Yesterday, I ate a cookie. In fact, I ate the last homemade chocolate chip cookie in the gallon-sized plastic bag in the break room at work. I almost didn’t get that one, except that as a colleague loaded cookies into a napkin, I appeared at the table and exclaimed, “Oh, good! I get the last cookie!” It distracted her long enough for me to make the grab before she did. Success.
That is not my secret to weight loss, although if you made it a practice to only eat the last of the treats, it might work.
Last year at this time, I weighed 15 pounds more than I do now. My clothes were two sizes bigger. I hate to even reveal this fact because I have this irrational sense that I will jinx my good fortune — which is basically the ability to lose weight eating foods I love when I’m hungry.
It helps that I love salads, smoothies and smaller portions for my evening meal. It also helps that the foods I once loved aren’t so appealing anymore.
The secret is in the ‘why’
But I think the most significant secret behind my weight-loss success is that I ate for my back.
“Well, your front looks darn good, too,” said my friend Cathy when I told her that very thing. I was standing at the edge of the pool in my bathing suit, about to join her in the lane. “It makes me want to pin you down and force feed you chocolate.”
“Are you still losing weight?” asked Phoebe, as she started a conversation another day at the pool. “You look great.” We talked for a few minutes about what I was doing differently that had caused the weight to drop.
“Good for you,” she said. “Pass it on.”
Phoebe’s words are the only reason I’m writing this post (because I still fear I’ll jinx it).
How it all began
On March 1, 2017, I celebrated Lent for the first time of my life. I decided to drink wine only when I wasn’t at home. I could have a glass if I went out to dinner, which I rarely do, but I couldn’t have a glass at home.
Two days into my wine fast, I had a chiropractor’s appointment in which the doctor manipulated my silent spine — or not. As he went through the motions to “crack” my lower back and I heard nothing pop, I asked if he actually got the bones to move.
“No,” he admitted. “You’re so inflamed that the bones have nowhere to move.”
Then and there I determined that I needed to reduce inflammation — and I knew medicine was not the answer. And thus began my attempt at choosing foods that were anti-inflammatory. I talked at length about that diet in my post titled, “Live as if health care won’t be there when you need it.”
The secret’s in the duration
But though I talked at length about that anti-inflammatory diet, I never talk about the length of the diet. I had no goal weight, no end date, no achievement to signal that I’d done it and could now be done. My goal hadn’t been weight loss; it had been pain loss. If anti-inflammatory foods helped me reduce pain, then anti-inflammatory foods I would eat. Forever.
My friend Tami lost 25 pounds by “cutting out the crap,” she said. I hadn’t seen her at the gym in months, and the change in her appearance was so dramatic that I was afraid she was sick. She’d been afraid too, and so she’d had a thorough physical checkup with her doctor to see.
Like me, she was perfectly healthy. Like me, she didn’t count carbs or calories or points or fat grams. Like me, she didn’t fight cravings — meaning she didn’t have cravings she had to fight. She just ate good food. Food that her body seemed to like.
Like me, Tami continues to eat food her body likes, and now she likes her body more.
What I’d tried and failed
For years, I’d tried a variety of diets or eating plans. I’d done Weight Watchers and Atkins and gone vegan and had success — but it was always work, and the minute I stopped working it, I’d gain back the weight. Reaching goal weight was achievable. Staying at goal weight required herculean effort.
Worse, I’d fight cravings, especially for sugar, and I’d lose the fight. When I taught middle school, I kept a “sweetwater tank” in my classroom. It was an aquarium filled with candy, not fish, and when my students left the room for physical education, I ate it. At home, I had my secret stash of candy, and I’d eat sweets mindlessly and share only occasionally. (Shhh. Don’t tell my children.)
I’d read Eating Right for Your Blood Type, The Fit or Fat Target Diet, Potatoes Not Prozac, Lick the Sugar Habit, The Perfect Health Diet, the Grain Brain Diet, Eat to Live, The China Study, and even the Romans 7 Diet (I made that one up based on the Scripture from Romans 7:19: “For the good that I would I do not…”), and so many more. It was always a battle, usually a losing battle, but not a weight-losing win.
But when I stopped trying to diet just to look good, when I changed my diet to heal my body, when I ate to give my body delicious fuel, I lost weight without even trying. I felt as if I were cheating. I ate for my back, as I told my swimming friend, and it’s made my front and sides look good, too.
What works for me
I knew you’d ask, so here is a menu of food and activity from my typical workday:
Upon waking, I drink a good 8-10 ounces of orange juice mixed with aloe juice — with three heaping teaspoons of psyllium husk powder. (My tip: I fill an empty water bottle half way with the juices, then add the fiber, put on the lid, shake rapidly — and then drink more rapidly. When I’ve gotten most of it, I add an ounce of tap water, restore the lid, shake it again, and drink the dregs. Yummy.
I follow that with a large cup of coffee, laden with half and half.
I follow that with six ounces of prune juice.
(The reason for my high-fiber beverages in the morning is due to a bout of diverticulitis, followed by a rigorous, positively awful regimen of antibiotics, followed by an anal fissure and the blog post I never wrote titled “I wasted Botox on my butt.” Suffice it to say when the doctor prescribed fiber for every day of the rest of my life, I didn’t balk. No balking, just bulking from me — for my stools, not my physique.)
Then I do hit the gym, doing one of the these workouts (weight lifting, calisthenics, yoga, lap swimming, water aerobics, walking, or spinning).
I head to work, where I have an additional cup of coffee with half and half. By then, I’m hungry.
In my cooler, I carry two large bottles of water, one bottle of San Pellegrino water (my treat for the drive home), a fruit or chocolate peanut butter smoothie, a homemade coconut almond oat bar, and a half cup of half almonds, half raisins. I also carry lunch. (It’s quite possible, actually, that one of the secrets to my weight-loss success is that I plan and pack my meals and beverages.)
I eat breakfast at least twice, sometimes three times, enjoying the smoothie, the bar, or the almonds and raisins mixture at different intervals. I delay lunch until 1, if I can, so that most of the work day is behind me (plus I’ve just eaten two to three breakfasts!).
Lunch is almost always salad. Sometimes it’s leftovers from dinner, but my preference is a large salad. I love salad. Typically, I pack a glass container with the toppings to my salad — cucumbers, red peppers, scallions, radishes, tomatoes, green olives, and, if I have them, strawberries, blueberries, grapes or mandarin orange slices. If I have room, I’ll throw in some romaine lettuce. I usually have room.
I’ll put some walnuts, sometimes some raisins, and salad dressing into little containers. Sometimes I’ll add cheese or meat, but I’m usually satisfied with the walnuts.
At lunch time, I remove the lid from the glass container and then upend the container onto a plate. If the veggies have released water, I’ll capture that with a paper towel before lifting the glass dish from the plate. Then I’ll lift the glass and, like magic, I have a salad that’s now right-side up. I dump all my little containers on top of the salad, and then I enjoy.
If I find that I’m hungry after lunch, I’ll snack on the almonds and raisins, if I haven’t already eaten them, or a piece of fruit.
For dinner, I eat whatever we’re having, typically some sort of meat, a starch and a vegetable. I don’t measure my food, but I am aware that bedtime is right around the corner, so I don’t pile my plate high. I won’t want to sleep on a full stomach. For dessert, we opt for fresh fruit with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon — because we love it. Sugar doesn’t taste as sweet.
Secret, what secret?
Many months ago, a woman in my building approached me and asked, “What’s your secret?”
I looked at her blankly.
“Secret about what?”
“How good you look! Seriously, what’s your secret?”
So I told her what I just told you (but a much shorter version). To which she said:
“Oh. That’s too much work.”
For the first time in my life (well, since I turned 30), I would have to disagree. The secret to my weight-loss success is that it isn’t work. It isn’t hard. I don’t even remember struggling with cravings when I abruptly began eating to reduce inflammation.
The difference, I believe, is that I was motivated to get rid of back pain, initially, and to avoid another bout of diverticulitis (and antibiotics and anal fissures). That’s what made me want to eat “right.” The other part of this “secret” to weight loss is that I changed my diet forever.
The hardest part is getting rid of dresses I love that no longer fit.
My boss has checked out my lunch plate on occasion and commented on my “microbiome.” (I work with science-y types, so our language is peppered with such terms.) Indeed, it’s likely my anti-inflammatory food choices have made my microbiome a system that enables me to maintain a healthy weight easily.
I know that my change in diet, perhaps my change in weight, has reduced my back pain significantly. (I haven’t seen the chiropractor since April 2017.) I’ve added weeding and yard grooming into my list of weekend activities, things I couldn’t do previously because of my bad back. (And, yes, bending and stooping, lifting and chopping challenge my back, but eating inflammatory foods does more damage.)
So I did eat the last chocolate cookie — and mentioned it to the colleague who had baked them and brought the bag around to offer me one personally the day before.
“I’m surprised you ate one at all,” she said, “knowing your eating habits.”
And that, my friends, may just be the secret of my weight-loss success: eating habits.
In summary, I changed my eating habits because I wanted to get rid of pain, not weight, but the weight went away too. That was my motivation. I started my new way of eating with no end date in mind. Motivation + duration. And I planned, prepared, and packed my meals and beverages. Motivation + duration + preparation = eating habits, which led to my success.
Could it be a formula for you? If so, as my friend Phoebe told me, “Good for you. Pass it on.”