First: Don’t diet. Dieting implies a short-term change built on forcing yourself to eat unnaturally. A boiled egg for breakfast, yogurt for lunch, salad for dinner. Nobody can sustain that. You’re so hungry that when you see a Snickers, you head for a corner and snarf it down. And even if you conscientiously stick to the diet plan, you face trouble when you return to “normal” eating. Remember normal eating? That was what caused the weight gain to begin with.
Losing weight comes from changing your attitude toward food. Food is a source of energy and health, not a reward or a way to kill time. And eating healthy doesn’t mean you’ve ruined the social aspects of food. You can enjoy a convivial visit with friends over a well-balanced meal. And eating healthy can be every bit as satisfying as eating the fatty stuff.
The pleasures of overeating are fleeting, but the results long-lasting.
1. Create a spreadsheet and write down everything you eat. I focused only on calories, to simplify things, but I kept my eyes open to foods that were high in sodium or sugars. You’ll be surprised at how much the little things add up. Use a site like caloriecount.about.com to help you find nutrition information on the foods you eat. For example, that Snickers bar has 271 calories, 122 of those from fat. One bar has 26 percent of your daily recommended allotment of trans fat. It has a substantial 28.8 grams of sugar. Dieticians recommend that you keep sugar under 48 grams a day, so a Snickers gives you more than 50 percent of that. Think about it: Look at the fleeting pleasure, the lasting damage.
2. Be honest in the spreadsheet. If you have a glass of wine, look at the size. Five ounces of red wine have roughly 147 calories, according to the USDA. Yet, do you limit yourself to that small a portion? My wine glasses contain eight ounces, and I tend to fill them up, which raises the calorie count to 235. The larger glass then, has 88 more calories. In 40 days that extra wine will turn into a pound of fat. That’s nine pounds a year.
3. Remember the math. One pound equals 3500 calories. The average moderately active adult woman should consume 1800 to 2200 calories a day; moderately active adult males can consume 2200 to 2400 calories a day. If you cut 100 calories a day, you will lose one pound every 35 days. Likewise, if you add just 100 calories a day—about a third of a Snickers— you will add a pound every 35 days. I am here to tell you that it does add up, slowly, and with great chubbiness.
4. Replace high-fat habits with body-pleasing options. Before I turned healthy, I started each Sunday with two chocolate long johns and a Diet Coke. At the beginning of my weight-loss program, I cut this down to one long john and a Diet Coke. Eventually, I cut out both pastries and the Diet Coke. Instead, I now have whole wheat toast with cinnamon sweetened with Stevia. Cinnamon is an antioxidant, Stevia is a natural sweetener, and whole wheat can cut your breast cancer risk. I drink black cherry juice or decaffeinated coffee sweetened with natural agave juice. And I am fine with it. I do not feel like I am sacrificing treats at all.
5. Eat breakfast. The Weight Control Registry monitors people who have lost more than 30 pounds and kept it off for more than a year. Seventy-eight percent of respondents eat breakfast every day. Breakfast gets you going with energy, balances your metabolism, and keeps you from getting too hungry and overeating. I actually eat two breakfasts. I start with organic oats with blueberries and almond milk. In mid-morning, I drink a smoothie.
6. Smoothies are wonders. You can pack healthy goodies into a blender and make enough ahead of time for two to three days. I sip on the smoothie when others are drinking high-caffeine, high-fat coffee drinks. My recipe is simple: fat-free yogurt, a banana, green tea, black cherry juice, and whatever fruit I have on hand, usually some type of organic berries, either fresh or frozen.
7. Keep healthy snacks on hand. I have a mid-afternoon snack of organic broccoli dipped into hummus. I make a trail mix of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, organic raisins, organic unsweetened dried cranberries, and almonds. You need no extra salt or sugar. I sometimes get fancy and buy yogurt almonds. I keep a Baggie of this in my purse for snacks whenever. Sometimes I mix it with broccoli for a truly yummy snack. I also like strips of green or red peppers, both powerful antioxidants high in Vitamin C and E
8. Keep unhealthy foods out of reach. Keep them out of the house if possible. I love peanuts and potato chips and tend to lose control when eating them. My husband has more sense and keeps them in his basement office drawer. I know where they are but have enough dignity to keep from stealing them from his office. I mean, really.
9. Eat at home. Restaurants are full of temptations, and there’s a reason they taste so good. Wonder why the pasta is so much better at your favorite Italian bistro than at home? Butter. Lots of it. You’re far more likely to maintain a healthy diet at home.
10. A low-fat diet can help reduce the risk of recurrence of hormone-receptor-negative (HR-)breast cancer, the type I was diagnosed with in 2006, according to the Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study (WINS). A low-fat diet—of 32 grams a day, or roughly 20 percent of your daily allotment of fat—caused women not only to lose weight, but to lower their risk of breast cancer. Those with HR- reduced their risk of recurrence by an impressive 42 percent. Women with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer (HR+) also benefit from lower weight, according to a more recent study published in the November 26, 2008 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study, of 280,000 postmenopausal women, showed that the risk of breast cancer increased with weight gain.
11. Weigh yourself regularly. I do it daily and find it a significant motivator. If I am up more than three pounds several days in a row, I up my exercise and cut my calories until I get back down.
12. Exercise. Diet alone is usually not enough. Ninety percent of Weight Control Registry members exercise an average of an hour a day. I don’t do that much—I try for four hours a week.