I love Brussels sprouts. As a kid, I loved Brussels sprouts, even though they were the frozen variety drenched in a butter sauce. This past fall, I cooked and tasted fresh Brussels sprouts for the first time and now understand their true brilliance as a culinary delight. The frozen ones of my childhood taste like cardboard cabbages by comparison.
After all these years, why did I decide to buy fresh from the produce aisle? Because I was tired of feeling terrible all the time. In this my 41st year, I’d hit the dreaded wall. I could no longer put whatever I wanted into my body and get away with it.
A few days before Thanksgiving, our bathroom scale read 193 pounds…while I was standing on it. I was a full 60 pounds heavier than the day I graduated high school and 30 pounds above my college graduation weight.
Something about those three numbers staring back at me from the edge of my toes woke me up. That extra weight I felt around my waist while seated became real. The belly bulge that kept appearing in photos became undeniable. My brain suddenly put two and two together. The extra weight was the outward symptom of what my insides had been telling me for much longer. Years of eating whatever and whenever I wanted had been declared the winner. I was overweight, and I felt terrible as a result.
Over the past decade, I’ve fluctuated somewhere in the 175-185 pound range. During the summer, I’d lose weight by gardening, playing softball and hiking. During the holidays and the following winter, I’d gain some extra padding. Last year, the cycle stopped. I wasn’t that much less active last summer, but the pounds didn’t shed.
I’ve never been one for will power when it comes to denying myself what I want. A bag of cookies sitting next to me? Gone before the crumbs had a chance to land on my lap. Ice cream, burgers, candy…..name an unhealthy food, and I was brainlessly eating it because something inside told me I wanted it.
The challenge for me was to reprogram my brain to want healthy food instead. I knew that if I entered the holiday season with the same gustatory vigor as past years, I’d be miserable by New Year’s Day. I write this the day after New Year’s at 183 pounds, ten pounds down from my pre-Thanksgiving weight. I’m still at the upper end of the healthy range for my six foot frame, but I feel better physically and mentally. And, you know what? When I crave food, it’s more often than not the healthy stuff.
How did I do it? In short, I got smart, ate well, and felt better in the process. The long version is this:
- I knew what I was eating. For the last six weeks, there have been only two days (Christmas and New Year’s Day) where I didn’t record every last ounce of food I ate. That sounds like an onerous process, I know. But it’s not. At the suggestion of a friend who had lost more than 50 postpartum pounds, I started using a website/smartphone app called MyFitnessPal, which makes it easy to keep track of what you’re eating. I was conscious of the nutritional value of everything I ate, which helped me pass over those things that are high in calories and low in nutritional density. The winners? Lean meat, fruits and vegetables. The losers? Salad dressing and coffeehouse scones.
- I learned about serving sizes. The box of fettuccine says it’s only 200 calorie per two-ounce serving, right? That’s only about 18 strands of pasta. In the past, I’d have a dinner plate that included 600-800 calories of pasta even before a sauce touched it. That’s a calorie bomb that will tear a hole in a 2,000 calorie per day allotment. I didn’t eliminate pasta from my diet. I just ate less of it, and often substituted a low-calorie vegetable instead.
- I didn’t completely deny myself. I chose to start losing weight during the holiday season. It’s hard not to trip over the cake and cookies that time of year. If I had said “no” to all of these things, I would have continually thought of them and felt deprived. So in the weeks heading up to Christmas, I told myself I could have one treat each day at work. Over the holiday itself, I’d have dessert at one meal and pass the next. I didn’t feel deprived, and actually enjoyed the treats more.
- Most of my food had a short shelf-life. I ate fresh, unprocessed foods. I could have read health studies until I was blue in the face, but I’d still come back to the same conclusion that my body is telling me now. Fresh, raw foods are the most nutritious and delicious on earth. My palette has changed drastically in a short time, to the point where processed food tastes unsatisfying. It tastes wrong.
- I had supportive and competitive people encouraging me. I’m a competitive person. I’m also a tad bit vain on most days, and respond quickly to positive reinforcement. The social, open aspect of things like MyFitnessPal as well as the daily encouragement by my family and friends inspired me to start and continue this new way of eating. It’s easier to stick to the plan when you know others will recognize and support you. Food is one of the most social things we do as humans; why shouldn’t eating well and getting healthy be just as communal?