Never eat more than you can lift.
My trainer, Gayle, set fitness guidelines: If I ate 2,500 calories a day (current weight times 15, approximately), I'd maintain my weight. If I ate less and exercised more, I'd lose. A shortfall of 3,500 calories on average equaled one pound. A safe, if ambitious, goal for weight loss was two pounds a week. More than four, and I risked my health.
Gayle also made some specific suggestions for eating. Her recommendations were not exactly carefully guarded secrets. In fact, I pretty much already knew what to do. Still, with my 60th birthday approaching, it was now or never. And so when Gayle set guidelines for "enlightened" eating, I listened closely:
Timing: Eat three evenly balanced meals a day with three snacks (morning, afternoon, evening). No skipped meals or heavy dinner.
Portions: Keep portions modest. No seconds. Include four ounces of lean protein at each meal to manage appetite. Eat until satisfied—not full. Proportions for typical dinner plate: one-quarter lean protein, one-quarter complex carbohydrate, and one-half vegetables. Dessert is fruit.
Food preparation: Broil meat, steam vegetables. (If oil is needed, use olive oil sparingly.)
Choices: Pick a wide variety of foods. Focus on foods high in water (cucumbers or grapes, for example), fiber, minerals, and vitamins and low in fat, sugar, and starch. Take vitamin and calcium supplements. Use whole or unprocessed grains. Without splurging, give yourself one day a week to make one free choice!
Fluids: Drink two glasses of water with every meal. Keep hydrated during exercise periods.
I started putting Gayle's guidelines into action. I began to pay attention, while eating, to when I felt satisfied but not full. I tried to stop eating at that point. To make sure I wasn't overeating, I slowed down, even to the point of putting my fork down between bites. I wanted to give my body time to send a message before I had overeaten.
I also began keeping a food diary, writing down what I had eaten to keep track of calories. The allowance was 1,200 calories a day. Because of a tendency to underestimate the amount of calories in food—partly as the result of denial and partly because of portion size—I set my goal for 1,100. It was a cautious but necessary strategy since most days I typically reached 1,200 calories, even with careful monitoring.
The changes were a shock to my system. Like many overweight people, I loved to cook and eat. Food was my recreational drug of choice. Raised on a farm, I liked meat-centered meals, real butter, and desserts. I also wanted to eat my heaviest meal at night.
The most difficult part was giving up those stuporous evening meals complete with dessert. Already in the first weeks of my new eating style, that afternoon energy bar and nightly bowl of bran cereal were becoming lifesavers.
Yet how responsive the body is when we take care of it! By the end of the second week, I could already see changes when I looked in the mirror. I felt empowered. I had no idea that positive results would come so fast. Maybe this time I could make real—and lasting—changes.
Next: Carole discovers "eating to live" and leaves behind "living to eat."