Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How I lost 23 pounds

Zucchini "pasta" made with my new veggie noodler
It's been about four months now since I started actively trying to lose weight. I've done some reading & tried a few approaches. It seems to be working: I've lost over 20 pounds so far & I feel like the way I eat is sustainable, not deprivation.

People often notice that I've dropped a few sizes, & I've had a few ask what my 'secret' is, so I thought I'd share. (spoiler alert! It's not really a secret)

Before I say anything further, let me say this is just what has worked for me, I know everyone's bodies are different so if you to try eating the same way, your mileage may vary. I am not a dietician, or a medical professional of any sort, nor do I claim to be any sort of expert or diet guru.

Now that's out of the way, here's the list of what I've learned in the past few months, in no particular order:

    This veggie bean soup was yummy!
  1. I don't drink my calories. When I have a can of pop or a fancy espresso drink here & there during the week, the calories add up fast. I've also read that calories in liquid form don't register in the same way as a full belly from a huge salad or bowl of rice & beans. I may still want to eat even though I've just consumed a 1000 calorie beverage. Beware smoothies for this reason, especially the ones from fast food places or smoothie places--they often have a ton of added sugar on top of the fruit & veg that may be in them.
  2. Refined starchy foods aren't worth it. I'm not going all Atkins on you, but I do avoid the more processed carbs as much as possible. Anything made mainly from white flour--pasta, bread, muffins, cookies, crackers--has a lot of calories & not much else. Fibre is really key in helping you feel full & slowing down the metabolism of the sugars that these starches turn into rather quickly, so I still eat some starchy foods, but I try to pick whole grain versions when I'm eating things like bread or pasta. I've also started doing a lot of substitutions like zucchini 'noodles' for spaghetti or ramen, roasted chickpeas when I get a potato chip urge, or high fibre cereal with fruit rather than just toast for breakfast.
  3. There is no magic bullet. It's not about superfoods, fat burners or supplements but just fewer calories. All the magic formulas or secret tricks that are out there are just marketing. Easy answers sell diet books & make snake oil peddlers like Dr. Oz millions of dollars, but I think the sad fact of the matter is that eating less crappy food is the only way to lose weight & be healthy. Which leads me to my next point...
  4. I track what I eat. I always thought my diet was pretty good, but I rarely ate green leafy veg, consumed way too much fatty dairy (11% greek yogurt, several ounces of cheese a day, plus milk & occasional ice cream binges) & just a lot more calories than I needed. But I didn't really know what I should be eating until I started actually writing it down (or entering it into MyFitnessPal, technically) Tracking also helps me identify foods that are higher calorie than I may have realized, like salads at restaurants (the dressing & add-ons like dried fruit & nuts are often super sugary & fatty). I won'tdo this forever, but I think it's helping me stay honest when it comes to portion sizing & snacking.
  5. Portion sizes are important. I attended a nutrition class led by a dietitian a few months ago. Seeing the fake food she brought along was really helpful for me to get a sense of how much to eat. Using an app to track my diet helps me rejig my portion sizes too. & though you might think that it means always having less than I want to, it's not all bad news. I realized that the 'official' recommended portion size for fruit & vegetables is 1/2 cup/120ml--half a banana or half an apple, a handful of peas or carrots. It's not that hard to get in the 5-10 fruit & veg recommended in the Canada Food Guide.
  6. Calories have nothing to do with satiety. Reading Eat To Live then trying fairly low-calorie salads as meals really hammered this one home for me. The stomach doesn't feel full based on calories consumed but bulk, so I eat low calorie, high fibre, & nutrient dense foods more often. Meaning veggies, fruit, beans & legumes. Huge salads or plates loaded with raw veggies & oil-free hummus dip satisfy my North American desire to consume mass quantities while being full of nutrients but not necessarily calories.
  7. Protein isn't as important as people think. I'm not saying it's unnecessary, but there's no reason to go out of my way to add it in. Adding a few grams of chopped nuts to my oatmeal or cereal in the morning does put off the stomach rumbles for a little longer, but that's the only difference I've noticed. From what I've read, if I'm eating enough food, I'll get enough protein. 
  8. Fat has its place: a very small place. A teaspoon of oil to sautee with, an ounce or less of cheese grated on dinner, or the (most likely) healthy fats in nuts, olives & avocadoes added to salad is great. But the processed stuff (butter, olive oil, etc) is basically just fat & doesn't generally have any other significant nutritional value.
I ate one of these. Just one. In past I likely would have had four.
That's about it. Michael Pollan's very simple advice in In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto sums up most of the above: "Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much." Another thing to mention is that I don't really consider this a "diet" in the sense that it's a temporary change in eating habits to lose weight. I see this as a permanent change to my eating habits. Or perhaps I should say an ideal to continue striving for, since I don't have a 'perfect' diet. I still eat chocolate, have cake at birthday parties, & eat the occasional handful of deep fried potato chips or fries. But my eating habits are healthier, I feel better, & I'm about the same size I was in my early 20s, which feels good too.

One last thing: you may have noticed that all of the above is about eating. Nothing about exercise. This is not because I think changing eating habits is the only way to lose weight. Being physically active is vital. But for me, with osteoarthritis in my hip limiting further options for exercise, diet had to be the main part of my strategy. I do bike about 50km a week & walk fairly often too. I don't really think of it as exercising, since it's just how I get around & it's nothing new. But there's no question that keeping as active as I can has helped me keep my metabolism running higher than it might be if I were to cut calories alone.

So there you have it. Does any of the above surprise you? Have you tried eating this way yourself?

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