As we're about to embark on a new year, I wanted to share some thoughts about what it takes to lose weight and keep it off in the real world. Many people think of the new year as a time to start undoing the damage from less-than-perfect eating (and drinking!) habits over the holidays and to take off some weight and just get healthier. It is my goal that after reading my blog, you will try to see weight management as a process, as an opportunity, and as something that can become second nature to you over time, if you give it time.
During high school and early college, I was between 25 and 30 pounds heavier than I am now. I'm sure being overweight, and having an overweight mother, is what led me on my journey to not only learn all I could about nutrition and food, but to apply that knowledge to my own life and pass that knowledge and motivation on to others--families, adults, children at any and all age and stage of life. Although I was active as a teenager (I played tennis, iceskated, and took lots of walks), I also overate. I preferred snacks like chips, loved hot chicken parmesan heros, and had trouble limiting portions of anything and everything. It wasn't until I was on my own, at college and right after college when I moved to New York City and had to fend for myself that I began to do some more regular exercise (I even started running!), and began to seriously watch portions. I did not have an "aha, eureka!" moment that told me I needed to change my life, but I was not happy being overweight and knew I wanted to do something about it--but in baby steps. Admittedly, having a boyfriend who then became my husband did inspire me to want to look better, eat more healthfully, and be more fit. but ultimately, the motivation to change came from deep inside me. I did not want to feel less than good about myself, I wanted to take care of my body, and I wanted to look better and be healthier (who doesn't?!).
It took me years and years to lose weight and get in better physical shape. I lost weight mainly by reducing portions and snacking less often. I've never believed in depriving myself of food I enjoyed..but I did know that anyone can have what they like, but if they don't want everything they eat to go straight to their hips or thighs, they need to eat less--and eat to the point of comfort, not of fullness. I used to order a lot of food in, and now I'm at the point where I cook several nights a week, for myself and for my family (that includes my husband and 9 and 5 year-old boys). I enjoy the food I make so much more than anything I could order from a restaurant, though I do still love to eat out. I go to the gym, go iceskating, tap dance, or take a long walk outside (weather-permitting) almost every day (I average about 5 days a week). I also make it a point to walk outside as much as possible, and even at home, I seldom sit still. I eat chocolate--milk chocolate is my favorite-- every day, but I can settle for 1/2 or a whole bar and that's my indulgence for the day. I do my best to get in all the key food groups--when I make pasta, I load on the tomatoes, and when I go out to eat (about twice a week) I will order a dark green salad or some dark green veggies like spinach on the side, steamed or very lightly sauteed. I don't waste any calories at all--I choose not to drink sugary beverages or alcohol, since I much rather get my calories from food. I enjoy eating and try to savor every bite, and feel that because I never deprive myself, I never have the urge to stuff myself or indulge in copius amounts of food. I try to teach these lessons to my children so that as they get older and increasingly have to make their own food choices, they are in a better portion to make more healthful choices.
Below is a summary of some things that have helped me lose weight and keep it off over the years and that have worked well with many others who have done the same. Perhaps next year, you will have developed your own healthful habits to help you maintain a healthier body weight and won't feel the need to start over once the new year rolls around.
1. Eat only when you're hungry and stop when you're full.
2. Sit down when you eat--resist the urge to graze while preparing meals, or when running around.
3. Stick to small portions of everything--use smaller plates, order less, buy smaller package sizes, and resist the urge to upgrade beverages or order the "deluxe" or "value meals" at restaurants.
4. Choose indulgences wisely. I prefer chocolate, and on occasion, a donut or some ice cream (soft vanilla is my favorite). Plan for these indulgences so you have something to look forward to and you can taper your calorie intake elsewhere.
5. Eat breakfast every day. If you're in a rush to head out the door, divide it in two. But have something to get you going, rev your metabolism, and prevent you from grabbing that bagel or croissant out of desperation.
6. Limit caloric beverages. That includes wine, beer, mixed drinks, energy drinks, decadent coffee beverages and soda. These drinks don't fill you up and are far too easy to overconsume. When you do have some alcohol, stick to a glass (5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer or 1-1/2 ounces of distilled spirits). Load up instead on water, club soda, or seltzer splashed with some fresh fruit slices..and think of how many calories you save. Realize that the most enjoyment comes out of the first glass or cup, so nurse it and plan for it.
7. Excercise and staying active are essential to helping you keep weight off. You're never too old to take up a new sport or activity. Find a friend or spouse or other family member who wants to try something out with you, join a club or team that does active sports, or join a gym (and if you can afford it, hire a trainer to teach you the basics over a few sessions). Also be active in general--try to walk often, and at a quicker pace.
8. Lastly, remember that not every meal is the last meal. Not every cookie is the last cookie. Savor the foods you choose, eat as many healthful foods as possible, and pick the treats and indulgences that taste the best to you and mean the most to you..a recipe for decadent and healthy eating and living.
Here's to a happy, healthy, active and enjoyable new year! :)