Remembering what works
Back in October, I wrote a blog post about my weight loss journey, which started in the summer of 2018, but specifically amped up this past August. That was the time when my nutritionist and I did some serious tweaking of my food plan. I wanted to offer a little update, mostly so readers can Back in October, I wrote a blog post about my weight loss journey, which started in the summer of 2018, but specifically amped up this past August. That was the time when my nutritionist and I did some serious tweaking of my food plan. I wanted to offer a little update, mostly so readers can understand the habits you must adjust and/or maintain to keep your weight and overall health in check. These habits are both mental and physical, require thought, planning, and daily mindfulness in order to get to and stay in your healthy weight zone. Here’s a little summary of some of the main the strategies I’m using on a daily basis.
I’m still tracking, just not as vigorously as two months ago. I happen to use the Fat Secret app (hate the name, but it works just the same). Some of what I track is the stuff I eat regularly, so I remind myself where I am in the daily calorie count. That way, when I am figuring out a dinner plan, I know how much I have left for the day. When I feel like I’m falling off the wagon, or have taken a few too many liberties with too many meals, I open the app and make myself more accountable by recording meals and snacks. It’s a bit laborious, but it works.
A few years ago, when I started paying closer attention to food, I tracked feverishly for about a year. At one point, I think I got “tracking fatigue” and I decided that I knew how to eat, and I could maintain what I’d lost without it. Sadly, I was wrong. Pound by pound, the weight slowly crept back to where I started. It happened gradually, over time, and I mentally adjusted to each pound like it’s no big deal. But when I looked back and compared what I’d lost versus what I’d regained, I realized that I had to keep paying attention. Just eating healthy foods was not enough, especially now that I’ve hit middle age. So, I’m back to tracking.
During the day, I usually keep my portion sizes lower. Once in a while, I’ll allow a little more at dinner, which definitely flies in the face of my nutritionist’s counsel. However, I am human and sometimes a little more pasta just feels good. By the way, a little more means an extra scoop, not an extra plate full. Dinners are hardest to control, because it is the one meal when the family is all together, we tend to have lots of carbs in those meals (social conditioning is tough to break), and it’s the last time you eat before you have breakfast in the morning. It is the meal I have to be most mindful about.
For me, there are specific daily goals I need to think about.
- 11 carb servings (one carb is 15-22 grams of carbohydrates, after you subtract the fiber content). Fruit goes into that count. Carbs raise the rate at which you burn calories, so you want to keep the rate as level as you can through the day. She always tells me that you want to keep the metabolism running as high as possible throughout the day, so carbs are necessary to do that (but not too many!).
- 40 grams of fat, total. This includes both protein and non-protein sources. 1 fat serving is typically 5 grams, so when you look for snacks, be aware of the fat content. Those nutrition bars are generally packed with fat.
- Protein at every meal. When mixed with a carb, the protein helps the energy burn go longer. It also staves off hunger for longer as well.
- Cut the salt. Salt makes you retain fluid and is bad for people with blood pressure issues. Generally speaking, we cook with way too much salt. It is everywhere in abundance. Check the labels on prepared foods – everyone loves throwing salt in there because salt means flavor. Watch a cooking show – they use it by the handful. Cutting down the salt over time, you start to adjust to its absence and can add a little at the end if you really need a little flavor boost. A little can go a long way.
- Do not go longer than four hours without eating something. The last thing you need is to get super hungry (hangry) and eat way more than you should. Eat something, then walk away.
- All of this should fit into about 1400 calories. Yikes. That’s not a lot of food. This definitely took some adjustment. Some days I exceed this number by a few hundred, but I know that I can try again the next day.
I know. It’s a lot to absorb. It’s taken me years to figure this out. That’s why this whole process is so daunting for people. There are so many rules and it’s really hard to remember them all. I have to consult my notes when I forget, which is often. It’s tempting to try to distill everything into simple bits, but then you tend to forget the reasons why you are following these rules, which is actually important when you are putting in this effort. You need to remember the rationale and the science behind the rules so you don’t get frustrated.
Weight loss and maintenance is really hard to do by yourself. It’s possible, if you have the right information, and you find something that works easily for you. For the rest of us, I cannot be more emphatic when I recommend finding a good nutritionist. One who will listen to you, push you, and make adjustments as you move forward. Mine is quite the cheerleader. When I got through the month of November (which is a huge celebration month in our house) without gaining any weight, she was most ecstatic. Lots of praise for sticking to the plan. This is so important when it comes to motivation because this stuff is hard to stick to.
A good nutritionist will do a long consultation to make an initial plan, give you the proper macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats, fiber, etc), and help you figure out how to fit the foods you already eat into that plan. Then, over time, they will also gently hold you accountable, rather, teach you how to be accountable so you understand what may have gone wrong. They will counsel you so that you can make adjustments sensibly, not out of guilt or for punishment.
In the beginning, we met once a week or so, then pulled back to once a month for check-ins as I was navigating the plan. During my monthly visits, she asks me all the same questions, every single time:
- What’s your fiber intake? (for easy bowels and lowering cholesterol)
- How much water are you drinking?
- Are you increasing the water when you workout? (20 minutes of cardio = one extra cup of water to drink)
- What’s gong on in your life? (to check for stress levels and stress-eating)
- Are you keeping it to 40 grams of fat per day? (We have identified dietary fat as my enemy.)
I’ve gotten to the point where these questions are forever emblazoned in my brain. I know she will ask these questions, and I need to hear them. They are the things I need to remember from day to day, meal to meal. If I miss something, I know it, and I’m already planning how to get back on track.
She doesn’t ask me how many calories I eat. In fact, it took several weeks for her to reveal to me that I should be focused on 1400 calories for weight loss. The reason? Because 1400 sounds too hard in the beginning. When you are eating upwards of 2000, cutting back 600 calories per day feels too hard. So, the first step was to start thinking about the right nutrient habits in a practical way. Then, I could scale back on the calories by paying close attention to the portions and tracking them. She also acknowledges that sometimes you splurge, which means the next day, you need to get back to the regular plan. I do send her a week’s worth of tracking before each visit, so that she can analyze my choices and make informed commentary.
After the questions, we do the obligatory weigh-in, which I can already anticipate the results since I weigh myself every morning as a matter of course. It’s just a habit now that helps me with the daily accountability. If I have an unusual spike, I know I need more water, less salt, a little less fat, or it’s that time of the month and I have to wait it out, since there’s not much women can do about monthly bloating.
Four days in a row, I’ve weighed in at 164.4. That is just under the weight that my endocrinologist has strongly suggested every August visit for the past 5 years. According to the CDC’s calculator, my Body Mass Index (BMI) is exactly 25, which is the bottom edge of overweight. Of course, the nutritionist balks at the BMI situation. It doesn’t account for lean muscle mass (muscle weighs more than fat), and because I have plenty of that from all of my physical activity and exercise, she is not concerned about my being overweight. Truthfully, neither am I right now.
Generally speaking, I’m in a pretty good place, especially when you compare my level of fitness to other 50-year-old women. I can do a back handspring-back tuck-front tuck on a trampoline. I can run circles around most of my dance and fitness teenage students who I teach. I have energy and I’m not afraid to use it. Though my joints don’t love me, I’m on the right track.
Let me know what other things you’d like to know about my weight-loss and overall fitness experience. If there’s anything I can expound upon, I’ll be happy to share.