This is just a follow up post to my announcement that I'd lost 20 pounds since December of 2012 (I've even lost a few more since then!!) which had been over the course of about 15 weeks. That works out to an average of 1.3 pounds per week - which I feel is a really gradual, very do-able pace for losing weight. I'm sure I could have pushed myself harder, lost it faster, and lost even more by now, BUT for me personally, I felt that by taking it slowly and not pushing myself too hard I would have a better chance of sticking with my program for the long-haul so that I can keep the weight off and continue to be healthy. I don't view what I'm doing as "dieting", but rather, I am approaching this as a lifestyle change, hopefully forever! I have had a couple people ask me what I do, so I wanted to just share briefly some of the things that I've learned from doing lots of research and some of the methods that I have found to be personally successful.
Just an obvious disclaimer: I'm clearly not a medical professional, or a professional of anything at all actually, so I would never assume that I actually know any technical things about how the body works or attempt to give advice about it. I'm still not even in the best shape I could possibly be in, and there are plenty of people who have lost way more than me in much less time than I did and look far more fabulous than I probably ever will. I'm not trying to give any serious recommendations with this post, but only stating what I found works for my own body specifically. So just take everything I write with a grain of salt, and obviously, do your own research before you decide if something will work for you or not. And I'll add that I really think what works for some people doesn't always produce the same results for other people.
So obviously, we all know that eating right and getting enough exercise are the two key ingredients of weight loss that we always hear about. But I truly think that eating right is for sure the more important of the two, as far as weight loss is concerned. I think exercise tones you and improves your health overall, but eating right is really the thing that is going to determine your weight. (Just for example, I got SUPER busy right after Easter, and I literally haven't done almost ANY exercise in weeks, and I've still managed to lose 3-4 pounds - which is a little slower than it normally takes, but that's great considering in that time frame I ate some bad things at Easter meals, over a 4 day anniversary vacation, at my sister's birthday party, and at my brother's birthday party, and just randomly). But in general, I changed three main things about my diet: What I ate, when I ate, & how much I ate.
What I ate: I never started to strictly count calories but I became what I like to call 'calorie aware'. LOL! I looked at the calories per serving and other nutritional information (another really important one is sodium) on the backs of all the food packages I picked up until I had a vague idea what was in virtually everything I was eating. I found a website called Calorieking.com, and I looked up calories in the bulk & fresh foods I buy that don't have labels. Just knowing what is actually in something can be a deterrent on its own - I started to feel guilty about eating things that I now knew were really high in calories (and just generally unhealthy) and I naturally began to cut those things out of my diet or at least decrease the amount of them I ate. I found that once I REALLY wanted to change the way I looked and felt, it was a lot easier not to binge or mindlessly eat certain things knowing what's actually in them! Also, I didn't just cut bad things out, but added good things in. I knew I hadn't been getting enough fruit, for example which are packed full of vitamins, so I started to eat a lot more of things like that.
When I ate: I had heard this before, and I did some more research to make sure I was remembering correctly: to lose weight, it's a good idea to eat several healthy snacks through-out the day vs. eating three solid meals. I have found many cases and articles for and against this theory, so I thought the best way to know was just to try it out. For me, after my body was used to this routine, I DEFINITELY hands-down noticed a significant increase in my metabolism which was helping me burn fat faster, so for me, it works!
How much I ate: In addition to eating healthier, I started to practice portion control. You know that horrible stuffed-full feeling that you get after a big meal where you literally feel nauseous and like you need to lay down?? I felt like that WAY too often! When I started practicing portion control, that feeling went away. I put what I felt was enough food on my plate and only ate that - no seconds (unless I had really misjudged what was enough and was still actually hungry and not just wanted more because it tasted good). I will admit, at first I felt hungry all the time! I'd eat and half an hour later, I'd be starving. It was hard to get through it at first, however by not cutting back extremely suddenly, but just gradually reducing the amount I ate each meal I was able to adjust to a much lower calorie diet. I also started to purposefully eat more slowly, which gives your body time to realize that it’s full before you overeat!
So as far as actual examples of things that I eat, here's a typical day for me:
I didn't really eat breakfast before. I'm not a big breakfast eater - I LOVE breakfast foods (mostly the horribly unhealthy ones!), but generally I don't want them at breakfast time. But there are a ton of benefits to eating a healthy breakfast, and I knew that I should start eating something if I wanted to be fit. I still don't eat a huge breakfast, but almost every single morning I have half of a segmented grapefruit usually sometime between 7am and 9am. I sprinkle 1 packet of Stevia - a zero calorie natural sweetener - over it because I like sweet things. I prefer Stevia (since it's natural) to other artificial zero calorie sweeteners, and I have done a lot of reading on the pros and cons of using it - I'm not using it to replace sugar completely, but I'm okay with using it for some things. Grapefruits are so good for you for weight loss and so many other reasons, some of which you can read about here and here.
I also, almost every morning, have a cup of coffee (8-10 oz K-cup from Keurig) and I use a packet of stevia in this, too, and sometimes also a small amount of low-fat natural creamer. I love coffee and my personal opinion on the whole is-caffeine-good-or-bad-for-you thing is that there are some good benefits to drinking 1 - 2 cups a day, including helping with weightloss but of course just like anything, it can be bad in excess. So that's basically breakfast for me.
Most days, I don't have a specific lunch-time meal (unless I'm really busy and don't have time to split it up). I usually opt for 2-3 smaller "snacks". I usually just eat one when I can tell that I'm getting pretty hungry, but it's often in the same time frame each day. Normally between 10am - 11am, 1pm - 2pm, and occasionally, if I eat at the earlier times (10am & 1pm) will sometimes get hungry enough before dinner that I need to eat something small around 3pm. There are a ton of really healthy and low calorie snacks that are still filling. Here's an example of some of the things that I eat now for my 'lunch' snacks":
*1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese (you can buy these in pre-portioned packages) 90 cal
+ 1 tbsp apple butter (optional) + 30 cal
OR + No Sugar Added Peach Chunks (optional) + 30 cal
total: 120 cal or less
*1 Laughing Cow light cheese wedge (French Onion, Creamy Swiss, Garlic & Herb) 35 cal
+ 12 fat-free mini pretzels (for dipping) + 65 cal
total: 100 cal
*Canned pre-portioned bite-sized fruit:
- No Sugar Added Pear Chunks 40 cal
OR - No Sugar Added Peach Chunks 30 cal
OR - 100 Calorie Pear Halves 100 cal
OR - 100 Calorie Peach Slices 100 cal
total: 100 cal or less
*Half of a Ham & Swiss Wrap
- Half of a Low-in-Carbs, whole wheat tortilla 30 cal
+1 Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss cheese wedge (spread over tortilla) + 35 cal
+4 slices deli ham + 80 cal
+6 slices bread and butter pickles (optional) + 25 cal
total: 180 cal or less
*1 large Gala apple with skin (depending on size) > 120 cal
*1 cup grapes 100 cal
*One large hard pretzel 100 cal
These are the things that I eat most regularly! Some of them I measure pretty accurately, some I just grab a handful of at a time and know that it's a low calorie, healthy snack without really needing to measure exactly. I also occasionally eat a smaller salad with low fat or fat free dressing (and no high calorie toppings like croutons or lots of cheese or meats). I also eat many other kinds of fruit, and raw veggies, too, like carrots and celery and sugar snap peas!
I really cut back on the amount of fatty, high-carb things that I was serving. We eat a ton of fish now, mostly salmon and Mahi Mahi, which have a lot of health benefits and are lower in calories than many other meats. They are now on our regular weekly dinner rotation. I started buying ground beef that is 96% fat free, so when we have meals with ground beef, we are eating less fat! I also substitute very low fat ground turkey in recipes instead of beef when I can. It's awesome in chili!!
We really like pasta meals so I didn't want to cut those out entirely. I found some lower-calorie, healthier versions of recipes with pasta and started to use whole wheat pasta instead of regular. I cut back on the amount of bread I was eating and when I do make bread recipes, I substitute whole wheat or white whole wheat when the recipe allows for it.
I have healthier sides like a small salad with low-fat dressing. And I really added a lot of fruit to my diet as well. I honestly just didn't take the time to bother with fresh fruit before - because it really is time-consuming to pick out your produce, but now I make that the most important aisle in the grocery store. We have a fresh fruit cup with almost every dinner meal now. My go-to fruits are pineapple, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and mandarin oranges. Besides fresh fruit, I also buy canned fruit and pre-portioned fruit cups as well for sides at dinner if I'm in a hurry! Plus, I only go to the grocery store once a week and some fresh fruits just don't make it that long! I occasionally do a baked potato side as well. I will say though that there is nothing that I just stopped making or eating for dinner. But I've cut way back on some things that are just pure unhealthiness and I practice portion control when I do make those things.
I'm including a dessert section because I still eat dessert fairly often - usually a few times a week. Again, I just practice serious portion control and only eat small amounts of these sweeter things at a time. I also try to eat these foods with really small bites, which sounds kind of sad and pathetic, but really, I get more satisfaction from it in the end because it feels like I've had more of it than I actually did and I really took time to savor the taste and not just shove it down my throat! LOL!
I eat all the same desserts I used to but, I also try to go for healthier options as well. For example, a little dark chocolate can actually be fairly good for you! I also freeze bananas when they are starting to get over-ripe, and sometimes I cut those up into bite size pieces and drizzle a little melted dark chocolate over them (that "shell" kind that freezes over ice-cream is amazing on these, but SUPER high in calories, so I only use a very small amount when I use it).
OR I use the frozen bananas and other frozen (and fresh) fruit from the grocery store to make smoothies occasionally. I freeze coconut milk in ice cube trays and use those in smoothies. Smoothies can be great for more than just dessert, too! They are a healthy lunch option.
Another good option for dessert is a 100 calorie portion pack of mini-cookies you can buy at the grocery store. I don't eat these often, and I don't think that they should be used during the day as one of the mini-lunch-snacks because there is no real health benefit to them. They aren't adding any nutrition to my diet. However, I have found these little packets to be life-savers when I've just got that craving for a sweet that I can't resist. If I'm going to have something sweet anyway, this can be a lower-calorie option than many other desserts.
I cannot tell you how important this category is to my weight loss! I had NO CLUE how many calories I was drinking! DON'T DRINK YOUR CALORIES! I had to tell myself that every time I walked down the beverage aisle at the grocery store, or my husband poured himself another glass of juice with dinner! I had been drinking juice with almost every meal. I love juice. It's delicious! Have you ever poured yourself a nice tall glass of cran-grape over crushed ice and sipped it slowly??? It's amazing. But just 8 oz (not even enough to fill the cup) is 120 calories! That might not seem like a lot, but if you get a refill (or two) it adds up really fast. And when you're making every calorie count, it matters! Yes, certain juices do have healthy ingredients and good vitamins in them, but regardless, the calorie count of most juices is pretty high! I stopped drinking them. Usually I would say everything in moderation, but I'd rather eat something yummy with 120 calories than drink a glass of juice with dinner. I occasionally had soda before, but it was pretty rare (Jones sodas are my one weakness). Now I almost never have it, except for special occasions. If I do drink it, I usually pick one like sierra mist natural or ginger ale with real ginger in it! I haven't done any research to know if those are actually healthier, but they just seem like they should be! LOL!
So that's what I don't drink… what I do drink is water! That sounds boring, but seriously water is the best option for weight loss. I drink a ton of water. Even when I'm not thirsty. It's a great way to cleanse the body. Plus we often think we're hungry when reallywe're just thirsty. Drink a full glass BEFORE every meal/snack and it'll help make you feel fuller faster so that you don't feel the need to overeat as much. Getting enough water is just good for you. If I get really tired of plain water, I've gotten different zero calorie liquid flavors to add to it, but I don't do that too often.
I occasionally drink unsweetened k-cup iced-tea made with my Keurig (and sweeten it with Stevia). I have also made homemade iced tea a few times and substituted the sugar for Stevia again.
Again, sometimes during the day I have a second cup of coffee with Stevia.
Hot tea is also really good to sip on! Especially since I've been doing this diet change all through winter! It tastes great, and it is really healthy for you! I drink many brands of tea, but as far as the health part goes, I love Yogi teas. They have a ton of options and they tell you how each flavor will benefit you based on what's it in! I used to drink honey in my tea, which I still think is perfectly acceptable and I think there are a lot of benefits to having a little honey in your diet. But I do often sweeten my cup with Stevia to avoid the calories of honey.
Other things that I've done/learned/tried:
* I started to look up the nutrition information provided by restaurants that we eat out at. There are usually a few lower calorie options that might surprise you! I was amazed to find that you often can't just pick a salad and expect it to be low calorie! Often times, salads have more calories in them (because of toppings like croutons, meat, cheeses & dressings) than many other options on the menu. It's good to know a few lower calorie options when you're eating out and just to realize how many calories you're eating when you've had three of those delicious breadsticks/biscuits or 2 cups of that delicious peach tea! We also just cut back on the amount of times we eat out now and usually choose places now that offer healthier meals.
* The numbers on my scale went down, but my grocery bill went up! Let me just warn you now… eating healthy is not cheap. I'm not saying that you can't buy anything healthy for a small price tag, but fresh fruits and veggies, fish, low-fat/high quality meats, coconut oil, and other natural foods are all quite pricy and add up quickly. Maybe there's some secret to getting a great deal and still eating really healthy, but I haven't found it! If you know what it is, please let me know!! ;)
*I started taking a multivitamin - it provides important nutrients and vitamins that give your body the energy it needs to be healthy. I've not been super religious with this. I tend to forget to take it a lot, but I do think it helps keep me healthy when I remember!
* I substitute lower-fat/lower-calorie ingredients when I can. For example, I use light mayo or plain yogurt instead of regular mayo in many recipes or 98% fat-free soups instead of the normal ones. I use low-fat sour cream, ricotta, cottage cheese and 1/3 fat cream cheese. I DO NOT like to use the fat-free versions of these. A little fat is good for you - your body needs it! Plus you sacrifice a lot of taste with fat-free that I really don't thing you lose as much with the low-fat version. And often the calorie difference between low-fat and fat-free is very small - 10 calories or less per serving, which is not really worth it to me. I'm cool with fat-free coffee creamer and certain things like that, but if it's sour cream, ricotta, or cottage cheese, I always go with the low-fat option over fat-free!
*I try not to beat myself up about a bad day, and I definitely let myself celebrate special occasions by eating things outside my diet. If you don't give yourself a cheat day now and then, you will go crazy and eat an entire plate of brownies. Trust me. I know.
*Be strong in the grocery store, so you aren't weak later at home! Make a list of only what you really need and just don't buy things at the grocery store that are going to set you back. It's hard to eat an entire bag of cheese puffs if you don't have any in your house.
*I try not to "snack" in the sense of mindless eating. I put food on a plate and eat it that way so that I can only eat what is there and not just keep going until I hit the bottom of the bag. When I really get hungry for candy, I choose something that has a wrapper on it. Because then you have to look at the pile of wrappers you're making and it makes you feel like you’re a horrible person. LOL! But in all seriousness, it helps you gauge what you've already eaten. Also, when I'm craving candy, I pick something "long-lasting" like a jolly rancher over something small and easy to keep eating like Reese's Pieces. It just makes you feel like you've eaten more than you really have and you get to enjoy it longer before it's gone!
*I told my hubby what my goals were. He keeps me accountable. He eats his late-night snacks in a different room. He is really thoughtful about trying not to tempt me into eating things he knows I really don't want to eat (even though I might 'want' to eat them). And he is totally with me in wanting to be healthier and is up for trying things that he knows are healthier alternatives to what we used to eat! It is so much easier to be healthy if the people who you often eat with/around know what your goals are so that they don't inadvertently throw you off course. That being said, I usually make sure to tell people who are having us over for dinner (who know that I'm watching what I eat) that there is nothing that I won't eat! I still eat it all! I don't want anyone to feel like they have to change something because of me! If it's not the healthiest thing in the world, I just do better at limiting my portion!!
*I weigh myself every day, sometimes a few times a day! This was so important especially at first when I had just started out because I really got to learn how my body changes according to what I put in it. I learned a lot about how my weight fluctuates, and what things I can get away with having a little more of and what things I need to cut back on!
*Take a few seconds each day to be grateful for how far I've come. I always always about every 7 pounds or so, hit a weight loss plateau where I feel completely stuck and feel like I've lost my stride and nothing is working again. So it's really important to remember how far I've gone already and give myself a little break. I think my body just has to reset itself at times like these.
*Stay busy! LOL! I think it's a little funny because I'm always telling people how busy I am and how I wish I had more time! But it's really a good thing when it comes to eating because I definitely tend to want to eat more when I'm bored. But I also run into the problem of being so busy that I end up missing snack times which screws with my metabolism and confuses my body. And I also run out of time to fit in exercising which I really miss when I can't fit it in. So I guess I just try to find a good balance of busy and not-too-busy.
So I'm sure I'm not thinking of everything, but for the people that wanted to know, that's basically all I do. Like I said before, it really doesn't feel like a diet anymore. (It definitely did at first) but now it's just want I'm used to and it's pretty easy to maintain eating this way! :)