I was starting to work on my post about moderation when I realized I need to talk a little bit about how changing what I eat has helped my weight loss. This is related to moderation, but I thought it deserved its own post.
For most of us who have struggled with weight, I think that real success with weight loss and maintenance only comes with a genuine, permanent change in eating habits. I have no doubt that there are some people who have excess weight solely because they eat too much healthy, real food. That is, what they eat is fine. They just need to eat less of it. Someone like that could simply eat less of what they already are eating and could lose weight and maintain weight loss.
I am not one of those people. Lasting weight loss for me has involved changing what I eat. I think back to August, 2010 when I went back to Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time. In some ways my eating was already healthier than it had been years before. I already didn’t drink sugary drinks. I bought whole wheat bread when I bought bread. I no longer bought a candy bar from the vending machine every afternoon. In fact, when I went back to Weight Watcher that August (just 2 pounds below my all time measured high of 207.4 pounds), I would have said that I ate healthy. In reality, it was more that I aspired to eating healthy than that I actually ate healthy.
Looking back on where I was then, I eat very differently now than I did then. Back then, I ate out at restaurants several times a week. I did do some things. I didn’t eat beef and would usually order chicken or fish and avoided breaded stuff. I didn’t order drinks with calories with them (I rarely drink alcohol). I would have said that I didn’t order things that were deep fried. Well, I didn’t think about the fact that I sometimes would order an appetizer that had deep fried stuff in it. Or, I would order fries or onion rings. And, sometimes I would add in a dessert. Let’s just say that most of my restaurant meals were well over the total number of calories that I now eat in a day.
In addition to eating out several days a week, I often ate fast food. Sometimes, I would eat fast food for lunch when I was at work. Other times, I would be tired in the evening and would suggest to my husband that we pick up Subway or Jack in the Box or Whataburger or Taco Bell, etc. I probably ate fast food 3 or 4 times a week (maybe 5).
As for the rest of my diet, I don’t think I ever found much processed food I didn’t like. I mostly ate Lean Cuisines or other “diet” frozen dinners. That gave me a veneer of virtue. But, so many of the dinners I ate were full of refined carbs, lots of sodium and just lots of artificial, highly processed ingredients. Sure, I bought whole wheat bread and brown rice, but I didn’t really eat all that much of it. Most of what I ate was highly processed.
When I first went back to Weight Watchers, I didn’t really have any plans to change what I was eating. I basically thought that I could lose weight simply by eating less of what I was already eating. I didn’t suddenly start eating more fresh vegetables or fruit. I still ate out a lot. Yes, as part of eating less, we did cut down on the amount of times we ate out or ordered fast food. But, when I did eat out or get fast food, I ate the same kind of foods, just less of them. And, starting out at Weight Watchers, I did fairly well.
Over the course of a year and a half, I lost about 45 pounds. But, I didn’t really much change the type of foods I was eating. I made a few short-lived attempts, but always went back to the foods that I loved. At that time, I really bought into the idea that I had to eat the foods that I enjoyed and that it really wasn’t possible to change what I enjoyed. I thought I could still eat the same meals when I ate out, but I just couldn’t eat out as often.
By the end of 2011, my weight loss was slowing and I was on a plateau. Looking back, I realize it was because I could no longer eat the same foods in less quantities and still lose weight. Then, when we moved in early 2012, we started eating out a lot more. We were looking for a new house, getting prepared to move, busy while moving, eating out while remodeling, etc. Suddenly, I was eating out as often as I had been eating out before I went back to Weight Watchers. And, since I was eating the same types of foods as before, the pounds rapidly piled back on and I gained back about 35 pounds. The thing is that by continuing to eat in the same way, but eating out more often, I was guaranteed to gain weight.
For awhile I had been able to lose weight eating less of the same crappy diet, but it became more difficult as I lost more weight. Right before we moved, I had been on a plateau where I wasn’t losing hardly at all. I was still eating the same types of food, though. Then once I started eating out all the time, I started gaining. I didn’t really wake up until I gained back 35 pounds.
What I eventually realized is that I had to change what I ate, not just how much I ate. Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried various approaches. The one thing they all had in common was that I recognized I had to eat differently in order to sustainably lose weight. I realized it wasn’t enough to just lessen the number of times that I ate out each week. It wasn’t enough to eat fast food only once a week. I had to change what I ate. I began to totally look at menus in a different way. I didn’t order appetizers or desserts (well, rarely, on major special occasions). I paid a lot of attention to nutritional information. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can eat out on a day and end up not eating more calories than if I had cooked at home.
One day I was at a Weight Watchers meeting and someone mentioned how impossible it was to eat at Panera’s. I was startled because I was usually eating there at least once a week with no problem. But, then, I realized it all depended on what you ate. I would usually eat a half salad and half cup of soup. It was as if the pastries didn’t exist for me. For the lady in the meeting, she couldn’t imagine going to Panera’s without buying a pastry.
Over time, my food choices have genuinely changed. The other day I made a salad with greens, various veggies, grilled chicken and homemade vinaigrette dressing. As I was eating it, I was thinking how good it was and that I would make one for dinner the next day. I realized how much I had changed in terms of what I liked. I loved that meal. So much of what I used to eat, I would still enjoy it if I ate it, but I honestly just don’t see it as worth it. It is too high in calories, or is unhealthy, or has no nutritional benefit, etc.
Today for Father’s Day we went to The Counter for lunch. I planned out my chicken in a bowl meal in advance (485 calories, 10 grams of carbs), plus turkey chili (120 calories, 18 grams of carbs). It was a great meal. I could have easily eaten a meal there that was twice the number of calories. I could have had a milkshake and made the meal three times the calories. But, it isn’t worth it to me. It isn’t that I don’t still like Butterfingers, ice cream, pizza, chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon crunch bagels, onion rings, etc. I do. And, I might occasionally have all of them.
But, the thing is that I’ve learned to love lots of other foods that are far healthier for me and that have a lot less calories. To be honest, sticking to my points in Weight Watchers over the last year and half hasn’t been that difficult. I usually have about half my weekly points left at the end of the week (and still have all my activity points). Sometimes I have more left and sometimes I have none left. I hardly ever eat fast food any more. I just don’t even think about it.
I don’t feel deprived. I’m not suffering. I’m not miserable. I’m happy with what I eat and I enjoy it. Sure, I will probably eat a few more points a day once I’m at goal (I mean literally a 2 or 3 more points plus a day). The reason I am satisfied with it is that I just don’t eat a lot of high calorie, non-satiating junk food any more. I used to be able to eat 300 or 400 calories of junk food and still be hungry. I used to order a 1000 calorie (or more) entree that wasn’t very filling…but did taste yummy. Now, that just isn’t worth it to me. There are so many better choices, that are also yummy to me. When I make a meal at home, a 400 calorie meal is one that has a lot of volume and is very filling. I will enjoy it. And, I won’t be hungry again for hours.
Yes, I still eat dark chocolate and occasionally I have ice cream or a cookie. But, the vast bulk of the food that I eat — and enjoy — now is very different from what it used to be. I do think that one of the strengths of Weight Watchers is that no food is forbidden and that you can customize what you eat and still be on plan. It is perfectly possible to eat a low carb diet and be totally on plan. It is perfectly possible to eat a low fat diet and be totally on plan. I love that about Weight Watchers. You can eat a cookie without feeling that you have blown it. You can enjoy a piece of pizza and still feel in control and on plan.
Despite this, however, I know that while I can eat any food, I’ve only found success by often choosing to not eat certain foods, even if I had the points (or calories) to eat them. When I became a lifetime member 25 years ago, I don’t think I ever genuinely changed my food tastes. I ate less of what I had been eating and looked forward to being able to eat more once I got to lifetime. I recognized that I would need to eat less calories to maintain my weight loss (I wasn’t stupid), but I thought I could just eat less of the same. That was a fundamental error.
One thing that was been really important this last couple of years is really buying into the idea that I can actually change what I like. I used to not like black bean soup, blueberries, salads, or salmon. Now, I do. And, that has made all the difference.