After my midlife “fitness epiphany,” I wondered why I hadn’t succeeded earlier. Reading a contemporary proverb, I found the answer: “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree until it’s ripe.”
My earlier, failed attempts to lose weight meant I wasn’t ready. But once ready, the soap-opera events in my life — serious illness, a son’s wedding in France, a torn hamstring, a back injury, my daughter’s heart-stopping medical trauma — couldn’t derail me.
The drama in my life continues. As Gilda Radner said, “It’s always something.” What I am happiest about, though, is that I’ve managed to stay the course with my exercise and eating regimen. The bad habits were hard to change, but fortunately so are the new, healthful ones.
While exercise is an essential element of my makeover, the biggest change involves eating. Below are my favorite strategies — some I discovered and some I borrowed from others.
- Plan ahead so you can look forward to eating. Don't wing it: You will often end up overeating and/or eating something unhealthful.
- Focus on what you’ll eat — not what you are giving up.
- Eat at periodic intervals (every three to four hours). Skipping a meal can result in overeating later or poor food choices. Have a late-afternoon snack (fruit, carrot sticks, popcorn) for quick energy.
- Always start the day with a breakfast to manage hunger throughout the day. Overeating the night before isn’t an excuse to skip breakfast.
- Add protein to each meal — such as a hard-boiled egg, tuna or nonfat cottage cheese — to manage hunger and sustain energy.
- Save alcohol for special occasions.
- Save one time each week (for me, it’s Friday night) for indulging — but even then stay conscious of choices.
- Make friends with hunger. Learn to assess your hunger level — from “satiated” to “passing impulse” (perhaps triggered by a television commercial) to “ravenously famished.” Eat when your energy level drops, but don’t panic if you are hungry for an hour.
- Train yourself to stop after one serving. If you are particularly hungry, make sure you have one food or dish you can eat as much as you want — for example, cucumber salad with seasoned rice vinegar.
- If you must eat at a fast-food joint, order salads, veggie burgers, and other low-cal dishes.
- Shop for groceries when you aren’t overly hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Don’t bring food home that you shouldn’t eat.
- If you’re hungry but don’t want to eat yet, chew some sugarless gum and drink water.
- When entertaining, make sure there are foods you can eat along with your guests. When you’re a guest, discreetly find foods that fit into your plan and eat them.
- If you need medicine, take it. Don’t medicate with food.
- Limit caffeine. It can stimulate appetite.
- I know that seems like a lot, but over time it becomes second nature. Then the pounds melt away and it really gets fun! For me, one of those moments came when I wore a size 6 suit to my son’s wedding.
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Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.