The Thinker

My Eating and Exercise Strategies

In my last entry I decried how our culture seems to conspire to keep us fat. I suspect I won’t get too much sympathy. Our current culture poo poos victimization and emphasizes personal responsibility. Of course we control what we put into our mouths and how much we exercise. We make choices, for better or for worse, which determine our health. I chose to live in suburbia. As a consequence shopping is not convenient and generally I need to take a car. But I had other alternatives. I could have chosen to live in the city. Had I done this I would be doing a lot more walking. Perhaps as a consequence I would not even worry about gaining weight.

But if you are overweight or obese, or just want to not gain any more weight, what can you do that might actually work for you? I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I do have weight control strategies. You are welcome to take them for a test drive.

The formula for weight loss is pretty well known: eat less and exercise more. But how do you do this if you are a harried adult like myself stuck in the sandwich generation with lots of demands? How do you eat less when your body often craves more? How do you summon the willpower? My experience probably mirrors yours: willpower can be hard to come by. When it arrives it is not likely to hang around. I do not trust the Atkins Diet so have never tried it. I know people who have had great success with it but to me it seems dangerous. I’ve had better success with the South Beach Diet. I still use some of the strategies I learned when I was on the diet and they help. When starting out the diet emphasizes avoiding giving your body an insulin rush in the morning. It recommends eggs for breakfast. During the week that’s what I still do: scramble some eggs, add bacon bits or Canadian bacon. Just this carries me without hunger until lunch. Eggs have a fair amount of fat, but it’s a good kind of fat: and fat satiates the feeling of hunger very effectively. I do not add toast unless it is the weekend, when I often skip lunch. Usually the weekday morning finds me rushing to get my daughter to school and myself to work, so the lack of morning carbohydrates is not a hardship.

I also avoid juice. Juice may be healthy in many respects but it is full of sugar. The insulin rush will likely make me hungry. I see juice as empty calories. Instead, I drink light. Crystal Light, to be specific and lots of it. I prefer their lemonade. It has a tangy taste but has only five calories per serving. I drink it with every meal at home.

Lunch is tougher. I know I should bring a lunch to work with me but I make it my treat of the day, so I generally eat in the cafeteria at work. Usually I eat a bit heartier one day and less hearty the next. For light eating I choose a small Caesar salad (usually with honey mustard dressing, to avoid acid reflux) and the soup of the day. For a heavier lunch I go to the sandwich bar. I can choose lean meats but tuna salad is a low fat taste favorite, providing it is not mixed with much mayonnaise. However, eating too much tuna is risky so I limit it to once a week. I often substitute chicken salad but disclaim the extra mayonnaise the sandwich lady wants to add. Overall it is a decent blend of carbohydrates (assuming I ask for a hearty whole grain bread, which I always do), protein and not too much fat. Add the lettuce and tomatoes and vegetables become part of the meal too. No, it is clearly not an ideal lunch. Chicken salad is usually mixed with mayonnaise, but at least where I eat the mayonnaise is minimal. Of course I forgo the drinks and stick with plain water. I am not always successful in avoiding the snacks by the register however. Usually by lunch I am feeling hungry and want some glucose in my system. Particularly if I have afternoon meetings I find I need sufficient glucose in my system to keep me awake. I’ve been known to sleep with my eyes open in conference rooms.

Dinner is the challenge. If I made my own dinners it would be one thing, but we eat family dinners most nights. I usually insist on a large salad (even if I had one with lunch). Fortunately we don’t usually have a dessert. If I feel a sweet attack though I have a few strategies. One is sugarless candy. While they are certainly not calorie free, they avoid the insulin high that normally accompanies easily processed carbohydrates and consequently makes me want to eat more. Malt is used instead of sugar to give it a sweet taste. Special-K bars also work as an occasional treat.

With exercise more is almost always better. When weather permits I bike to work at a brisk pace: 6-7 miles a day. When it does not permit we have an elliptical machine in the basement and I spend at least half an hour on it when I get home from work. The ideal place for exercising is at a health club. In my last job I worked in Washington, D.C. and had a health club right across the street that I could join at a discount price. My boss at the time was liberal enough to allow long lunch hours so I could get sufficient exercise. The routine was pretty much the same: half an hour of aerobics and about half an hour of weight training. For the couple years it lasted it was great. I was buff. Exercising around lunch is great too because exercise usually leaves you less hungry than if you are sedentary.

But I don’t have the convenience of a gym at my new job. I do enjoy biking and can easily bike 20 miles or more on the weekend, when the weather permits. I know what I need to do up my exercise level: join a local Gold’s Gym and make the time 3-4 times a week to hang out there before and after work. But for the moment I haven’t resumed that habit. I have to figure out first what I will give up. As we all know there are only 24 hours in a day. Something has to give. I don’t know yet whether it will be my part time teaching, blogging, or one of my many other hobbies.

All this keeps my weight reasonably stable. There’s no question I put on a few pounds over the winter. (Biking was largely out and my running was destroying my joints.) With better weather now is the time to up the exercise level. But figuring what will work for my 48-year-old body is getting challenging.

You may want to try any of my strategies and see if they work for you.


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