Weight Loss Basics

On another forum (not weight loss related) that I frequent, there was a recent discussion about weight loss.  This really led me to think about what I see as my weight loss basics.  I post here a lot about details regarding my weight loss journey.  But, in this post, I want to get back to the basics, particularly for the benefit of those just getting started on thinking about or working on weight loss.  I am sure there are other factors, but here are some things that I think about.

1. There is no one way to lose weight. I read a lot of weight loss blogs, go to various forums or other online groups and have read a lot of scientific articles. People lose weight a lot of different ways and it is, in my opinion, individual as to what works for the particular person. For me, personally, my most successful method of losing weight was to use Weight Watchers. I write a lot about Weight Watchers here since that is the program I follow. But, I know plenty of people who have lost weight using other methods.

Also, people vary in what kind of food they eat to lose weight successfully and maintain the loss.  For me, I do best with a lowish carb diet (averaging about 100 g of carbs a day while losing weight, a bit more now that I am maintaining). But, I’ve known those who do better eating higher carb than I eat (or lower carb).

The point is that if a particular weight loss program doesn’t work for you, then try a different program or method.  Find what works for you.

2. The biggest factor that I have seen in successful long term weight loss is commitment to the weight loss and commitment to maintaining. Someone with a short term mentality of wanting to lose weight quickly and then go back to eating how they ate before will usually regain weight.  I do well when I place weight loss as being important to me.  When I make losing weight more important than having a really high calorie meal.  During my weight loss journey I had plenty of special occasions when I was able to enjoy the occasion but I still was careful about what I ate.  Losing weight was more important to me than being able to eat without restriction.

3. I do not just eat food to survive. We eat food for lots of reasons. We eat food because it is pleasurable. We eat food as part of social events. We eat food as part of cultural traditions. A successful way of eating has to appeal to all the reasons we eat food. If we are miserable with how we are eating we will not successfully lose weight and maintain the weight loss. A very good book that talks about this is The Diet Fix by Dr. Yani Freedhoff. I highly recommend it.

4. And that is the tradeoff. I want to eat food that I like for pleasure and to be social and to take part of holidays and special occasions. But, I don’t want to be over 200 pounds any more. And, I do put losing weight as an overall first priority.  At the same time, I do want to enjoy special occasions and eat some foods just because I enjoy them. For me, I found that portion control worked best. There is literally no food that I have said that I will not eat for weight reasons (I don’t eat beef, but that is not for weight reasons). But, there are some foods I eat very, very, very infrequently. For example, I love the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel at Panera. It is a lot of calories and, more importantly, a lot of sugar. I ate it and tested my blood sugar (I am not diabetic but am a little insulin resistant) and saw how much it raised my blood sugar. I went without having a Cinnamon Crunch Bagel for 16 months. But, I never said that I couldn’t have one. In fact, last month, I did have one.  It was really nice, but it will be a long time before I have another one.
As I was losing weight, there were so many times the option would come up to eat some yummy food and I consciously asked myself whether I wanted the short-term pleasure of the food or whether I wanted to lose weight. Most of the time I chose to lose weight.

5. It is really possible to change tastes and to integrate certain habits for long-term maintenance. Truly changing food tastes has been a slow process for me. I remember when I used to work full-time and every afternoon I would go down to the vending machine in the basement and get a full-size Snickers bar. Now, I honestly wouldn’t be tempted by that at all. (I might be tempted by a single bite of a bar or one of those little squares but a full size one is just too much sugar and I wouldn’t enjoy it).

One thing I often do to keep calories down and protein up is to make a large salad. I take various greens and low calorie veggies and put them in a bowl. Then I add about 3 ounces of skinless chicken breast (or possibly a similar amount of salmon or tuna). I then make a salad dressing of 1 t. balsamic vinegar and 1/2 T. of olive oil. Depending on the calories I can “afford” that day I might add some sliced almonds or some feta cheese or parmesan cheese.

Anyway, when I started that I did it because it was a good way to get in veggies without a lot of calories and I got some protein. But, now, I really like that salad. I look forward to it and if I don’t have it for awhile I would miss it. My tastes changed.

I don’t eat now what I used to eat. I was at the grocery store a few weeks after having surgery was thinking of buying some frozen meals since it was still tiring to do much cooking. But, so many things I used to buy I wouldn’t buy. That one has white rice (I wanted brown rice). That one has regular pasta (I want the whole wheat). That one has too many total carbs for a single meal. That one has too many artificial ingredients or stuff that I don’t know what it is. I ended up buying only a couple of things. 5 years ago, I would never have even thought of those things.

Now, it is just ingrained. And, what I think of as something really good to eat is in many ways different than what I used to like. I do still like some of those foods (I still like pizza), but the thing is that what I like has expanded so much that I find that I can happily eat foods that help me maintain my weight so really don’t miss those that I still like but rarely eat because they don’t fit in with my maintenance goals as foods I should eat very often.

I am stressing this point because so many people don’t seem to realize that their tastes can change.  Soon after SmartPoints came out, I read posts on various forums where people were objecting to it because they love high sugar foods and they just couldn’t possibly eat less of them.  They rejected the very idea of the possibility of changing food preferences.  But, it is possible to do.  I do think it is hard to do it abruptly.  It took me a long time to do it.
6. While what works is individual there are certain things that I have seen personally and with others and in research I’ve read that helps many people. For example, I weigh every day in the morning. On maintenance, if I go up more than a couple of pounds I start being more careful on what I eat. While I was losing weight I looked at the pattern over time not just an individual day. When I don’t weigh daily, I gain weight. Period. And, many people find daily weighing helpful.

Also, I track what I eat. I track both on the Weight Watchers site and on MyFitnessPal. I have not missed a day of tracking in over 1000 days. After my surgery in May I couldn’t see much for about a week. During that week, I dictated what I ate to my husband and then I recorded it after I was able to see. Because I have a long history of tracking it is very fast now and takes me only a few minutes each day as almost everything is in the database now. Tracking makes a big difference.

I realize these things may not work for everyone, but it can be worth trying.  I remember when my husband was on an extended plateau shortly before he got to goal.  I just couldn’t lose that last 5 pounds or so.  He had always tracked in his head.  I had suggested that he track either on paper or online.  Finally, he decided to start tracking online.  He got to goal in about 6 weeks after he started tracking.

7. There are some foods that are hard for me to portion control. I don’t forbid myself from having them. However, I don’t buy them in large quantities for the house. I like potato chips. I will have a small bag at Panera when I eat there. I don’t buy a big bag for the house because it makes it too difficult. When my daughter was living at home and we were buying chips for her I had her put them in a drawer where I wouldn’t see them. I eat dark chocolate several days a week (I break off one small square) and I can do that with no problem, but I can’t have large bags of chips or cookies in the house or I will tend to go off track. It makes it ever so much easier to have food in the house that supports the way I want to eat.

8. When I was losing weight and even now, there are certain restaurants that I tend to avoid or eat at rarely. I can eat a reasonable meal (caloriewise) almost anywhere. But, some restaurants I mostly like what it is really high calorie and find it difficult to eat there reasonably. So…I mostly don’t go to those restaurants. I like California Pizza Kitchen, but find it hard to eat what I like there. So I don’t go there very often. Some restaurants I have fairly strict rules that I will eat there no more often than once a month or once a quarter or even once a year depending on the restaurants. Other restaurants I could eat at every day and still lose/maintain weight (Panera, Chili’s, for example).

Again, this is like not having chips in the house.  I make it easier to stay on track and prioritize my weight if I eat places where it is easy to get something that I like where I can stay within my points.

9. After I got to my goal weight I went to a lab and actually had my resting metabolic rate tested and I have a lower RMR rate than you would expect based upon my size and my body fat (had that tested also). My RMR tested at 1120 which is really low. What that means is that I still must eat very carefully in order to maintain my weight and I must exercise in order to be able to eat very much. On a day that I am at home (1 story home, not a lot of walking needed) and don’t exercise I can easily burn less than 1300 calories. So, I need to burn some calories through exercise be able to eat more than about 1300 calories a day.

I mention this because I often see things online that would imply that I should be able to maintain by eating at a level that I know would cause me to gain weight.  It is important to individualize this kind of thing to figure out what you can do which might be different than someone else.

10. If you can’t exercise it makes it more difficult. I was glad that I got my RMR tested to see what I was actually burning. Since having surgery and not being able to currently do anything beyond mild walking, I have to be more careful about what I eat than I was when I was walking several days a week and strength training twice.  In deciding how much you can eat, you have to realistic about your activity level and realize that someone who can’t exercise much may find it more challenging than someone who can exercise a lot.

11. If it is not a matter of being unable to exercise and is just not liking exercise, my best advice is to find something you like to do. Or, at least find a way to distract yourself during exercise. For example, I find that I like walking in our hilly neighborhood with my husband. It is a good time for us to be able to chat uninterrupted by anything else. And, because we talk the time passes very quickly. During the summer it is too hot to walk outside so I use a treadmill or exercise bike. I don’t love those but I play something from the DVR to distract me and it makes it tolerable. I also find that I don’t like walking real fast (I have a bad knee and can’t run) so I do better increasing intensity through incline rather than speed. I also found that I tend to like the elliptical (again need to read or watch a show while I do it). Before surgery, I worked with a trainer twice a week on strength training. I mostly used the trainer because otherwise I was too tempted to skip sessions. But, I knew it was important to do for good health.


  1. D. B. Alexander says

    Thank you for this post! Many points hit home for me. Tastes do change! I used to drink a lot of red wine. I can’t tell you when or how it happened but I simply don’t like it any more. In fact alcohol in general doesn’t excite me much. I also never thought I could eat cold cereal unsweetened. I do now and I actually enjoy it. I don’t indulge in food treats often, but if I do I plan my whole food day around it. That said, it’s been exactly one year since I’ve had pizza. I absolutely don’t trust myself there. Again, thank you for this encouraging and inspiring post.

  2. Denise says

    Thanks for this post today. I have been maintaining at my goal weight for a few months, but recently returned to some of my old habits and have picked up almost 10 pounds. I need to “reboot” my weightloss program, putting my good and healthier habits back in place.

  3. Claudia says

    Thank you for this summary — it’s a really helpful reminder of how I successfully lost 61.4 pounds. Since then I regained most of it, but am now down 30 pounds from my high. I lost the weight doing the penultimate version of Weight Watchers, but found the latest version just didn’t resonate with me. This time I am trying LCHF, with great success.

    As you said, the main thing is to stay mindful at all times — it’s an ongoing thing, much as I hate to admit it.

  4. Rachel says

    Hi there, enjoying your very informative blog. I am in a bit of a pickle and would appreciate your sage advice. I am a (previous) lifetime weight watchers member. I lost over 40 lbs in 2008 and maintained until 2012 – the points system changed to PointsPlus, I got married, went back to school the following year, then injured my leg, then we bought and completely renovated a new house, the meeting place I always went to closed down and now it’s 2016 and I’ve gained all those 40 lbs back (at about 10 lbs per year since 2012). All that to say: the new revision of the Points system, SmartPoints, is so frustrating to me. I used to be able to glance at nutrition info and accurately guestimate the points values, I also had many many of the values memorized. I started somewhat learning the PointsPlus system, but then it changed again to the SmartPoints and I have to enter an entire nutrition label into an app on my phone in order to have any clue of the points – no guestimating anymore! I am beginning to wonder if maybe I should just count calories?! Without the support of weekly meetings, and the frustration of not being able to make on-the-fly food choices ( I feel chained to the app calculator, and what if I’m out somewhere and my phone isn’t getting a good signal or the battery dies?! I have no idea of SmartPoint values!). I’m wondering if instead of putting so much effort into learning another new points system (which will probably change again), maybe I should just count calories. I’m worried if I’ll have the same success? How do I know how many calories to eat a day? I’ve been so dependent on weight watchers telling me how many “points” I get a day I’m afraid to make the switch. What are your thoughts? (And thank you for taking the time to read this unexpectedly long post!)

    • says

      I think calorie counting is a totally valid way of keeping track. As for how many if you have an activity monitor that can help you get an idea for how many calories you burn in a day. Based on that you can determine what you can eat to get a calorie deficit. If you don’t have and don’t want an activity monitor such as a Fitbit then you can look at some online sources for RMR and use that for trial and error based on your activity level. In my case, I actually went and paid to have my RMR tested so I could get a good number.

      As for smart points there is a way to quickly estimate which I posted in this post. I found that it is usually within a point of the SP in food: http://lessofabetterme.com/2016/01/19/how-to-estimate-smartpoints-in-food/

      In using a calculator to determine SmartPoints bear in mind that you only have to fill in calories, Sat. fat, sugar and protein. Everything else is optional and doesn’t have to be put in there.

      HOpe some of this helps.

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