Six weeks ago, my doctor gave me a health warning. This was expected--I'd not been taking very good care of myself. Too many triglycerides, blood pressure borderline high. All from carrying excess weight. It's what I get for not paying attention to the calorie count of what I've been eating, and for using my writing schedule as an excuse for not getting regular exercise.
Unlike all the times in the past, I took this warning seriously. But what to do about it? Should I eat low fat or low carb? Should I just eat salads? Or eat what I want and work out like a demon? What about those fat burning pills in the late night infomercials? I discovered that I knew basically nothing about the science of nutrition, how calories work, how the body stores fat, etc. So forget the crash diet--I gave myself a crash course.
It's a question of calories. You need a certain number to maintain your weight, and the rest gets stored as fat. 3500 excess calories = 1 excess pound. Yes, there are nuances of fat content, carb content, water intake and metabolism, but the core of it is just that one simple formula. So to lose weight, just eat fewer calories than what it takes to maintain that weight. 500 below that number each day gives you 3500 fewer each week, or a 1 pound per week weight loss. I like to think of it as paying off a debt. 3500 times the number of pounds you want to lose is what you owe (calorically), and by making smarter food choices or by working out you shave that debt down.
You may well already know this. It was uncharted territory for me. Over the years, I'd fooled myself into thinking it was much more complicated (and difficult) than it is.
Once I started counting calories, I found that I'd been making some ridiculously bad food choices. Take the caesar salad. Six weeks ago, I would have said that it's just a salad. It's probably a little better without the dressing, but the bulk of what you're eating is lettuce, right? How bad can it be? Well, depending on who's making it, you might be better off with fast food. A bean burrito from Taco Bell isn't a great choice, but it typically has fewer calories, less fat, and more fiber than a caesar. And if you're looking at, say, the chicken caesar salad from Chili's, you'd actually be better off eating three slices of pizza.
Needless to say, this opened my eyes. I began to take a very utilitarian view of the foods I eat. "How will this help me?" and "How will this hurt me?" has become my frequent refrain. "Here's something I like that's not very good for me--do I really want it?" No. I'd much rather have something that will give me energy and nutrition. Something that will fill me up instead of spiking my sugar and then crashing me. And I'd rather eat a lot of something that can't hurt me than a little of something that can. I'd assumed that the only way to lose weight is to be hungry all the time. Untrue. Eat five cups of spinach--you won't be hungry, and it won't hurt you in the least. Put another way: Twelve Oreos have the same number of calories as six bananas. No one eats six bananas at a time--it's too much food. But way too many people have no problem binging on a sleeve of Oreos.
World's Healthiest Foods has a list worth checking out, and I was psyched to learn that I really enjoy almost everything on it. (Unlike our President's papa, I have no problem with broccoli.)
I've cut out: alcohol, red meat, fried foods, eggs, white flour, most starches, most sugars, most dairy and most poultry. Sounds hard. Strangely, it wasn't. I see it as a lifestyle change, not a "diet" per se. There are a few things I might put back into my menu once I drop all the weight I want, but right now I'm eating a lot of fruit, vegetables, skinless chicken breasts, fish, legumes, low fat cottage cheese, fiber cereal, black coffee, diet soda, and the rare handful of almonds. Plus, I'm hitting the treadmill and pounding the heavy bag--not as often as I should, but more consistently than before. Long story short, I feel better than I have in years.
This blog entry probably sounds preachy. I don't mean it that way. Just spreading the word on what's going on with me.
In six weeks, I'm down 21 pounds. Losing at a clip of 3.5 pounds per week. That's apparently faster than is 100% safe, but my doctor says I seem to be doing fine. My blood pressure has dropped to a perfectly normal 120 over 80. Bloodwork should come back in a few days; I'll see where my triglycerides are then.