On Friday, in a couple of comments and even more emails, readers asked how I lost 40-odd pounds, what my weight loss plan was.
It's been more than five years since I wrote about that so maybe it's time for an update and/or additional information.
EDITORIAL NOTE: But before I go one word farther, this must be said: what I will tell you today is one woman's successful effort to lose 25 percent of her body weight. Although it is based on well-known, widely-accepted fact within the nutrition, diet and medical professions, it is not a prescription for everyone.
How our individual bodies function differs. In addition, at our ages in particular, conditions, diseases and medications can have an effect along with food allergies and other considerations. So read this only as something that worked for one person; maybe there is a tip or two that might help you and always consult your physician before embarking on a major change in diet.
A COUPLE OF IRREFUTABLE FACTS
The only way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than your body uses. Period.
The best short(-ish) overview I've ever read about research into calorie restriction versus exercise for weight loss was published last June at Vox. The conclusion:
”...people who have had success losing weight share a few things in common: They weigh themselves at least once a week. They restrict their calorie intake, stay away from high-fat foods, and watch their portion sizes. They also exercise regularly.
“But note: These folks use physical activity in addition to calorie counting and other behavioral changes. Every reliable expert I've ever spoken to on weight loss says the most important thing a person can do is to limit calories in a way they like and can sustain, and focus on eating healthfully.”
I developed a 45-minute home exercise routine that I followed during the year of weight loss and have continued since then. I don't think it helped in taking off the pounds but it did, and does, help my overall health and strength.
FYI: There are about 3500 calories in a pound of fat so you need to burn 3500 calories to lose one pound.
An average woman needs to eat about 2000 calories per day to maintain, and 1500 calories to lose one pound of weight per week. An average man needs 2500 calories to maintain, and 2000 to lose one pound of weight per week.
Obviously this formula varies from person to person but it is equally obvious that you cannot, as some TV commercials promise, lose 10 or more pounds a week. Well, not without starving yourself.
There is no way to know how many times I lost the same, recurring 10 pounds over my adult life. This time I wanted to end that cycle so I spent a great deal of time planning a weight loss campaign that I could easily continue as a maintenance program. I came up with these four simple rules for myself:
⚫ It doesn't matter how long it takes to lose the 40-odd pounds just so long as the weight is declining week to week.
⚫ Weigh yourself every morning at the same time and keep a chart. Inevitably, weight will fluctuate up and down. That's normal as long as the overall trend is downward.
⚫ Keep a close watch on portion control; don't let it creep up.
⚫ Make sure every meal is wholesome, healthy, and never snack. (I found that if I was feeling hungry between meals, a short walk – as little as 15 minutes – could take care of that.)
At first I used the Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid to balance the foods I ate:
But that graphic is way too complicated and apparently Harvard thought so too because they soon issued their Healthy Eating Plate. This is simple and easy to use:
BREAKFAST: I tried smoothies for awhile but I don't really like them. I do like oatmeal and that became my go-to morning meal: Stone-ground oatmeal with several fruits (bananas, peaches, berries, etc.) and home-made apple sauce (apples, water, lemon rind – nothing else) stirred into the oatmeal.
LUNCH AND DINNER: Three or four times a week, one of these meals was steamed or broiled fish with a pile of veggies over brown rice or whole wheat noodles, for example. Other times I substituted part of a chicken breast for the fish which I had poached in broth, garlic, white wine and honey.
Because a serving of commercial soups contains almost a day's supply of sodium, I kept a freezer full of home made pea soup, vegetable soup, chowder, etc. for filling meals especially on chilly days.
And then there is Gorilla Salad, named (and as far as I know invented) by my friend Joyce Wadler (who writes a terrific humor column at The New York Times).
It is huge - 10 or 15 different cut-up veggies, pre-cooked - usually roasted - when necessary, maybe some fruit like grapes or melon or some left over chicken breast all held together with homemade dressing.
Always homemade dressing. Commercial salad dressings can be gigantic calorie hogs and the low- and no-fat varieties have an awful, chemical taste. But if you make your own, you can control that. Use good oil, olive or canola, and you can vary the acid – balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, even Japanese mirin work plus any flavorings you prefer.
Keep the dressing portion small. A tablespoon of dressing is about 100 calories. You can use small amounts of dressing if you toss a salad for a long time.
THE 21ST MEAL
I came up with only one trick that was useful to keep me on target. I happen to like vegetables as lot, and fruit and fish so this was a reasonable diet for me but I still wanted to stave off cravings that could derail my weight loss.
So I invented The 21st Meal Diet.
It goes like this: there are 21 meals in a week. It cannot possibly hurt the weight loss program if one meal is devoted to something you like but isn't on the agenda – in my case, usually ice cream or cheeses. So for one meal a week, I gave myself a favorite but disallowed food.
Sometimes it was two or three or even four reasonably-sized wedges of excellent cheeses I had bought especially for the meal. Other times it was ice cream. You do know, I assume, that whatever anyone tells you otherwise, a serving of ice cream is a pint. Right?
Even so, for the 20 other meals, portion size is an important issue. The experts tend to describe one portion as the size of a tennis ball, a small fist, a deck of cards, a bar of soap. All those are about right for one serving. Here's a page that might help further.
Weight loss is a giant topic online; type that phrase into Google and you'll get a quarter of a billion (with a B) returns. A lot of it is junk. Some of it is not.
Looking back now after keeping off the weight I lost for five years, I think the two most useful pieces of advice to myself were these:
Don't rush it. It doesn't matter how long it takes to lose the weight as long as it is regular and steady.
The 21st meal. That became the big treat I looked forward to each week and helped keep me going.
(NOTE: We're all eager to hear your experience along with any tips that have kept you on pace to reach your weight loss goals in a healthy manner. Just remember, no medical advice and no recommendations of herbs, oils and magic potions "guaranteed" to take off excess weight.)