I reached a landmark on February 17. The number on my scale was 30 pounds less than what I had weighed on September 12, 2012. That averages out to a pound lost about every 5.26 days, or about 1.3 pounds a week.
I had been exercising on my mini-bike since September 1, but had not weighed myself until the 12th, when I joined MyFitnessPal thanks to Chris.
On Monday’s FitPASS call, Denise asked if I would write about how I took the weight off. My short answer is:
Here’s the long version:
No food is forbidden, but there are foods I just don’t crave any more. I’ve found substitutions that I’m very comfortable with. For example:
Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips were one of my “Before” snacks. I’d dump a healthy handful or two into a bowl for my chocolate fix. Note the calorie counts above and the amounts. The package defines a serving as 16 chips/80 calories, but a handful could easily contain 32 chips. Most of those calories came from fat.
These days grapes are my after-workout snack. I usually eat two cups of them. They contain a lot of water, so they’re pretty filling, and the red grapes especially are nice and sweet.
I didn’t turn to grapes immediately. Raisins were my “bridge” food. They were sweeter by volume than grapes and less fattening than chocolate. But a half cup of raisins had almost as many calories as four times the volume of grapes.
We still have several bags of Ghirardelli chips in the house because my partner eats them. They don’t tempt me at all, but I could eat them if I wanted to. I ate 32 chips on September 15, 2012, and haven’t had any since. I just haven’t felt the need.
There are some foods that I avoid, even though they’re not “forbidden.” I used to rely on energy bars as a quick snack or a meal replacement. They were staples during my cycling and running years. But they are also processed foods and don’t fill me up as much as fresh produce does.
I’ve been a big salad eater since I was a kid. I used to love when our supermarket had Dole Caesar Salad Kits (regular or ultimate) on sale. I told myself: Hey, it’s a salad — healthy eating!
The container claims to hold three portions, but my portion had been the whole container.
These days I make my own salads with a full head of iceberg lettuce and a dressing of olive oil, vinegar, garlic powder, and paprika. I usually add a full can of tongol tuna with no salt added, which gives me most of my protein for the day. Adding in the tuna makes my salad 465 calories (still less than the Dole package) with 204 mg of sodium and still 29g of fat — plus another 36g of protein. The lettuce alone provides 760 mg of potassium.
It takes me a while, but I eat that whole, huge salad, and it leaves me full for quite some time. As an adolescent I would sit in front of the TV and eat a whole head of lettuce in a single sitting. I still do, except that I’m in front of the computer and not the TV.
For me, portion control is relative. It depends on what the food is. I can have an 810-calorie breakfast (a full can of garbanzo beans + a full can of tuna + my homemade dressing), but that also gives me my protein for the day, leaves me satisfied for a long time, and I still end up eating less.
I use other substitutions as well, like flavored Greek yogurt instead of ice cream. But the trick to making substitutions work is to make sure the substitutes are always around.
Convenience for me used to mean sticking a frozen entree into the microwave.
Or making a hefty sandwich. These days it means making sure that I have the foods I need on hand. It means at least one extra trip to the market per week for fresh produce, but fortunately our market is only a quarter-mile away.
Convenience also means my salad dressing is ready to use at a moment’s notice. I mix it up in a large glass jar that I can grab right out of the fridge.
If I’m out of fresh produce I make sure I have frozen or canned produce readily available.
Convenience also means that when my partner and I are on the road for a doctor appointment and/or errands, I have my food with me:
My cooler was in the car when we made our visit to the neurologist 75 miles away. Afterwards we ate at a Wendy’s across from his office. We both had coffee and my partner had her usual Wendy’s salad while I had my crispbread, banana, and canned chicken.
Advance prep is the secret to my convenience these days.
I make my exercise convenient, too. My mini-bike is right next to me as I sit at my desk. My weights and weight bench are also in my studio. I make sure I have my towel, water, and music handy — everything is within arm’s reach. Not having to work to get to my workout is a great motivator!
The graph up top tells a story. Each little diamond mark represents a time when I lost weight. The steeper the angle, the more weight came off. The steepest climb, shortly after the 40-day mark, occurred when I was sick and couldn’t eat. I lost four pounds that week.
Then there’s that long line that occurs shortly after the 100-day mark. That represents an 18-day plateau. My weight didn’t go down for those 18 days. Or, rather, it went up a little bit and back down, up and down, time and again. The graph shows only my drops in weight in the form of pounds lost.
I get what I call blips and whooshes. My weight will blip up; then it will whoosh down. That line at around the 150-day mark represents a 10-day plateau.
I kept exercising and kept my eating habits. I just continued what I was doing.
“A plateau occurs because your metabolism — the process of burning calories for energy — slows as you lose muscle,” says the Mayo Clinic in its article, “Getting past a weight-loss plateau.” “You burn fewer calories than you did at your heavier weight even doing the same activities. Your weight-loss efforts result in a new equilibrium with your now slower metabolism.”
The article recommends such steps as cutting calories, revving up a workout, and increasing general activity: “[T]o lose more weight, you need to increase activity or decrease the calories you eat. Using the same approach that worked initially may maintain your weight loss, but it won’t lead to more weight loss.”
For example, at my starting weight a 60-minute workout on my mini-bike at resistance level 4 and at 12 mph would have burned 575 calories. The same workout, changing only my weight to 30 pounds lighter, would burn 454 calories. I just have to work harder to get the same burn.
I didn’t change my eating or exercise habits during my plateaus because I was already expending more calories than I was eating according to MyFitnessPal. I had set my goal to lose only a half pound a week, which meant that I could eat up to 1,650 calories a day plus calories that I had burned from exercise. I always came in below my goal for net calories (total calories consumed minus exercise calories burned) — and came in low enough so that I actually lost an average of 1.3 pounds a week.
I set the bar low — a half pound a week — because I knew that anything I accomplished over that would be (low-cal) gravy. I didn’t want to start off feeling starved. I wanted my change in eating and exercise habits to be fun and sustainable over the long run. For me, sustainability is the bottom line.
I can feel impatient with the plateaus, but I don’t get discouraged. I look at the weight I’ve taken off and at the energy I’ve gained. I also look at my new eating and exercise habits and know that I’m doing much better now than when I first started.
Recently MFP decreased my calorie goal to 1,480, adjusting for the weight I’ve lost. That means that all else being equal, I need to eat 170 fewer calories per day to keep losing that half pound a week.
Accountability here has two parts: (a) Knowledge and (b) Community.
Knowledge, in that I plug everything I eat into my MFP food diary, which automatically calculates calories; the macro-nutrients of carbs, fat, and protein; and a bunch of micro-nutrients like sodium, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals.
Knowing just what I’m eating can be a real eye-opener. Like finding out just how much sodium and fat there is in antipasto — one of my favorite dishes when my partner and I ate out after her therapy appointments. The restaurant served up a heaping plate of that.
According to MFP, one cup of antipasto (and trust me, when we ate out I had considerably more than one cup) contains 411 calories, 32 grams of fat, and a whopping 2208 mg (almost a full day’s allowance) of sodium.
These days, when possible, I check a restaurant’s menu and nutrition facts online ahead of time. That helps me decide what to order and how much of my order to eat.
Sometimes I have to make sure that I eat enough. So far today I’ve eaten my huge salad, four slices of crispbread, and 8 oz. of plain nonfat Greek yogurt with 3 tablespoons of honey. That still leaves me under 1,000 calories. Even without exercise I’m 503 calories under my goal for the day.
I take a minute or so and ask my body what it wants. (If it wants fat and I eat carbs instead, I will probably still be hungry afterward. If I eat fat, I’ll feel full, even if it’s the same number of calories.) In this case, I’ll have an onion with 2 oz. of cheddar and a little hot sauce. I tend to eat a lot of protein.
The other part of accountability is Community — like FitPASS and VRide!
I love checking in with everyone and seeing how we’re all progressing together. You are all inspirations to me. None of us is alone as we work to keep ourselves healthy, and knowing that is tremendous motivation. I love the way we cheer each other on!
Community also helps me find new ways to cope, which also relates directly to my eating and fitness. That gets me back to substitutions, only this time I’m substituting more than just types of food. As I wrote on my MFP blog:
Finding coping substitutes for emotional eating is another strategy. Music, exercise, journaling, and being in nature (like a park) have helped. Any way that I can cut down on my stress level helps. One of my challenges is that I can have a hard time distinguishing stress hunger from true hunger. Both can ruin my concentration and send me scrambling for ways to stop them.
My challenge is to recognize when I need to reduce my stress level, versus when I need to reduce real hunger. Reducing my stress responses and improving communication with my caree help tremendously; I’ve picked up coping tools these past few years. Caregiving has caused me to tweak my approach to life in general, and I believe that will help me in my approach to food. That’s my hope for the future — for getting to my goal weight and especially for the aftermath.
Here are some of the foods I keep in my pantry. On top of the cheddar I’ve placed the food scale I’ve had since the 1970s.
Since my Monday conversation with Denise, I’ve lost another 1.5 pounds. I have 19.5 more pounds to go to reach my goal weight. No hurry, just slow and steady.
PS: I compared last year’s supermarket expenditures over the 8 months before I changed my eating habits and the 4 months after the change, to the end of the year. I took my monthly average (“before” months total divided by 8 and “after” months total divided by 4) and found that my average monthly grocery bill went down by 34.7 percent.