Dieting for dummies

File under Ironies: The day I agreed to accompany my neighbor to her weekly Weight Watchers meeting, I got the urge to cook a HUGE batch of the Pioneer Woman’s Skillet Chicken Lasagna, which made enough to last me a week. Not exactly “diet” food, that. Also, of course, I had to make ice cream for the first time in two years. I still don’t know what came over me.

But today I am signed up for WW for the fourth or fifth time in my life. I’m an old hand at this dieting gig, and let me tell you, losing weight is easy. I’ve done it dozens of times. 😉

I guess I’m what is called a yo-yo dieter because I gain and lose the same number of pounds every couple of years. It’s a slow cycle, but a yo-yo cycle nonetheless. I have a certain range within which I’m comfortable: above a certain number, none of my clothes (which I own in a full range of sizes) fit and I don’t feel good. Below a certain number, same thing.

yoyo-dieting

I’ve been heavy nearly all my life, and I have my reasons for that. Getting my weight down to what the actuarial tables consider “normal” would require either amputation or a very serious eating disorder, neither of which I’m willing to accept. My weight-loss goal right now is very modest: 5% of my current weight (that’s the first goal WW encourages). After that, they suggest going for 10%. Ultimately, I just want to weigh what my driver’s license says I weigh. When I originally applied for it at age 17, I lied about my weight by 10 lbs. and never bothered to update it. I’ve been trying to hit that number off and on ever since.

But as I said, losing weight is easy. It requires two things that most of us don’t have nearly enough of, however. No, not self-discipline or masochism. It requires mindfulness and accountability.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you’re eating, how much of it you’re eating, and—perhaps most importantly—how you feel while you’re eating it and afterwards.

I like to read the newspaper when I eat, which is a great distraction from whatever is on my plate and going down my throat. I have eaten many a mediocre or even kind of crummy meal because I just didn’t pay attention to it. Also, I was taught that it’s a sin to waste food, so if I cook it (or purchase it), by golly, I am going to finish it even if it doesn’t really taste good. This is not mindful or helpful to anyone, least of all me. A better policy is that of Anton Ego in the movie “Ratatouille”: “I don’t like food, I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.”

Also, when I have a big hungry, I want a big meal. I like to be full when I’m finished eating, so small meals and frequent snacking don’t work for me. But it takes a good deal of mindlessness to eat a really big meal because after the first few bites of any food, I simply stop tasting it. Next time you eat a bowl of ice cream, notice how all the flavors explode in your mouth on the first bite. On the second bite, a little less so, and so on until by the eighth or ninth bite, all you can taste is “cold” and “creamy.” Same with chips: after eating only a few, all you notice is “crunchy” and “salty.” When you pay close attention to every bite of food that goes in your mouth, a little (or a lot less) will satisfy you.

Accountability at home requires two things: measuring and tracking. When you weigh and measure your food portions, you know exactly what you’re getting. When you write down what you ate, you know exactly what you got. As every manager knows, you can’t control what you don’t track. A simple notepad to record your meals, and a small kitchen scale and set of measuring spoons and cups are all you really need. Read food labels carefully. Take the time to measure. Write it all down. ALL OF IT. Then you have measurable data to work with.

Accountability in the world means joining a group, a club, a meeting, or finding a buddy with whom you can share the journey and your results. That’s a large part of what makes WW so successful: the weekly meetings where members can go to be with people like themselves who are all working toward similar goals.

My mother is a WW lifetime member because she lost 100 pounds on the program at one time. She started going back in the ’70s (and took me along) when everyone was required to eat one serving of liver per week (ugh!) and all the desserts were sweetened with saccharin and flavored with extracts. Meals were counted in “exchanges,” and it was a rigid, difficult diet to follow.

That’s all changed now. There are no longer any required or forbidden foods on the program. Every food is assigned a “points” value based on its calorie/fat/fiber content, and members are allotted a certain number of points per day based on age, weight, height and gender. My points allotment right now is 32, which translates to roughly 1600 calories a day—hardly starvation rations. Other than staying within the day’s points count, there are no rules. I can eat anything I want to eat, even that lasagna and ice cream, as long as I record it honestly. That’s my kind of diet—I’m in control every step of the way.

So that’s the easy part. My sister reminds me to be careful because when I finally do decide to lose weight, it comes off so quickly that I get anxious about my body changing too fast and I tend to stall out before I reduce out of my (quite narrow) comfort zone. Then comes the hard part: maintaining.

Mindfulness and accountability are daily, even hourly, disciplines that can become exhausting. I can diet faithfully for a month or three, sure, but for years on end? Pah. Before I know it, I’m back to noshing on the ingredients while I’m cooking, grabbing a pastry with my coffee, and plowing obliviously through piles of food I don’t see, smell or taste because my mind is occupied elsewhere. It’s just easier to be numb, spaced out, and absent from one’s own life. We all know that. There are days you just want to get through and be done. Being mindful every minute of every meal requires focus, concentration and tremendous energy. And so the yo-yo swings.

I have paid in advance for a month’s membership in WW and I intend to reach my 5% goal in that time. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see. I know better by now than to make any promises.

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One thought on “Dieting for dummies

  1. Pingback: The sticking point | Going Forward

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