Though the past ten(+) years have been a pretty great adventure overall, the area in which I’ve done myself some grave harm would be my physical health. I wrote about this to some degree in my post Unlocking nerd fitness (at my day job’s blog), but since that article was written for National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, it focuses almost exclusively on exercise. And though exercise has been a major element in the quest to reclaim my health, diet has been just as key.
My good friend Alexis asked on Facebook earlier today whether I was using Weight Watchers (I’m not) so I thought I’d just take a moment to explain what it is I am doing, for anyone who might be interested. I’ve tried diet programs in the past (and sometimes lost significant weight), but ultimately I have never been able to maintain those diets over time, and the weight always came back.
This time, thanks to my very smart husband, Paul, who instigated this quest and who is on the path with me (thank you, Paul!) the strategy is to simply move towards as much real food as possible (saving junky treats for special occasions), eat reasonable portions, and document calories consumed and calories burned using the website LIVESTRONG.COM.
Portion sizes have really been key, and we’ve noticed that while initially we had to work hard to limit our portion sizes, over time our bodies have become used to the smaller amounts. None of this is magical or new in the world, of course. This is what doctors have been telling us to do for years. Yet somehow, figuring out how to actually do it does feel magical, and for the first time ever, I feel like I’m building habits that I can actually maintain for the rest of my life.
Another big key has been not depriving ourselves of things we really want. By switching to all “real” food, we’re able to eat many delicious, satisfying, naturally low-calorie meals, so we rarely feel deprived. But sometimes we need to indulge in less wholesome fare. For instance, at the local fireworks celebration last weekend, we wanted junky carnival food. So we had some. I had cheese fries and soft serve ice cream—not exactly health food. But we’ve found that allowing ourselves those special indulgences when the occasion calls for it has been really important, so we did some extra exercise that day (in fact, we walked to the fireworks instead of driving—only a mile and a half each way) and all was well.
Now, there are a million websites that offer approximately the same services as LIVESTRONG, but here’s a little demonstration.
What you’re looking at is my personal MyPlate page (love how they latched on to that name?) at LIVESTRONG. By tracking my weight on the site and letting it know how many pounds I’d like to lose per week (in my case, 1.5), it calculates how many net calories I should aim for each day.
As you can see, I’ve entered in today’s breakfast along with all the food I’ve brought to eat over the course of the day (until dinner). Most of the food we eat is already in LIVESTRONG’s database, but if we do find something that isn’t, we can either enter it ourselves (along with all its nutritional information), find something similar with the same number of calories, or simply enter the calories manually (which doesn’t get you all the other nutritional stats, but is very easy in a pinch).
I’ve also entered my walk with the dog this morning, and fifteen minutes on the exercise bike. I’m going light on food for the afternoon, because my schedule will be tricky today, and I’m not sure what other exercise I’ll have the opportunity for. Most days, I’d take a 30-minute walk at work in the afternoon, and another walk (anywhere between two and six miles, depending on time) after work, weather permitting.
It all seems ridiculously simple. Yet, without the help of that handy tracking website, it’s not something I’ve been able to get myself together to accomplish in the past. It’s been shockingly enlightening to really pay attention to things like portion sizes and added sugar—more than I ever imagined.
Though I have many, many more pounds to go, suddenly it seems truly possible to reach my goal and I feel healthier, stronger, and more clear-minded than I have in years.