Saturday, December 19, 2009

How I Lost 20 Pounds During the Holidays (so far)

It seems like every conversation I've had lately has had something to do with our recent weight loss, which is tedious, I know, so I apologize to everyone I've talked to in the last month. I do think that people are especially interested in tips and tricks, so I thought I'd share a little bit of what I've learned over the last month or so. You might want to bookmark this and come back after the holidays (but I've got "surviving the holidays" tips, too).

The main thing that we're doing is counting calories. At, if you input your height, your weight, and how much you want to lose (per week), it'll tell you how many calories you can eat. I got the iPhone app, too, so I can keep track "on the go" (as if I'm ever not near a computer). It has lots of charts. I like charts and find them reinforcing.

Once you become aware of calories, you start to realize how MANY are in everything. When you're only eating 1,660 calories a day (which is my current goal) you look at that Big Mac Value Meal at McDonald's (large fries, large Coke) and its 1350 calories and 54 grams of fat a little differently.

Sure, I could eat that, but then I wouldn't be able to eat anything else all day, except maybe a salad or something. I know I feel a lot better when I spread the calories out over the day (and when I save a couple hundred for a scoop of frozen yogurt after the kids are in bed!), so I don't feel like "spending" my calories on that Big Mac meal makes sense anymore.

Speaking of salad - holy carp the dressing! The spicy ranch I like is 150 calories in 2 tbsp. So I'm using the old "dip the fork" trick, rather than putting the dressing on top of my salads. I can usually use a tablespoon or less of creamy dressing on a side salad sized salad. The croutons and cheese aren't healthy, either, so go easy (really easy) on those. And beware of fast food salads - some of them pack a serious fat and calorie punch. Sometimes you're better off with the Big Mac. Or with the Quarter Pounder - they're easier to eat in the car.

If you have to eat breakfast out (I've found myself in this situation a couple of times since I ran out of bran muffins - I really need to make more!), get an Egg McMuffin (300 calories) and the apple dippers (skip the caramel and they're only 35).

Beverages are another place where I was wasting a lot of calories. I don't drink pop anymore (but I never did, much, so I don't really feel deprived). I just recently read a study that said that more than two diet drinks a day (whether soda, or tea or coffee with artificial sweetener) increases your risk of kidney problems. I have always hated the taste of that diet stuff. I am trying to teach myself to drink coffee black and tea unsweetened, but I'm pretty heavily addicted to Coffee Mate's Fat Free French Vanilla creamer, and I honestly don't see myself giving it up entirely any time soon. I'm just drinking a cup or two a day, instead of four or five. Consuming less caffeine is probably healthier, anyway. Otherwise, drink water. It's free.

Starbucks will kill your waist and your wallet (BJ calls it "Fourbucks"). Just don't go there. If you MUST get yourself a treat, the caramel macchiato (with skim milk, no drizzle, no whip) is your best bet at 100 calories and 1 gram of fat. If you have an iPhone, Starbucks has an app that gives the nutrition info of your highly customized beverage, too. I also like Restaurants. It has a lot of the nutrition info for fast food places.

If you don't have an iPhone, Dottie's Weight Loss Zone is the most comprehensive source I've ever seen for restaurant nutrition info. I don't know Dottie, but I love her for putting all the time and effort into this incredible resource. Most of the items also have the Weight Watchers points already calculated for you, so if you're doing WW, it's all there and already done - no math!

I'm not a fan of diet food, in general. But really, who is? I think diet food (like Lean Cuisine and that stuff) makes you feel deprived and cranky and leads to failure. Believe me, I've gone out and spent hundreds of dollars on special food, only to fall off the wagon by Monday and end up at Olive Garden (having fettuccine alfredo, which is the equivalent of three McDonald's Quarter Pounders with Cheese, by the way, and that doesn't even include the breadsticks or the salad or the dessert or the drinks) for lunch. If you were to come over and look in my fridge right now, you'd find a lot of real food. Not a lot of gimmicky pre-packaged crap. Don't waste your money (or your calories!) on food that tastes like cardboard. It's all full of chemicals anyway, and none of that is good for you.

In fact, last time I made a serious effort at losing weight I ate a lot of Smart Ones frozen meals. Most days I'd have one for lunch, and often I'd have one for dinner, too. Well, my blood pressure got up to 170/100 or so. They hide a ton of sodium in those frozen meals. Avoid!!

Having said that, though, we have found several products that we weren't eating before that are lower in calories than the alternative, taste fairly decent, and are filling. Boca Burgers, for one. I've had these several days for lunch, instead of meat. There's also a vegan cheese (Smart Slices I think) that is not bad. It doesn't taste any worse than Kraft Singles, and it only has 40 calories in a slice (about half of "real" cheese). We're eating Aunt Millie's Light Whole Grain Bread - 35 calories a slice. I had a jones for sausage the other day, and I picked up some Morningstar Farms Maple "Sausage" Patties, but they kind of suck, so don't buy those. Egg Beaters have half the calories of real eggs, somehow, and taste fine - especially in omelets. My grocery store sells pre-cleaned, pre-cut frozen onions and peppers, and if you throw a handful of those in a skillet with some Egg Beaters, you've got yourself a nice, quick, easy breakfast. I have a lot more exploring to do in the "natural foods" section of the grocery store, but that's what we've found so far.

We found a strawberry frozen yogurt at Kroger that's awesome. The chocolate's not bad, it's sort of like a Wendy's Frosty, but the strawberry's better. 1/2 cup is 100 calories. Those 100 calorie packs of cookies and stuff are convenient. I've picked up several, and they're ok if you want a cookie or something, but they're not going to change your life. I wish the 100 calorie trend would extend itself into other aisles besides the cookie and cracker aisle. How about individually packaged 100 calorie crouton packets (I have no idea how to measure two tablespoons of something square)? 100 calorie shredded cheese packets for topping salads and soups? 100 calorie cereal packages? I think we'd all be a lot more aware of what we're eating, frankly, if everything in the grocery store came in 100 calorie sizes. I'm not sure how I'd manage to haul home 100 calorie lettuces, though. They'd probably be the size of Charlie Brown's Great Pumpkin!

Soup is the bomb. There are several Progresso soups that are less than 100 calories per serving (be careful - a can is two servings). I even found a Southwest Veggie soup that's 50 calories a serving. It's filling and hot and tastes good in the winter. I've had soup once a day nearly every day for the last month. It's hard to feel deprived with a grilled cheese sandwich (115 calories if you use the 35 calorie/slice bread, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray, and 40 calorie vegan cheese) and a big hot bowl of soup.

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray, by the way, is free (I think you burn the calories that are in it by spraying it), and tastes pretty decent on popcorn. It's terrific on cooked veggies. I actually prefer it to butter because you get even coverage. It isn't my favorite on baked potatoes, though. I think baked potatoes need more liquid than the spray can provide.

Those mini-rice cakes are good for munching on in the afternoon. Just be sure to count them. A serving is like 7 or 8 pieces - and the little bags that are $1 at Kroger have 6 or 7 servings. But a single serving is only about 60 calories, so they're good. I know they're "diet food," but sometimes you want something crunchy.

California Pizza Kitchen's thin crust frozen pizzas taste really really good, and they all come in at right around 300 calories for 1/3 of the pizza. That and a nice salad, and you've got yourself a pretty decent dinner. I mean, it's not Pizza Hut's Pan Cheese pizza, but one slice of a large cheese pizza has 390 calories. And when have you ever eaten one piece of pizza? Or the Meat Lover's Pan Pizza? One slice of a large has 530 calories and 31 grams of fat!!! If you're craving pizza, the CPK will satisfy, and keep you "on the wagon." Spicy food definitely makes me feel more full than bland food, too, so load it up with the red pepper!

We've been making a lot more chicken, fish, and ground turkey and a lot less red meat. Duh, right? My turkey meatloaf is awesome. Everyone thinks turkey meatloaf is dry, but if you combine the breadcrumbs with the liquid (eggs and milk) and let the breadcrumbs soak up the liquid before you mix it with the meat, I promise you'll have a moist turkey meatloaf.

If you want gravy to go along with your meatloaf and mashed potatoes, you can have it. Get those packets of powder that you mix with water - McCormick makes them, I think. They've got like 15 calories in a serving. I made my mashed potatoes tonight with milk only (instead of milk and butter). I added a little of the I Can't Believe... spray for flavor. They were fine. I mean, boxed mashed potatoes aren't ever great, right? But it's a cold snowy night and I was craving mashed potatoes and gravy, so we had some. We also had chicken, "California" veggies, and salad.

We've been splitting entrees when we eat out. Also, we'll often look at the menu and the nutritional info online before we leave, so we can plan what we're going to eat. It's a lot easier to stick to your plan when you have a plan, you know? And don't be afraid to order like Sally in When Harry Met Sally. If you want your French Onion Soup without the cheese and the bread, then order it that way, because it's a lot harder to resist when it's in front of you smelling soooo good. Order your salads without croutons and cheese. Order a box with your entree so you can immediately put half of it aside so you don't eat the whole thing!! Order a salad or fruit instead of a potato or fries. You're paying for it! Don't be afraid to be a pain in the ass.

So, how do you survive parties? Well, before you leave, you can take a few psyllium husk fiber tablets and drink a big glass of water. It'll fill you up (and fiber is healthy, so it's not like you're taking a "diet pill" - it's FIBER) and you'll be less likely to overeat. Load up on veggies. At least half of your plate should be veggies. No one has ever gotten fat eating carrot sticks and raw broccoli. Limit the dip, though, to a tablespoon or less. Stay away from the cheese and crackers. You've had cheddar cheese before. It hasn't changed. Wouldn't you rather try something interesting with those calories (and that fat!) instead? Go really easy on the meat. Remember that a serving of meat is 4 ounces - about the size of a deck of cards. That's four meatballs. Not 10. Chips can have a ton of calories, too, so stay away from the chips and salsa (you've had chips and salsa before - it is the same as it ever was). Appetizers kill me. They're all so good, but so high in fat. I actually pre-ate before my sister's party last night (I had "dinner" around 4 pm) so that I wouldn't overdo the appetizers that I knew she'd be serving.

Don't forget to count the calories in whatever you're drinking. Remember that rum and diet Coke is only 60 calories (and the diet flavor is covered up by the rum), so if there's an open bar, that's a good choice. Wine is good, too, at about 100 calories a glass, and fairly healthy in moderation. Watch out for my mom's wine glasses - each one holds an entire bottle of wine, and somehow they never get empty no matter how much you drink!

For big sit-down dinners, like Thanksgiving, go heavy on the fruit and veg, and take just a couple bites of all the other stuff. You kind of have to change your thinking a little - but why should stuffing yourself with stuffing be more pleasurable than 3 or 4 bites? It's really not. Slow down. Put your fork down between bites. Talk. Chew slowly. Drink lots of water in between bites.

Watch out for casseroles that look like vegetables but are really fat and calorie bombs. There is nothing healthy about green bean casserole (unless it's made with low-fat cream of mushroom soup, and even then it's only marginally better). Watch out for "salads" that look like fruit but are really desserts. Watch out for desserts in general. Pick a favorite, have a couple bites, and then walk away from it.

I made a virtually fat free cheesecake tonight for our Christmas party with Gramma Susan tomorrow. I used fat free cheese, Egg Beaters, and only a bit of powdered sugar. I made the crust from low fat graham crackers and margarine (no added sugar - why add more sugar to cookies?). We'll see how it tastes. I'll probably run by the store and grab an Eli's, just in case!

So, I think that's the extent of my newly-acquired knowledge of nutrition and dieting. I want to lose another 50 pounds, on top of what I've already lost, so I know there's a long road ahead. Since that's the case - will you leave your best tips in the comments, too?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your tips.

Does your store carry Amy's brand canned soups and frozen dinners? They can be expensive, but they're a lot healthier, and the list of ingredients is very easy to read. I like the mac & cheese made from pasta with rice flour instead of wheat flour; and it tastes like real cheese. There's also a tofu scramble that's good for breakfast, but I don't get it unless it's on sale. Another favorite is the Mexican casserole bowl, which is light in sodium and also gluten free.

Amy's makes a condensed, cream of mushroom soup; I haven't used the Campbell's mushroom soup in decades. And the Amy's mushroom soup helps make the broth more flavorful when you're making your own homemade soups (if you can convince BJ to eat bits of mushroom).

The only yogurt I buy is organic, non-fat, plain in the big tub. Then I mix my own flavors, if desired, for single servings -- like a spoonful of organic jam, or diced banana that I've peeled and frozen for later use. You don't need all of the other junk they put in pre-mixed yogurt containers.

If you must buy chocolate milk or eggnog (and, yes, we sometimes must), cut it with an equal amount of nonfat regular milk. Likewise, don't drink high-sugar fruit juices (especially 100% orange juice, 100% apple juice and the like) straight; cut the juice with an equal amount of water. You don't need the sugar rush from a big glass of 100% fruit juice.

Keep a large water glass on the kitchen counter all the time so you can sip water all day long. You'll drink more water if the glass is large.

Don't shop for food when you're hungry. If you really need to binge on something you shouldn't be eating, then buy only a single meal's supply of your binge food -- not enough to snack on throughout the day for the next 12 hours, and not enough to continue the binge eating the following day, too. You'll satisfy your craving, and then you won't have cupboards full of stuff you shouldn't be eating. But a binge food, but buy only one serving of a single binge food.

Kill any package of Quaker's rice cakes you see. Buy Lundberg brand rice cakes. Rice cakes don't have to taste like cardboard. Really.

Here's hoping for 21# !

Anonymous said...

I've aquired most of your new habits and it's not as hard as anyone thinks... just keeping commited is important. I had a smile at your recommending lots of water before and meal and during... one of my fav comedians... Ron White from the Blue Collar Tour... has a hilarious schtick about that... he was telling him mom he needed to lose weight and she suggested drinking lots of water before meals and he declared "I find drinking water doesn't make me less hungry, just less thirsty!" Guess you had to be there... funny stuff. Anyway, the other thing that has helped Chuck lose 92 lbs so far (he's lost 130lbs twice in his life)... is portion control. This might be why he'll keep it off 'this time'... no going back to 100oz diet pop, candy and whole enitre pizza's meant for a family of four! Best of luck sweetie. Your self esteem will go through the roof with each and every pound and your blood pressure and cholesterol won't need medication to boot!
ly, Connie