Keeping your Sanity and a Reasonable Weight
How I dropped my weight 40 pounds and kept it off for 31 years without special diets or exercising
- Diets don’t work because one day they will end. This article explains how to identify and change things permanently. Once you’ve decided what weight you want, it provides tips to handle your everyday meals, substitution techniques, methods to stay on track, and how I handled two remissions. During the shutdown, I lost 7 pounds because larger restaurant meals were factored into my normal week and home meals were smaller. I show many detailed, usable examples. Good luck.
I start to notice my weight
People around me have talked about their diets for years, but nothing ever changes. Why?
Diets don’t work
Because they attack the wrong problem
I have never been on a diet. I didn’t think I was ever that fat!
I had no trouble getting in and out of a restaurant booth, or standing up from chairs, like other people that I saw in restaurants.
My pants were getting tighter, again. I knew I’d have to buy new ones soon, but wasn’t that normal? The belt across my stomach looked like a river valley. I couldn’t walk as far or fast as I used to, but that, of course, was just age. Doesn’t this happen to everybody?
People generally link health and excess weight, but not as something they have to worry about now. However, those other things, they happen every day and can be embarrassing, if nothing else.
Years after I lost all that weight, my daughter and her husband came for a visit. After looking at a picture on the wall of me with my brothers, her husband asked how much weight I lost since the picture and how I did it.
I said, “I noticed the problem, made a permanent change, and lost over 40 pounds, about 25% of my current weight.”
I won’t say that it was easy since no change is easy, but it was far easier than following one of the fad diets sold in stores or pushed on the internet.
Most people want instant results
I thought, briefly, about the various fad diets like the Keto diet, cabbage soup diet, low-fat diet, liquid diet, meal replacement shakes, etc.
They give you the feeling that you are doing something constructive, but they all have one fundamental problem.
====== Someday the diet will end ======
Then what do you do?
Most likely, you resume whatever you were doing before and gain the weight back, maybe with a little extra. I’ve seen it happen with friends and relatives.
Fad diets are potentially harmful
These diets usually restrict some class of foods. In moderation, it probably doesn’t make much difference, but the diets tend to go to extremes.
I’m using the Keto diet as an example since it is now popular, but similar arguments can be made about any of the fad diets. It has many different versions, some better than others.
I have some friends who started the Keto diet, which encourages high-fat, super-reduced-carb meals. These friends lost weight, at first, as expected from any fad diet. The theory is that fats, instead of carbs, nourish the brain.
The diet has some nasty short term and long term side effects, like the Keto Flu and gall stones. There’s a more detailed list at the end of this article.
Keto is like self-induced, Type 1 diabetes, with similar short term and long term side effects, such as hypoglycemia.
Finally, fad diets, or any diet just to lose weight, turns into drudgery. You chastise yourself for any transgressions. Then you give up and gain the weight back, plus some.
The permanent change
Your eating habits cause you to gain weight and keep it on. Discover what those habits are, then change or replace them.
Change your ways
Instead of trying to lose weight
In the beginning, you will have to count or measure something to know if you have changed your ways.
I track calories since they are easiest to find and you don’t have to be precise.
Eat the number of calories
required to maintain your target weight,
not your current weight.
Do it with fully-balanced meals. Simple as that.
You can’t be in a hurry, though. You will lose more weight at first since the difference between your current weight and the target weight is substantial. Later, the loss will diminish as the difference becomes smaller.
I know that I should consume about 1,600 calories per day to maintain my weight. It doesn’t have to be exact, but I don’t want to be off too much or too often.
I logged my meals for a week while writing this article to see if I was still on track. I am.
If you wish a large weight loss, like 120 pounds, do 40 pounds at a time. Otherwise, you will feel like you are starving and will quit. Pick a target you can live with.
How do you do that?
First, read food labels for calories, fiber, carbs, and proteins. Learn to use CalorieKing (www.calorieking.com) or some other source for unlabeled products.
- What are you doing now? Determine the number of calories and foods that you eat now per day. List everything, including the catsup on your French fries. Log everything, every meal, every snack, every drink, for a week. Change nothing just because you are recording them.
- What should you do? Find out how many calories you need per day for your ideal weight. Google some calculators. I use calculator.net (www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html) which asks for your age, height, weight, and activity level. Assume a sedentary lifestyle unless you are a real athlete. Don’t use any other activity category.
- How to do it. Build your own diet based on your favorite foods. Be sure that it has a reasonable number of calories, fiber, carbs and proteins. You may need to eliminate some foods, or find replacements, if the current mix is too much out of balance.
You need to record what you eat and count calories until everything becomes second nature.
What to look for
Once you have your present-day list, some habits will jump out. You may unconsciously eat a bag of chips per day or a large box of cookies per week. I drank 5 cans of regular coke per day.
I measured a pack of sugar from the restaurant. One can of regular coke contained 24 packs! At 5 cans per day, that’s 120 packs. That is like pouring one cup of sugar, plus a few tablespoons, into a bowl and eating it! Every day.
I examined what I was currently eating, when, where, and any moods, searching to see if I was overeating due to one or more of four emotional driving forces. Then, I concentrated on meal content, making far fewer changes than I expected.
1. Habit. Do you eat while reading, watching TV, or doing other mundane activities? You don’t even know what you are eating or how much. I didn’t, either.
If you don’t make a lifestyle change, you gain the weight back when you revert to your former habits.
I had a snack, such as a bowl of cereal or ice cream — 500 calories, just before bed, every night. I quit that and ate no snacks after 9:00 PM. In the beginning, my stomach hurt so much that I thought I wouldn’t sleep. I didn’t starve and got plenty of sleep.
2. Guilt & other emotional problems. You were trained to overeat early by your parents. Those kids will continue to starve in Africa, or wherever your parents told you, whether you overeat or not.
I read sometime in the past that people overeat because of emotional problems, such as guilt, self-perception, or other causes, because it makes them feel better. If that’s a driving force, it has to be identified and dealt with to avoid relapses. Luckily, I never had that problem.
3. Addiction. Sugar, especially, is addictive. I had withdrawal symptoms! When I quit drinking cokes and eating cookies, my kids said that I got “cranky.”
Like any addiction, I had to be vigilant all of the time. I still have to. At first, this was difficult. Now, if I eat too much of a high-sugar dessert, I become nauseous. If I plan for it, I can tolerate a small portion of such a dessert with my meal, but not the entire serving.
For example, I order the chocolate cake at a local restaurant. That cake is listed at 900 calories! I eat one-fourth and take three-fourths home to eat with three more meals over three days.
4. Portions. Restaurants are notorious for monster portions. They supply take-home boxes, but you may not be going straight home. Many dishes just don’t make good leftovers. My wife and I always split one order
If you do use a take-home box, ask for it when the meal is served, not at the end. Put half in the box, then eat your meal. That way, you won’t eat the whole thing before you realize what you have done. You can even throw it away on the way out. Anything to cut the portion size.
At one restaurant, one pasta dish and two breadsticks equal my whole day allotment. One large meal a day — a dog’s diet.
Some desserts are enormous, up to 1,000 calories or more.
I suggested at two different restaurants a way to serve one small dessert, from what they already had on the menu. They would increase their income by 50% from the same amount of food and probably increase their total dessert sales, too. No takers. Olive Garden sells thousands of Dolcinis, a tiny dessert.
Snacks are just as bad. My joke in the checkout line at Lowes: The package of mini-cookies contained 3 ½ servings @ 300 calories each. I asked the people in line how many of them would eat 1/3 of a package. They all laughed.
A Typical Meal
Calorie King lists foods by the ounce, gram, and normal portion size.
4-oz low fat steak, filet (202cal)
Mixed vegetables (100)
1/2 cup mashed potatoes (120)
Dish total: (422 cal).
2-inch square brownie (112 cal)
Whipped Cream (2 tbsp, 20 cal)
1 blueberry garnish (2)
Dish total: (134 cal).
Meal total: (556 cal). Well within a 1,600 calorie count for the day.
— — —— — — — — — — —
12-oz steak - filet (606 cal)
Mixed vegetables (100)
8-oz steak fries (344)
Dish total: (1,050 cal).
5-inch square brownie (700 cal)
1 cup Ice Cream (273)
3 tbsp. chocolate syrup (135)
Dish total: (1,108 cal).
Meal total: (2,158 cal). Much more than the 1,600 calorie count for the entire day.
If you substitute the cheaper 14 oz NY strip (1,043 cal) for the filet, then the meal total goes up to 2,595 calories. That does not include drinks or salads.
Even sharing the meal could put you near the 1,600 calorie limit. You must be aware at all times when in restaurants.
Many diets concentrate on one food or eliminate a whole class of foods. If sustained, I suspect these diets don’t supply the nutritional balance needed for the rest of your life.
Try to keep everything balanced, with a majority of your intake being fruits and vegetables. Limit the portions. Consult with a nutritionist or your doctor to see what is best for you.
Sugar comes in many forms, some that you would never guess. I learned a lot, as described in my article about living with a diabetic. To the body, carbs and refined sugars are the same, except that some are fast-acting, like white sugar or orange juice, and others are slow, like whole-wheat bread.
These have the same carbs: 15 grapes, ½ banana, one orange, 12 potato chips, 7 French fries, 1/3 bag of microwave popcorn, one ounce of bread, ½ cup of ice cream and one tablespoon of sugar.
Finally, I had to watch for hidden sugars, especially in drinks. I switched from cokes to diet sodas and finally, to green and herbal ice teas. At first, I put 4 packs of sugar in my tea and gradually reduced it to zero packs. Switching to better teas helped, but I had to experiment to find what I liked.
Methods to stay on track
- Trickery. I was like the Cookie Monster on TV. I threw away all the cookies in the house. However, I knew that I would eventually succumb to temptation and buy more.
So, I bought individual, frozen cookies that I had to bake. I got out the cookie sheet, baked one cookie for 15 minutes, and ate it. If I wanted another cookie, I had to wait another 15 minutes. Usually, one was enough. After a few months, I didn’t need cookies anymore and quit.
- Alertness. Consciously decide what you will eat and how much. This is especially important between meals. Keep the portions to the size you need, not what someone else says is a portion.
- Self-Measurement. I usually weigh myself at the same place, same clothes (none), and same time (before breakfast) using the same scales. I have noticed one thing. My weight varies from day-to-day by a pound or more. So, I use the lowest weight over 3 days and don’t worry about gaining one or even two pounds from the previous day.
Incrementalism: I kept the weight off for almost 30 years. Then recently, about once every week, I had one scoop of ice cream in a restaurant and gained nothing. So, I bought a pint for home. For a while, I had a small serving two or three times a week.
Two months later, it was 1/2 gallon and double the original serving every day for lunch and/or dinner. I had gained 7 pounds, which I noticed when I changed belt holes. I no longer have ice cream in the house.
Inattention: Last year, we went on my dream trip, a two-week Viking river cruise (article title “A Romantic Cruise on the Blue Danube” on www.medium.com) in Europe. I didn’t pay attention to portions and gained 10 pounds. Going back to my usual calorie intake, it took 8 months to lose them. You can’t be in a hurry eating the maintenance level number of calories.
This year, I watched portions and gained about one pound, which was gone within a couple of weeks after returning.
Keeping the calorie count and portion control relatively constant has become second nature. I don’t count calories any more unless I am trying something new.
I am still somewhat flabby, but that will take specific exercises to change the muscle tone. I’m too lazy for that.
I might be able to lose another 5 pounds, but precision is not necessary with your weight. I am close enough not to worry about it.
I can still get in and out of restaurant booths and go dancing on the town square for an hour or so every day.
This article is my analysis of my experience and is not intended as medical advice.
Update April 26, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, I am not going out to restaurants twice a week and not drinking 1 glass of wine nightly while dancing on The Square. Other than that, nothing has changed food-wise.
I lost 5 pounds over a month. I’ve added enough calories to offset those changes.
Other sources & references:
You usually think about extra weight with the word “diet,” but it also refers to underweight or medical necessities.
Keto diet: https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/keto
Ideal: You’ll likely need to keep carb intake under 50 grams per day of net carbs, ideally below 20 grams.
Twenty grams is 15% of those required by a Type 1 diabetic to keep from passing out.
Net carbs: just another way to play with numbers and make it more complex. People are impressed with complexity.
Net carbs are defined as total carbs minus the dietary fiber. This equation is useful for natural foods such as vegetables and fruits. However, we find it is less helpful for processed or packaged foods. Since we recommend eating mostly natural, minimally processed foods, we focus on net carbs. However, if you find yourself eating low-carb packaged foods, then we suggest using total carbs, rather than net carbs as your guide.”
The fewer carbs, the more effective it appears to be for reaching ketosis, losing weight or improving type 2 diabetes.
Keto side effects: https://www.news-medical.net/health/Ketogenic-Diet-Side-Effects.aspx
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, common with a Type 1 diabetic) is a common side effect in this instance, and noticeable signs may include:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Confusion, anxiety and/or irritability
- Lightheadedness and shakiness
- Sweating and chills
So Will the Keto Diet Help You Get Healthy?
Here’s everything to know about the ketogenic diet
The answer: Maybe. I suspect that some people think that they are following the Keto diet, but aren’t
7 Dangers of Going Keto: https://www.health.com/weight-loss/keto-diet-side-effects
Zigzag calorie cycling involves alternating the number of calories consumed on a given day. A person on a zigzag diet should have a combination of a few high-calorie and many low-calorie days to meet the same overall weekly calorie target.
This is a more formal way of saying that precision is not necessary.
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