Our pool opened this weekend. This annual event never fails to give me a touch of anxiety, and this is simply because I am a female in America and therefore have to obsess at least a little about my weight. I can honestly say that I don’t have a single female friend, coworker, or relative who doesn’t occasionally fret about her weight, rear end size, or bikini readiness. And I can also say that most of these same women are gorgeous, fit, and look pretty hot in their swimsuits. I have never been overweight (except during my first pregnancy, when I gained 59 pounds on a steady diet of Fig Newtons and Cherry Garcia ice cream) — although, like just about everyone I know, I fantasize about losing that elusive five pounds.
While this phenomenon really bothers me, social commentary is not my area, so I won’t do it. But this is a food blog, and I feel that whenever you talk (write) about food, the issue of weight is the elephant in the room. I mention the word “butter” and people shrink in horror. So, I figured I should get this, ahem, weighty subject out in the open. I am not an expert on weight-loss; the only times in my life that I’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight (besides shedding those 59 pounds) were when I was doing incredibly taxing physical exercise all day every day. My husband used to say I “hoodwinked” him because when we first met, I was about 20 pounds lighter than my norm. I had just returned from a three-month trip trekking in Nepal, during which time I hiked about 300 miles, at high altitudes, carrying a really heavy pack, and ate mostly rice and lentils. Needless to say, it only took a few months of dating and not walking eight hours a day to gain back that weight. Then, right before my wedding, I rode the California AIDS Ride, which entailed over 600 miles of cycling in seven days, including two back-to-back centuries (that’s 100 miles in non bike speak). My spouse and I fondly reminisce about the “wedding weight,” which I haven’t been close to since. But if I was, my life would be perfect, right?
So, you might be wondering what I can possibly tell you about dieting? Well, although I still have those last five pounds to lose, I did wear a dress to dinner last weekend that I first wore to my brother in law’s wedding in 1999. I consider being basically the same size I was a decade ago quite an accomplishment, especially considering how much I adore food and how much time I spend in the kitchen. Also, I think there are lessons to be learned from failure, and I’ve had several of those.
What I can tell you generally doesn’t work (at least for me) is anything that involves eating shakes, bars, or premade food (all of which I would argue is really not food at all). A couple years ago, my husband and I tried the Cinch program. On this plan you eat a bar or shake (both have long lists of unpronounceable ingredients and are not tasty or satisfying in the least) for breakfast and then you get another bar or shake for lunch. It’s a terrible combination to be weak from hunger AND to know that all you have to look forward to is another chalky-tasting protein shake. About halfway through day 3 of the plan, we both felt so ill, undernourished, and depressed that we gave up and took ourselves out for tacos.
We’ve done other mini diets over the years, with varying results. But generally I don’t like being hungry and eating bad food. At all. If you do want to lose weight — and you don’t have eight hours a day to devote to exercise — one of these two methods might be worth trying:
- Quit drinking alcohol.
- Go to bed hungry.
My husband and I usually drop our excess holiday poundage by taking a booze hiatus every January. We’re not especially heavy drinkers or anything, but those calories (not to mention the lack of will-power the next day) really add up. Now, going to bed hungry is a real bummer, and I don’t really recommend it. But if you do, that means you ate a very small dinner and no dessert — you will lose weight.
What has worked for me over the last few years is focusing on eating healthy, real food, exercising regularly, and (gasp) trying to accept my tummy. It’s boring I know, but this plan really does work. (Pre-pool panic attacks not withstanding). It might take a few months or even a year, but you will feel and look better for sure.
So, you’ve heard all this before, but it bears repeating: Eat a healthy breakfast. Snack on real foods like nuts, fruit, yogurt, etc. If you want a treat, make it worth it, like good dark chocolate. Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules is a really good guide to eating real food in moderation. We try to follow most of these guidelines (i.e. “Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does”; “Treat treats as treats”; “Avoid foods you see advertised on television”), and it significantly limits the junk and mindless eating.
We all get sick of our healthy food choices, but I have a few perennial favorites:
- Plain Greek yogurt with diced Champagne mangoes (these are the creamiest, most delicious fruit on earth) and sliced almonds.
- Whole wheat or sprouted wheat toast with peanut butter and fresh blueberries. I invented this when I was pregnant (the second time, when I gained a normal amount of weight) and it’s surprisingly good.
- Scrambled eggs in a corn tortilla with hot sauce.
- I drink one cup of coffee per day. This is not because I am afraid of too much caffeine, but because my coffee (with real half-and-half and agave nectar) is a big source of calories. But at least I’m not pumping myself with artificial vanilla flavored Coffee Mate or aspartme, right?
- I try to eat a healthy lunch that’s on the big side. I tend to want to snack in the afternoons, so a big lunch helps curb that urge. Some of my standbys include:
- Whole wheat tortilla with hummus, sliced cucumbers, arugula, drizzled with basil olive oil (That stuff worth a shout-out; it’s divine, and a little goes a very long way. Try the lemon, too.)
- A big arugula salad with grilled chicken (or a little diced salami), parmesan cheese, olive oil, and lemon juice. This can also go into a pita or tortilla if you need to go somewhere.
- Couscous salad with diced cucumbers, garbanzo beans, black olive, arugula, olive oil, and whatever. Also can be dumped into a pita with hummus.
In terms of exercise, I finally started lifting weights regularly a couple years ago when I discovered Hai Tread, this killer workout that seriously might be the best in Denver. So, for the first time in my life, I am doing weights a few times a week, and, while I haven’t lost very many pounds, I have toned up. I used to rationalize that my occasional walks, jogs, and bike rides were enough exercise, but the guidelines I’ve seen lately suggest we need a lot more than that — at least 150 minutes, or 2 1/2 hours, per week and more is definitely better. My goal now is to do something on most if not all days of the week, something moderately intense (i.e. not a stroll around the block) 3-5 days per week, and something more challenging like a long trail run or road bike ride once a week. Plus, yoga once or twice a week, which I like to think helps keep me young. I mean, if I can still get into pigeon pose, I can’t be that old, can I?
Whew, well I am glad to get the “weight” post over with. Now we can move on to the fun stuff I have planned for the next few installments, like ideas for summer picnic dinners, killer tomato sauce, healthy eggplant parm, and homemade popsicles. Happy swimming!