make grain-free treats that are meant to be a “once in a while” thing. An extra little treat here and there, then craving one at night started to become a habit. My maintenance weight began to stay at the top of my normal fluctuation. One day, I was making a treat to share with friends that I’d normally only ever have 1 of in a day, but I had quickly eaten 4 of them! Thankfully, this was enough to remind me that my old habits can VERY easily come back if I start to be lax with my healthy habits. It’s also a reminder that sugar is sugar. Even though I am using natural sweeteners, it’s still sugar and I can easily get hooked on it and start to crave it if I have too much. Once in a while is OK. Every day, becoming a daily habit is not ok for me. I am happy to say that I am back on track and remembering to follow those tips I outlined above.
I often hear people say “I love food too much and life is too short not to enjoy good food”. Well, I agree to a point. I do enjoy good food. Everything I eat is delicious, nourishing and satisfying. I never feel deprived, but I do start to feel out of control when I let too many treats sneak back into my diet (sugar was my trigger!). Sure, if I could eat ice cream and other treats every day and feel great and stay fit and healthy, I’d probably eat the ice cream and treats. Unfortunately for me (and most of us), that’s just not the case. I would rather enjoy my life being active, healthy, having fun with my kids, running, boxing, weight lifting, and doing all the things I couldn’t do when I was obese. Life is too short not to make the most of it. Life is too short to spend time feeling bad about unhealthy food choices I’ve made. I wasn’t comfortable when I was overweight. I was limited in the things I could do, limited in activities I could participate in, limited in so many things. I’m not saying that overweight people can’t be happy, I was happy when I was overweight. I wasn’t happy about my body or my health, but I was happy with the life I had made. However, getting fit has improved my lifestyle and made my happy life more enjoyable.
More to come on my “secret” to getting fit, part 2: exercise!