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The Incredible, Edible Diet

You can lose weight without giving up all the foods you love.

When I was younger, one of my dumber decisions was to take up smoking. When my 4-year-old son begged me to quit, I decided it was time to kick the habit.

I remember my first week without nicotine: Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., I sat behind a table in a small, windowless, unventilated office with three other people. We were interviewing job applicants nonstop except for a brief lunch break.

My three colleagues smoked continually, and the applicant occasionally joined them. Each time someone lit up, I had to decide whether to give in to temptation or resist it. I never gave in. More important, the intense testing of my commitment to stop smoking made subsequent temptations easier to manage. At the end of five days, cigarettes had become my permanent enemy — I ended the friendship forever.

Changing my relationship with food wasn’t as simple. When I decided to lose weight, I couldn’t make food my enemy and stop eating. I could live without cigarettes but not without food.

I’d learned from past failures that if I severely restricted my food intake, I’d end up gaining weight. But by demonizing food, I distorted my relationship with it. In retrospect, I’m lucky I didn’t develop an eating disorder. The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness estimates that 24 million Americans deal with one.

Through trial and error, I concluded that to lose weight, I needed to make food my friend, not my enemy.  I needed to eat “affirmatively,” thoroughly enjoying food without any of the guilt. I also made sure I had ample portions so that I didn’t feel famished, because that usually leads to overeating. By planning my eating regimen carefully, I restored a healthy relationship with food. The result? I ate more food than before and still lost weight.

How? By changing both what I ate and how I prepared the food.

I set my menu based on nutritional needs and calorie count. As a result, I consumed fewer refined products and less sugar. I added more fruits and vegetables to my plate. Low-fat sources of protein — nonfat cottage cheese and eggs — replaced beef and other meats. Desserts consisted of fruit.

Next, I focused on how to prepare my food. I experimented with various ways to cut calories and preserve flavor and textures. Those experiments were critical to my long-term lifestyle change. I knew that the only way I would succeed was if I continued to enjoy eating.

Learning recipes and cooking techniques is fun and rewarding. If you want to lose surplus pounds, put on your student chef hat and join me in the kitchen!

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