My last post looked at finding a reasonable way to make changes in your lifestyle that could set you on a path to healthy living. I noted a few ways you could control your food intake, such as being aware of your snacking habits and portion sizes. Little changes, banded together, can absolutely make a significant difference. But, how do you know which choices are sustainable and which habits you really need to change, no matter how attached you are to them?
I have long advocated following a diet that is pleasing and comfortable to you as a starting point. For instance, we have a dear friend who was diagnosed with diabetes. Fred knew that he would be hard-pressed to follow a traditional diabetic diet. He loves meat, yet felt like he could easily give up carbohydrates. When he first proposed going on a low carb diet as a way to manage his diabetes, his doctor was skeptical, but said to give it a try. After six months of steadily decreasing A1Cs, the doctor was won over and Fred was perfectly comfortable with his new lifestyle. He was fully committed to following it for the rest of his life because he felt like what he could have was far more important to him than what he had to give up.
That being said, if you want to become healthier and/or lose weight, you do have to make changes—and changing long-standing habits is hard. Finding the sweet spot in a healthy lifestyle starts with figuring out what you have to change and also taking into account of what you really don’t want to live without. Find the goal posts on either end of your playing field and you know that sweet spot is going to be somewhere in between.
I had three rules as my starting point. First, no eating in between meals. Three planned meals a day was going to be my norm. Probably just as important as the no eating in between was the word “planned.” I know people who like just two meals a day and some who eat six small meals a day (three small meals and three snacks.) As long as those are planned and are moderate in size, it really doesn’t matter. What I was trying to avoid with this first rule was the mindless nibbling during the day to which I had grown accustomed.
My second rule was portion control, and on that I was pretty firm. I was used to huge portion sizes, and regularly got up from the table to get seconds. I started out trying to do half of what I had been putting on my plate, then gradually got down to about one quarter. The trick to limiting how hard this was involved learning to eat slowly and enjoy my food. I put my fork down between each bite, I took pauses, I listened to my stomach to figure out if I’d had enough.
I also took a medication that controlled my appetite. I know a lot of folks who don’t want to do that, and it is certainly a choice. It was a helpful tool for me, and I appreciated not feeling like I wasn’t going to survive until my next meal. The medication gave me time to learn all those new habits and have them become firmly ingrained, so that by the time I went off of it, my daily eating habits were set.
My third rule was to avoid carbohydrates at dinner. I pretty much always serve a meat, a vegetable and a starch, as well as dinner rolls. No starch or dinner rolls for me! That was honestly less hard than I thought it would be.
I concentrated on ensuring that I had a suitably high protein breakfast to carry me through the morning. I’ve pretty much settled on that one with a Chobani yogurt, ½ cup Kind granola, a small amount of berries, cherries or grapes (1/2 cup berries, 8 cherries or 10 grapes) and ¼ c. 2% milk in my decaf tea. It is amazing how satisfying that meal is to me, and verifies one of my favorite mantras: “sugar loves more sugar, fat loves more fat, and protein fills you up!”
What I most wanted to keep in my diet were heavily fat-focused: sauces on meat, olive oil-based vinaigrettes, and butter for my vegetables. Over time, I have come to learn that I need very little of any of those things to be satisfied, and that being prudent with portions gives me a happy place to enjoy my food fully without paying a penalty.
All that helped me, but it might not be enough for you if your issues are different ones. For instance, if you are a devoted fast food fan, you are probably going to need to make more significant changes by incorporating more fresh and do-it-yourself meals. I would become an avid label-reader in that case, to figure out where you can make healthier, pleasing choices for occasional fast food, or if there are ready made items at the grocery you can throw together for a fast meal. Trader Joe’s, for example, has some three-ingredient recipes that combine ready-made foods they combine in new and different ways: https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahloewentheil/three-ingredient-trader-joes-dinners
Just read those labels so you aren’t blinded by heavy calorie and fat counts!
This also might be helpful for the person who hates to cook. Cooking Light has a tasty “Five Ingredient, Fifteen Minutes” cookbook that could well earn a place in your kitchen as a great way to prepare healthy, quick meals. Throwing a simple marinade together and grilling meat during the summer is another welcome option. I also enjoy “sheet pan” dinners, where you use one sheet pan and add different ingredients at different times depending on how quickly they cook. Easy to do, easy to clean up, and tasty to boot. Google “sheet pan dinners” and you will be amazed at how much appears!
One of the things I had at the “have to” goal post was my need to exercise. I was becoming increasingly weak and disabled. There was no getting around my need to exercise and my enduring hatred for it. No “enjoy the moment” there! I had to break my habit of being sedentary and that was going to be painful. I gave myself three months to get used to doing exercise five days a week. That didn’t mean I was going to quit after three months, it just meant I figured the misery factor would be somewhat more manageable by then. You know what? It was! It took me another three months to enjoy it and a little longer before I could tell a big difference in how I felt. That was the real turning point for me. I am exercising, not because I innately love it, but because I want to feel strong and energetic. Giving up exercise would mean giving up that feeling, and I am completely unwilling to do that.
I hope this can serve as a starting point for you to commit to a healthier lifestyle. If it doesn’t, keep asking me questions! Making such a dramatic change in your life isn’t easy and it takes time, but you don’t ever need to feel like you’re doing it alone. There are so many of us who want to make changes and who have figured out how to do so. Let’s be there for one another!