Hey Doc, just think of it as my IQ...
To all my skinny friends, I love you but you may not understand a thing I'm about to say. If you've never struggled with weight and diets, all due respect, but you just don't have a clue. I know there are many reasons why people gain excess weight and just as many diets out there to help take the pounds off. Many people, like me, have tried about all of them, and with varying degrees of success.
I'm not nearly as brave as my friend, Rebecca, who invited the world to follow her through her weight loss program last year. But she has really given me hope that it is possible to lose a significant amount of weight and even in my 60's, I don't have to throw the towel in and give up yet. So, I am up to something and I decided that after I lost the first 10 pounds I would post about it. So here it is...
Around the end of June something just snapped in me and I knew I had to get a grip. It's been so hot this summer and I was feeling extra miserable while I sat squeezed into an upper deck seat at a Cincinnatti Reds baseball game in 90 degree heat. Not only that, but I just got sick and tired of being the biggest person in every photo, the largest person (or so I feel) at every gathering.
When you are less than happy about the way you look, summer is a particularly difficult time of year. It's hard to wear sleeveless tops, shorts, and bathing suits. Well, forget shorts...I haven't worn them for years and I hope capris don't go out of style anytime soon. Shopping for a bathing suit has been the equivalent of being locked in a torture chamber; come to think of it, those dressing rooms with 3-way mirrors ARE torture chambers.
I just want to be a normal looking person. I want to feel good every morning and not ache my way through the rest of my life, if there's anything I can do about it. And I want to get my cholesterol down so I don't have to go on meds. I'm not even going to try to psychoanalyze myself as to why I have gained so much weight over the past 30 years, or why I can't seem to take it off and keep it off. I've thought about it a lot, and I'm not even going there. I really just wanted to tell you what I've been doing, and that it has been working.
So, may I tantalize you by saying I am enjoying all the foods I've always eaten? That includes pasta, pizza, ice cream, chocolate in any form, gravy, bacon, potatoes, sandwiches and anything else my heart desires any day of the week I want it? In fact I have not denied myself of any particular food item at all. Not one. I'm not hungry and my cravings and binging are gone. I'm not weighing, measuring, taking pills or counting calories. I am following a plan, but I'm not on a "diet" in the sense of being restrictive or eliminating entire groups of foods.
So what is it? Well, the first thing I started doing was drinking water. My doctor "guaranteed" me many of my aches and pains would go away if I drank enough water. He also said I would NOT get a kidney stone if I drank enough water, which is what happened to me a couple years ago when I went on a diet. I can't tell you how much water I'm drinking. I just try to remember to have a glass or bottle of filtered water near me just about all the time. And I drink it...I don't just sip it, I take big swallows.
The food plan I am doing is inspired by the book, The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet, by Rachael and Richard Heller. It came out about a decade ago. I say "inspired" because for now I am using the premise of the material to customize what I can live with and what is working for me without following the book religiously because I'm trying to develop a way of eating that feels normal and good to me without feeling like I'm on a "diet". Being "on" a diet implies there is a time when I will be "off" of it...and that is how I've been defeated in the past.
I'm also not a medical person so I really don't understand (or care to) all the physical reasons behind what the Heller's came up with. In simple layman's terms, through their own trial and error and through helping hundreds of other people lose weight, they believe that it is not necessarily the amount of carbohydrates some people eat (people who, like me, take their test in their book and are found to be "carbohydrate addicted") but rather it is the frequency with which carbs are eaten. It basically has to do with the amount of times the hormone insulin is produced by our pancreas every time we eat carbs, and high levels of insulin signal the body to eat again. Thus a carbohydrate addicted person never feels really satisfied for long. Two hours after a carbohydrate loaded meal, we can be searching through the fridge or cupboards, not even knowing what we are craving, but just wanting something, and usually that means something sweet or some high carb snack...which causes the whole process to repeat itself again and again.
So, here's what I do:
Breakfast - I eat no or almost no carbs for breakfast. Since I'm also trying to get my cholesterol down, I am being careful not to have eggs every day and I'm not overdoing it on the breakfast meats such as sausage, ham and bacon. I do enjoy them, just not every day. And while I'm not "counting" carbs, if I choose to eat yogurt or cottage cheese for breakfast, I use Fiber One Yogurt and any low fat cottage cheese and limit it to about 1/2 cup, which usually translates to 4-8 carbs. That's what I have on mornings I'm not all that hungry, along with a cup of black coffee. I would say about half the time I do have that small amount of carbs in the morning. If I'm feeling more hungry, I usually make myself an omelet, my favorite being the spinach, roasted red pepper/calamata olive/feta one that I posted about here. I've used low-carb tortillas before and some taste better than others. I find if I use them too often I get really sick of them, so for now, I'm holding back on them.
These omelets are very filling, and I can vary them with any no/low-carb ingredients I happen to have on hand, like ham and cheese, or mushroom, onion, and green pepper. I couldn't begin to eat "dippy" eggs without toast, but I don't miss it when I have an omelet. Breakfast is probably the most challenging meal of the day, because in my "former life" this is when I would grab something sugary like coffee cake or a sweet roll, or even a bowl of cherrios with a banana on it, but then I would load it up with two teaspoons of sugar. Total carb count for that healthy breakfast: close to 70 grams! So even though the point of this eating plan is to limit the number of times I eat carbs, on the mornings that I have a few carbs for breakfast I'm technically breaking the rules, but I'm not eating nearly as many carbs as before. Like I said, breakfast is the meal that is the biggest challenge to me...so I'm still working on how to handle it. Some days I don't eat anything and then just have an earlier lunch.
Lunch - I try not to do any carbs at all for lunch. Once in a while, a few slip in there, but not more than about 5 grams. I usually enjoy a plate full of food such as one of these:
Making meals colorful and attractive, like this tuna salad plate, as well as delicious and nutritious is something I've always strived for, and I think it's even more important now to help keep me motivated.
I was happy to realize that A-1 Steak sauce has only 3 carbs per tablespoon. It really adds flavor to a piece of beef and keeps me from feeling deprived of something I enjoy.
Eventually I may have to cut back on portions if I get to a plateau in the weight loss. But the variety of lunches I can have keeps me from getting tired of cutting way back on carbs. This is when I eat things like tuna fish salad, sliced up leftover chicken, hard boiled eggs, tossed green salad, all kinds of veggies, hot or cold, even a nice big fat cheeseburger without the bun. I can honestly say I have no problem with no carb lunches. I know that in a few hours, I will be having supper, and I can then eat whatever I want.
Supper - Yes, you read that right. For supper I can eat ANYTHING. Notice that I did not say I can eat an unlimited amount of high carbohydrate foods and refined sugar. I'm trying to lose weight, afterall. But at the same time, I'm trying to develop a style of eating that I can actually live with over the long haul, and for me, that means I need to be able to have starches and sweets in moderate amounts. Cutting out entire food groups has just never worked for me. There is just something that seems really wrong to me about giving up something so basic as bread, for example. I love all kinds of food. Obviously. And I love to cook. So I have to deal with that and be realistic. I know I will never totally give up white sugar, white flour, white rice, and all those other good tasting white things that some people think are evil. I would be kidding myself and setting myself up for more dieting failures if I tried to deny myself those things entirely.
I much prefer this pasta to whole wheat pastas I have tried. "With only 5 grams of digestible carbs, Dreamfields helps limit the rise in blood sugar levels that normally occur after eating regular pasta" according to the claim on the box. I cannot tell the difference between Dreamfields, which has a glycemic index of 13, and regular pasta, with a glycemic index of 38.
So I have a normal supper that includes carbs, including a dessert if I want. Now that my cravings are more under control and I know that I can have something I really enjoy if I really want it, I have found I don't need, psychologically or physically, to have dessert every night. This is also the meal where I can eat some fruit. I need to do better at working that in. So I'm trying to eat some fruit every night after my regular supper.
There are very few "rules" to this eating plan...but there is a very big one for suppertime: All carbohydrates must be consumed within one hour's time. That's it. I can eat whatever I want within an hour and then I stop. No more carbs (ideally) until supper the next night. Limiting the consumption of carbohydrates to one hour a day limits the amount of insulin that is flooded into the system, which limits the desire to eat again too soon. I feel satisfied, and cravings are under control. The Hellers also advocate eating "towards" your carbs. In other words, start with the no-carb items on your plate, like your tossed salad, then eat your protein, then your starch, and last your fruit or a small dessert. By eating in this order, and keeping it within the allotted 60 minutes, you are putting off the flood of insulin into the bloodstream.
The only other big rule is there is absolutely no snacking between meals. But seriously, there is no desire to snack. I'm plenty full eating these three meals a day, and I don't feel deprived because I can look forward to a fairly indulgent supper and fruit or dessert every night.
So, what are the results so far? I'm happy to report that after about six weeks of eating this way, I'm a perfect 10! (No, not a size 10!) I've dropped 10 pounds and my cholesterol number is down 10 points! So the next time you go to the grocery store, pick up two 5 pound bags of sugar, and realize how much weight 10 pounds actually is. It's encouraging!
The Hellers suggest weighing yourself everyday, and recording the number. Then at the end of each week, you should figure the average and use that number as your total loss for the week. This way you are not discouraged by daily ups and downs on the scale but you can see the progress weekly. Ten pounds in six weeks is painfully slow, but it has been steady progress in the right direction.
From reading I've done on the internet and reading the Hellers' books, I understand that some people were abusing the rule about eating carbs during the one hour at suppertime, and found that they sabotaged their weight loss plan, even though the Hellers said it should be a balanced meal. These people would eat the very foods they were "addicted" to, going hog wild, and they were not learning new, healthy, eating habits at all. So the Hellers came out with a second book called The Carbohydrate Addict's Lifespan program, and they are more specific about a more controlled approach to eating this "reward meal" as they call it. Specifically, supper is to begin with a large salad, and then the meal should consist of about 1/3 protein, 1/3 vegetables, and 1/3 starch.
I think what appeals to me most about this low carb eating plan is I can have the foods I've always loved. I mean, how can an Italian give up pasta for life? And how can someone who loves baking pies say they will never eat another slice? This plan has room for an occasional derailment. If there is a special occasion or I just feel like I want to indulge once in a while, or I inadvertantly find myself slipping into old habits, I can start over again the very next day and feel better immediately, and see results soon. Here is another of the Hellers' books that I keep nearby. It gives even more information and suggestions of little things that can jump start the weight loss again if you temporarily fall off the wagon or hit a plateau:
I also know the Hellers have had their share of criticism. But together they have lost over 200 pounds and have kept it off and lived productive lives for over 20 years since. That speaks of "lifestyle" and not "fad"... something to be said for that!
So to sum up, my cravings for certain things have truly disappeared. I still like food. I still enjoy cooking. I am more conscious of what I'm eating because I want to be balanced in the variety of foods I eat. I do need to be mindful of my cholesterol, and I need to be sure I'm drinking my water and getting enough fiber. I like to eat "real" food, the fresher the better.
So my goals for the next month are:
1) cut back a little on the volume of food, since my appetite is truly decreasing
2) do a sanity check to make sure I'm eating enough fiber
3) have fruit for my dessert at least half of the time
4) work in some exercise by walking in the neighborhood again
I will post about my progress again when I have lost another 10 pounds. I'm hoping that will be about a month from now. I've talked about the mechanics of the eating plan here. Next time I will include the spiritual and emotional aspects of practicing self-control and how it is changing me. By then perhaps my longer term goals will be more defined for me as well. For now, I'm taking one day at a time.