A Work in Progress

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I wrote this post around the same time as My Enemy: The Scale. A few months ago I’d been feeling kind of full at the end of the day. I think it was more the result of making sure I have enough protein in my diet, which has been a bit more challenging since I cut back on beans with the low-carbohydrate regiment. I had to integrate more tofu, tempeh, and analog meat to match what I’d gotten in a low-fat diet, but those are my less-favorite food choices. (I wish I liked smoothies so I could just add protein powder.) Instead, I’m quite content with my scrappy little Boca burger (with 13 grams of protein and only 70 calories!) and vegetable soup for lunch,  with a salad and huge plate of vegetables for dinner. But alas, our bodies need protein for loads of functions, ranging from reduced healing time to growing healthy nails.

Happily, my favorite Peanut Butter Cup Bars have 9 grams of protein each (based on 16 squares per recipe).

On the one hand, protein is great because it is very filling and has a longer digestion time. On the other hand, those same qualities make me feel too full, even though I haven’t ingested more calories. I’d much rather eat the roasted artichoke hearts and shirataki noodles on my plate than faux meatballs. They were usually what was left after I finished the ‘good’ stuff and I felt satisfied, so I ended up feeling like I was eating more than I needed.

As a result, upping the non-bean protein content in my diet left me feeling fuller after dinner. I hated it because sometimes I like dessert, I definitely need two or three squares of chocolate ‘for my health’, and I really look forward to having an evening snack, usually tiny bowls of 11 Newman’s protein pretzels and about ½- ¾ ounce of Wise potato chips (the best potato chips ever!).

My go to chocolate: It’s fair trade, inexpensive, readily available, and it’s even got protein!

I realized that while I was aware of how I was feeling, I ignored it just so I could have dessert and/or an evening snack. The problem was that I went to bed feeling more full than usual and woke up not really feeling hungry. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster, tempting me to skip breakfast because I’m not hungry, potentially setting me up for eating more throughout the rest of the day since I didn’t eat those breakfast calories. (Meanwhile, I would eat twice as much, thinking I was only making up for breakfast.)

As I recently mentioned in To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast, it’s psychologically important for me to know I have the option of eating an evening treat. Feeling like I have to forgo it makes me feel resentful and is more likely to lead to unchecked late-night binging. To cope with this, I’ve worked on integrating more protein into earlier meals, and even my afternoon snack, so I feel less full from that protein hit at dinner. I also cut back on my evening snack so that while I continue to give myself that option, I try to eat only as much as I think will satisfy me instead of what I’ve come to think of as my ‘allotted’ amount. These small changes have left me feeling much better in the morning, waking up hungry and wanting breakfast.

My lifestyle change continues to be a work in progress. I didn’t really consider the effects of changing out beans for other plant-based proteins. Instead, I was operating under an outdated regimen. Once I realized this, I was able to tweak it to feel better. I need to remind myself to not get stuck in a rut because a lifestyle change is not a one-off thing.

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My Enemy: The Scale

Despite having maintained a healthy weight for 15 years, I still dread the scale. Decades of experiences conditioned me to fear the scale. There was the humiliating annual school health-check weigh-ins in front of classmates. When I was a teenager and went to a dietician, there were trips through the hospital’s kitchen for weigh-ins on the delivery scale which registered up to a ton, because the dietician’s office didn’t have a scale that registered beyond 299 pounds. To add insult to injury, everyone in the kitchen was snickering, knowing where the dietician was leading me and why.

Meet the Evil Scale, My Archnemesis

Then there was the time after high school that I tried a weight-loss program which involved buying pre-packaged, pre-portioned foods. It was an expensive commitment, but I was enthusiastic to lose weight and for the first month, was successful, just as they promised. I dropped around 20 pounds–about 5 pounds a week–which was great. However, no one–including myself–could tell I had lost weight. Plus, I was starving all the time because I was on a 1,200 calorie diet. I finally caved and just pigged out for one whole weekend. When I bashfully showed up at my next appointment for the dreaded weigh-in, I’d gained 16 pounds. I’ll never forget hearing my counselor not quite surreptitiously enough expressing her astonishment that I could gain that much weight in a week.

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What Works for You?

In a sort of continuation of To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast, I uncovered studies that found evidence both for and against any benefit of eating breakfast. Not surprisingly, attempting to identify the best diet plan has proven similarly inconclusive. A group of researchers decided to compare several diets that were popular in 2000 to see which was more effective. Another study looked at the Atkins Diet and found that its effectiveness dropped precipitously after the first six months. Like the effects of breakfasting or not, their main finding was that no one diet proved better than any other, but that the biggest hurdle people encountered in attempting to lose weight was sticking with the diet to reach a healthy weight.

Opting for a regimen that banned chocolate for me would be over before I even made it through the first week, I’m sure.

Ultimately, the only important factor in choosing a food plan is that you can stick to it, as I discussed in Start Now! Commit to a lifestyle change by choosing a plan that you can realistically stick to and work to implement dietary changes you can live with in the long-run, or you’ll continue to be on the-feeling-like-you-need-to-lose-weight treadmill indefinitely. A lot of people go into weight loss thinking in terms of a diet as a one-off thing, which, as the above research confirms, most likely will result in failure.

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To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast

When and how often people eat meals is actually influenced by their culture. In Mediterranean countries are known for long, leisurely, filling lunches followed by some down time. This approach is very different from that in the U.S. and U.K. where dinner is typically the largest, most involved meal of the day, while lunch may be eaten at a desk. In Indonesia, it’s common for the main meal to be breakfast, with subsequent left-overs consumed throughout the day. In a variety of countries around the world, people eat just two meals–some due to lack of food, but more often just out of custom.

A very typical Malaysia breakfast of noodles and vegetables

So is breakfast worth all the hype or not? It seems like very few things in the world are definitive: Is (fill in the blank) good or bad for us? Breakfast is no exception. The adage that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is ingrained in most Americans. It kick-starts the body’s metabolism and offers fuel for the brain. A study by the American Heart Association on the impact of when and how often we eat cited numerous studies that link obesity and/or higher body fat mass to skipping breakfast. Other research, like one out of Canada and another out of the U.K., found that skipping breakfast did not have much of an overall impact on determining health. Some go so far as to argue that not only breakfast, but the whole three square meals a day regimen is not only unnecessary, but undermines our health (see Fasting is Great, Unless You have Food Issues http://cantquitfood.com/2016/08/30/fasting). As with most research on health, so many variables come into play that it is difficult to offer blanket recommendations.

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A Low Day

I woke up feeling low this morning, for no particular reason I could identify. And despite my best efforts to change my mood, the dark cloud hung over me all day even while the sun was shining. I even took a walk with Michael and Gus puppy (who is now 5/6ths, i.e. 10 months old) but couldn’t snap out of it. These are some of the worst days to fight off unnecessary and unwanted eating.

Gus does not have food issues. Except for his rare ‘hungry day’, most days he doesn’t even finish one bowl-let alone his recommended two-a day.

I found myself reaching for my computer chocolate stash at 11 am (a.k.a. my grading fuel/reward), but managed to dissuade myself and instead have two strawberry IceBreaker mints. Lunch was as usual, but by 4 pm, I found myself wandering through the kitchen looking for a diversion. The worst part was that I was entirely aware of why I was grazing for something, acknowledged that I wasn’t even hungry, and yet there I was, deciding what to eat.

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Skip the Entreé

One of the biggest challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is managing the seemingly constant barrage of food images tempting and encouraging us to indulge.  “Eat me!” they scream at us, enticing us with gooey cheese dripping off of a slice of pizza, chocolate drizzled over a perfect slice of cheesecake, and every salt crystal glistening on a golden-brown soft pretzel. Watching T.V. or movies requires navigating a minefield of product placement to resist caving. Indeed, during my lifestyle change, I cut back considerably on T.V.–especially shows on the Food Network–because I found myself craving so much of what I saw on the screen, even though I wasn’t hungry.

So what happens when you go to a restaurant and the visual stimulation of people’s food and menu pictures are coupled with the aroma of food? Stepping into a restaurant immediately sets us up to fail, with enormous portions, multiple course offerings, and complimentary foods like tortilla chips and bread. To survive, it’s important to have a strategy upon entering restaurant, as I discussed in My First Restaurant Visit.

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Setting Goals

The benefits of planning and setting goals are well known. People are more likely to achieve reasonable goals by setting objectives than by saying they want to accomplish something without setting a plan of action. Use this same advice to develop a lifestyle change plan.

The key to achieving an objective is twofold. First, identify what you’d like to accomplish and set a realistic time-frame to achieve it. That’s the easy part. The second piece of the puzzle is to figure out how to do it.

Is your goal to eat less junk food? If so, it’s useful to know what triggers you to turn to junk food. For this issue, it’s helpful to keep a food diary to track when you eat it and briefly note how you’re feeling at the time. This strategy will reveal patterns of behavior that you might be unaware of that you can then address.

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You Can Quit a Lot, but You Can’t Quit Food

I’m a food addict. I clearly remember one time during grad school that I bought a bag of miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I took out a few and ate them, but before I knew it, I was digging into the bag and had binged on half it before I was able to stop myself. It was one of the many times in my life that I wished I could just avoid food altogether instead of having to figure out how to limit myself, because clearly, I thought, something was wrong with me. I took the rest of the bag to class to give to anyone who would take them to release the grasp they had over me.

The pretzels are good, but to me, they’re just a vehicle for this very addictive ranch dip.

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But I’m Starving Hungry!

Many traps lie in wait to trip us up, foiling our best-laid plans. One of the biggest hurdles to conquer with weight loss is dealing with feeling hungry. It’s miserable. For me, it means being grouchy, frustrated, and irrational. Physiologically, it’s against our nature for our bodies to cut back on calories. We’re programmed to consume to survive and crave fat and sugar to store up for future shortages. Fast forward to the age of mass consumption and we’ve got a problem.

Before my lifestyle change, my body was accustomed to getting loads of calories. Sure, I went through bouts where I deprived myself out of guilt, desperation, or sheer will-power, but I only set myself up for future binging. Cutting back calories results in feeling hungry; there’s no way around a body rebelling against suddenly getting shortchanged and screaming in retaliation. Surviving calorie deprivation has got to be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome because of this biological resistance to a lifestyle change.

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Inspired by the New Year

New Year’s Resolutions offer the impetus for us to make a commitment to something we want to change in our lives. I’ve only ever made one resolution, when I eschewed meat many moons ago, because I stuck to it and was afraid of ruining my perfect record. But at the end of every year, I find myself reviewing my life and evaluating what changes I could make for the better. So even though I haven’t since officially declared a resolution, I’ve certainly been inspired to act.

I’d love to make a resolution to travel more, to see amazing site like these wart hogs playing near a campfire in Swaziland, but it’s unrealistic.

Whether you are a resolution maker or, like me, just someone who reconsiders your life with the hope of a new start in the New Year, the biggest reason for failure is a lack of strategizing. Even the best of intentions won’t materialize without figuring out how to implement changes. A perfect example is the surge in gym memberships every January.

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