How is it almost mid-summer? I’m starting my official week 3 of my summer vacation away from the classroom and I can’t fathom the thought that my summer routines will be ending. I’m finally getting to focus completely on all of the things that have taken a backseat because of my day job: sitting in the hammock, flipping on the trampoline, recording and editing my podcast, making dinner dates with old friends and writing in the blog. It’s been the requisite two months since I’ve checked in on My Weight Loss Journey, so here’s how progress has gone since the summer began.
Summertime is my favorite time. When I talk about sustenance, I’m not just talking about food. In the two months when I’m not teaching, what nourishes me is more than just victuals every few hours; it’s the sum total of all the activities that I get to plan and execute, separate from my work responsibilities. What fuels all of that activity are my food choices, and there are some adjustments that must be made during this time of year.
In part 5, I started to talk about the difficulty of maintaining 162 pounds on the scale and how limiting my fat and salt intake was the key to that goal. This is a constant truism, especially at 50. The last time I saw that number on the scale was in the end of May when I had COVID (yes, it finally got me), and all I did for four days was lay in bed. I suppose excessive starvation will shed a few pounds, but it’s not a lasting or healthy solution.
Since I closed out my classroom for the school year, I’ve been trying to maintain some of the nutritional routines that I had become accustomed to; morning protein shake with a carb, small meals/snacks every three to four hours, raw fruits and veggies on the regular. You’d think that being summer, I’d have all the freedom in the world to eat summer salads all the time and get that “bikini bod” in gear but to be honest, I actually have a harder time because:
- I am not following a set schedule like I do when school is in session.
- I spend a lot of time near the fridge (I often write at the kitchen table).
- Summer is hot and we naturally retain more fluids.
- This is the time when I catch up on seeing long lost friends and we often do so over dinner and drinks.
Not to mention, I’m 50. Apparently, this is the time when my hormones are getting ready to betray me, and weight maintenance becomes crucial. This is why the endocrinologist insisted on that 165 number; it gets me just into the “normal” BMI range and from this point forward, it just gets harder to lose weight.
My greatest challenge
Other than my age, my greatest summer challenge is probably dinnertime. Aside from more frequent dinner dates, my family still eats dinner together most nights, except the few days when I go to the gym or my husband is in band practice. Otherwise, we eat as a family of four. It’s a gift, especially since my kids are getting older now. My eldest is getting ready to go away to college and our concept of family dinners will soon change to a certain extent. While we still can, we spend the evening meal together and I am usually expected to answer the question, “Ma, what’s for dinner?”
Like most parents, I struggle with that question every day. If it were just me, I’d probably do some grainy toast, chicken salad and a piece of fruit and be done with it, but that’s not the case when other people are involved. I admit I am not the most organized person when it comes to meal planning. I cannot do excessive prepping on the weekend so I have plenty of “go-to” meals at the ready like other social media moms might suggest. My freezer isn’t that big and I don’t want to work that hard. It’s summer for crying out loud! I prefer throwing something together, making sure I have some sort of fresh vegetable to prepare or dip raw in a little low-fat dressing as part of the meal. My eldest also doesn’t love leftovers (“didn’t we just eat that?”). I happen to love leftovers, especially for lunch, which I often brought to work with me. But for the most part, I’d prefer to make something in 30 minutes or less when I feel inclined to cook.
As I go through the mental machinations of food possibilities, I start with what my palate likes, which is pretty much everything. I have dreams of learning to make a curry or some new recipe that I’ve never made before. Then, I start going through the ingredient lists and realize that there are limitations based on what everyone else likes/dislikes. Suddenly, the possibilities are not endless. As much as my family does like, there are foods on the list of “things to avoid”: lentils, squash, mushrooms, peas, peanut butter, coconut. My husband, the Cuban-Italian doesn’t care for red sauce, salad and hates olives. Add in the need to have less salt and fat to the mix and I start to feel the squeeze of anxiety. I have limited choices to make for us that will avoid sort of tacit (or not-so-tacit) disappointment. Generally, they’ll eat what I make, but I hate the idea of spending the effort putting something together that will get a ho-hum response at best. I’m not looking for a medal, but I want to make sure that what I am putting on the table will be more appreciated than not.
Come to think of it, a medal wouldn’t be that bad…
I have three dinner scenarios that we seem to cycle through during any given week:
- Super simple dinners These usually follow the low-fat/salt requirement. Baked salmon with roasted broccoli and brown rice. Pasta with turkey meat sauce with sautéed spinach and roasted cauliflower. Air-fried breaded chicken thigh tenders (SO GOOD) with crunchy veggies to dip. Flavor comes from a flurry of spices: garlic & onion powder, lots of dried herbs, other non-salted and non-spicy stuff. Yeah – my family doesn’t like hot spice either. Occasionally I’ll make a challah bread french toast casserole for dinner which does not fit the “healthy” bill, but that’s a treat and I always pair it with fresh fruit to “balance” things out (haha).
- Ordering takeout This is not the best for the nutritional requirement, but sometimes I just don’t want to cook. Sushi, where you’d think I’d have the best ability to limit the stuff I’m not supposed to eat, can be a trap. Raw fish and rice; protein and carb, how can you go wrong? But I often can’t decide between two rolls, so I get both. Sometimes they have some sort of sauce drizzled on top (salt and fat). Sometimes I’ll have one or two of the steamed pork dumplings that my daughter ordered. A large menu to look at is not a good thing when you like everything on it, especially when you’re hungry. Italian food, try to find something on that menu that fits into a low fat/salt requirement, and the portion sizes are enough for three meals.
- Giving in Sometimes, we really want a burger. I won’t even elaborate on that, because salt and fat are pretty much the first ingredient in any burger menu option. That’s just succumbing to a craving and I’ll have to start over the next day. This happens maybe once every two weeks, but I have to account for it since it is so egregious a delectable indiscretion.
My nutritionist, at every monthly check-in, always asks me the same series of questions:
- Are you drinking enough? (8-10 cups a day, more when I work out ✅)
- Are you getting enough fiber? (enough to choke a horse ✅)
- How are your bowel movements? (not something I really want to discuss, but fine, thanks ✅)
- How’s your stress level? (much better now that I’m in glorious summertime, ✅)
- Are you under 40 grams of fat a day? (most days, maybe, I think so, I hope so...)
Then, she reminds me that salt takes two days to flush out of the system and how during the summer time, you need even more fluid because the body retains it since it is so hot. It’s like you have to drown yourself just to keep up with adequate hydration. I find myself switching more to decaf coffee since caffeine makes you release too much fluid and is actually more dehydrating. Caffeinated drinks don’t count in your volume count. It’s okay, since during the summer I tend to sleep more and I’m not as stressed out, so I don’t really feel the need for caffeine jitters.
It’s amazing how right she is about all of this. When I eat a saltier meal, which I’m more sensitive to because of my age and the fact that I rarely add salt to anything anymore, I am betrayed the next morning as I step on the scale. Suddenly I’m up a few pounds and I feel a little puffier. I hate that she’s right about that.
So I spend a few days tweaking my food intake: smaller portions, “cleaner” foods, more fruit and crunchy veggies in the mix. I allow my body to flush out the salt over a few days and then I see the number on the scale become a little friendlier. I’m not obsessive about it, I don’t starve myself or do trendy fad diets; it’s just a good check to see how my daily habits impact the daily homeostasis that happens in my body. I’m paying attention to it and adjusting accordingly.
If there’s a more challenging time of day, it’s the evening. That’s when I find myself taking a second portion, “giving myself” something I crave, wanting dessert; it’s also the worst time of day to do all of those things, since I really need to be shutting down the food in that 8 p.m. hour. I’m pretty good all day, spacing out my meals, getting a variety of foods, but not consuming too much. It’s like my brain wants to “reward” me for doing such a great job all day long. Have a glass of wine. Enjoy the chocolate. You deserve it. I want to tell my brain to shut up and stop enabling bad habits.
Despite the overactive reward center part of my brain, I think I’m doing well for a 50-year-old broad. My blood pressure is great. My sugar and cholesterol levels are where they need to be. My body craves activity so I exercise regularly; check out my Geriatric Gymnastics series all about my flipping adventures as an adult.
Of late, I have been weighing in a few pounds over my endocrinologist’s recommendation of 165 which I’m not so happy about, so adjustments are being made. It’s a daily process, I am solely accountable for my choices, it’s not a perfect science, and I’m okay with that. As long as all signs keep pointing to a long and healthy life, I will stay the course.