More of you than I would have expected want to know some details about my weight loss. So here goes.
Understand that there are no surprises. Like I said a couple of days ago, I have no magic potion; I did it the the old fashioned way. Slowly.
If you are old enough to be interested in this blog, you should by now have a good handle on your will-power strengths and weaknesses related to food. And if, like me, you have fought extra pounds all your life, you have probably tried a number of fad diets and you know they do not work.
You probably know also to ignore ALL ads and stories about miracle weight loss products including one celebrity physician's claim that he can show you (for a price, of course) how to lose 10 pounds in 10 days. He is wrong. On so many levels.
What losing weight is about - especially a lot of weight over months - is eating fewer calories than are needed to maintain your weight. What this means in practice is that you need to shave a few hundred – 200, 300 – calories per day from the number that maintains your weight.
Because metabolism tends to slow with age and elders are almost always less physically active than in their younger years, it takes longer to lose weight. If you begin a weight loss program, you must understand that so that you do not become discouraged.
I have kept a daily weight chart since I began my program to lose about 40 pounds. So that the chart doesn't become unwieldy, I delete the previous month's daily numbers when a new month begins. Here's the current chart:
You can see that I've averaged a loss of less than three pounds a month which is a safe and healthy rate. If you expect more than that, you will undoubtedly become frustrated and give up.
A friend who, inspired by my loss after I'd shed about 15 or 20 pounds, began a program and gave up after three weeks or so because, she said, she had gone for more than seven days without losing a single pound.
That happens all the time. Look at those numbers for January – stuck at 129.x pounds for six days. It's not unusual and it's not an excuse to eat pizza and ice cream.
Here then is a list of some of the ideas and practices I use and will continue to do when I have reached my weight goal. From knowing yourself, you should develop your own practices based on proven and sane principles of weight loss.
• Cut out almost all meat. The calorie count in a tiny portion is too high to be able to keep the daily calorie count low enough to lose weight.
• Use fish for most animal protein – salmon, cod and other high omega-3 fatty acid fish is extra healthy but all fish are good for a low calorie count. About three ounces is a reasonable-size serving. Make vegetables, not animal protein the centerpiece of meals.
• Half a cut-up, skinless chicken breast gives a salad some heft when you feel you need it.
• Eat enough to always feel full – even overfull - after a meal so not to be tempted to cheat with a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream.
I eat piles and piles and piles of steamed or roasted veggies prepared with no more than one tablespoon of good oil – olive or canola. Vegetables are so low in calories that you can eat them all day and lose weight.
• Include fruit and whole grains every day. It is easiest for me to mostly stick with the same breakfast: steel cut oatmeal with half a banana, half a cup or so of berries and of apple sauce or cranberry sauce. Sometimes I add a piece of whole grain toast with a teaspoon of jam on the side.
• Clear your cupboards of all – ALL – prepared foods and never buy them again. They are filled with fat, high levels of sodium and a sky high calorie count. The single prepared food on my shelf is low-sodium Wheat Thins to eat my occasional meal of home-made tuna salad as a dip.
• Eat as many meals at home as possible. There is no way to know the calories, sugar, fat and sodium counts in restaurant food and all take out. It is a good practice to assume that all professionally-prepared food is too high in calories to be useful for a weight loss plan.
• Cook ahead and freeze nutritious foods that are easy to use. I make all my apple sauce (no sugar – just apples, water, lemon rind and spices). I make all my cranberry sauce too (two-thirds as much sugar as recipes call for). I use them, as noted, at breakfast and sometimes as side dishes with other meals or as an afternoon snack.
• I steam and freeze a lot of vegetables but you can buy them frozen at the market too. Just be sure to buy the bags with no added butter and sauces.
• I keep good commercial ravioli and other filled pastas in the freezer because it makes a quick meal when I'm tired and tempted to pig out at the local pizza joint just because I don't want to cook.
I heat and add a bunch of already steamed veggies to the plate or bowl and dress it all with a simple, homemade oil and vinegar dressing. It's filling, and heathy too.
• Soups are filling and yummy. I cook up huge batches of pea soup and tomato soup and freeze them in pint containers. You can add commercial croutons to give your soup a bit more weightiness. Canned soups are loaded with too much sodium and, usually, fat.
• There are 21 meals in a week and you should eat every one of them to never feel hungry. Make one, and only one, of those meals each week something that you love and crave and is probably not conducive to health or weight loss. For me, that is almost always ice cream or cheese.
Going off your regimen for one meal of 21 will not harm your health or weight loss trajectory and will go a long way to keeping you from falling off your diet. It's a treat, something to look forward to each week.
• Eat lots of salads. I've told you in the past about my gorilla salad – 12 or 15 different veggies sometimes with cut fruit – melon, perhaps, or grapes. If, in winter, you prefer something hot, roast a bunch of cut up veggies and then treat them as a salad with a homemade dressing.
• Do not use commercial salad dressings. They are mostly fat and chemicals, and the low- or no-fat varieties taste awful. It's easy to make an oil and vinegar dressing at home and if you like creamy dressings, a low-calorie version of that is easy too.
• Use even homemade dressings sparingly. The trick for salads is to use one tablespoon of dressing and toss the salad for a long, long time to coat all the ingredients. Try it; it works.
• Experiment with vegetables. One of my latest favorites is cut-up kale stir fried with chopped onions, garlic, raisins in a tablespoon of oil and balsam vinegar dressing.I've been working on a winter vegetable stew and getting close to a recipe I like.
• I have always loved stuffed baked potato – and depending on what you stuff it with, it can be healthy. I have had to invent my own version.
It is stuffed with a lot of cut up green veggies – steamed broccoli or asparagus or peas, etc. - homemade duxelles and no-fat sour cream. If that last ingredient sounds awful, it's not when combined with other strong flavors. It's the texture you're going for.
• When I eat out, I try to choose Japanese restaurants. It is almost impossible to overeat Japanese food.
• When Japanese is not available, I try to plan ahead to use a restaurant meal as my weekly treat. One time I broke a rule – no fried food ever - with an entree of deep-fried, fresh oysters, enjoyed every one of them and nothing terrible happened to my diet.
Sparingly, you can be flexible. For me, the daily morning weigh-in keeps me from taking such flexibility too far. I intend to make this my final weight loss program in life.
• Alcohol is too high in calories to be used frequently. I save wine for social occasions at home or in restaurants with friends but never more than once a week. And because I drink it so rarely now, I always go for the good stuff.
• That's most of it. All these rules are based on good health principles but they are my personal rules – what I have learned that works for me – and I continue to refine them over time.
Yours would be different depending on what foods you like and don't like, how much time you're willing to spend cooking and how motivated you are to lose weight.
I am thrilled with the changes in my life that are directly a result of dropping, so far, more than 30 pounds:
• Remember a long time ago when I admitted to urinary incontinence? It's gone. It didn't happen because I'm old; it happened because the extra fat pounds placed pressure on my bladder.
• I can walk now for miles at a good pace without breathing hard.
• I can clean the whole house without having to stop and rest every 20 or 30 minutes.
• I can walk up hills and stairs again. I had been avoiding them because it was so hard to get my breath at the top.
I've kept up a daily exercise program and just this month replaced two days with a new tai chi class. It's not that I work out hard enough to add much, if anything, to my weight loss but I have become stronger, healthier and feel confident of my balance.
In preparation for scheduled cataract surgery, I recently had a bunch of medical tests - heart, blood, etc. All came back normal. The doctor said I'm in terrific shape and to just keeping doing whatever I'm doing.
When I've reached my weight goal – which looks like it will happen almost exactly 12 months from when I began - I'll need to fuss around until I find a workable maintenance plan. It will be some version of the weight loss program I have relied upon this past year.
That's an important concept to keep in mind for preventing failure or backsliding: the new way of eating is a permanent change.
I hope this hasn't bored you to death and maybe gives you a few ideas you can use if you are contemplating some weight loss.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Talking Trash