Resolve not to diet this year – it’s probably the healthy choice

Since it’s the New Year, many of us have resolved to lose a few pounds, or more than a few pounds. Given the propensity of obesity in the country, many of us have probably resolved not just to take off dozens of pounds or more, but to permanently take them off too. Somehow this year, unlike all those other years, we’re finally going to summon the energy and commitment that ultimately we lacked in all those other years when we made similar pledges but ultimately failed.

Perhaps you’ve had the same conversation with your doctor that I’ve had. You go for a checkup, you are overweight and they suggest you lose weight for your health. I told my doctor lots of times that I’m great at losing weight. During my last big attempt in 2013 I lost more than thirty pounds in a little over two months. It was amazing how incredibly fast I lost that weight and without feeling particularly hungry. But that was more than three years ago. I’ve put it all back on and some extra.

This of course is the story of all my dieting over the years and probably yours as well. I might add that through all this dieting and not, I’ve never shirked staying physically fit. Most days I get my 10,000 steps in and I’m at the health club regularly. My latest blood test shows no issues with pre-diabetes, cholesterol or the usual things that alarm doctors. I’m basically a healthy overweight late middle age adult.

So I’ve been arguing with my doctors. They concede that with a few exceptions most of their patients who have taken off weight have put it back on and then some too. They really don’t have any solution to this problem other than to eat less and exercise more, something proven not to work for most people. If you are diabetic or have high cholesterol of course there are things you can do to address those issues. Obsessing about your weight is probably not one of them, but eating better and exercising regularly may be.

The evidence is clear for those of us that choose to see it: dieting almost always causes subsequent weight gain in excess of what you took off. In short, dieting works for a little while then it will recoil, exacerbating the problem. And you will doubtlessly feel guilty about the weight you’ve put back on, figuring it is due to some fault or lack of character on your part. Dieting then becomes not just a physical problem but a mental one too.

But here’s what the diet industry won’t tell you: it’s not your fault. Every time you diet your body sensibly thinks it is being starved and keeping it alive is its primary mission. It learns lessons by lowering your metabolism, so every calorie packs more punch. And because the body says, “I am not at the weight I should be” it will cause you to crave more food. The diet industry depends on diets to fail so you will start the cycle of concern and shame again and they can collect more money by building false hope.

In truth you don’t need to be a Skinny Minnie. And you don’t have to spend the rest of your life fighting cravings for food. The yo-yo dieting cycle will probably do more to kill you prematurely than being overweight and controlling your weight.

So resolve to stop dieting in this New Year. It’s counterproductive. Barring some new drugs that can reset your metabolism permanently (now there’s an area for some medical research!) you probably aren’t going to be a Skinny Minnie for the rest of your life. You may achieve it for a time, but the odds are you will yo-yo back.

Of course if you are overweight or obese and you continue eating the way you are now, you will probably gain more weight. But the reason you are eating more is that you have lost the ability to eat intuitively. That’s the premise behind Intuitive Eating, a book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, two registered dieticians, a program with more than twenty years of success. Dieting has caused our signals to get crossed. Among other things we have lost the ability to feel satiated.

Learning to eat intuitively again introduces natural control over diet without feeling like you are giving up anything. This should give you a feeling of empowerment, feeling you can enjoy food again and reduce the pointless guilt trips that come with diets that rarely succeed in the long run. After months of pondering where to go from here in my journey, it is the next logical step. I’ve enrolled in a local Intuitive Eating course and the book is our foundational text. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s worth discussing what causes this destructive cycle in the first place. Part of it is clearly models, both literally and figuratively. Models are typically very slim and many have chronic eating problems of their own. We also tend to model actors, who are disproportionately slim and attractive as well. We project onto ourselves that they are examples of who we should be.

In fact, models and actors are the exceptions to the rules, freaks really compared to the rest of us. Those who are not dealing with their own eating disorders though are at a normal weight mainly because they are intuitive eaters. I have an older brother who is an intuitive eater. He always ate slowly and has been skinny his whole life. The rest of us: not so much. What they are doing is not all that special. It’s something they’ve had their whole life and no events have come along to set it out of kilter. Moreover, because they have not yo-yo dieted, their metabolism is relatively inefficient, meaning they can eat more of the same foods the rest of us do and by processing it differently they will convert less of it into calories.

The second part comes from body shaming. Parents seeing their children getting overweight will often start them on a rigorous exercise regime, often with calorie restrictions. This is the beginning of a destructive, often lifelong yo-yo dieting cycle, one that will likely cause a lot of mental distress, and drive overeating and insecurity. One of the worse things parents can do is restrict food choices for their children. Instead they should make food plentiful and available when desired and children will eat intuitively.

For those of us for which all this is too late, learning how to eat intuitively again makes a lot of sense. While we are unlikely to be Skinny Minnies again, we will regain weight control, stop the chronic craving that cause us to overeat, bring our metabolism into balance, lose the guilt, enjoy food again and feel we have control over our lives again.

That sounds like a resolution I can keep.

The endless battle of the bulge

There is some good news, somewhat anecdotal, on the relentless war on our waists. The other day food conglomerates Heinz and Kraft announced they would merge, forming a new company, Heinz-Kraft. It’s unlikely that these companies would be merging at all except that their sales are down. These kings of processed foods like macaroni and cheese and Velveeta are finding that profits are falling with their sales. They hope that by merging they can reverse the trend, or at least find cost savings to prop up profits even as processed food sales seem to be receding.

If I were a stockholder in either of these companies, I would be buying more of their shares, not selling them. When forced to choose between what I would like Americans to do (eat healthy food) and what they are likely to do, I think the great expansion of the American gut is ultimately going to win. Of course there are plenty of Americans who eat healthy, as evidenced by the sales at stores like Whole Foods. Most of these customers though were eating healthy before they started shopping there. They are shopping there I believe principally because it is more convenient, and they get more variety at places like Whole Foods. They are also understandably paranoid: about processed foods, about genetically modified foods and want to live in good health to at least 100. Good luck to them on this quest.

I am not at all convinced that those of us who are principally Heinz and Kraft consumers will change our eating habits. Dieting is certainly doable, but only a relative few of those who do diet will manage to successfully make the lifestyle changes to keep the weight off. I am one of many people who have yo-yoed over the years. Dieters are great at taking the weight off. Keeping it off is the only trick they haven’t mastered.

So why is it? Dieticians have their own ideas, but I suspect most dieticians don’t really understand the problem because they don’t experience it. I think most diets fail for cultural reasons. But also, it’s almost impossible not to encounter temptation. One can of course choose to resist temptation, but it’s much easier to do so when the temptation is not constantly in your face.

Alcoholics go to AA meetings regularly, or at least try to. It’s unlikely though when they drive down the street that they will pass a package store on every block. Of course in some states it’s not too hard to find a package store on every block, or what seems like every block. Florida comes to mind but there are many other states like this. Unsurprisingly, if you are an alcoholic you’ll have more luck staying sober in states where package stores are relatively rare. It’s easier to resist temptation when you encounter temptation less often.

If you are a consumer of processed foods, avoiding temptation is virtually impossible. If you grew up eating healthy then temptation is less of an issue because you do not crave these foods, so you can pass down a strip blissfully immune from the lure of pizza and burger joints along your route. If you picked up the habit over the years then going down the street is like having a package store on every block is to an alcoholic. Of course the danger is not just your local strip. It’s your local grocery store as well where Kraft and Heinz stuff most of the aisles with products. It’s at the quick mart, it’s at the vending machine down the hall at work or school, and it’s at the airport, the train station and pretty much anywhere you go. Unhealthy food is everywhere and it’s relatively cheap.

If you can manage to unlearn the habit of eating this stuff, you can find salvation. As noted, few manage to do so in the long run. It would help to live a cloistered life, but even if you manage to do so, you also need to cut yourself off from the larger world. Madison Avenue will make sure that ads are calculated to make you give in to temptation. It’s no wonder then that few Americans succeed in permanent weight loss. For what you really need is the superhuman ability to resist temptation and it turns out that we are only human.

For most of our history, mankind has been hunter/gatherers. We foraged for food. We killed local animals for meat. Foraging is built into us. To survive foragers preferred food sources close to where they were living. So if there were berries to eat across the stream, they were more likely to be eaten than to travel a dozen miles for something else. Survival depended on expending calories wisely. This is so engrained in us that today we unconsciously select food choices close to us. So if there is an unhealthy food option a block away and a healthy food option two blocks away, when we get hungry more than likely the unhealthy option will win. Location tends to win. Meanwhile Madison Avenue keeps refining pitches to us via various media to try newer and tastier foods. So maybe we find that we prefer Papa Johns pizza to Pizza Hut, so over time that encourages Papa Johns to build a store near you, increasing the likelihood that you will prefer unhealthy food. In short, most of us are caught up in au unhealthy food cycle that will become virtually impossible to break. Hence, most diets fail in the long run.

Eating of course is also a highly social activity. No one would come to a party where no is food served, and they don’t come to eat healthy. We will tend to emulate the eating habits of those around us simply to fit in. So if other members of our family are eating unhealthy then we are likely to do so as well. But we’re also likelier to do so if our friends and neighbors do as well.

So breaking this cycle looks pretty hopeless. One way to increase the odds that you will break the odds is to hang out with people that eat healthy. Of course, there’s some likelihood that they won’t let you into their club because you aren’t skinny waifs like them. And they won’t understand your craving for a Ding Dong when they naturally select stalks of celery to munch on.

What can be done but probably won’t happen in this country is we could tax unhealthy food. We could also use zoning to limit the number of unhealthy places to acquire food, recognizing that these places are essentially public nuisances. One offshoot of the Affordable Care Act is that restaurants of a certain size are going to have to list calorie counts on their menus. This is a small step in the right direction, but resisting temptation is much easier when temptation is not in your face, or it costs extra to indulge in a temptation. Social engineering does work given time. It has dramatically reduced smoking rates over a couple of generations. However we have to find the moxey to put into office politicians that will do these things. Given that campaigns are increasingly funded by the very rich whose wealth often depends on you maintaining your unhealthy eating habits, this approach is unlikely at best.

Which is why it would be foolish to bet against Heinz-Kraft. Hold on to your stock and maybe use your capital gains to shop at Whole Foods instead. As for me, I’m sadly betting that in this Battle of the Bulge, our bulge is going to win out.

Keeping off the weight

I officially start the maintenance phase of my diet tomorrow. Thirty pounds of my body has been converted, principally from fat to energy. Curiously, in the process of losing those thirty pounds, I have avoided regular exercise. Whereas, when I was gaining weight I was in the gym three times a week or so doing aerobics and lifting weights, all to stay “healthy”. Exercise was probably good for my cardiovascular system as opposed to doing nothing. However, exercise was a bad way to think I could lose weight. To the extent it made me hungry and caused me to gain weight, exercise was bad.

For me, the value of exercise came from reading Jim Fixx’s book on aerobics. Aerobics opens more blood vessels, and that means you require more energy for the same amount of body mass, which means you need more calories. The exercise pros know to have that protein bar before starting exercise, so you don’t tend to crave food afterward. However, I saw eating food in general as “bad” as it was “calories” so I avoided eating before exercise. Sometime after the exercise was over my body noticed my blood sugar was low, so it sent me eating. Unsurprisingly, this often meant eating more in calories than I had just burned off. This silly strategy of mine recalls the legend of Sisyphus, who was doomed to repeatedly push a rock up a mountain knowing that at some point it would tumble back and he’d have to do it again. Using exercise to lose weight is a lot like that.

I’m not suggesting that exercise is unimportant. Doctors recommend regular exercise because it promotes cardiovascular health and body integrity. However, it’s based on the assumption that you are already at a normal weight. It’s not a bad thing to have muscle mass. It came in handy recently when I had to haul my daughter’s crap from Richmond back home (she finally got her degree!) and never once panted. Yet most of us are not laborers, farm hands or professional movers so we probably don’t need a lot of well-toned muscles. Mind you looking like one is not bad, if that’s your thing. I find it is curious that the weight lifters I mostly see at the local Gold’s Gym are obese. Yes, they have a lot of muscles but they also have large rolls of fat.

My takeaway from this weight loss experience is that to lose weight you should avoid exercise. Losing weight is really about calorie reduction. You don’t want to give into temptation, and exercise is likely to make you hungry, and thus you are likely to cheat. Moreover, diet marketing is mostly full of bullshit in an attempt to sooth your anxieties by parting you from your money. Any diet will take off the weight if you have the constitution to stick with it. Few though will work with your body rather than against it. Almost all of them will set you up to put the weight back on. Having just taken off thirty pounds, I remain skeptical about the long term success of the Ideal Protein Diet I used to take off the weight, particularly as I add back into my diet fats and carbohydrates. But at least their maintenance strategy makes sense. It helped me cut through a lot of the dieting bullshit.

Most of us Americans have gotten the message that the Western diet is bad. We know we should not eat a lot of junk food, and that stuff we do eat like pizza generally is not good for you. What almost no diet will tell you though is that a calorie is not a calorie. All calories are not created equal. Your body needs both fats and carbohydrates to maintain a healthy weight. You are doomed to fail if in your maintenance phase you do not get some of both, like the Atkins Diet. You just need to keep them apart. Put them together and you are asking for a heap of trouble. Basically, you are back on the Western Diet.

There are so many zillions of diet strategies and ideas out there it’s really hard for anyone to tell the good ones from the bad ones. From painful experience I can now recommend an article, one of the one percent or less of diet articles that actually imparts some useful information. Go read it. This is what happens when you eat carbs and fats together, at least in significant quantities. This is why it wasn’t a problem in the past. Most importantly, once you take off the weight, this is how you keep it off. Don’t mix the carbs and fats. You need both, just don’t put them together. Enjoy a nice Caesar salad for lunch but easy on the croutons. At dinner, have a plate of spaghetti but go easy on the cheese. Your liver will be much happier. It will be very confused if you throw them together, and it will attach the byproducts to your waist.

Americans like knowing that they should eat fats and carbohydrates. The part we overlook though is that the body also needs proteins and vegetables. What you need is a healthy balance of all four food groups. Every meal except maybe breakfast should include a vegetable or two. Every meal should also have a protein. These foods are essential to maintaining a healthy body, plus since they are relatively low in calories they will make you feel fuller.

So pick the diet of your choice to take off the weight. But to keep it off:

  • Protein at every meal
  • Vegetables at every meal but perhaps breakfast
  • Make one meal fat heavy and carbohydrate light
  • Make one meal carbohydrate heavy and fat light
  • Preferably, eat vegetables and proteins first
  • Watch your portions
  • One to three small snacks during the day will keep you from getting cravings

Resume exercise after you have lost the weight. Aspire to be an athlete or weight lifter only if that is your passion. Otherwise low impact aerobics like walking is fine. Lifting weights once a week or so is probably a good way to keep the muscles tuned as well.

If you have struggled keeping weight off before, I hope that I have saved you thousands of dollars and a lifetime of misery.

Thirty pounds and two months later

One of the curious things about dieting is that no matter how fast weight comes off it can never come off quickly enough. I’ve been on the Ideal Protein diet for a bit over two months and I have lost twenty-six pounds officially, thirty unofficially. Getting that amount of weight off in such a short period of time is amazing. There have been times when I have wondered if it was a safe way to take off weight, given that it comes off so quickly.

The general advice from diet coaches to take weight off slowly sounds reasonable until you consider that lots of people follow the advice, give up after a few pounds, and then end up putting on more weight. The other general advice is to make “lifestyle changes”. It makes it sound like you just throw a switch and somehow you move from daily dinners at the Old Country Buffet to eating little but tofu and beansprouts, and that eating habits of a lifetime can somehow suddenly and irreversibly change. So the Ideal Protein Diet is certainly radical in that it takes off weight very quickly. Considering the poor long-term success rates of all those other dieting schemes, it was worth the chance.

As I can attest, if you follow it, weight will come off quickly. Its claim that you should never feel hungry after the first few days, however, is dubious at best. I have no doubt that some and perhaps most of their dieters rarely feel hungry. I still feel hungry pretty much every day, just not all the time. For a while I would wake up in the night with my stomach hurting from hunger. When I feel hungry though it is usually genuine hunger, not because I have a sugar craving. Those particular cravings have largely disappeared. It is the sugar cravings more than anything else that I think are to blame for so many Americans being overweight. Consequently, for me the most challenging period of the dieting comes not during weight loss phase, but when I attempt to sustain a healthy weight. It’s pretty easy to see that I will need to eat a lot less sugar and a lot fewer carbohydrates in general.

Some of us carry weight real well. That describes me. While I have lost thirty pounds, it is curiously hard to tell. I never carried a beer belly (it helps not to drink beer). In addition, for more than thirty years I have gotten regular exercise, including weight training. To some extent my cardiologist overreacted because while I was overweight I entered the diet at the high end of the acceptable level of percentage of body fat. Basically, I retained a large amount of muscle mass from all that exercise, but not to the extent that I look like a weight lifter. So in that sense losing thirty pounds is a bit anticlimactic. I don’t look a whole lot thinner, at least to my eyes, but scales do not lie.

I have taken up a notch on my belt. It used to be that three notches were uncomfortable. Now I must use four notches to avoid a plumber’s crack. I notice my weight loss most where I least expected it: around my arms. My arms now look great, with little in the way of fat between my muscle and my skin. It looks like I do rock climbing every day. Yet I have lost nearly three inches around the waist. Being very daring, I recently bought a new pair of jeans a size smaller than normal, on the assumption I would keep off the weight.

How is the Ideal Protein diet? As far as getting protein and vegetables, it will deliver, and you will be amazed that you can live on half your body’s daily caloric intake with so little fuss. Like any diet it requires discipline. You often leave the table thinking, “Is that all?” Yes, it is. Dinner consists of eight ounces of a lean protein plus two cups of low or no carbohydrate vegetables (basically avoid vegetables with roots). Otherwise at least during Phase 1 of the diet, you are consuming their “foods” which arguably are not cheap. The foods cost about $90 a week, and supplements run out periodically and cost more. By eating less you need a lot of supplements. Their foods are low salt foods, but you still need salt, so you use their salt and sprinkle it on foods or add some to your water. Like most diets, you drink a lot of water, at least sixty-four fluid ounces a day.

For breakfast, I typically make eggs from their omelet mix, which is surprisingly palatable and filling. Lunch is two cups of vegetables plus one of their foods. I find most of their lunch foods remarkably unappetizing. The best I’ve found so far is the Chicken a la King pottage mix (add salt). Snacks are also not much to write home about. The best of them is the Caramel Crunch bar. It’s that and lots of water (I drink mostly zero calorie iced tea) and zero calorie salad dressing with salads. I liberally add spices to my dinner.

So off goes the weight in a rather predictable three pounds or so a week, although it is closer to ten during the first week due to water weight disappearing. Change vegetables, proteins and “food” mixes for some variety, but you will probably find some combination that work well for you. Eight ounces of protein for dinner is actually quite a lot for an entrée. It can be a huge hamburger (no bun or condiments, obviously) or four eggs. I supplement meals with lots of iced tea and usually have one or two cups of coffee (a little instant creamer and artificial sweetener) with lunch or breakfast.

Still, after two months, my body is now seriously complaining. It didn’t help that I spent two weeks mostly on the road. With no access to a kitchen, there was no way to make their omelet breakfast, so I fell back on their small portion and not particularly appetizing “Crispy Cereal”. Have I cheated? A little bit. When in Louisville with no kitchen I had to live off the land, which meant nearby restaurants and plain Subway salads with lunch. It also meant a lot of walking, generally three or more miles a day. My body complained. I ate a lot of Mediterranean food, as three of these restaurants were convenient to the hotel. If they added pita bread or some rice, I ate some of it. I still lost weight, but it was probably from the walking. Last Sunday I found myself at an Apple store waiting while they rebuilt my hard disk. With close to an hour to kill and my tummy seriously complaining, I succumbed to a cupcake from a nearby eatery. In the last week or so when I have felt particularly hungry I have added a quarter cup of peanuts as a snack. I don’t feel particularly guilty about it. I am still losing weight but when my body gives me firm guidance, I listen.

After some discussion with my counselor though I’ve decided to start the second phase of the diet, which consists of adding real protein at lunch instead of protein from a powder. I may extend it beyond the two weeks to take off additional weight, or not. Ideally I’d like to be at the weight I was when I was married, but I was a skinny thing then because I didn’t work out. I have added a lot of muscle mass and I think it is reasonable to keep that extra muscle mass.

In summary, the Ideal Protein diet does work, it is reasonably painless but it requires tenacity like any diet. It is not inexpensive so adding in coaching fees and food it can easily cost you $1500 or more by the time you are done with it. Its ultimate success will be vindicated if I keep the weight off. My pancreas should now be well rested as it has had little in the way of carbohydrates to process, so when I resume eating carbohydrates I should process them more efficiently. I hope that I will consume fewer of them, and keep up eating more vegetables as a percent of my diet. I am finding that I prefer steamed cauliflower. So maybe I can retrain my taste buds, at least to some extent.

More dieting episodes to follow.

Full steamed vegetables ahead!

So how’s that Ideal Protein Diet going, Mark? I just finished day ten of the diet and what a strange diet it is! It consists of a mixture of healthy food (you better learn to love carbohydrate-free vegetables) and what feels like mad scientist “food”. It’s hard to argue with results, however. When they put me on the scale I had dropped 9.7 pounds in eight days.

Yikes! If I maintained that kind of weight loss I’d be emaciated in ten weeks! That won’t happen. It’s true that when you get about 900 calories a day and burn 2500 calories a day you are going to take off weight quickly. Which means for me anyhow it should take about two to three days to take off a pound, if you can maintain this crazy diet. This kind of weight loss should rapidly slow down. What’s coming off now is mostly water weight. After you exhaust blood sugar, the body will hunt for calories in your muscles, specifically glycogen. Glycogen is bound to the muscle with water molecules. Burn the glycogen and that water finally exits the body. So it’s kind of like getting double for your money, while it lasts. Soon, if it hasn’t started yet, my glycogen will be exhausted too. Providing you can retain muscle mass (the whole point of the Ideal Protein diet) the body turns to burning the fat in fat cells for energy.

This is a crazy diet because this kind of extreme weight loss seems dangerous somehow. I had always heard that to take off weight safely you were supposed to take off a pound a week. In theory you were less likely to put it back on than if you took it off more quickly. The Ideal Protein diet seems to be rewriting the rules.

Whether I can continue holding out is open to question. I think so but not because of the “food”, which generally consists of powders in silver envelopes that you mix with water in a shaker they provide. This “food” makes up my breakfast, lunch and snack, which means that I have one real meal a day: dinner. You can have eight ounces of lean animal protein with dinner (or tofu if you are a vegetarian) and two cups of no-carb vegetables, which you also have with lunch.

While not a painless way to lose weight it’s incredibly quick and you don’t usually feel hungry (except in the first few days). After trying enough of their “foods” you can find some that are good enough and some that are quite good. As a snack person, the snack constitutes the food highlight of my day. The Caramel Crunch bar is quite good. Some of the foods are an acquired taste, at best. If you like your soup foamy, you may find some of the soups acceptable but I found them hard to finish with ingredients that were often gritty. There are enough choices where you can get by, but you won’t be raving about the food to your friends. My “omelet” for breakfast has the sort of consistency and look of eggs, but not quite. It’s acceptable enough and with little else but protein you shouldn’t feel much in the way of hunger until lunch. Protein suppresses appetite and vegetables fill the void in your tummy. Repeat indefinitely until you reach you weight loss goal. Then start Phase 2 and learn to keep it off. Or so they say.

I expect I can complete this diet, but it won’t be without giving myself some constant coaching. I am trying to be thoughtful to my pancreas, which for a couple of decades has been in overdrive, squeezing out extra insulin to handle the extra blood sugar. It certainly deserves a break. These weight loss people believe that with a long break it can function more like a normal pancreas. When I think of unpleasant ways to die, pancreatic cancer is probably number one. I doubt there is a link between it and obesity (this was never a problem for Steve Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer) but why take a chance?

Aside from the weight loss, there have been some good things about this diet. I have more time because I am not exercising. It is specifically discouraged, because the body cannot draw calories as quickly from fat as it does from blood sugar courtesy of various sugar-laden fast foods. Exercise typically took six or more hours a week out of my schedule. I have them back, at least for a little while, which is giving me more time in the evenings to enjoy nerdy activities like writing code for my open source project. (I know, I know. I should be blogging more instead.) I’ll go back to exercise when I am off this diet, but it’s nice to have a break from that routine. It’s also strange to pass that plate of brownies and not feel a magnetic draw toward it. It took a few days but the sugar craving is gone.

In its absence is a kind of neutral zone. When we went to see the musical Next to Normal a couple of years ago, the severely depressed woman Diana spoke of life on antidepressants: no highs, no lows, just a boring steady state. She missed the lows because it let her enjoy the highs. I feel like that sometimes. I finish lunch and I am full, sort of satisfied but my stomach feels strange. I want to feel some gripping hunger. Since dinner is my only real meal, there are things that can be done to make it more interesting. Mainly, I can avail myself of spices, and I can add some olive oil when I heat up the meat in a skillet. That and some freshly heated vegetables liberally covered in the salt they want you to take regularly can make dinner pretty satisfying. I still need to find some calorie free salad dressing. Eating vegetables, particularly raw vegetables, gets somewhat dreary after a while. Mostly you drink lots of water. A little coffee is allowed. I did find a calorie-free iced tea/lemonade mix with Splenda that is really good. The diet coach said it was okay but recommended drinking it only at meals. Since Splenda is okay, a low-tech and cheap way to make drinking water more palatable is simply to add a couple packets to a bottle of water.

Doubtless I will develop more coping techniques in the weeks ahead. This diet will likely become more challenging the longer it goes on and particularly when I have to travel in a couple of weeks. But I will get through it somehow, I hope. Full steam(ed vegetables) ahead!

The plate of brownies diet test

The worst thing about going to the doctor is not when they tell you that you have incurable cancer. It’s when they put you on the scale. I don’t want to know how much I weigh so I don’t peek, but doctors care. They are obsessed with weight, body mass indexes and other warning signs like blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

It seems that once again I have succeeded in taking off weight and then slowly but incrementally putting it back on again. Here I am hardly unique. In fact, it is hard to find the case of someone who after taking off large amounts of weight doesn’t put it back on again.

Permanent weight loss after decades of being overweight or obese most of the time is actually quite hard. Given our ever-expanding American girth, it seems like Mission Impossible. It is made harder by the tons of disinformation about healthy eating and weight loss out there, plus the heaping doses of guilt you absorb. You would think with all the money spent by the National Institute of Health they might have a study that would indicate the most effective ways of losing weight and keeping it off. Even if there were such a way, most doctors operate on the illusion that weight loss is handled through a one size fits all solution. “Eat less and exercise more,” is basically what they will tell you.

In fact, I had been eating less and I get plenty of exercise. While I get vegetables and lean meats on a daily basis, I clearly have been eating too many carbohydrates, which my body promptly turned into fat. This comes in part from exercise, which burns blood sugar and makes me crave carbohydrates. The Dark Chocolate M&Ms addiction has also contributed to my carbohydrate problem. Anyhow, my cardiologist felt the need to give me a stern lecture about my weight last week.

“Look doctor,” I told her. “I’m good at taking weight off. Like most Americans, I have done it lots of times. The only problem is keeping it off. I don’t want to waste my time with another trip to Weight Watchers when their success rate is as miserable as anyone else’s in the diet industry.”

This doctor though was prepared. Cardiologists see lots of overweight and obese people. They deliver this lecture dozens of times a day. Apparently this practice got so sick of not having any real solutions for their patients that one of the practice doctors decided to do something about it. He thoroughly researched the problem and then set up a clinic down the hall from their office. “If you want to take weight off and keep it off, go see them,” she told me. So I did.

Of course, what I really wanted was a diet where I could literally have my cake and eat it too. Every dieter wants a painless weight loss plan. We particularly want one that requires us to eat lots of easily processed sugary carbohydrates. Of course, no such plan exists that actually works. Lots of plans, including Weight Watchers’ newest one, wants to convince you otherwise. Weight Watchers has a relatively new “Fruit is free” plan. Their market has always been “eat what you want, just a lot less of it.” The new plan lets you eat as much fruit as you want but ups the points on everything else. You can lose weight if you follow their plan. But more than likely because your carbohydrate addiction craving has not really been solved, you will put the weight back on. It’s not bad for their business model. You reenter the program, take the weight off again, and their cash registers go ching.

Thus I found myself yesterday talking to my new diet coach at The Healthy Weigh Now down the hall from my cardiologist. While the doctor in charge and the nurses and coaches there actually work for the cardiology practice, the program they are following is really the Ideal Protein plan. No fruit allowed on this plan, or pretty much anything in the way of carbohydrates. Not much in the way of calories either. The plan is 900-1000 calories a day. It’s no surprise then that those who follow the plan take off weight, and quickly. Women lose on average 2-3 pounds a week; men 3-5 pounds a week.

This plan stuffs you with vegetables, but also “ideal” proteins. To burn fat, you must first use up sugar in the blood. The body will then turn to muscles for energy and finally resort to burning fat. Their “ideal” protein supplements keeps your muscles from losing muscle mass and convinces your body to instead burn fat. And so it goes if you can stick to the diet.

The first twenty-four hours has been a bit challenging but not too difficult. I find myself mildly hungry for much of the day, but that should pass in a couple of days. “Meals” though stretch the definition. Two out of three meals come from their prepared food packages, which are often powders combined with water. There is a daily snack from one of their approved snacks. All emphasize protein. Dinner consists of eight ounces of lean protein and certain vegetables. There are also numerous vitamin supplements, olive oil, fish oil and lots of water to drink. The food categories so far taste better than I thought, but calling a half glass of fruit flavored high protein “juice” a breakfast is a bit much. Just follow the protocol, they tell me, and those pounds will quickly disappear. “You will soon be punching new holes in your belt,” they assured me. It just works.

And I am confident that it will make me lose weight quickly. So I have really only one question: will my body rebel and I find myself at a Dunkin Donuts scarfing down boxes of French Crullers, the food I would prefer to eat?

If so then comes the real challenge: keeping the weight off for good. Here is where the plan will hopefully succeed where others have failed, as I transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 and eventually all the way to Phase 4, with a doctor and coaches weighing and watching and adjusting and advising all along the way.

When I can pass a plate of brownies at the dessert bar without instinctively wanting to reach for one of them, that’s when I know I will have succeeded.

Real Life 101, Lesson 15: Dieting, Fitness and Nutrition – do you know the difference?

This is the fifteenth in an indeterminate series of entries that provides my “real world” lessons to young adults. It is my conviction that these lessons are rarely taught either at home or in the schools. For those who did not get them growing up you can get them from me for free. This is part of my way of giving back to the universe on the occasion of my 50th birthday.

(Note: If you like this, you might also like Lesson 7 and Lesson 11.)

Young adults, you cannot get online without see articles on dieting, fitness and nutrition. Do you know the difference?

I confess I find it confusing at times. I know people think dieting must make them healthier. It can, but it can also make you sick. In some cases, if done without medical supervision, it can even kill you. So dieting is not necessarily healthy. I also know people who eat very nutritiously and yet it hasn’t made them any healthier. In addition, I know people who get plenty of exercise yet who are unhealthy. All these practices contribute to good health, but none of them guarantee health. Each has their pitfalls and misconceptions. Voluminous media reports on the latest scientific studies only muddles answers. I may be able to help you see through the mist a bit.

Let’s start with dieting. My bet is that any one time, most Americans are either on a diet or wish they had the willpower to go on a diet. They want to lose weight because the media drums it into them that being overweight or obese is unhealthy. They figure: if I can get to a normal weight, I’ll be healthy!

This is not necessarily true. I see many skinny things that are not healthy at all. Maybe it is because they smoke, take narcotics, are anorexic or never exercise. Having normal or below normal weight does not mean you are healthy and dieting to achieve a normal weight may or may not leave you healthier. You can be morbidly obese and still be healthy, with low cholesterol and blood pressure. However, a normal weight combined with good nutrition and regular exercise dramatically raises the probability that you will enjoy a healthy and a long life. Yet, there are never any guarantees. Even the healthiest person can contract a cancer or pick up a virulent infectious disease. Dieting alone is not a solution to your health. It is one of many means that may allow you to be healthy.

A legitimate diet followed rigorously will lower your weight. Nothing else is guaranteed. Losing weight is simple, but not necessarily easy. You must burn more calories than you take in. Diet plans merely offer different approaches for losing weight, but they can only succeed if you burn more calories than you ingest. Losing weight is often associated with reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, among other welcome changes, but there is no guarantee that these healthy goals will be achieved by losing weight.

Dieters often make the mistake of thinking they can lose weight by exercising more while they diet, reasoning they will burn more calories and thus take off weight more quickly. The research is now compelling: exercising has a number of healthful benefits but it may defeat your attempts to lose weight, at least if done to excess. If you do a lot of heavy work, like chopping wood, your blood sugar is lowered. This may cause your body to taunt you to eat more food to make up for the extra calories you burned. You may end up healthier from the exercise but your diet may fail. Over the years, I have experienced this, and I have seen it happen to too many of my friends as well. If you really want to lose weight, I would avoid the heavy cardiovascular exercises until after I was at my desired weight. Especially if I were obese, I would check with my doctor first about doing any heavy cardiovascular exercises.

Exercise, while a healthy practice, is actually a very inefficient way to burn calories. The vast majority of your calories are engaged in a much more Herculean task: maintaining your body. How inefficient is exercise? Men’s Health Magazine recently estimated that to consume a popular six hundred calorie entree, you would have to walk the stairs from the ground floor of the Empire State building to the observation deck twice. So counting calories to lose weight is much more effective than vigorously exercising and dieting, as it is more likely to succeed. Choosing mild, moderate or even no exercise is probably more effective at succeeding at dieting than heavy exercising. The most effective way to lose weight is actually simple: consume many measured, small mini-meals during the day so you never get hungry.

Is there a point to fitness given that it may not help you lose weight? Yes! Assuming you are exercising correctly, not overdoing things and not overly stressing joints and such, you are likely to have fewer aches and pains, you will feel a lot better and will have more energy to engage in life. If it’s been a long time since you have felt that way, you will be amazed how wonderful you will feel after a couple weeks of moderate exercising. In fact, the value of exercise arguably increases with age. What is the key factor for living to ninety and still being in good health? Good genetics certainly helps, but falling is what often kills or disables old people who haven’t succumbed to other disease. What causes most falls? It is a lack of exercise, both walking religiously and strengthening the muscles that maintain your balance, such as your thigh and hip muscles. My father, age 84, remains an avid and religious walker. He may be 84, but he goes to the gym regularly. That he walks without a stoop is proof of the value of regular exercise late in life.

While exercise is in general good, exercise is vastly improved by marrying it with good nutrition. Eating healthy while not exercising and being obese may help a little, but if you suffer from problems like high blood pressure, it is likely not a cure. As I mentioned in Lesson 7, nutrition is about giving your body the right stuff so that it can work optimally. If you are overweight or don’t exercise, it may make symptoms like adult diabetes less chronic, but it will probably not solve the problem. Proper nutrition does help you think clearer, feel better about yourself and aids all parts of the body.

Putting this all together: diet to lose weight but as a part of a plan to keep yourself at a healthy weight for life. Yo-yo dieting is not healthy, and may be worse than not dieting at all. Exercise to feel better and so that you can live a long life with minimal health issues. Eat nutritiously so that your body is primed to work optimally.

While these are foundations to health, there are also many other factors that contribute to health. Washing your hands regularly, flu shots, dental checkups, physicals, getting eight hours of sleep a night and avoiding many of the preventable stresses in life, like toxic bosses also contribute enormously to your good health. Your goal should be optimal mental and physical health. All these strategies help achieve it but none of them by themselves guarantees it.

Real Life 101, Lesson 11: The skinny on nutrition

This is the eleventh in an indeterminate series of entries that provides my “real world” lessons to young adults. It is my conviction that these lessons are rarely taught either at home or in the schools. For those who did not get them growing up you can get them from me for free. This is part of my way of giving back to the universe on the occasion of my 50th birthday.

An indigent and obese friend of my wife tonight sits critically ill in a hospital in Lanchester County, Pennsylvania, her abdomen a mass of bloated polyps and at least one large tumor. She has had one surgery already that removed many of them and is scheduled for another shortly, however her prognosis for a full recovery is almost nonexistent. She is in her fifties. What is unstated, but is quite possible, is that she is dying. With so many masses in her abdomen, the chance that one of them is malignant is very high.

I have met her only twice. While a nice person, she appears to have spent a lifetime treating her body with contempt. Between her regular smoking (which she only recently she gave up) and the voluminous crap she has been eating over the years, she passively chose the miserable experience that she is now enduring. (Yes, I am aware obesity is a disease like alcoholism. It required treatment that it appears she either could not afford or refused.) She also chose the substandard life she has lived these many years because the result was she became officially disabled and is hobbled by her obesity. Her joints often hurt. She is rarely mobile enough to even take a shower, and she is able to move only with great effort. She is morbidly obese.

When she visited us recently, she asked her partner to make a run through the local Burger King drive thru. I do not know whether her partner indulged her or not, but it is clear that to her junk food has the lure of a narcotic. Like too many of us overweight and obese Americans, she is addicted to stuff that seems destined to kill her prematurely.

I hope all that food and nicotine that she enjoyed earlier in her life is worth the pain, misery, inconvenience and heartache that she is now experiencing and has been experiencing for probably at least a decade. What is clear is that she allowed these forces to control her, rather than the other way around. Had she embraced other choices earlier in her life she might have a couple more quality decades of a life ahead of her. She might have the time to watch her young granddaughter, who she dotes on, graduate college. She may also have enjoyed much more the last few decades instead of being hobbled by the consequences of these addictions.

Particularly in your younger years, the consequences of eating pizza, drinking sugar-rich beers and sodas, and smoking are fully reversible. As you age, the effect of these choices takes an increasingly larger toll on your body. The probability of gaining control over these demons lessens too with age.

Many young adults reach maturity with little to no training on nutrition. Maybe they studied the USDA food pyramid in class, but it is unlikely they received the coaching to use it effectively. The more I learn about nutrition in my middle years, the more I understand how complex it is. What is clear is that temptations abound, and the unhealthy food is artificially cheap. Paradoxically, the healthy food is increasingly more expensive.

How do young adults in particular navigate the complex issue of basic nutrition, particularly when their forebrain tells them they should eat healthy but their emotional side has them craving a processed food diet? Perhaps it starts with some understanding of what nutrition is. Based on younger adults in my own family who shall remain nameless, I don’t think most teenagers and young adults really understand. On one level, they may understand there are “bad foods” and that they tend to be the ones they want. They may also infer that “good foods” are boring and not very tasty.

The essence of nutrition is readily understandable. It is about giving your body the food it needs to operate optimally. It is also about giving your body the right amount of food so that you can maintain a healthy weight. The good thing about eating nutritious food is that it tends to naturally correct the desire to overeat. Conversely, one of the many bad things about unhealthy food is that it tends to make you want to eat more of it. You can enjoy an apple. Will a tasty apple make you reach for a second? Perhaps. Will one slice of pizza be enough? Probably not.

What is the difference? Aside from the ingredients in an apple, which are either benign or healthy, and a pizza, which is overloaded with saturated fats and quickly absorbed carbohydrates, an apple has two important attributes. First, it is not calorie dense, which means there are fewer calories for the same volume of food compared with a pizza. An apple also is rich in something called dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is simply benign non-food, or bulk if you will. It has zero calories because it is not absorbed; it just passes through you. While it does not go to your waist, dietary fiber is also good because roughage helps keep you regular and reduces your chances of colon cancer.

If an apple were a candle, it would burn slow and steady. A pizza is more like a fuse. It burns brightly and quickly. Because a pizza’s carbohydrates and fat are readily absorbed (they are rather simple), the excess is not needed by the body, so it tends to get stored instead. In addition, since the carbohydrates are quickly absorbed, your blood sugar will spike and then drop like a rock, and you will feel hungrier. You get a double whammy and unsurprisingly your waistline is likely to expand.

Nutritious food is also often loaded with natural vitamins and minerals. Many fast or processed foods are enriched with vitamins. Does this make them healthy? No, these foods are no healthier than eating a wheat donut is healthy. In other words, these processed foods still have virtually all the bad stuff, and the manufacturers are hoping to convince you that by adding vitamins and minerals it has morphed itself into something healthy. It’s still junk.

If you are overweight or obese, you might think that exercise will take off the pounds even if you keep eating the same fast and processed foods you are used to eating. Yet, most people who try this strategy fail. Why? Because exercise also depletes the body’s immediate stores of energy, i.e. your blood sugar. Your body will try to make up the difference by burning fat, but it will also send a strong signal to your brain: feed me. Exercise is still good, but you need to do it smartly. Eat a small snack with slow burning carbohydrates before and after exercise instead, this way you will not feel so hungry. While exercise has many healthy aspects to it, it is not a silver bullet for losing weight. In particular, if you are trying to lose weight, exercise in moderation, as too much exercise will simply drive you to eat more calories. Eating the same processed food you always ate while regularly exercising will not help your body be healthy either. Nor does exercise add any nutrition to your diet, unless you exercise outside in the sunlight and catch a little free Vitamin D. Fifteen minutes a week of sunshine (skip the sunscreen) is all you need to get your Vitamin D.

And speaking of Vitamin D, there is likelihood that you are Vitamin D deficient. Many Americans are these days. Why? Because we have become indoor denizens. Our jobs put us in cubicles. Moreover, we prefer to be tethered to our televisions and computers. Vitamin D deficiency is bad because it puts you at even greater risk of health complications, and markedly increases the chance of acquiring heart disease in particular. At any age, you should never take your health for granted. Make sure you are getting regular physicals so you can detect and correct these problems early.

Do not feel proud of yourself if you do not smoke but you do overeat. The evidence is clear: overeating and eating the wrong foods is at least as unhealthy for you as smoking. Overeating can trigger cancers, just like smoking. You are unlikely to die from heart disease because of smoking, however you can die of either cancer or heart disease because of poor eating habits and overeating. If I had to choose between the two habits, I would take up smoking, as disagreeable as the idea is to me.

How do you learn new habits that will last a lifetime? There are plenty of programs out there but if I had to pick one, I would choose Weight Watchers, for reasons I document here. Need more help? Try this site and buy a couple of their books, which are widely available. I think you will find them quite insightful.

Please, think carefully about what you put into your mouth, why you really do it and the long-term consequences of sticking with your habit. It may be too late for my wife’s friend, but your life is just unfolding. Do not eat yourself into an early grave.

The Ten Percent Solution?

One of the reasons to read The Huffington Post is to get your celebrity kicks. I have to confess I don’t care too much about what celebrities are doing, Jewel Staite being the possible exception. Yet, it was on Huffpost that I read about the latest celebrity yo-yo dieter, in this case the actress Kirstie Alley. For a while Alley was a spokesman for Jenny Craig, which was not only financially remunerating for her but also allowed her to lose seventy-five pounds. She eventually parted ways with Jenny Craig to come up with her own diet and sell her own dieting book. She would be wise not to write any for a while. Alley put the seventy-five pounds she lost back on, and an additional eight more pounds to boot, for a total of eighty-three pounds. Now she plans to take it off again and get back to the svelte 140 pounds or so she was when she did Cheers. Good luck Kirstie.

Alley is an egregious example of a yo-yo dieter. She has plenty of company but the rest of us struggle with our weight without the glare of publicity. I too have struggled, though thankfully I never got more than twenty-five pounds above a healthy weight. I have tried a number of diets over the years too, including the Carbohydrate Addicts Diet and the South Beach Diet. For a time, both diets looked like solutions for me too. Both were ultimately a waste of my time and money.

It is too early for me to claim victory. I have claimed it before only to find myself slacking off and find the pounds had returned. However, I have reached a milestone, losing ten percent of my weight in about five months. No, I was not on Jenny Craig, which would make little sense in my case as they market primarily to women. Nor was it Nutrisystem. I am on Weight Watchers. I have this simple advice for Kirstie: if you really want to lose weight and actually keep it off, try Weight Watchers this time. There is no guarantee you will succeed with Weight Watchers either. However, I can say that after following their program these last few months I can see the results on my scale and in the extra number of free belt notches. Moreover, I have a realistic expectation that this time I will keep it off for good.

Here is the problem with virtually all the diets out there: they may succeed in helping you lose weight, but they will do little to help you keep it off permanently. That is actually fine with the diet industry. They do not want you to keep it off permanently. If you do, they have lost another customer. No, they would much prefer you take it off, get sloppy, put it back on, then give their diet another go around. If you cannot, well, there are plenty of other diets to choose from, and they need your money too.

Any diet will let you lose weight if you follow it. Only a few though have a decent track record helping you keep it off once you have lost it. Weight Watchers is a big commercial company too, and I am sure they get their legions of yo-yo dieters too. Nonetheless, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you should stop the Jenny Craigs, the Nutrisystems and the Slim-Fasts and do Weight Watchers instead. After you lose the weight, you will at least have a decent chance of keeping it off permanently. This is because Weight Watchers is one of the few diet companies out there whose business model involves not only helping you lose weight but helping you keep it off once you have lost it.

How hard was it for me to lose ten percent of my body mass? You might expect I spent much of the last five months eating celery and carrot sticks, but that is not the case. Mostly I ate things I already liked. In many cases I ate less of what I already liked, and changed portion sizes and ingredients so that what I ate was less caloric, higher in fiber and lower in fat. Did I suffer? If I had to rate my suffering level with Weight Watchers compared with any other diet plan, with 1 being no suffering to 10 being massive suffering, Weight Watchers was about a 3. Most of the other diet plans were in the 7-9 range.

How was this possible? Mainly, I watched what I ate, exercised portion control and kept track of what I was eating. With Weight Watchers, you learn to practice a few simple rules like “eat the filling foods first”, manage hunger through small snacks, assess the impact of what you are eating through their Points system, and eat your daily point allocation. If you want to eat more, exercise more. They have a way to calculate your bonus points via your exercise level. There are also extra points you can use over the course of a week on those days when you feel you are suffering too much. Truly, it is not that hard. Are you listening Kirstie?

Since you can eat at least some what you want, you may find yourself like me getting creative. I eat the filling foods first, but I also find creative substitutes for other foods I enjoy. Whole wheat bread is healthy, but still has more calories per slice than I would prefer. A high fiber English muffin though is only 100 calories. Cut in half, with a teaspoon of butter on each half and you have something quite tasty and dense in your stomach for less than 200 calories. It comes down to choices. The big greasy slice of pizza may be out but an occasional Lean Cuisine pizza may be okay. After a while you may find, like me, that you don’t need to count points anymore because you eat many of the same sorts of foods you used to and you know what and how much you need to stay on track. In any event, the weekly weigh in helps enforce discipline that may be lacking. I think it is essential in keeping you honest.

I am not entirely there yet, but I am close to the point where my new eating habits are becoming automatic. I now find that although I could have fancier things to eat for lunch, I want a salad. I can dress it up in a way where it is filling and satisfying. My weight loss coach was very pleased when she recently announced that I lost ten percent of my weight. She said this is a key indicator of people who can develop the habits to keep the weight off permanently. By the way, unlike many yo-yo dieters you should lose weight slowly. About a pound a week is ideal. Have patience. If you lose a pound a week, in a year you weigh fifty pounds less and you are much more likely to keep it off too.

I am planning to keep losing weight even though I passed the ten percent threshold, with the goal of getting my weight down to the day I was married, which was probably the last time I was at that weight. Then I will do my best to stay there. I will use my blog, in part, as a reminder to keep at it.

I hope you can learn from my experience. I think celebrity diets are a waste of time. Find a diet program that works with your eating habits and has some track record for helping you keep the weight off once you have lost it. There is no painless approach to weight loss but plans like Weight Watchers are the only ones that have any realistic chance of succeeding in the long term.

If your freezer is full of food from Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem, you might as well chuck it because these diets at best will only succeed in taking off weight for a while. Keeping weight off permanently and developing new habits, like eating better and exercising more, is what you really need. A diet is only one component for reaching this goal. You need long-term health. This is a completely different game, but it is the only plan worth having.

More adventures in weight loss

Since I officially started my latest diet on January 22nd, I have lost thirteen pounds. Seven weeks and thirteen pounds is close to a weight loss of two pounds a week. How hard was it? So far, not that hard.

There are lots of diet plans out there of course, but overall I think the current one I am on, Weight Watchers, is probably the best of those I have tried over the years. Any weight loss plan of course will work if you adhere to it. Unfortunately, most people will put the weight back on shortly after they take it off. I am not the exception either. I certainly did not intend to be a yo-yo dieter, but simple inattention and giving into the cravings of my body made the weight creep back up over time.

Truly, despite all the sweats that diets tend to give us Americans, taking off the pounds is the easy part. Keeping them off is the hard part. Can I successfully incorporate new eating strategies into my life for the rest of my life? It remains to be seen. Still, I can feel the weight coming off. Thirteen pounds amounts to two notches on my belt. I feel healthier and have more stamina. My blood pressure is already down into the normal range. I do not know about my cholesterol count yet. I had blood drawn on Tuesday and should get lab results soon. Since it typically takes six months for cholesterol levels to get back to normal, I probably have a way to go. I would prefer to avoid cholesterol-lowering drugs. Time will tell whether I will succeed there.

Why is a stodgy old diet plan like Weight Watchers working so well? I think it is mainly because I can choose what I want to eat. As I pointed out in my first post, it does not mean you can eat as much of what you want, unless you prefer low calorie, high fiber food. Clearly most of us losing weight do not prefer these foods; otherwise, we would not have gained the weight in the first place. Maybe once a week I will have a Lean Cuisine Spaghetti for dinner (5 points). I grew up on spaghetti dinners. So eating food I enjoy, even if in smaller quantities than I was used to, really does help. As Linda, our coach put it: “If it doesn’t taste good, don’t put it in your mouth.”

In hindsight, it is easy to see how I fell off the wagon. Throughout my weight gain, I never lacked for regular aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Granted I get little of it in the office, but I hit the gym regularly and really worked out. I deluded myself to some degree that if I exercised enough the weight gain did not matter. Of course, even if you exercise regularly, if you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. It is that simple. I simply chose to not pay much attention to the problem until my doctor gave me a wakeup call.

Weight Watchers has convinced me (it’s amazing how quickly we forget) that a few simple things take the pounds off: burn more calories than you take in, exercise regularly and systematically, track what you eat and use the discipline of a support group. If you can do these four things, you will lose weight. It does become much less burdensome though if you can mix in some of the foods you love (hopefully lower fat, lower calorie and higher fiber equivalents) with the healthier foods. If you chose not to do these four things most likely you will not succeed in losing all the weight you want to lose, and are likely to falter on your path.

The discipline of being weighed once a week in front of an impartial coach has an amazing effect. Simply put, it provides essential accountability. Since most of us have a hard time being accountable to ourselves, why not to a coach? Since you will not be the only one at the Weight Watchers class, you will also watch others lose weight too, and they are likely to encourage you in your journey. The social aspect of weight loss is critically important, and perhaps the most important part of succeeding.

I have also found that you can eat really tasty and nutritious food that doesn’t pack on the calories. One of my favorites is a Chicken Stir Fry. Our local warehouse club BJs makes a great chicken stir fry, loaded with tasty vegetables, spaghetti, chicken of course and garnished with soy sauce. It has 190 calories per serving. There are four servings in a bag, so if you have two servings you are getting only 380 calories and you have a huge plate full of healthy and good tasting food. Moreover, it is loaded with dietary fiber and is low in fat. Perhaps if you are salt sensitive the soy sauce is not good for you. Two servings are just six points.

There are many low calorie products out there, some of them are exceptionally good. Weight Watchers of course sells dozens of them, many of them mediocre but some seem too good to be true. Take their fudge bar. Amazingly, it is only one point but it is still quite chocolaty and actually tastes rich. If you have a sweet tooth like I do, it is manna from heaven. You have to be careful though that you do not subsist on a diet of Weight Watchers fudge bars. Your body really does need the dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables too, so you want to include healthy portions of them in your diet. They will fill up your stomach much better than a couple Weight Watchers fudge bars.

I will give you more progress reports in the weeks ahead. It drives my wife nuts at times because she has this thing against Weight Watchers. However, if the first thirteen pounds came off with such little pain, I do not see why I cannot keep going until I reach a healthy weight. I am about half way there already.