Why is 2016 the year I am must lose weight? Because this is my reality. This photo was taken just a few days ago with my brothers and sister as we celebrated Christmas together. I'm the center one in the red sweater. Also because my latest medical labs taken for our corporate health & wellness program show me to be pre- diabetic, pre-hypertension, and with a borderline lipid panel. All of these things are my reality.
But my other reality is that after years of dieting and never being successful I finally have the right plan that works for me. For 6 weeks this fall I put my theories to the test and lost weight, not quickly, but safely and sanely, 1-2 lbs per week. I ate tons of food, actually a larger volume and more calories than I have in years but lost weight, had more energy, and overall felt better: lighter, happier, healthier. And then the holidays hit. I got overwhelmed and stopped doing what I knew worked. The result? The weight loss stopped.
I'm convinced now that the key to my weight loss is chemicals, as in the absence of them. My body does not tolerate the chemicals in processed foods. So the answer, for me, is both simple and complex: cook EVERYTHING from scratch. It's that simple. Implementing it is the complex part. Although I am a pretty decent cook, having learned from two wonderful cooks, my mother and grandmother, we live in a culture of fast food, processed food, restaurants, etc., where it can be very difficult to avoid chemicals and preservatives. Difficult but not impossible. The key is organization and willingness to spend a few extra hours in the kitchen even beyond what I already do, the extra hours needed to bake bread, for example, a simple product that we buy cheaply at the grocery in so many forms: sandwich bread, bagels, English muffins, hot dog and hamburger buns, and all, ALL, laden with chemicals. Making bread at home isn't hard but it does take a little commitment of time. The reward is the taste and my body recognizing it and using it for nutrients.
The inspirations for building my personal meal plans are the principles of the Mediterranean Diet, the Nordic diet, the Eat Clean diet, common sense, and knowing my own personality. I know that if I cook good food I will eat good food but I also know I can be lazy as hell when I'm tired or feeling pressured with work or obligations. I love lists but I suck at following strict meal plans for each day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I love cooking for the freezer and prepping ahead of time but I hate eating the same thing day after day so meal prepping doesn't work for me. I love the idea of not denying myself foods I love but I hate the idea of making substitutions and calling it "good". No matter how much I love, and I really do love mashed cauliflower, I won't make it and call it mashed potatoes because it's not, and to me, that's just a flimsy lie that sets me up for failure. When I want mashed potatoes, I'll eat mashed potatoes. I'm a big believer in unprocessed complex carbs. I'm a very little believer in the concepts of zero carbs, forced body alkalinity (I don't even believe that can happen through diet and if it did, it would not be a good thing, in my opinion) or zero fat. The newer research is debunking the red meat/saturated fat studies that showed a raise in LDL. The newer studies are showing that while sat fat does raise LDL, it also raises HDL, so eat red meat, don't eat red meat, whatever makes you happy. I'm not a big believer in sugar as evil in and of itself. I think too much sugar is a bad thing but a little bit of sugar is a little bit of heaven. I would put transfats in the evil category, though. Without going on and on further, I'll stop there with the things that I don't like, won't do, will or won't eat, and concentrate on the positives: what does work for me, what I do eat.
What does work for me is a sort of a modified version of all of those positive things I mentioned melded together by the concepts of eating enjoyable, fresh, clean, nutritious food. I'm aware that as the year progresses, changes in how I do things will take on a natural evolution as I find more and more techniques, hacks, and recipes that we really love and use, not to mention summer when I'll have a small container garden for produce. But to start with I'm going to keep things as simple as I did for the 6 weeks that I easily managed to stay on track and lose weight.
What I did for those 6 great weeks was check the Wednesday grocery ads to see what meat and produce was on sale that week. From that, I made a list of 6 dinners (one night for date night, soup night, or local restaurant that cooks from scratch to take-out from), a soup, a salad, a sweet, and any special breads, breakfast, lunches, or snacks I want to make for the week. I tried to include a variety of dishes that complement simply prepared veggies to make sure we eat several servings but I also don't stray too far away from what I consider good basic home-cooking, meaning I did best with a mix of high and low energy recipes.
From there I made a grocery list for those items plus replacing any of the good foods I already always keep on hand: Old-fashioned oats and 6-grain hot cereal for great winter breakfasts, celery & carrots with natural peanut butter for snacking, canned tuna & eggs to hard-boil for a quick meal, etc. I found that having a soup and all the ingredients prepped for a nice salad in the crisper saved me time and time again during the week when I was hungry but didn't want to spend time cooking, particularly lunches at home and at work (I work 12 hour nights, every other weekend) when it would have been easier to grab take out. Prepping these foods does mean that I have to set aside one afternoon or evening a week to prep but with a little organization it's not too bad. I usually make up bread dough and set it aside to rise, and then continue making whatever else I'm going to prep for the week. I also usually try to mix more intensive things with quicker prep recipes so I don't end up frustrated and making Gene wonder if I've suddenly developed Tourette's in the kitchen.
Honestly, it sounds more complicated than it is. Most of the "work" is done at the grocery store and in remembering to reach for fruits and veggies first for snacks to get my Five-A-Day as well as drinking 8 glasses of water a day.
Along with eating well, of course, I'll be addressing exercise. Our corporate health & wellness department recommends a minimum of 6,000 steps per day and 3--30 minute cardio workouts per week. I was hit and miss last year due to back problems that are now fixed (fingers crossed) so I'm going to renew that goal for this year.
Last, but not least, recordkeeping. I wear a Fitbit which logs directly into our corporate health & wellness website, as well as, My Fitness Pal, a free nutrition and exercise log that I love. The food database is huge, there is room to input my own recipes, the Fitbit automatically loads up to it, and it is very customizable. For myself, I have made my goals into a 30%/30%/40% split of protein, carbs, and fat, and instead of a traditional food log of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I use the headings "Clean", "Restaurant", "Processed", and "Junk!" to help keep my priorities straight.
Goals, but in the vein of Occam's Razor, keeping it relatively simple. You'll see what I mean when I post Wednesday night's Week 1 menu.
Disclaimer: I do need to make this disclaimer, though, for the one or two people out there that may take what I say here as some kind of medical advice or a promise or guarantee to lose weight. Keep in mind that while I am a respiratory therapist and have a certain amount of medical knowledge, I do not claim to be a dietitian or a physician. My diet that I'm sharing with you is that: mine. This is what's been working for me. What I'm doing may or may not work for you. I make no promises or guarantees that you will lose weight or the same amount of weight as I am at any time. I'm just sharing my journey.