I love food, but over my 39 years, eating has felt like a daily battle. I’m working to lose the weight that never really disappeared after baby #3. He just turned five.
I’ve been trying to ‘figure it out’ for years, and my attempts always left me discouraged and exhausted. What should I eat? When should I eat it? I’ve tried Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, you name it. Every six months I say, this time I’ll count those calories and keep that food journal. But I never manage it longer than 3 days before throwing up my hands in despair.
But over the last eight weeks I’ve managed to lose 10 pounds. There’s still a ways to go, but cue the happy dance! I spent some time thinking about what is working and why. My key takeaway: Yes, what I eat is important. But changing how I eat has made the biggest difference.
Losing Weight Without Counting Calories
Eat 3 Real Food Meals a Day
Earlier this year I worked with nutritionist Stephanie Morish and one of my biggest lessons was that it’s okay to eat an actual full-sized meal. If you’ve never been skinny or grew up always watching your weight, then you know how every meal feels almost like an apology. The running loop in your head goes along the lines of ‘I really shouldn’t be eating this, there’s probably too much fat in here, this is bad.’
Eating three meals takes getting used to. Meals that aren’t diet food. Meals that have good fats. Meals that keep you full for at least four hours so you can stop munching in between.
Once you’re in the ‘3 meals no snacks’ habit the biggest benefit is that you can stop obsessing about food a little bit. For me, making food decisions all day long is stressful. Which is why everyone telling me to eat 2-3 snacks a day is a nightmare. By the end of the day I’m tired of thinking about healthy food and making good decisions so don’t I deserve some chocolate or wine?
You see the bad pattern here? Giving up those mental gymnastics is a big relief.
Learn to Love Salads – And Sitting Down to Eat
Two foods always come up when people start talking about weight loss: salads and water. And I hate it when skinny people turn out to be right about these things.
Water is pretty easy for me. I add a bit of True Lemon for taste and guzzle at least 32 ounces before lunch. I wasn’t about to give up coffee, but ditching soda wasn’t that hard.
Learning to love salads took some work. I got meal deliveries from Sakara for a few weeks to try figure out why my stomach hurt all the time. Their meals are dairy-, gluten-, and meat-free so it was my lazy way of trying an elimination diet.
Biggest lesson: Most of their meals are basically salads. I’ve never consistently eaten a salad for lunch and even dinner. OMG, I was eating so many greens!! Now I’ve trained myself to buy a big tub of salad greens every Sunday. Then basically whatever we eat, I serve it for myself over a big bowl of salad greens.
Beyond eating less carbs and getting more fiber, salad is excellent because you cannot inhale salad. You can’t eat it on the go or in the car. It forces you to sit down and focus on your food.
Know your emotional gateway foods
I’m the kind of person who can never eat just one donut. They’re my kryptonite, and before I know it the box is empty. And when I have wine, suddenly mindful eating is out the window and I’ll devour whatever is in sight – and trust me, it’s never celery and carrots.
So instead of beating myself up for the sorry state of my willpower, I’ve made the conscious decision to avoid foods that I know will be my downfall. The difference now is my inner dialogue. I tell myself that I’m choosing not to eat those things because I don’t like the consequences (feeling out of control or bloated or hungover) versus I can’t have them.
For example, because I’m lactose intolerant I don’t eat ice cream because I know it will lead to hours of stomach pain. I don’t tell myself that ‘I can’t have ice cream’ or ‘I’m bad if I have ice cream,’ which makes it an emotional decision about my will power. Instead, my decision is based on the actual physical effects of the choice. And after years making the choice to avoid that unpleasant consequence, it’s not even a temptation anymore.
Maybe I’m a total basket case, but making food decisions more rational relieved so much inner angst and anxiety.
Rewrite the rules
Every person’s rhythms and appetite are different because our daily lives are never exactly like someone else’s. So pay attention to your hunger patterns and customize your solutions.
I eat lunch around noon, and I’m always starving by 4pm. Conventional wisdom says I should have a small snack to hold myself over and then eat dinner later. Well, guess what, a ‘small snack’ wasn’t satisfying so it kept getting bigger and then I still felt like I should eat dinner. So I was basically eating twice. Or I would make unwise snack choices then feel guilty and try to skip dinner, only to be ravenous at 9pm, which led to more unwise snack choices.
So I gave myself permission to just eat dinner early. Permission to eat a real food meal when I was hungry at 4pm. And it was such a relief. My afternoon food battle disappeared. I eat my dinner while the kids are playing after school. Nothing fancy – leftovers or a frozen Annie’s meal over salad greens. Then I stop eating. Done. No more for the day.