Quick Lee update before I jump in. The cortisone shot worked and as of now Lee is pain free. It was near miraculous and although it may not last long, for now at least it allows us to continue with our travel plans. Equally important he has established a patient relationship with my brother and has someone who can prescribe his heart medications ongoing without a ton of fuss. VERY happy about that and totally made the trip worth it. OK here’s my post….
I should start by saying I am one of those people who has never had to diet in her life. I know that’s obnoxious to those of you who have struggled with weight issues for a long time and I am sorry for that, but I wanted to say that so you would know where I was coming from. It feels like I woke up one morning and I was overweight. Obviously that is not the case. I steadily gained weight as I was going through menopause and I settled at around 140. At that point I would have loved to have lost 5 pounds but it didn’t feel like anything some exercise and a little self restraint with desserts couldn’t cure. Then I quit smoking and VERY quickly I put on an additional 20 pounds.
The main culprit was my desire for sweets which had started with the menopause and got MUCH worse when I quit smoking. My metabolism also changed. Smoking is an appetite suppressant and without that in place I started piling on the weight. It felt like my metabolism was changing also, although I can’t prove that, and basically I felt like my body was betraying me. Don’t get me wrong, I always knew how lucky I was to not have to worry about my weight, but now that I did it was one more thing to struggle with.
Initially I thought I could just exercise more and I started working out in a gym and although this did make me feel better and is helping to provide some tone and muscle, my weight stayed the same and the results weren’t particularly dramatic. At that point I decided I should probably start dieting as well as working out. It’s simple math; use up more calories than you are putting in, and despite the exercise I was still taking in more calories than I was burning.
Things also came to a head when I traveled for a job assignment and saw many people I hadn’t seen in five years. Five years makes quite a difference, and I wasn’t the only one who had put on weight, but I saw that momentary look in people’s eyes when they first saw me, and I didn’t like it. I was at an all time high of 160 and didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror. My last blood test results had also shown borderline high cholesterol and sugar and all of those things together made me decide it was finally time to start a diet.
Since I am new to dieting I looked around at the variety of diets paying particular attention to the “no carb” varieties that other people I know have had success with. Unfortunately I absolutely love bread and potatoes. Although I was willing to reduce my carbs I didn’t want to completely eliminate them and I was also concerned about the impact on my cholesterol, which runs a little high. There are a variety of studies out there around cholesterol with conflicting results, but as someone who was raised on the food pyramid I wanted to eat better but keep it balanced. For me it was less about losing the weight than keeping it off long term and I stayed away from any “quick fixes” although they were tempting. I even looked into a procedure called Cool Sculpting which freezes the fat off, but when I learned that the fat comes back when you regain the weight I decided that was far to extreme for me at this point.
After much internal debate, I decided to try my Mom’s approach of simple of calorie counting. I have always fiercely resisted this, but she has had amazing results and since they have some really great free apps, I decided to start there. So I started a 1650 calorie diet on December 1st and so far I have lost 3-1/2 pounds. I feel pretty good about the results, but it has been a big adjustment and I wanted to talk a little about the experience.
First I should say that I understand that food is an emotionally charged issue for many people. As someone who grew up poor, it’s VERY important to me that I always had a quantity of food in the house, but aside from always having bread and stuff to make salads I’m not super picky about what fills the fridge and cupboards. They do need to be filled though, and it’s hard not to eat junk if it is just laying around. My solution to that is to switch out items to lower calorie alternatives when possible and eliminate having things that I absolutely can’t resist in the house. For example I love truffles, but they are 220 calories for three of them and I simply cannot just eat three. I have absolutely no will power at all when it comes to them, so no truffles in the house!
Counting calories has actually changed my feelings about food and in a positive way. By reducing food to a transactional experience it is somewhat easier for me personally to make hard choices. I now have information in hand to know what different items “cost” me and since I am limited in what I can “spend” in calories it is changing the way I eat. Some things are just no longer worth it. A great example is chips and salsa. The salsa is a freebie at zero calories, but it is 140 calories for seven of the chips I like. Seven chips is not a satisfying snack for me, and I don’t like them enough to feel unsatisfied. Tater tots is another great example. It is 160 calories for nine tater tots, which is a ridiculously small amount. Again I would rather find an alternative than be dissatisfied so I am not seeing a ton of tater tots in my future.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, at this point I am not watching salt, carbs, etc. It’s purely calorie counts and although additional factors may come into play in the future for right now I am focusing on just getting my calories under control. Although initially I started by cooking my own meals I quickly found that portion control was harder for me when I cooked. I was weighing out portions ( 2 cups of spaghetti and meat sauce = 667 calories), but again I was often dissatisfied. I thought I could eat light for two of my three meals and then splurge at dinner, but that just left me feeling hungry and cranky most of the day.
Finally I decided to break down and try some diet frozen meals. They had the benefit of being already portioned and many of them were satisfying despite a relatively low calorie count. Essentially they had spent years and lots of money on researching these meals and I didn’t need to redo all of that work. It helped that the very first one I tried Lean Cuisine Herb Roasted Chicken was surprisingly delicious and satisfying. It was gluten free, relatively low in salt and only 170 calories! Score. They haven’t all been winners though, and I am slowly working my way through the freezer section of the grocery store. I have found that if I eat one of these meals for lunch then I can open up a bit more on dinner.
Breakfast has been my biggest challenge, as I have yet to find a good substitute to the two pieces of toast a day I have been eating for years. I hate oatmeal, and cereal doesn’t leave me satisfied. I tried precooking eggs and eating that every day, but it was a lot of work. If there is any place I am “blocked” when it comes to food it’s breakfast and I am planning on tackling that once I get a better handle on lunch and dinner.
The fourth area that I do feel really good about is snacks. By far I have received the most benefit from calorie counting in this area. I have always loved pretzels and thought they were a lower calorie snack. At 110 calories for three pretzel rods (and I was eating way more than three) they really aren’t though, and of course there is all that salt. I am still eating pretzels but I am counting those calories and I have purchased several alternatives. 100 calorie bags of popcorn are a nice substitute, for example. I haven’t completely given up on sweets either, but again I have small bags with a set amount of calories. My favorite is Fudge Stripes Minis which weigh in at 140 calories but are extremely satisfying. All things in moderation.
When I’m still hungry at the end of the day I am drinking lots of hot peppermint tea which does help curb the urges. If that doesn’t work and I have run out of calories I now munch on celery sticks. I used to slather them with peanut butter, but at 94 calories a tablespoon I am now forgoing the peanut butter and eating the celery bare. Again an item that I thought was on the healthy side wasn’t so much, and I have learned something by tracking my calories. More importantly, as I stated before, I feel like I am being honest with myself about what I was eating. I spent a ton of time thinking I was eating healthy and because the smoking kept me thin I could believe it. I know better now, and I don’t ever think I will look at food in quite the same way, which is a good thing.
The experience has also shone a light on eating out which by the way is absolutely ridiculous. When there are only one or two items on an entire menu that are less than 700 calories, I am not going to be interested in eating there. It’s not that I will never splurge again in my life, but if I am going to spend those kind of calories it will not be on overpriced and mediocre food. A good example was recently we picked up O’Charley’s and took it to my daughter’s house for dinner. I picked shrimp, rice, and broccoli which was reasonable in calories, but ended up pushing away the overdone broccoli and the not good tasting rice. I wasn’t going to waste 270 calories on food that didn’t taste good so I just ate the shrimp.
There are a couple of positive things in eating out though. My favorite sub from Donatos is a manageable 660 calories and after spending an hour one day researching Chinese food I discovered that if I skipped the pancakes I could eat Mu Shu Pork for a mere 235 calories a cup. That’s not bad. At this point I am trying things and seeing if they are “worth it.” 100 calories for 13 gummy bears….not so much. 100 calories for a Reese’s peanut butter cup…maybe. Oh, and Denny I appreciate you sending me snacks, but if you could find something in the 100 calorie range that might be better 🙂
To be clear I rarely feel hungry, but I do feel dissatisfied. Some days 1650 calories is plenty, and other days not so much. I am working out why that is. I want more carbs, more sweet, more of everything, but that is getting better over time. Plus I have a tool I can use to negotiate with myself and by tracking I feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I am happy to say that so far I have not intentionally gone over my daily calorie count one time. I say intentionally because to some extent the calorie count is an estimate. I’ll let you know how it goes as I progress.
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