When choosing a plan to follow, do some research to see what would best fit how you are currently eating. This might seem counterintuitive, since you want to change your eating abits, but it’s important to not make radical, unsustainable changes if you’re going to succeed. If you’ve ever dieted before, following any plan that makes whole food groups off-limits (think Atkins)–even though they’re likely a regular part of your diet–may work for short-term weight loss, but is far less likely to result in addressing the underlying food issues that need to change to maintain a healthy weight.
I knew a few things when planning my lifestyle change:
- I needed to learn portion control, so I wanted a program that offered prepared meals and treats. I couldn’t trust myself to weigh and measure food, only to have extras in the fridge tempting me.
- I was a vegetarian when I began, so it was important for me to have numerous meat-free meal choice options.
- I didn’t want to join a group, have weigh-in sessions, or report to anyone. My past experiences demonstrated that these only stressed me out, made me focus too much on the scale, and put me in uncomfortable situations.
So, I searched for a plan that would meet these basic terms. I read the starter kit for the plan I decided to follow and bought a month’s supply of their food. Since the purpose of using prepared meals was to learn portion control, I never intended to exclusively eat their prepared meals for very long. After I felt like I was truly committed to sticking with the plan–and more importantly, that I could be trusted with portioning out foods and making meals–I gradually replaced the prepared meals with those I prepared.
I think one of the biggest problems people face with prepacked food programs is that they successfully lose weight while using them, but are at sea when they have to cook for themselves, not learning how to do this as part of the structured plan. I felt that a key part of my lifestyle change meant learning how to prepare reasonably-sized portions for myself. I worked out the average number of calories for each meal, snack, and dessert, the carbohydrates and fats for each one (since it was a low-fat regimen- more on that in a later post), and transitioned to ‘real’ foods.
For example, an average breakfast entrée consisted of 200 calories and 4 grams of fat. The food I was instructed to buy to supplement the breakfast entrée was a fruit serving (60 calories, 0 fat) and a non-fat yogurt (120 calories, 0 fat). Since I mostly ate cereal out of convenience, breakfast was easy enough to substitute. The trick was weighing out individual servings from a big cereal box without cheating in the process.
A typical lunch entrée was 250 calories with 6 grams of fat, supplemented by a non-starchy vegetable (25 calories, 0 fat), a serving of fruit (60 calories, 0 fat) and a non-fat yogurt (120 calories, 0 fat). I figured out a few lunch options that would essentially replace the prepared lunch entrée and gradually rotated these in with the prepared meals, instead of doing it all at once. This transition helped me feel secure about not being on my own all at once until I was solid on preparing my own entrée equivalent.
In all, I ended up buying five months’ worth of prepared meals. I exclusively used prepared food for three months before gradually introducing my meal equivalents over the course of a few more months. After that, I was on my own, but well-prepared to make my own meals and desserts, and portion out my own treats. I had established good planning habits, recognized portions (i.e., what it was like to be limited to one serving of something versus how much I’d like to eat), and felt confident that I was ready to quite literally feed myself.