Have you tried losing weight, but none of the diets work for you?
Especially the diets that cost money? They’re not only complicated, but you have to pay someone money to use them. Or worse, you pay them money and then have to buy their crappy tasting food. And worse still, they don’t result in weight loss. Even if they did, how long can you keep them up? To me, they’re not sustainable. I’m not going to eat one brand of microwave food the rest of my life. Or count points like I’m sitting at a blackjack table.
Don’t do that
I used to be a distance runner. I ran between fifty and seventy miles a week. Needless to say, I could eat anything I wanted and burn it off. I weighed about 150 with 7% body fat.
I don’t run anymore, and I’ll never be 150 again, despite what those idiotic “ideal weight” charts show. But I can weigh less than the 240 I topped out at soon after this Covid-19 pandemic started.
A lot less.
I was pretty much like everyone, I guess. I couldn’t get out and do the walking I had in the past, so I sat around and ate. Mostly crap. I tried to keep up my exercise, but the park was too crowded, masks or not. And walking the quarter-mile circuit around my neighborhood was boring.
So, I stopped exercising and kept eating. You know the end of that road, I’m sure.
And being overweight wasn’t the worst of it. After all, I was isolated in my home. I could wear my sweatpants 24/7. But I felt like crap. I woke up feeling lousy and went to bed feeling worse. I didn’t sleep well, and my lifestyle suffered far worse than the Covid-19 pandemic warranted.
So, I dusted off my old-reliable weight loss diet plan. The one that always worked for me in the past. The one I knew would work this time.
And it did. I’m back under 200 now; have been for a while. More importantly, keeping the extra weight off is easier than ever. And for the first time in years, I’m targeting 190, maybe even 180.
So, how does this plan work? It’s not complicated, and it’s completely free.
And the best part is, it’s easy to keep up. Because it is so simple and you get to eat most of the foods you like. And even the ones you shouldn’t eat, you can have some every once in a while. Finally, it’s not a cold turkey, all-in-one plan like some of those others. Where one day you’re not on a diet and the next day you are. That’s a shock to your system. No wonder people can’t keep them up.
Okay, you knew we’d get here eventually. There are a lot of diets and diet plans out there. In most of them, you can eat one thing but not the other. You can have protein but not carbs. You can eat carbs but not fat.
How about eat what you want, but not so damn much of it. How about just cut out the crap that is adding on the pounds with no benefit to you.
The first thing I want you to do is to start keeping track of calories. Get a piece of paper or a spreadsheet or some software. I like myfitnesspal.com myself. It has a lot of stuff in it, a massive food database, and it’s free. There is a paid version, but I”ve never seen any benefit to it. One thing it will walk you through at the start is, based on your age, weight, and goal, how many calories you should eat in a day. Don’t carve it in stone, but it’s a good starting point.
So, track your calories. Right now, before you even start to diet. This will do a couple of things. First, it will open your eyes. You are probably eating a lot more than you think you are. A lot more. Second, it will show you where you can get the most bang for your diet buck. We’re going to talk about some easy stuff in a minute, but some things will be particular to you. Like that quart of Ben and Jerry’s you ate last night.
A third benefit is it will prompt you to start looking at calories. We’ll get back to more of that in a bit, but pay attention to the nutrition information on food packages, including the serving size. That’s where a lot of people get tripped up.
I heated up a box of Stouffer’s Chicken a la King yesterday. I looked at the front of the box, and it said 190 calories. That’s a very light lunch. And it was tasty. Then, I looked at the back of the box. 400 calories. WTF? It turns out that a ‘serving’ was one cup. Something less than half the box. Half of an eleven-ounce meal. I don’t think so.
The Easy Stuff
Okay, now onto some easy stuff. We’re going to knock out a lot of calories on day one. Some of these I can give you ideas on. Some you will have to rely on your own calorie tracking. These are what the experts like to call empty calories. I like to call it crap. We eat a lot of crap that has a lot of calories that don’t have much benefit. Or can easily be replaced.
Do you drink sodas? Man, I did. Regular Coke was my jam. But whatever it is, if you drink sugary sodas, you are piling on calories for nothing at all. A can of Coke is 138 calories. I easily drank a six-pack a day. Forget all the other crap in Coke; that was over 800 calories a day. Half of what I should be consuming just in beverages.
You’re thirsty? Drink water. I’m not going to suggest diet sodas because there is a lot of negative information out there. I drank Coke Zero for a long time but finally gave them up. Now it’s 0 calorie soda water or iced tea. Unsweetened ice tea, which to my southern upbringing is heresy.
But I like plain, unsweetened tea. If you can’t stand that, a teaspoon of sugar is only 16 calories and will take off the bitter edge. Think about that for a minute. A teaspoon of sugar is 16 calories, and a can of Coke has 138. Do the math.
The next thing I looked at was condiments. There are three condiments I loved, mayonnaise, blue cheese dressing, and hot sauce. Well, one out of three ain’t’ bad, I guess. For me, a sandwich needed a lot of mayo. Like two tablespoons. That’s almost 200 calories! But I also like mustard. Plain yellow, brown, spicy, whatever; I like mustard. A tablespoon of mustard? Ten calories. And if it’s good mustard, a tablespoon is plenty. I still need mayo on my BLT, But I can still hold a large BLT down to below 400 calories.
Salad dressing. Okay, here I have to punt. Low-fat salad dressing is crap. So, I bite the bullet, but I measure carefully. No more pouring it out of the bottle until the salad floats. I use Marie’s in a jar. Not only is it excellent quality, but you have to use a spoon. Depending on the size of the salad, I hold it down to one or two tablespoons. If I get the vinaigrette variety, that’s 120 calories. Not bad, considering the rest of the salad comes in at about 100 calories total.
And that’s where I’ll wrap it up on the easy stuff; salads. I eat a lot of them. The main thing you have to watch out for is the calorie count for the basic salad. There are foods like lettuce, broccoli, cucumber, etc., that have almost no calories. And especially with broccoli, you can fill up pretty quickly.
But you have to watch out for bacon, cheese, croutons, olives, and the like. Use those sparingly or not at all. And above all, measure and count calories. Don’t just mound up a plate of salad, cover it with bacon and cheese and call it healthy. One slice of bacon will flavor a large salad. And it adds about 40 calories.
Okay, I lied. One more thing the bacon reminded me of. We eat a lot of foods because we love the taste. Like bacon. Like chocolate. Well, here’s the thing. One slice of bacon tastes the same as a half-pound. One of those tiny Hershey squares tastes exactly the same as a huge bar. If you want it for the taste, have a taste. If you can’t restrict yourself to that, you don’t need it in your house.
Don’t do it. Hunger makes you eat. The key is to eat enough, so you aren’t hungry, and then stop. Sounds easier than it is, but like most things, it will take practice. And when we get to my plan below, you’ll find that a little hunger is good for me. Shows it’s working. I like to be just on the edge of hunger, but not over the line. It’s a balancing act.
But back to the topic; don’t get hungry. I never heard the word hangry until that Snickers ad campaign a few years ago, but I certainly knew the feeling. Hunger can make you angry. Angry makes you seek a solution. And the easiest solution is to eat. A lot. Binge eating. I used to joke that a single serving was a quart of ice cream and a box of Girl Scout cookies. The problem was, I wasn’t kidding.
Don’t do that.
If you try to lose weight by starving yourself, you will give up, and binge eat. Worse, you may not lose any weight. The body is a lot smarter than we are. If we suddenly stop eating or hit some insane exercise regimen, the body thinks, okay boys, somethings wrong. The solution is to start packing on fat to feed itself.
Ever seen a bear come out of hibernation? Me neither, but I imagine they are hungry. And pissed. What they aren’t is skinny. As soon as they stopped eating, the body stopped burning any calories it didn’t have to.
The trick is to stay just off the edge of hunger. That will take practice. Keep your calorie log, but also keep some notes. Did you get hungry? You may need to taper off from the calories you are accustomed to eating to get down to what you should be eating. If the gap is more than 500 calories in a day, take it slow. You don’t want your body freaking out and packing it in for hibernation.
The other trick is to know when to stop eating. I have a problem with that. When I get to one of my two main meals, I am frequently hungry. As I eat, the hunger slowly subsides. But there is a delayed reaction. If I eat until I’m not hungry anymore, I’ve overeaten. You know when you’ve overeaten. A half-hour after the meal, your stomach lets you know.
So, you have to use your experience, knowledge, and that ever-present calorie chart to know when to quit eating. It will take some time and practice, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it.
There is one more component I use not to get hungry and cut down on my total calories, but first, you need to ask yourself, are you hungry. Nervous feels a lot like hunger. Anxiousness, apprehension, whatever you want to call it, that feeling in the pit of your stomach may not be hunger.
Once again, use your experience and your calorie log. If you’ve eaten enough of the right food at the right time, you aren’t hungry.
The last piece involves snacking. Maybe that’s a bad name for it. I grew up in an age where the PSAs on television warned against between-meal snacks. But that’s wrong. It’s your total calorie count for the day that’s important. Other than avoiding calories close to bedtime, it doesn’t matter when you eat them.
Snacks are good for two reasons. One, they keep you from being hungry. Second, they stop you from eating too much at one time. Your body is only going to properly process a certain number of calories. The rest it will pack in for later. For when you crawl in your cave for the winter.
But most snacks are full of empty calories. Again, this is where you have to look at the nutrition panel and try to get the most bang for your snacking buck. I love Doritos. But thirteen chips? Who does that? Solid vegetables like carrots and broccoli are great. They are filling and low calorie. But not exactly sexy. Sometimes you want a snack for a snack.
The one I have relied on lately is Triscuits. They come in a lot of flavors besides the original one that tasted like cardboard. I love the Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil. You do you. Six crackers has 120 calories. And trust me, six Triscuits is a lot. Typically, if I feel a little hunger coming on between meals, I’ll have three. Sixty calories, and it can hold me for an hour or more.
I feel I should make a side note here. This entire article is about how I lost weight and keep it off. It doesn’t concern itself with any other health issues. I’m not dealing with sodium, gluten, or other things that may be a risk for you. Listen to your doctor. Use your common sense.
Finally, we get to it. The bad news is, it’s not much of a plan. I’ve already given you all the components. How you implement it is up to you. But if you follow my guidelines, you will lose weight. And more importantly, it is sustainable. Maybe you won’t lose as much weight initially as you hope. You aren’t going to fit into your prom dress by this weekend. But you will lose weight, continue to lose weight, and keep it off for the long run.
So, here is what I do. I know from my research and using the MyFitnessPal tool that I should be consuming between 1500 and 1600 calories a day. It didn’t take a math genius to figure out that’s about 100 calories an hour, so that is loosely what I base my plan on. I try not to eat more than an average of 100 calories an hour.
Keywords: try and average.
It’s easy early, and I’ll get back to that in a minute, but lunch will be somewhere between 200 and 400 calories, usually at the high end. And that brings up another point I use in figuring out what to eat. If I look in the freezer or pantry and choose between two meals, I look at the totals and think about the rest of my day. Four hundred calories mean I shouldn’t eat again for four hours. That’s a long time with nothing but maybe a Triscuit or three.
So, let’s back up and start with my morning. First thing almost every morning is a banana. Good, easily digestible, potassium-rich, and somewhere between 70 and 100 calories. That alone will usually satisfy me for a couple of hours. Then, as Pippin was fond of saying, I have Second Breakfast. In the cold months, it’s oatmeal. In warmer months, it’s a cold cereal with a bit of 2% milk.
Pro tip: The oatmeal is better. Very filling and high fiber. I’m talking about real oatmeal, the kind that says “Old Fashioned” on the box. I’ve never found any instant oatmeal that didn’t taste like crap and was full of sugar.
If I’m eating cereal, I like bran flakes or Cheerios. Just, once again, check those labels. Obviously, you don’t want Count Chocula, but some of that granola stuff is pretty high calorie.
By mid-morning, I’m ready for a snack, so it’s three Triscuits for me. If you don’t like those, find something else. It may take a little experimenting, but you want something low in sugar and calories that are filling. If you want to go hardcore, broccoli is probably the best food on the planet.
For lunch, I just keep a lot of foods on hand that meet my criteria. Like I said, they are all between 200 and 400 calories. It doesn’t have to be Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine; just watch the labels. I like pasta and chicken. Filling, easily digestible, and healthy.
If you are going out to eat, same thing, check the calories. That’s another good thing about MyFittnessPal is it has most restaurants in it. But many restaurants now post calories online. So, here’s what I did. I made a list of every place I’m likely to eat. Then I did my research and listed one to three things that I would get. That saves you from standing there at Wendy’s eyeing the triple cheeseburger. Spoiler alert: It’s either a grilled chicken sandwich or a large chili.
It usually takes me a few more Triscuits to get through the afternoon. Being retired, I’m generally through with my writing and photography by late afternoon and am ready to hit the couch for a little Netflix. I could go ahead and have dinner, but I like a snack first. Below, I’m going to make a list of all of the snacks I like to eat before dinner while watching the tube.
Man, you can eat a boatload of popcorn for 100 calories. And if you go low-sodium, it’s healthy and full of fiber. Just avoid the kettle corn. They should call it candy corn; it’s so full of sugar. I like to make my own black pepper popcorn, or for some extra kick, I sprinkle on a little cayenne pepper.
For dinner, I often eat more calories than I should. The day’s balance should be weighted heavier to breakfast and lunch, but I grew up eating a large meal in the evening, and it’s a hard habit to break. Having said that, we are usually through with the meal by six, so there is plenty of time for digestion before bedtime.
There is typically little difference between my lunch and dinner choices except that I lean more toward the 400 calorie end. It is very rare that we go out for dinner, but I would apply the same rules as I did for lunch if I did.
What about dessert?
Here is where that calorie tracking can come in handy. How much do you have left in the budget? There are rare days where I have only eaten 1200 calories through dinner. I’m not going to have a 400 calorie dessert, but at least I can splurge a little. There are also days when I have hit or exceeded my limit before dessert. Well, it sucks to be me. Nothing to do but suck it up and skip dessert. Or go crazy and eat a small apple or a handful of grapes.
The key to dessert is what you keep on hand. The only candies we keep in the house are Hershey’s miniatures or an equivalent size in something else. There is always plenty of fresh fruit. In the freezer, we have sorbet and small ice cream bars. Like 100 calorie small. We’re not much on cakes and cookies, but sometimes there will be pie. I like pie. If we get pie, it’s usually peach or apple.
And that’s the whole plan. It comes down to common sense and counting calories. I know I will get a lot of responses about other types of diets; keto and paleo are still trendy. But here’s the thing about almost every diet. No matter what they are counting, underneath, they are still counting calories. Or, at the very least, they force you to pay attention to what you put into your body. And that’s half the battle.
I hope this helps, and please let me know a month or two how things are going for you.