Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Today's Lunch

It may seem from these lunches that I eat a lot of bagels, but that's not true most of the time. I just happened to buy one of those big bags with 12 bagels at Costco and it takes me a long time to eat them since I only eat half at a time. Usually, I have whole wheat bread, and later lunches should reflect this. Using bagels means that these lunches are about 80 calories more than my usual, but that's okay. I enjoy the bagels and they're more filling than thin slices of wheat bread. I simply have to adjust later snacks so that I eat a bit less on days when I'm having these bagels.

Today, I had one of my more filling lunches. Tuna always keeps me full longer than any other type of protein. I also had a bit of avocado, which is often hard to squeeze in because it's so high in calories. Finally, I had the last of some carrot soup I had lying around. I had this with half of a bottle of Coke Zero.

Tuna salad (2 servings):

  • 1 can of water-packed Albacore tuna, drained (210 calories)
  • 2 tbsp. reduced calorie mayonnaise (60 calories) or 1 tbsp. regular mayonnaise with 1 tbsp. yogurt (100 calories)
  • 1 tbsp. plain, low-fat yogurt (10 calories)
  • 1 thin slice large onion, finely chopped (4 calories)
  • seasoning to taste - garlic powder, celery salt, pepper are my favorites
total for all: 284 calories

If you like moister tuna salad, it's not going to cost much in calories just to put more yogurt in it and I can't taste it much. If you're sensitive to yogurt flavors, it may be best to go with reduced calorie mayo and add more of it.

1/2 bagel = 160 calories
tuna salad (1/2 the above) = 142 calories (add 20 more if you use full fat mayo and yogurt)
tomato (1 small) and avocado salad (1 thin slice) = 16 + 32 = 48 calories
10 oz. carrot soup = 100 calories
total: 450 calories

Fat Collocations

Most people use collocations all of the time, but they don't realize that is what they are called. A collocation is a grouping together of words in a certain order to make a common expression. You find that certain words tend to pair up with one another. For example, "mortal" and "combat" are often paired or "crystal" and "clear". Now, if you think about "thin" and the words that it are frequently collocated with it, you may come up with "thin and beautiful" or "thin and attractive". Conversely, we find that "fat" is often collocated with "ugly" or "disgusting".

These collocations aren't merely expressions, but part of our collective consciousness about how we regard weight and appearance. The truth is, however, that weight doesn't always have such a clear cut relationship to appearance. There are plenty of thin people who are ugly and fat ones who are beautiful. Beauty is considered to be largely subjective, but, in reality, it is a measure of certain types of symmetry which almost all humans find more appealing. Being overweight is seen as "ugly" mainly because the weight changes the symmetry or favorable ratios that are connected to beauty and because affluent cultures place a higher status on being thin.

The point of this post isn't to argue about "big" being potentially "beautiful". My point is that the collocation about "thin" being beautiful may actually play a part in the psychology of people regaining weight. Many women believe that they will be beautiful once they lose weight, but the truth is that many women lose weight and merely look average or even below average. The basic structure of beauty can't be acquired through weight loss. If your facial symmetry or waist to hip ratio at a lower weight are not appealing, you won't be beautiful when you are thin. You will just be thin.

Sometimes I wonder if the expectation that one will be regarded much more positively or become "hot" by dropping excess weight sets one up for a major fall when they get closer to their goal. What if you find out as you approach your goal that you aren't some great beauty hiding under all of that weight as everyone seems to be telling you when you're fat? What if you find that you are almost as invisible to the wandering eyes of men seeking partners as before or that you don't look really great in your smaller size clothes? It happens. In fact, it happens more than people realize as we never view ourselves as others do. People sometimes think they look great because they lost weight, but they actually look quite average.

One thing I've noticed when I view the progress pictures of the brave people who put up pictures of themselves after weight loss (and they are so much braver than me) is that many of them look healthier (and therefore "better"), but not necessarily "beautiful" or even "pretty". I had a similar experience when I lost weight in college. I don't think I looked beautiful or pretty, and it seemed that my nose really looked bigger with a smaller face.

So, what happens when a woman loses a lot of weight and she doesn't become beautiful? Well, the expected "reward" of beauty doesn't come at the end of a lot of effort and the chances that one will regain are increased. I'm not saying that is all it will take to set off the cycle of gaining weight after losing, but that it very well could be a factor. For this and many reasons, I think that overall fitness, mobility, and health should be the main focus of weight loss rather than appearance. Without having this priority in place, there is an increased probability of eventually looking in the mirror and saying, "why bother", when confronted with the choice of overindulging in food.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Today's Lunch

Today's lunch was super simple because I was in a hurry. I was also in the mood for cheese so I took half of an onion poppy seed bagel from the freezer, thawed it a bit in the microwave (but left it still a bit cold), topped with Colby Jack cheese, and stuck it in the toaster oven just enough to soften the cheese. It's amazing how something so simple can be so good when you really crave it. I had it with carrot soup that I had already made and just a few strawberries. I had more strawberries later as a snack, but wanted a few as a sweet finish to this small lunch.

carrot soup:
  • 1 tsp. oil (40 calories)
  • 1 tsp. fennel seed (7 calories)
  • 1 medium onion, diced (44 calories)
  • 1 semi-heaping tsp. curry powder (9 calories)
  • 2 small whole garlic cloves, peeled (9 calories)
  • 3 large carrots, scrubbed with tips removed, sliced (90 calories)
  • 1 can (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock (20 calories for chicken)
  • 1 1/2 cups low fat milk (135 calories)
  • 1/2-1 cup water
  • salt and coarse black pepper to taste (I use 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper)
total (entire batch): 354 calories

Heat a medium soup pot (that you have a lid for) under low heat. Add the oil to the hot pan and tip it around to coat the bottom evenly. Add the fennel seeds and allow them to cook for about a minute. Add the diced onion and garlic cloves and stir it around in the oil and fennel. Cook the onions over low or medium heat until they become translucent. If they start to stick or brown too quickly, lower the heat and stir more frequently. It should take 5-10 minutes to cook the onions. It's important to do this to remove the "raw" or harsh flavors from the onion.

Add the curry powder to the onions and stir it around. Cook the curry powder for 2-3 minutes with the onions. Add the carrots and stir around to coat with seasonings. Add the soup stock, salt, pepper, water and milk. Note that the amount of water you use depends on how thin you want the soup to be. I prefer mine thick, so I use a half cup, but the size of the vegetables plays into this as well. Stir to mix, cover with a lid, and allow to cook over low to medium-low heat at a vigorous simmer. A vigorous simmer means it is boiling a little, but not at a point where the pot might boil over. Stir the soup occasionally (about every 10 minutes or so).

Cook until the carrots are tender. The time this takes depends on how you slice or cut up your carrots. Smaller pieces take less time. Generally speaking, between 30-45 minutes is good. It's okay to overcook the soup, but not to cook too little as the carrots need to be very tender. Test the carrots with a fork to see if they are done. If you can cut one of the thicker or larger pieces in half easily with a fork, it is cooked well enough. When the carrots are thoroughly cooked, use an immersion blender to puree it well. Serve hot or cold.

This makes between 4-5 one-cup (8 oz.) servings of soup. The volume varies slightly depending on the size of your vegetables and whether or not you make the soup thinner or thicker. For my FitDay logging, I just place one serving at 80 calories which I believe is going to be within 10 calories one way or another if I have a one cup serving.

bagel = 160 calories
1.6 oz. cheese = 174 calories
8 oz. carrot soup = 80 calories
4 strawberries = 16 calories
total = 430

Because of the low amount of protein, I was hungry about 2 hours later, but I rather expected that. I had a half cup of (full fat, with sugar) yogurt with the second serving of strawberries about two hours after this.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fat and Happiness

Lately, I've been bouncing around to various blogs written by women who are overweight and not necessarily interested in losing weight. Several themes shine through across the blogs. One is that one can be healthy and fat. Another is that it doesn't have to hold you back in your career. A big one is that, yes, people can be happy while fat.

I have been thinking about my happiness levels now as compared to 9 months ago. It's probably not entirely fair to reach conclusions at this point about how happy I might be if I were thinner, since I'm still very fat. That being said, I can compare my happiness at a life lead close to 400 lbs. and holding as compared to a life lead at close to 300 lbs. and dropping. If nothing else, this post will be a bookmark for the future when I've lost more weight.

When I pondered this point, I realized that measuring happiness is not an easy thing. It's difficult to find a starting point, but I thought I would begin by looking at the things which diminish my ability to be content and how they have been affected by my weight loss so far. The primary factor in reducing my overall quality of life was physical pain and a lack of mobility due to that pain. If I look at both of those factors, I can say that having lost 100 lbs. has diminished my overall physical pain on a daily basis by about 85% and my mobility issues by about 75%. That means my happiness "suppression" due to these factors has been greatly alleviated.

That being said, there are new factors related to weight loss that have also played into decreasing happiness. For one thing, I no longer have unhindered pleasure with food. Setting aside the fact that seeking pleasure and comfort in food is unhealthy on multiple levels, the fact of the matter is that I enjoyed eating more then than I do now on a quantitative level (though not necessarily on a qualitative one). I spent more of my time eating and enjoying it as well as preparing and less shopping for food than I do now. Now, I'm basically imprisoned by calorie counting and treat budgeting such that I get a trickle of the food pleasure that I once did. In terms of the loss of happiness due to a change in eating habits, I've probably seen a 95% loss in food-related pleasures because I'm losing weight.

I also find that I have much less free time than I used to have and can't relax nearly as much as before because I have to constantly deal with food and push myself to move more. I think more about food, and enjoy it less. Because of the vigilance I must exercise in crafting meals, counting calories, balancing nutrition, and making sure I have what I need on hand at all times, I find myself constantly working on preparing meals and cleaning up after them. Anyone who says that eating healthily isn't more difficult than eating junk is a gigantic liar, is someone who has a personal chef doing all of the heavy lifting, or is ingesting a lot of expensive, frozen, pre-made diet meals (which taste bad and aren't really good for you). I'm sorry, but the truth is that it takes a lot of effort to look after your best food interests.

The other factor about losing weight which is hindering my happiness is the fact that I have to go out among people more. Before, I would go out once a week, twice tops, to shop because of my pain while walking. That meant that I was exposed less to people who treated me poorly. Now, I go out for walks 6 out of 7 days a week and get treated like crap (gawked at, made fun of, whispered about, given dirty looks, stared at) almost everyday. That's bound to undermine my happiness. The only thing I can say about this last point is that there is some small hope that, when I lose enough weight to look relatively "normal", this sort of behavior will stop.

For me, the current situation is that I am happier in some ways because of weight loss, but, on the whole, I am not appreciably happier than before. I am less unhappy in some ways and less happy than in others. One thing is clear though, aside from physical pain, I could be a lot happier if other people would mind their own business and leave me alone. Most of the unhappiness I feel about being fat now that most of my pain is greatly diminished is due to how others treat me, not to any inherent personal wish to look a certain way.

As for other fat bloggers who carry the fat pride flag and are doing what they can to convince the world that one can be fat and happy, I say, "more power to you." They surely have more strength to endure the critical glare of the world around them. Of course, the "thin" world around them is never going to believe they are really happy. How can they possibly believe a fat person can be happy when they (the thin people) are doing their utmost day-in and day-out to make you as miserable as possible?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Resisting the Impulse

This morning, I did something emotionally difficult for me. I have connected with many old school friends on FaceBook and one of them holds a special place for me. Unfortunately, there was something this person has been saying on a regular basis which I was troubled by. It wasn't the specifics, but rather the general idea. I had to consider whether or not to say something in a constructive, non-judgmental way that I felt I should say. I didn't think that I should say it because I was emotional or upset, but just because I think that this type of pattern of behavior is destructive on the whole and reflects poorly on people who do it.

In the end, I decided that I would say something because I concluded that it would be better to lose a trivial association with someone I care about than to say nothing and preserve it. In essence, I wanted to say something that would elevate the relationship in a way rather than treat it as two ships passing on FaceBook. I carefully crafted my message in the best way possible, and sent it off.

After sending it, I felt hungry, and I decided to have some grapes. That was fine since breakfast was small, as usual, and a fruit-based snack between breakfast and lunch isn't unusual for me on my plan. After eating the grapes, I was eyeballing a snack cake remainder that had been around for several days and thinking of eating it, too. The portion that was left was only 90 calories, and I could afford it though I'd have to sacrifice a better-timed, more filling snack later.

At this point, I realized that this was not me being hungry or treating myself, but stress-based emotional eating desires manifesting themselves. I'm nervous about how my friend will respond. In particular, I think there is at least a 50-50 chance he'll just boot me from his friend's list without a word in response. While I have some faith in my writing ability, I think that words on a screen are read in the voice of the reader, not the writer, and can be infused with all of the wrong intentions. (Update: he responded kindly and all is well)

I haven't felt much in the way of stress eating as of late, and I even mentioned several posts ago that I consciously dismissed food as an option for comfort in moments of dire emotional stress. It seems, however, that the unconscious urge to eat in times of less acute stress are still there and propelling me. Fortunately, I recognized this for what it was and left the cake alone. I would say that it is amazing that this still happens, but I think it's be more astonishing if it didn't. It's not just the big things that drive me to food, but it's the little ones as well.

For the record, the technique I use when I feel the urge to eat things too early in the day, when it's easier to slip because you have more calories left to "spend", is to go to FitDay and fill out my calorie log for the next meal (or the rest of the day). Seeing the total for food I plan to eat but has not yet been eaten often takes the wind out of my eating sails when I want to do something which is imprudent.

Today's Dinner

I love chicken eaten over glutinous rice. The combination is very good in terms of the contrasting textures, and you don't have to add gravy or butter to the rice because it will take on the flavor of the meat that you make with it if you eat them both together.

The ground chicken was seasoned only with salt and pepper and was cooked in a cast iron skillet. Using cast iron lends meat a nicer flavor than using a non-stick pan. I also threw in some garlic cloves and fried them up with the burger, though I used a very scant amount of oil in the process. One other nice aspect of cast iron pans is that they can work with little oil after they are seasoned.

The burger was perfectly cooked (still juicy) and the texture of the ground meat went very well with the rice. I mashed and cut up the garlic with the side of my fork and ate it with bites of chicken and rice. It may be a bit strong for some people, but I really enjoyed it. The garlic was softer and mellower because of slow cooking in the cast iron skillet.

I had hot tea and water with this, and the chocolate was "dessert". I usually don't eat sweets right after dinner, but I had had a low calorie day and was in the mood for it. The chocolate was two small squares of a large bar of hazelnut milk chocolate (chocolate with whole nuts in it) that I bought a long time ago and have slowly been eating over a period of months. It has been in a Ziploc bag my refrigerator, buffeted around as other food is shifted around it, for quite awhile so it looks a little bruised. It was delicious though. You can compare the squares to the size of the grapes to see just how small they were.

I took a multivitamin with this meal, as I try to do every night with dinner.

carrot salad (1 serving):
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated (25 calories)
  • 1 tsp. oil (any type you like) (40 calories)
  • 1-2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. whole grain mustard
  • salt, pepper, parsley to taste
    total calories: 65 calories
Add the lemon juice, oil, mustard, and spices to a bowl and whisk together. Stir in the grated carrot with a fork, cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate for an hour or so. You can eat it fresh, but it's nicer is you let it sit for a bit. The flavors combine much more smoothly and the carrot gets a little softer.

chicken burger (4 oz.) = 142 calories
garlic cloves = 14 calories
1 cup glutinous rice = 168 calories
grated carrot salad = 65 calories
3.4 oz. red grapes = 66 calories
hazelnut chocolate = 90
total = 545

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Secret Life of Fat People

One day my boss and I were walking to a restaurant for lunch and it was quite cold. He made some remark about how bitter it was, and I concurred. In response to my comment, he mentioned that I might be warmer if I "zipped up". He said this because I was wearing my coat, but it was hanging open. Of course, what he did not know, as a person of average weight, was that I couldn't zip it up because I was too fat for it to fit properly.

Sometimes I think that the part of the world which has never been obese doesn't realize the level of suffering on a daily basis and on every level that very fat people endure. They can't conceptualize the myriad challenges that we face from clothes that won't fit right to shoe-tying to worrying about fitting into chairs. My boss is a wonderful and sensitive person. I have no doubt that he was completely oblivious as to why I didn't zip up my coat because the only reason he wouldn't have done so was that he forgot or was being careless. People tend to see the world through their own perspective and don't inhabit the reality of others without being forced to do so for one reason or another. They're not aware of "the secret life of fat people" and all the little embarrassments and humiliations we fear and endure. Of course, many of them could hardly care. They think we deserve to suffer for being such "lazy", "weak-willed", and "out-of-control" "pigs".

One of my fondest wishes come next winter is that I will finally have lost enough weight to zip up my coat. This past winter, my coat fit around my upper body with inches to spare, but is still at about 8 inches too small around my lower body. My disproportionate weight loss is troublesome in this regard, but I'm hoping the fat cells in my stomach and behind will finally relent and allow themselves to shrink by the time the harsh chill is back with a vengeance.

Today's Breakfast

I don't generally eat a big breakfast. I wake up hungry, but not ravenous. Something small usually does it for me, and since I often have stiffness and pain in the morning, it's all the nicer to have something simple.

One of my favorites when I don't happen to have whole wheat bread on hand (which I make myself) is banana toast. That's not toast with bananas on it, but rather sugar-free (and whole wheat) banana bread which has been toasted and spread with 50% calorie-reduced fat spread. I love this with 8 or 10 oz. of coffee with 1/3 of a cup of whole milk and one packet of Splenda. Toasting this makes it slightly crispy on the edges and tender in the center.

I adapted this recipe from a link I was given on Tea at Dusk.

Bread for Banana Toast:
  • 3 medium bananas (315 calories)
  • 1/2 cup plain low fat yogurt (77 calories)
  • 1 medium egg (63 calories)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (52 calories)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil (120 calories)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla (12 calories)
  • 3/4 cup granular Splenda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of (regular, not pastry) whole wheat flour (742 calories)
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder (12 calories)
total for entire loaf: 1393 calories

Place the bananas in a food processor or blender and blend them until liquefied. If you don't have either of these appliances, mash the bananas well with a fork. Add the yogurt, egg, vanilla, oil, and vegetable oil and blend again (or mix with a whisk) until everything is evenly mixed. Transfer the liquid ingredients to a large bowl and whisk in the Splenda granular, cinnamon and salt. Mix well. Add the whole wheat flour and gently moisten it with a spoon. Do not mix it well at this point. You only want to get it wet and then allow it to rest for 15 minutes to a half hour. You want to allow the flour to absorb the moisture more fully before baking. This is not essential, but it improves the texture of whole wheat baked goods made with relatively coarse flour.

While the batter is resting, prepare a loaf pan by spraying it with non-stick spray or greasing and flouring it. After the batter has rested, add the baking powder and stir sufficiently to mix it in. Don't stir more than necessary as you will work the gluten in the flour too much and the bread will be tough. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for between 45 minutes and an hour. When a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, it is done. Remove it from the oven and allow it to sit for 15 minutes in the pan. It will easily flip out of the loaf pan after this rest.

I also recommend allowing the bread to sit uncut overnight. This will make it easier to slice evenly as well as improve the texture. Whole wheat baked goods are often better after the moisture settles overnight.

The number of calories per serving depends on how many pieces you cut it into. I usually cut it into 10 (146 calories per slice), but some may find 8 to be a more satisfying serving size (183 calories per slice). I tend to decide based on how big the overall loaf seems to come out. If it feels small, I'll go for 8 slices. If it feels big, I'll go for 10.

coffee with whole milk = 44 calories
banana toast (8 cut) = 174 calories
fat spread = 20 calories
total: 238 calories

I took a Vitamin C supplement with this breakfast because I've been feeling tired. When I suddenly start to feel more tired than usual, it's generally because my body is trying to fight off a cold or virus. I don't take Vitamin C (in the morning) in addition to my daily multivitamin (at night) unless I'm feeling more fatigued than usual because I don't want to overload on C (as it can cause diarrhea and is a water-soluble vitamin that is wasted if you body can't use it).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Real Question

Recently, there was a thread on a popular weight loss forum in which someone said something that was on the order of ‘do you ever feel bad for telling people that you lost weight by eating less and exercising more?’ This was followed by a variety of posts that pretty much assumed that people who ask this question want some magical answer like you’ve been ingesting goat placenta on a regular basis, or you took a pill and that squashed all desire to eat calorie-dense food or tasty, empty calories.

Personally, I don’t think people who ask this question are looking for a “magical” answer. I think what they’re looking for is the answer to a question they don’t have the insight to ask because you only really know the question once you no longer need to ask it. That real question isn’t about the mechanics of losing weight, but rather about how one goes from being a person who is incapable of following such plans to the type of person who is capable of doing so. In other words, how did you mentally transform from the thinking that made you fat to the thinking that made you thin? Clearly, something changed in your head since you couldn’t control your eating before.

The reason most people focus on the plans is that this transition is difficult to explain or pin down, so they hope that the plans themselves are what cause the change. One of the reasons I wrote out my plan and posted it was that I knew I was going to be asked, and I didn’t want to offer the lame answer of “ate less, moved more.” Yes, this is what I do. It doesn’t tell anyone anything about how I did it this time when I couldn’t do it before.

I say that is a “lame answer” because it doesn’t provide insight or assistance in making a mental or physical transition. I can explain those transitions now and I have done so. Yes, I eat less and move more, but it wasn’t some great surge of willpower in me or my super strong character that got me here. It was behavior modification techniques that just so happened to work out for me so that I could make the changes and a strong motivation with a deadline to change my life.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Today's Lunch

I have no plans to become a blogger who posts every meal I eat as I don't need that sort of motivation to be accountable at this time. I also do not have the time, but I will occasionally post a meal and the recipes involved in case anyone is interested.

Today's lunch was egg salad on half a toasted onion and poppy seed bagel, 8 oz. homemade tomato soup, half a 500 ml. bottle of Coke Zero and an orange. This was quite a bit too much food for me to eat all at once though so I ate about 3 orange wedges and had to set the rest aside for later. I also took a Calcium supplement with the meal.

Here are the recipes and calorie breakdowns for this meal:

egg salad (this makes enough for 2 meals)
  • 3 medium eggs, hard-boiled (188 calories)
  • 2 tbsp. reduced calorie mayonnaise (60 calories) or use 1 tbsp. full fat mayonnaise and 1 tbsp. non-fat unsweetened yogurt (100 calories)
  • 1 thin slice onion, finely chopped (4 calories)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste (any other spices you like, I sometimes use dill or add in a little yellow or whole grain mustard)
Place the diced onion in a bowl. Peel the eggs and pop the yolks into the bowl with the onions. Add the mayonnaise and sprinkle on the spices. Mash the yolks and mix until the yolks and mayonnaise are well incorporated into a paste-like mixture. Chop the egg whites and stir into the yolk mixture. Spoon half of this onto a toasted bagel and refrigerate the rest for tomorrow.

I will provide the recipe for the tomato soup later when I have more time to write it up and offer all of the calorie information. The soup is mainly pureed vegetables (tomato, onion, and carrot), spices, and water so it is not densely caloric and is nutritious. Of course, preparation is a big part of what makes it so delicious and much better than anything you could buy in a can.

1/2 bagel = 160 calories
egg salad (1/2 of above) = 126 calories (add 20 more if you use full fat mayo and yogurt)
soup = 50 calories
orange = 86 calories
total: 422

This was such a satisfying lunch. The bagel (from Costco) was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The egg salad was creamy and perfectly spiced and the soup was tangy, warming, and just salty enough. I'm not a huge fan of oranges, but I was in the mood for them today and the juicy wedges were really lovely when I slowly squeezed them in my mouth. :-)

I deal with the bagels by slicing them in half and wrapping each half in plastic and freezing them. When I want them, I can just take out a half and toast it in the toaster oven while still frozen.

No Longer A Panacea

Last night, I had a truly awful night. I was upset, full of self-hating, and generally felt like I was completely empty inside and my life was a waste. I called myself a “fat sack of crap.” In fact, I called myself that twice. Aloud. I cried a lot, and felt like I’d rather be dead than go on with my miserable and useless life.

This morning, I thought about how truly empty and awful I had felt, and then I thought about the fact that I had no desire to fill that emptiness with food. I thought fleetingly about eating something to make me feel better, but that thought was extinguished immediately with the answer, it won’t change anything or make you feel any better. This wasn’t me talking myself out of eating. It was knowing the truth on a much deeper level than I’ve ever known it before. It simply was something I now embraced completely. Food wasn’t going to help. It wasn’t even the first thought to turn to food in my pain.

After I had this experience, I felt better because I knew some sort of change in mindset in regards to food had fallen into place. It isn’t a change I bullied myself into or had to brainwash myself into believing. It was just there all by itself. Food seems to finally be taking its proper place in my life as something other than an answer when I’m in pain. It’s so far off the radar as a source of comfort that it didn’t even come to mind last night and was a last thought discovered only after a scan of the periphery of my comfort-seeking radar.

I don’t feel deeply better today. Now, I’m more in a state of numbness, but I’m really happy to not have thought that food was going to fix things for me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My eating habits

I try to eat a variety of foods such that I don’t grow bored or feel deprived and get as good a nutritional balance as possible. I adjust the day’s meals to compensate for “indulging” a bit on a particular meal, and when I say "indulging", I don't mean eating some calorie bomb, but rather eating more than I usually would for that particular meal's calorie "allotment" for the day.

To give a typical example, most of the time, my breakfast is around 200 calories. If I have something which takes that total up to 300 or 350 calories, I will usually have a poached egg, whole wheat toast, and tomato for lunch. Eggs are nutritionally dense (good for protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals), especially if you consume the yolks. And yes, I always eat the whole egg, not just the white. The fat in the yolk is important not only for nutrients but to increase satiety. The cholesterol effects in eggs have been dramatically overstated (or completely wrong) for years. Eggs are also low in calories at around 70-90 each depending on size. When I have a bigger breakfast, they make a good adjustment at lunch.

My target calorie breakdowns tend to be:

Breakfast - 200-300 calories
Light snack - 100 calories
Lunch - 300-400 calories
Snack - 100-300 calories (average of 200)
Dinner - 400-500 calories

The total on the high end of these is 1600. That being said, I do go over sometimes because I will eat more if I’m really hungry and things don’t always work out as planned. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the numbers for each planned meal in these ranges, but I rarely exceed 1800 and often hit 1600-1700.

Typical breakfasts include:

Coffee with whole milk and sweetener (Splenda) or tea with low fat milk and Splenda with one of the following:
  • Whole wheat toast with reduced calorie fat spread
  • Homemade sugar free whole wheat banana bread (toasted and spread with fat)
  • Homemade low sugar blueberry whole wheat muffins or bread
  • Three small pancakes with butter, fruit (blueberries, usually) and reduced calorie syrup
  • Whole wheat toast with fat spread and one egg (fried or poached)
  • Half of a modest-size muffin or baked item (not a huge one) from a commercial bakery (around 150-200 calories)
  • One small donut or half a big one (usually around 200-300 calories)
The bakery items and donuts are rare. I have them when I really feel like having them, which tends to be about once every 3 weeks or less. They are a concession to a need not to feel denied or deprived, and there is generally a price to pay in that I tend to feel hungry earlier after having them. I know the consequences of the choice though, and can make adjustments to lunch accordingly.

Typical lunches include:
  • Poached egg with whole wheat toast and reduced calorie fat spread, homemade carrot or tomato soup
  • Chef’s salad (lettuce, turkey, cheese, tomato, full-fat dressing, croutons, onion)
  • Half a cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, made with reduced calorie fat spread and 2 ounces (about 200 calories) of cheese, homemade vegetable-based (usually tomato) soup
  • Small frozen pizza (250 calories) topped with leftover chicken and Tabasco sauce, vegetable soup, carrot slices
  • Tuna and pasta salad made with reduced calorie mayonnaise, vinegar, onion, and spices
  • Thinly sliced chicken grilled with cheese on whole wheat, homemade soup (tomato or carrot)
  • Chicken with a tomato and avocado salad
Typical snacks include:
  • fruit, though only if a meal is close coming in an hour or so because fruit can stimulate my appetite
  • Triscuits with an ounce or half ounce of cheese, a few olives
  • Fruit smoothies with frozen blueberries or bananas, low-fat milk, and crushed ice
  • Rice crackers
  • 50-100 calories of chocolate (2 Hershey's kisses-size treats, a bite-size candy bar, or a portion of something larger like one finger of a KitKat)
  • 60-150 calories of a salted snack treat
  • Triscuits and cottage cheese
  • carrot sticks
  • vegetable-based soup choice (whatever I have on hand or in the freezer)
  • consomme with some type of cracker
  • cottage cheese with pine nuts (which I really love)
  • baked tortilla chips or pita chips with salsa or some other dip
Typical dinners include:
  • Pasta with chicken meatballs and marinara sauce, green salad
  • Chicken breast (up to 6 oz.) with rice, steamed carrots or mashed squash
  • Lean portion of a pork chop with potatoes (mashed, baked, etc. – 200 calories worth), carrot, broccoli, grilled pepper, or mashed squash
  • Turkey burger which is served on a small bun with light mayonnaise, oven fries (either sweet potato or white potato), small green salad
  • Chicken with rice, tomato, carrots, or other vegetable.
  • burrito made with a mixture of ground turkey, refried beans, cheese, and vegetables
  • pasta with pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and whatever sauce strikes my fancy, green salad
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It's just to offer a basic idea.

I eat a lot of chicken, because it is what I like. I'm not a fan of red meat. In fact, I have never really liked it and do not enjoy things like hamburgers or steak. This makes my life easier since white meat chicken is lower in calories than other types of meat. I'm not suggesting others follow this plan, but just finding a balance and incorporating what you want with what helps you reduce your eating.

My main goal is to make sure I spread things out so I’m not super hungry and end up eating something just because I’m too ravenous to control myself. This is the reason why there are multiple snacks. I also make sure to eat some fat and protein. Fat makes you feel sated and protein helps balance your blood sugar responses to carbohydrates like bread and potatoes. I like whole wheat bread (I actually prefer the taste to white) and it has more fiber and nutrients than white bread, but you can eat anything you want. This isn’t about force-feeding yourself healthy food, though obviously eating healthier will allow you more food volume while still staying in your allotted calories.

I also take a multi-vitamin and Calcium supplement nearly every day. It’s nearly impossible on a limited diet to get all the nutrients you need and I think that wasted vitamins are better than being under-nourished. Your skin and hair will look better if you take supplements while restricting what you eat.

The bottom line is that I'm not looking to "game" my body or trick my mind. I'm not looking for loopholes to stuff myself (well, unless you consider reduced calorie fat spread and Splenda "tricks" - I consider them "crutches" which can be replaced if I want when I've lost all the weight I want to lose) or convince my mind that that carrot stick is going to satisfy me when I want a piece of chocolate. I have a piece of chocolate, but I eat it very consciously and keep telling myself that more will not increase my enjoyment of it. In fact, less will maximize my enjoyment because my taste buds will have the initial experience which is the most intense and I won't feel awful afterward.

The bottom line for me is I don't want to be one of those people who goes out for dinner with people and they order whatever they want while she sits around sulking internally because she can't have what she wants. I don't want to resent my eating plan, but to see it as a guideline to help me eat normally rather than overeat. If we happen to find ourselves in a position to have really tasty-looking pizza, and I want some pizza, I'll have a slice or half a slice if it's one of those massive over-sized pieces. I'll research calorie counts before I go to wherever it is and work out what I can have and not go overboard, though frankly, I now have a very strong sense of what can be eaten and be within normal portion sizes even without research. I'll eat my portion slow and savor every bite, and I'll ditch the crust because it's not flavorful enough. I get what I want, and I don't feel bad or guilty.

Through time, I've managed to lose that feeling that I need more and more and more of a good thing to really enjoy it. I've also been able to become satisfied with smaller portions through gradual reduction of sizes. I don't want the biggest. I want the one which is just enough, and I don't want to stuff myself stupid with vegetables to fill the empty spot. I want that spot to simply be smaller and satisfied with reasonable portions of everything.

I'm not saying this would work for everyone, nor that it is the most nutritionally balanced plan out there, but it's working for me, and I don't feel that I eat poorly at all. In fact, I'm sure I eat better than many people around me (which may speak to how poorly they eat). I feel I eat like a normal modern person with access to goodies who mainly eats what she should, but also indulges in a little bit of the type of thing that people consider bad.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When Compassion is Lost With the Weight

I have always felt that the person I am on the inside is what matters and that valuing or judging people by what is on the outside is not only wrong, but an indication of a weak and immature character. I realize that it is our animal nature to judge by appearances, but we are not simple animals. Humans, unlike animals, are capable of reason, restraint, and morality. Humans also are far less enslaved by their biological impulses than animals. While an animal in heat may copulate, a human who is filled with sexual desire may choose not to act on those desires.

So, I have never accepted the excuse that it’s okay to judge people based on what they look like just because it’s what we may do by nature. We act against our nature in the interests of intellectual, spiritual, and psychological growth all the time. Why should this be an exception to transcending our nature, particularly when we all know that beauty is transient? Few die beautiful if they are lucky enough to survive to a reasonable age.

One of the things that I think has been a psychological struggle for me in terms of losing weight is that it is, in essence, “giving in” to society’s judgment of me. They have been telling me for years that I’m a blight and now I’m finally going to agree with them and change my appearance to one they find more in line with their sensibilities. I don’t agree with those sensibilities, so why am I complying with them? There’s also a sense that I’m giving into all of the bullying I’ve endured for years.

So, if appearance doesn’t matter and I should stand my ground in the face of aggressive people who try to force changes upon me, there is quite a block to overcome mentally. For those like me who very deeply believe that looks are not that important (and I really believe that) and that it is character that matters, this is something that has to be set aside in the interest of doing what it takes to improve health and strength and to reduce stress. Let’s face it, being loathed by society every time you step out the door is immensely hard on a person.

For others, there is another path to pursue. That path is becoming what they once hated. As they find themselves physically merging with the ideals of those who once tormented and judged them, they join the other side. They now judge others for not being able to lose weight and talk about things like others “not wanting to lose weight” or “not being willing to do what it takes”. How soon those folks forget that they themselves were once hopeless and helpless in the face of weight gain.

Many of them at one point in time put on 5 pounds then later 10 and later 15 and then possibly up to 50 or even a 100. At any point on that continuum, did they think to themselves, “I just don’t want to lose weight” or “I’m unwilling to do what it takes.” No, at that point, they were thinking what every suffering fat person thinks. “I want to lose weight, but I can’t manage it.” I try to make changes, and fail and keep gaining.” “I’m enslaved by my desires when it comes to food.” The people who were once overweight and are now thin who judge people who remain fat disgust me, and I frankly think that there’s a lesson that they need to learn. Since I believe in karma, and that lesson can be learned by once more becoming fat and developing the compassion they never had or have lost with their weight, I’m figuring that there may be a reason people who lose weight gain it back beyond never developing proper weight maintenance habits.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stage 5: Counting Every Day

At this point, I made a rapid transition to counting every day. I actually felt uncomfortable not doing so. I felt as if I didn't have enough of a feel for how much I was eating on the days when I wasn't counting. I also had grown sufficiently used to the laborious task of calorie tracking that it didn't seem quite as troublesome as it did initially. It simply became part of my regular routine at this stage.

The final stage is to calorie count every day of the week at a level which you can manage. For me, that level is 1600-1800 per day at present. Note that it may become easier as you lose more weight to eat less as you will be operating with a body that demands fewer calories. For example, at around 300 lbs, your body will want 3500 calories per day to stay at that weight. Cutting back to 1800-2000 calories per day is a large deficit at that weight and will be hard. When you reach around 200 lbs., that number drops to 2700 for maintaining your weight. The lighter body will demand less so cutting back more should be less hard on your body.

My plan from now until I lose all of the weight I'd like to, and possibly beyond, is to vary the numbers a little based on how I'm feeling or how hungry I happen to be. I try to hit 1600 everyday, but sometimes land at 1500, 1700, or 1800. I'm okay with this, and I think it is better to mix up the number of calories you consume. With any luck, at this point you've learned a bit about the way you eat and the way your body works and can know when you want to eat because you are genuinely hungry and when you want to eat out of boredom or to ease stress.

Future Eating

Once you have lost all of the weight you want to, you can then adjust your eating slowly upward to the point where you can maintain your weight. It shouldn’t be appreciably different from what you have been doing all along. If you’ve been eating 1500 calories, for instance, another 500 calories may be as little as adding a latte and a Danish into your daily eating plan. (A clarification since I seem to have worded this poorly based on comments: I'm not suggesting anyone eat these things, but rather showing just how close this eating pattern is to your total daily number even at a healthy weight. If you are eating 1500 calories per day, you are near a style of eating that you can continue forever. You can add occasional splurges, or you can eat a little more, but you can never eat a ton more. Following this will put your eating in a place where you won't have to change much after you lose all the weight you want to.) You will already have a good idea of what you can eat based on your calorie counting habits. This is my hope for myself as of March 2010. I'll see if things work out that way in the future.

My situation

For me, I have been able to develop a relationship with food whereby I can eat small amounts of “treats” daily. I can have one or two squares of a chocolate bar, a small amount of cake or one cookie. I can have some salted treats. I can do this because I used the plan detailed above to get control and to work out an understanding of the relative ‘cost” of a food to my overall food consumption for the day. Generally, I view my calorie totals like a budget. I can’t spend more money than I make or I go into debt. I can’t eat more than I burn in a day or I gain weight. Eating less than my body requires is like saving money. Every calorie I don’t consume will allow me to lose weight.

Some days, I do very well and things are easy. Other days, I struggle and bump up against or go slightly over what I’d like my day’s total to be. That being said, if I were to eat like this for the rest of my life, I would never gain weight since I so rarely consume more than 2000 calories and so often eat between 1500-1800. Even on this slow plan, I have lost 100 lb. in about 6 months.

Stage 4: Three Days of Calorie Counting

The next step is one you may logically deduce. You will now calorie count 3 days a week, but at the increased count of 1500 calories per day. For reference, note that a person of normal weight for his or her height and body type can lose one pound a week on average at a calorie count of 1500 a day. It takes a deficit of 3500 calories to lose a pound. With an average of 2000 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight for a person who is normally active (not working out or exercising especially, but also not a couch potato), a 500 calorie deficit for a week will result in an average loss of a pound. Of course, age and height will also play a part in the rate of loss, but most people should be losing weight at 1500 calories per day.

That being said, a person who is overweight will lose more weight as maintaining a heavy body requires more calories. As you lose more weight, you will lose more slowly unless you increase activity or decrease calories more. I don’t recommend reducing the calories too far though as it is harder on your body and often does not yield results equivalent to your added sacrifice. My future plan is to increase activity and hold on the calories at 1500 or so once I reach a lower weight (likely once I reach 200 lbs.).

At this point, you may also start to think about the effect that certain foods have on your hunger levels. That is, do you feel hungrier after eating an apple? Do you feel hungrier after eating bread? One of the things we don't easily realize when we eat as much as we want and whatever we want is what types of foods are stimulating our appetites. When you start to count calories and control the food you eat more purposefully, you can get a feel for the foods which make you hungrier rather than sate you.

For me, eating an apple will almost always set off extreme hunger. This means that an apple is a poor choice of snack for me, but it is okay to eat one paired with other parts of a meal as the overall mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates will not have the same effect as a lone apple. Try to think about how to have your favorite foods paired with others so that you aren't making yourself hungrier needlessly by setting off a spike in blood sugar and a subsequent crash. Contrary to what some people believe, many healthy or seemingly healthy foods can cause the same sort of blood sugar problems as sweets or refined carbohydrates. You don't have to give up any food, but just consider when you eat it and pairing it with other foods to mitigate the hunger-inducing effects.

As with the other stages, you may remain in this one as long as you need to in order to grow comfortable with this new level. You will know when you are "ready" to move on to more restrictiveness. Again, there is no hurry.

Stage 3: Two Days of Counting, and More Calories

The next stage involves stepping up your game in terms of controlling your eating. Instead of calorie counting and meal planning one day a week, you will be doing it two days a week. That being said, the difficulty will be eased by the fact that the calorie total is going to be increased to 1400 calories per day. Instead of one day at 1200, you will be doing two days at 1400. It’s best to space these days out. I used to do it on a Tuesday and Thursday so that I could keep the option to eat whatever I wanted “tomorrow” intact. As before, it is important to allow yourself to have whatever indulgence you want the next day should you desire it. You may find that the extra 200 calories feels almost luxurious in comparison to the extreme restriction of your one day a week 1200 calorie days.

At this stage, you may be finding that your desires and cravings on the calorie counting days do not necessarily manifest the following day. That is, you find that the hunger for chocolate or whatever that you suffered badly when you are counting has vanished by the next day. This realization will help you gain more and more control as you will get an increasing sense of the transience of your cravings and desires for food while you build up your capacity to delay indulging in them.

At this point, if you haven’t already, it helps to diversify your eating habits. Incorporating things like vegetable soups, fruit smoothies, etc. into your eating gradually will help deal with cravings for salty and sweet foods. You can also start to consider eating things you may not normally eat that fit such cravings. For instance, olives are quite salty (as are pickles) but quite low in calories. Frozen bananas that are food processed or blended with crushed ice, artificial sweetener and low fat milk make for a low calorie ice-cream-like treat. I will provide a list of some of my favorite recipes for various types of food at the end of this plan.

On days when you can eat freely, consider at this point the quantity of sweets and treats you may be eating and what is “enough” to satisfy your desire. Be sure that you are purposeful in your eating and savoring foods that you eat for pure pleasure. You may find that you don’t need to eat all of a candy bar to feel your sweet tooth is gratified. When you eat sweets or salty snacks, look at the calories and consider how much you might be able to eat on a day of calorie counting when you are restricting calories. Since you have 200 extra calories compared to before, you may be able to eat small portions of these foods as part of your plan if you would like to use your calories in this way. Keep in mind that there is a "price" to be paid for any empty calories used on a restricted day. You can have 1/3 of a candy bar, which won't keep you full for very long, or something like a banana which will keep you full longer. These types of choices are ones that you should try to become more familiar with as time goes by. I sometimes weigh the pleasure of an infrequent morning doughnut against the loss of a more filling meal of healthier choices.

You may remain at stage 3 as long as you feel you need to. When you feel you have "mastered" this level (and, again, "master" means that you are comfortable with it, not that it is easy) and that you are ready to face more time controlling your eating, you can move on to the next stage.

Stage 2: Calorie Count One Day a Week

The next important point is to learn to extend your ability to delay gratification with food beyond a quarter hour or so. The point of having one day in which you calorie count and restrict your eating is not to lose weight or to learn to be on a diet, but to condition yourself psychologically to “wait” for food you want to eat. Most people who eat too much have a lot of trouble delaying food-based gratification. They want the pleasure now and can't resist.

Choose one day of your week in which you can exercise strict control over your eating because you can plan the day's meals and prepare food. It’s imperative that you have this control all day. Plan out a 1200 calorie* meal plan. It helps to break up the meals into pieces. For instance, you can eat a piece of whole wheat toast with reduced calorie margarine for breakfast then have a piece of fruit (bananas work well) two hours later. Eat a small lunch when you're hungry (after the first snack) and another snack two hours after that. Have a salad two hours before dinner and eat only the carbohydrate (potatoes, rice, pasta) and protein (meat, fish, etc.) as dinner.

Fragmenting the meals makes this a bit more bearable. That being said, this day is going to be very, very hard. You’re going to feel terribly hungry, may suffer headaches or stomach pain and generally become irritable. You’re also likely to crave foods you like (or even strange foods) rather strongly. When you desperately want to eat, tell yourself that you can eat absolutely anything you want tomorrow. And this is not a lie you’re telling yourself. If you want some sweet, salty snack, or large meal tomorrow, you can eat it. You can eat anything you want for the next 6 days. You are not lying to yourself or tricking yourself about anything.

At this stage, it’s important to be able to measure your food and locate and track calorie counts. I realize this is an odious task, but it is important. You can find a number of free on-line calorie counters at Fitday, The Daily Plate, etc. or you can find an application that will allow you to track calories on your computer or cell phone. You’ll need a food scale and measuring cups at this point to help you with calorie counting.

In addition to helping you learn to delay your eating and endure hunger, this stage will also help you get a feel for how many calories are in various foods, get you used to the task of tracking calories, and give you some idea of what you can eat on a low calorie diet. The number of calories for this day is quite low, but rest assured that you will not be eating this number everyday or indefinitely. This is only part of the process and calorie counting days will get easier as time goes by. I'm not saying they will be easier because you'll get used to it, but because the total number of calories will gradually increase, so this is the most restricted day you will have to endure.

Follow this stage of counting once a week for a month or two. You can move on to the next stage when you feel a sense that you have “mastered” this day. Mastering it doesn’t mean that it is easy, but rather that it is bearable and you feel content that you have a good command of the habit of dealing with your hunger by telling yourself you can eat what you want tomorrow. Whether or not you actually eat what you want the next day is actually irrelevant at this point. You can “pig out” if you want the next day, or you can choose to eat modestly. This is about psychology at this stage, though obviously it would be best if you ate in moderation in accord with the efforts to reduce portion size in stage 1. Also, frankly, eating a lot at this point may make you feel sick.

If you eat a lot, do not think you are a failure or are sabotaging yourself. There is no such thing as "failure". You are just adjusting and slowly taking some control. Part of that process is knowing you can do what you want most of the time. True control comes from having the freedom to make whatever choice you want, not from depriving yourself all of the time.

Remain in this stage as long as you feel is necessary.

*Originally, I did 1200 calories, but I now feel it's too restrictive.

My Plan: Stage 1 - Acclimate your body to less food.

Many people focus on the aspect of “will power” when trying to change their eating habits, but your body is accustomed to eating a certain amount of food. It's not about mustering up the mental power to withstand difficulty. It's about helping your body grow accustomed to changes.

Many of your organs expect you to follow the same level of consumption and offer them the same levels of energy and nutrients that you normally ingest. If you suddenly reduce your eating, you will have a strong physical response as your body will demand higher levels of food. This will radically increase the chances that you will fail in altering your habits.

In order to reduce the amount of discomfort that you will suffer from a reduction in calories and to ease the transition into changing your eating habits, it’s helpful to begin by gradually eating less rather than undergoing a radical alteration in habits. The first step in this process is to taper your consumption of both food and caloric liquids. In order to do this, try the following:
  • When you drink beverages, choose a cup or glass that is slightly smaller than the one you have been using. If you drink 16 oz. of soda normally, scale back to 12. If you drink a large cup of coffee or tea, scale back to a medium size one.
  • When you serve yourself food, put back or throw away two tablespoons (or two “bites”) compared to what your preferred serving size is.
It helps when you do this to use smaller dishes than normal. While it may seem silly, you do feel like you’re eating more when the food you consume takes up the entire plate and feel deprived if your plate has vast amounts of empty space. Use the saucers that came with your tea cups if you don’t have small plates. I tend to use several small dishes rather than one large plate. This caters to the psychology of eating and your perceptions of food quantities. You eat with your eyes more than your stomach in many cases. You need to give your mental image of "enough" food a chance to adjust as well as your body.

It also helps if you think about what you are eating carefully while you eat. That is, smell your food, feel the texture, and enjoy the taste. Be mindful of when you reach the point where you are simply eating for the sake of eating. You don’t have to stop eating if you stop enjoying the food, but you may find yourself wanting to stop at that point. Keep in mind that you are in control and can do whatever you want. This isn’t about deprivation, but about a slow change in how you approach and regard food. At the end of this process, food should be even more enjoyable than it is now, but you won’t have a guilty relationship with it.

Follow this plan for as long as you need to feel comfortable with scaled back portions (I did this for several weeks). Mainly, you want to follow it until you no longer have the sense that the reduced portions are “small” but feel that they are “normal”. If you feel comfortable, you can feel free to reduce the portions bit by bit until you are eating about two-thirds to half of what you were eating previously. Note that I'm assuming anyone interested in what I'm saying habitually overeats (as I did) and therefore any reduction in consumption will not result in malnourishment.

For meat or protein, you will want to aim for 3-5 oz. portions, eating larger portions of leaner meats like chicken and smaller ones of fattier meats like beef. For carbohydrates, chances are that half to one-third of what you were eating will serve you well. If you very much overeat carbs, especially refined ones like white bread, you may want to be at about 1/4 of what you usually ate. Vegetables are generally fine in any quantity that you can manage, but I wouldn't recommend increasing vegetable consumption to fill the space taken by other foods. The point is not to eat as much, but less in small increments.

This stage is to allow your body to physically grow used to less food in a way which is not dramatic or jarring. It will improve your chances of eating less later as the changes become more difficult. If you really attend to the experience of eating, you may find at this stage that it's hard to focus on the pleasurable sensations of food past a certain point. You may find that you actually grow bored or fatigued with thinking about how good a chocolate bar tastes and feels in your mouth and that you want to start eating it faster and more mindlessly. This is the point at which you are eating compulsively rather than for enjoyment and where you want to train yourself to stop eating foods which are for "fun" rather than nutrients.

You may also find it helpful at this stage to slowly alter your consumption of certain types of foods that are highly caloric in favor of calorie-reduced versions. For instance, if you drink regular sodas, switch to diet versions. If you have sugar in your coffee or tea, switch to an artificial sweetener. These changes are “crutches” to help you get along. Making too many changes or sacrifices early on will increase the chances that you will fail, and I found that changes like drinking diet soda haven't had any negative impact on my weight loss. These substitutions will reduce the number of calories you feed yourself without a sense of psychological deprivation.

In terms of binge eating or copious consumption of foods which you know are not good for you, it's helpful to begin a process which you will work on more later. This is learning to delay food-based gratification. When you strongly crave something and feel you aren't hungry and just want it for the pleasure, try to get yourself to wait 15 minutes to eat it. After you wait, if you still want it, eat a small amount of it. Give yourself just a few bites and really savor them. Wait another 15 minutes before you have more. If you want more after that, have a few more bites. Continue this process until you are satisfied. If you are able to wait 15 minutes and feel you can wait longer, try to extend the time by 5 minute increments. It's okay to give in and eat the food you want when the time is up. This is an exercise in learning to wait, not depriving yourself.

One point which many people recommend is to drink lots of water. While I do believe it is important to drink sufficient water, I don’t think it’s necessary to drink in copious quantities. One of the points of this stage is to reduce stomach capacity gradually (the stomach shrinks and expands based on the amount of everything you put in it, not just solid food). If you drink a lot of water (or other liquids), you will keep your stomach size large. Competitive eaters, who can eat many pounds of food at once, report that they stay trim, but keep their stomach capacity large by drinking lots and lots of liquids. If you overdo water or other beverages, you defeat the purpose of this stage. Drink water when you are thirsty. Drink small amounts throughout the day. Don’t drink too much at once or force yourself to drink water because you feel you should. I don't force-feed myself water, and it has not hindered my weight loss.

It is valuable at this stage to try and think over your eating habits and thoughts. Don’t consider them punitively or berate yourself internally for what or why you eat. Your goal is understanding yourself and how you deal with food, not to beat yourself up over your eating habits. In particular, every time you want to eat, consider the following when you want food:
  1. Is my stomach empty or rumbling?
  2. Do I want to eat because I’m bored and enjoy eating, or do I have a physical desire to eat?
  3. What is the nature of true hunger for me? Some people feel hunger in the stomach, others feel it in the blood as sugar levels drop. Whatever you feel as “true hunger” for you is real. This is not about invalidating your feelings about what you need.
  4. Do I extract pleasure from the mere act of putting food in my mouth and swallowing it as opposed to the taste, smell and texture of food? Is my eating a compulsive act rather than an act of pleasure from food?
  5. Do I derive comfort from eating when I am emotional (either happy or upset)? Note that I don't suggest removing this type of comfort eating at this stage, but being aware of it, and trying to reduce the amount of food you eat during such emotional eating. You can't abandon all unhealthy habits simply because you recognize them. You have to slowly build coping mechanisms and mental barriers that will replace food when you are in distress.
  6. Do I eat all of some foods until there is no more left? If so, why don't I eat part of it and put the rest away for later?
  7. Do I eat food because I don't want to "waste" it? Is my health less valuable than some wasted food?
Everyone has different answers and there are no “wrong” or “bad” ones. It does help to explore your relationship with food to consider these issues. Whatever the answers are, don't feel bad about them, just understand them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How I'm Doing It: An Introduction

Note (written on August 6, 2011): Looking back over my plan, I regard certain aspects of it as quite flawed. Namely, I wouldn't have introduced such severe calorie restriction at the start had I known then what I know now. I would have still introduced counting, but I would have started with one day at 500 calories below my BMR (basal metabolic rate) rather than at 1200. I believe in retrospect that I made things far more difficult than necessary. I'm not going to modify those posts, as they stand as a record of what I actually did and what worked for me. However, I don't necessarily recommend others follow the same plan nor would I follow it as laid out if I had to do it all again.

I also recommend reading the "conditioning" posts before looking at these stages.

I'm going to write down the processes I've followed in a sequence of posts because I'd like to have an overview for myself at this point in time. Also, anyone who wants to know what I've done, why I do it, and how effective it is can more easily access the details from links I'll be placing on the sidebar. Note that I did not find this plan anywhere. I felt my way through the process and it has worked well for me. It may or may not work for anyone else. I'm not advocating it, just offering it for anyone who is interested.

This plan is designed for long-term weight loss and to help you learn to live a lifestyle where you will not overeat in the future and gain back weight. It is not designed for rapid weight loss. There are no tricks or special techniques. It’s a plan to “normalize” your eating and adjust your relationship with food both physiologically and psychologically. Because you’re attempting to correct something which may have been a life-long problem, it takes time. For the record, it took me about three months to reach the final stage of this plan, and I am not perfect at following it, but rarely eat more than 2000 calories per day (and never eat more than 2200).

I did not weigh myself at the start of this process. I used what are called “NSVs” in the dieting world. That means “non-scale victory”. These include things like noticing the fit of your clothes, the look of your body, and your relationship to your environment. In terms of environment, you can see how easily you negotiate narrow spaces, fit in chairs, etc. I found that not weighing myself made it easier to get started because I didn’t have the sense that the numbers on the scale were going to be a “watched pot” that wasn’t boiling. I also was not alarmed by my initial weight and overwhelmed at how far I would need to go since I didn't weigh myself at the start. For the record, I am certain that I started at a weight near 400 lbs. My best guess is 380 lbs.

Since weight loss is rarely linear (that is, you don’t lose consistently according to your calorie reduction), it can be very de-motivating for some people to watch the scale. Also, frankly, the scale is an arbitrary measuring device and really has no relationship to your ability to lose weight or gain results from changing your lifestyle. You must have confidence that the behavioral changes you make will achieve the desired result. Watching your numbers might send you on an emotional roller coaster as you get happy with losses and unhappy with gains or a lack of changes.

That being said, if you feel that weighing yourself will motivate rather than hinder your progress, by all means do it. I did weigh myself about 6-7 months into the process, and then about another month later. I did this mainly as a gauge so that I could speak more objectively about my progress, and get a sense of whether the pacing I felt I was experiencing was correct. It turned out that my estimations of how much I weighed and how much I lost were spot-on. I don’t really need the scale, and I don’t plan on weighing myself again for 3 more months (or longer). Mainly, I’m interested in how decreasing my weight will affect the pacing of loss as I approach 250 then 200 lbs. At the time that I write this, I weigh about 280 lbs.

Before weighing myself, I was careful to consider the implications of doing so in terms of the emotional impact on me, the effect on my motivation, and the consequences. If you have any sense at all that you expect a certain number and will be upset if that number is higher, then I encourage you not to weigh yourself. Don’t give the scale emotional power over you. You already have enough trouble with food influencing your emotions. There’s no need to give that power to something else beyond your control.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Still a Freak

At this point in time, I’ve lost about 100 lbs., and I’m happy with all of the changes I’ve made in my life, but there’s no joy that going out in public won’t rob me of. Today, I decided to push my normal amount of exercise a bit and was out walking around on a longer trek than usual and got one of those all too common experiences where someone blatantly stares at me and looks me up and down with a lingering gaze on my stomach. The gaze is always accompanied by wide-eyed incredulity or revulsion.

There’s nothing like being treated like a freak to bring me down when I start to think I'm doing okay. I’ve lost a lot of weight, but in the eyes of the world, I’m just as disgusting as ever.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Losing at a "healthy" rate

I read a news article late last year about a woman in England who went on an extreme diet that allowed her something like 500-600 calories per day. The diet was overseen by a doctor, and included some sort of nutritional supplements that were supposed to ensure that she got enough nutrients during rapid weight loss. The incentive for her desire to lose a lot of weight fast was a wedding, unsurprisingly. Weddings seem to be the biggest push for many women to shed weight rapidly.

Since this woman weighed quite a lot, perhaps in the 300 lb. range, she dropped about 60 lbs. or so rapidly. One day, she decided to actually eat, and she ate quite a lot relative to her highly-restricted diet, though nothing ridiculous. She may have consumed something on the order of 3500 calories at most, possibly as little as 2000 calories. The number of calories she ate is unknown because there’s no concrete report of exactly what and how much she ate because, you see, she dropped dead.

Everyone who wants to lose weight wants to lose it fast, but weight loss is a tremendous strain on your body including your heart. Your heart is a muscle, and shrinks during rapid weight loss. That means it is in a weakened state. This woman who lost so much weight under a doctors care died from heart failure because the consumption of a larger number of calories so stressed her body that her heart couldn’t deal with it.

My husband and I have talked about my weight loss and he’s pleased that I’m losing weight, but he always cautions me when I say I wish it were going faster. He has said that he believes that a more rapid loss would be unhealthy, and that a slow steady loss (around 1-2 lbs. per week) is better not only in the long run, but also in the short run for my immediate health. The news story that I read last year, while somewhat extreme, provides a good lesson in why that is so. Yes, I’m impatient to feel better about myself, stronger, and healthier, but I’d rather get there with a strong heart and a body that has burned fat to reach my goal rather than a weak heart and a body that has consumed muscle and released fluid-based pounds.

To this end, I decided to go against my assertion about not weighing myself again for a long time to see what my one-month progress tended to look like. As before, I thought very carefully before I dragged out that scale and considered what the numbers would mean to me. In particular, I was considering the effect of it not changing as much as I might hope or more than I might expect. I wasn’t going to do it if I believed the number would have an appreciable effect on my plan. In the end, I decided that I could be sanguine about it and that the value of knowing my progress after one month, something which I have never looked at before, was greater than any potential emotional consequences.

The number was 284, which is 11 lbs. lighter than when I last weighed myself on February 12. This number was not surprising and my emotional response to it was what it was last time. That is, a small amount of satisfaction. It’s really about where I expected to be in terms of monthly loss (which I hope to be around 10 lbs. per month at my present weight and possibly lasting to the 250 lb. range, at which point I expect a slow-down) and where I thought I was in terms of my losses since I started this last year (about 100 lbs. lost by now). This is a range that falls in line with what I feel to be healthy, so I’m pretty happy with it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Using a Food Hangover

Most people who live in lands where food is plentiful know the feeling of a “food hangover”. This is when you feel like crap the next day after overindulging. This feeling is often accompanied by a sense of wanting to have a really good day food-wise. You feel so sick from having had too much of what you love so you want to stay away from the source.

This feeling also plays a part in a lot of New Year’s resolutions where people eat every decadent treat in sight during the holidays and then vow to lay off of such foods in the coming year. One of the reasons that such resolutions start with a bang is that mentally people are saturated with food-based stimulation. If you’ve had chocolate, cookies, cakes, etc. for weeks on end, they start to lose their appeal and you find it much easier to face a bowl of oatmeal or salad. The novel was the norm so the norm now becomes novel.

Ultimately one of the reasons people either stop dieting after awhile or regain weight is that the hunger for tasty food will never go away. It’s part of your biology to want these things because energy dense and sweet foods helped your ancestors survive. What most people do not seem to strive for, but naturally thin people seem to do without a second thought, is how to not overdo one way of eating or another. That is, eat everything in moderation so that you feel neither deprived nor overwhelmed.

For me, one thing that helps when I have the impulse to overdo something that is not good for me or is densely caloric is to remember how unappealing treats and snacks became and how crappy I felt physically after holiday-induced stints of bad eating. If I remember that the ultimate consequence of such prolonged indulgence is that I don’t enjoy those foods for awhile, it’s helpful in moderating consumption such that I feel the experience remains novel and special. It also reminds me that eating junk isn't what my body really wants, but rather what my mind is telling me it wants.

Friday, March 5, 2010


This morning, I had three pancakes with butter, syrup, and blueberries with coffee for breakfast. That may sound really decadent, particularly for someone on a food plan designed to lose weight, but the pancakes were small (about 4” in diameter) and I used very little syrup and butter. The trick is to just put on enough syrup to sweeten the blueberries (which were frozen and then heated in the microwave until they were hot). The calorie count on the whole meal was around 350 calories, possibly a bit less.

When I look at what other people are eating and what I am eating, I’m struck by the differences in our approaches. Many people are eating egg whites or fake eggs with vegetables, dry whole wheat toast, and fruit, or some sort of substitute bacon or sausage. I tend to mix things up depending on what I expect for the rest of the day. If I have a light lunch planned, I have a more elaborate breakfast (like this morning). If lunch or dinner are going to be heavy, I just have a piece of whole wheat toast with margarine.

Often, I feel that there are two possible paths to losing weight when it comes to food. There is the path of quantity or “quality”. I put “quality” in quotes because I know that it is subjective. Some people may feel that quality is related mainly to nutrition, freshness, etc. For me, quality involves taste as well as the other factors. My path has turned out this time to be one based on maintaining a certainly quality of experience in terms of taste and texture of food. I have hopes that limiting quantity and barring no foods from my diet will give me the long-term staying power that my previous approach in college (where I exercised and gave up all “bad” food) did not. I want to have control over food such that I can sample anything without binging. So far, so good.

There are problems with choosing quality of experience over quantity. In the early stages, your body will fight you (hard and often) to get you to eat more. Eventually, you grow accustomed to less food and it gets much easier. There’s also the issue of nutrition. If you eat less of everything so that you can have a square or two of chocolate, you’re bound to get less healthy food into you on a calorie-restricted diet. That being said, I doubt that the levels at which I eat are in any way a danger to me. I still eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein everyday. I just don’t eat copious amounts of any of them – a quarter cup of blueberries, a banana, two cups of lettuce, half a tomato, onion, and some form of vegetable soup made with pureed vegetables are typical for me, though sometimes I’ll have things like sweet potato, pumpkin, or raw carrots as well. Mainly, I’m concerned about dairy products consumption and Calcium, but I take a multi-vitamin and a specific Calcium supplement. The thing is, I’m not sure I could ingest enough Calcium even if I spent every calorie on “better” food choices.

The main benefit of the way I’m doing things is that I never feel deprived or tempted anymore. I hesitate to say this because every time I’ve said it in the past, I’ve gone off and done a mini-binge right after saying so (as if asserting what I’m about to assert tempts fate), but I rarely binge anymore at all. Another benefit of this method for me has been that I have a strong sense that I can do this forever, and that I know that once I lose all of the weight I want to lose, the way in which I eat will not be greatly different than it is now. I don’t know how thin people eat, but I can’t imagine it’s greatly different from how I’m eating now. They probably eat a few more calories (since I hover between 1500-1800 most days), but otherwise I’m guessing they aren’t so different. The nice thing is that I can say with complete confidence that I could do this forever, and I wouldn’t be the least bit frustrated or put out by the idea.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Of Exercise 2

My husband used to jog or run on a treadmill in our apartment for exercise. At one point, he developed a problem with his ankle and couldn’t do this type of exercise for a prolonged period of time. At that time, I suggested he join a local health club and take up swimming for exercise and he did so. Since that time, he has continued to swim between 3 and 5 days a week. After about 4-5 years, he has noticed that he has developed shoulder, arm and back muscles that weren’t there before. There’s body definition that gradually built up almost imperceptibly through the years as he has grown stronger and developed those muscles.

My husband’s situation regarding exercise and bodily changes comes to mind as I have continued to try and incorporate more exercise into my life. I mentioned before that I could barely walk before I started my current lifestyle change. My goal initially was simply to be able to approach daily movement such as standing, walking, and even lying down for long periods of time without pain. I still have pain, but it’s nothing like before, and I can walk now.

Last November, I posted that I had a recumbent bike that I couldn’t use because my stomach was too big and heavy and lay on my thighs so it was too hard to pedal on it. Yesterday, I dusted it off and gave it another go. My stomach is still an issue, but nothing like it was several months ago. Previously, I was lucky to last 3 minutes before my legs screamed “uncle”, and to do 9 minutes in total with breaks. Last night, I could manage 5 minutes before my inner thigh muscles made me give up the ghost. I managed 22 minutes with breaks every 5 minutes or so, before I decided it’d be wise to give it a rest. I was pretty pleased with this progress though I clearly have awhile to go.

Both my husband’s swimming-related body changes and my progress with the recumbent bike were good reminders that it is important to start slow and wait for your body to adapt to the demands you are placing on it. If you set the bar too high too early, you’re going to get frustrated and possibly injure yourself. It’s better to do something easier until you get stronger and lose some weight and become more flexible and capable of better movement.

I was frustrated initially that I couldn’t do very much because I felt more exercise would help my weight loss progress more rapidly, but I’ve learned that I need to be very patient about it. It’s not that I was ever lazy before and didn’t move (because I was always moving as much as I could). It was simply the case that I was too heavy to move without pain and needed to lose more weight to reduce the strain on my body before I could introduce further strain with more exercise. I've done exercise (walking, weight lifting, now the recumbent bike) five minutes at a time for months, and can really see the cumulative results by now.