Weight Loss Strategies & Thoughts

sparkling water bottle for weight loss success stories blog post lemonI have been on a bit of a weight loss journey for the last few months and I finally have had enough success to blog about it.

After I tried a round of IVF in February (it failed) I found that I had gained another 5 lbs on top of the 20 or so pounds I had gained from the time I got married in July 2009.

The IVF hormones and drugs seemed to make me puff up around the middle and I am sure that there was some stress eating along the way also.

I had been battling my lifestyle, stress and eating behavior for years thinking that just changing one thing, or giving up one key item would be the turning point to weight loss success. Boy was I wrong. People who say that are lying.

I had been pretty successful at losing weight when I needed to earlier in life. Once in high school (90’s) while very active in sports and discovering lean cuisine and diet coke and another time in my 20s while dancing up to 7 days a week (2000’s).

Now in 2012 with a sedentary desk job that demanded hours of excel analysis and implementation and a husband/home/cats/yard to take care of I had given up all of my personal interests and hobbies. Yep, every single one of them. I had no way to exercise and no time.

I finally have had some weight loss success because of several factors coming together to change a lot of things in my life. Like hundreds of things. Lifestyle change isn’t really the right word for it, it is more like millions of really small decisions adding up every day. I don’t actually feel like my lifestyle is any different. I am not sure how much of your lifestyle is really about food anyway.

Some of these changes were:

1. I was diagnosed with ADHD, documented by years of childhood report cards with attention issues. Medication helps me concentrate and stick to things until I get them finished, and keeping the long term goal in mind has always been a problem for me with weight loss. Some people may cry foul because many ADHD meds do lessen appetite, but I counter that with the fact that my stomach still growls if I am hungry while taking it. I just eat a more normal amount and I don’t use food as a stress reliever as much since I’m less frazzled in the first place.

2. I mostly gave up cooking, and certainly the idea that I had to provide my husband with a fancy full course dinner several times a week. (I never cooked before we were married) This led to less groceries being bought, less exotic ingredients in the house, less opportunity to snack. Less choice in the matter of snacking. And fewer trips to the store, which are tempting within themselves. I also canceled all those email recipe newsletters, unsubscribed to the food blogs and droped the idea that desert was needed at all. It actually gives me more time to do other things if I don’t have to always be meal planning, cooking, cleaning and prepping. I have a few staple things I still make, (roast chicken, onion/green pepper/mushroom omelette with egg beaters, quinoa veg salad, organic cornbread) but overall the cooking is much less frequent.

3. I reduced portion size by half. It is important and needed its own mention separate from the previous item on the list. Small plates help but someone isn’t going to lose weight on that method alone as certain statistical studies and books suggest. Basically I have the slowest metabolism in the world so my body can make a tiny bit of food last forever. It may have been an evolutionary bonus but now its a huge negative. I probably live on 1000 calories a day because I don’t exercise. There has also been research lately that states that people who have been overweight have cells that have a history of expecting overeating and slow processing. My take on that is I will always have to eat less than my contemporaries because of my history and extra slow metabolism.

4. I don’t eat breakfast. All you breakfast eaters that hate my method can shove it. I know that my eating snowballs during the day. I start out with lots of motivation/focus and as I get more tired/frustrated/stressed I eat more. My resolve weakens. I also have a kind of weird rebound effect to eating where I get hungry again within 2 hours especially if it is sweet stuff. So why sabotage myself by eating first thing in the morning if I’m not hungry? My metabolism isn’t going to get jump started by eating but my stomach cravings will. Sometimes I wonder if this suggestion is deliberate sabotage by the skinny people of the world that seem to talk about food constantly and eat nothing. Here is an article stating that you never start burning fat reserves unless you fast for 12 hours.  

5. I don’t drink soda – I drink organic coffee with organic creamer in the morning (I guess instead of breakfast) and sparkling water the rest of the day. I’m not a big alcohol drinker so cutting that out is pretty much status quo for me. ( a 1/2 beer is enough to make me sleepy) I don’t think soda is inherently evil but I do think I can’t afford its calories and my teeth don’t need the sugar/nutrasweet. (just like most parents thought back in the 70’s when I was a kid). I don’t drink diet soda because my body was past the point of being tricked by sweet tasting stuff that has no actual nutritional value in it and my body was pissed. About an hour after drinking diet soda I get incredibly hungry and inhale just about any food around me because my stomach hurts so much. Sparkling water seems soda-ish enough with the carbonation, but not sweet or with any calories. (avoid the flavored waters with nutrasweet or splenda) Other people make their own infused waters with cucumber, mint or orange/lemon/lime. That is cool too but I’m not going to cut up produce and do dishes at work, so my sparkling mountain bottle just sits on my desk.

6. The only exercise I do occasionally get is yard work and walking. At first I had no stamina to do basic things like mow the lawn (it’s not self-propelled but still it isn’t like we live on a hill either). I did force myself to get through yard tasks whether I liked it or not because I am incredibly embarrassed if the yard looks bad. This is only really something I have time for on weekends so if I have a bonus of some time during the week I do walk around the subdivision. There is a 1 mile loop around it that takes about 45 minutes. I even go out after dark. No excuses. The dog walkers are still out there and the weather is nice in the evenings now that it is summer.

7. I don’t obsess over lunch. If I bring lunch it is a Tupperware of fruit (pineapple, grapes, oranges & apples) or something like broccoli salad. I have also learned that the potbelly chickpea salad is the healthiest thing within walking distance of the office. I also get chipotle burrito bowls from time to time but only eat half. And the rest is for dinner. I told you I could make a few calories go a long way.

8. I like organic products but I am wary of some since they seem to have more fat, sugar and calories than their non-organic counterparts. I think the organic decision is more about long term health and less processed food, fewer chemicals, fewer hormones and pesticides that you ingest to hopefully avoid cancer. This may be more meaningful for some than others depending on your genetics and other factors, but I just think its safer to minimize the risks a bit. Its impossible to go totally organic so I don’t try but when I find a good organic alternative I usually stick to it even if it is a bit more expensive. Just avoid the organic granola/energy bars. Some have as much fat as a big mac.

In summary it took a lot of changes and a lot of time but after 4 months I have lost 15 lbs (to fit into things I wore in 2009). My hope is to lose another 5 and I hope this blog post doesn’t jinx it!

How do you lower your cholesterol? With what foods?

I heard from my doctor on Monday that I have high cholesterol, it is 243 at the moment. The good cholesterol is at 71 and the bad is 146. Yikes! I am only 33 so this is a bit surprising. We really took the test on a whim, not expecting it to be that bad yet. Yes I have a family history of heart problems (my maternal grandmother died at 50 with a heart attack and my paternal grandmother died at 55 from a stroke) but I never knew it started this early.

I do feel like I have time to work on this, at my current age I can make changes now and hopefully reverse some of the issues. There are some suprises though that lead me to believe my genetics aren’t that great. Not only am I a lot younger than most people with this cholesterol score, I also don’t eat the things they say are causing it. I am not someone who eats red meat every night, cheese, whole milk, butter or eggs. I think there are some sneaky causes to high cholesterol though that may not be as straightforward as the advice they have given me.

The causes I think are:

1. I am completely sedentary. I get less than 1K steps a day because of my job and where I live. This isn’t really changeable which sucks.

2. I eat out a lot, because we work a lot and I am a pretty bad cook. I really don’t know how to make anything besides grilling it, boiling it or the nuke it in the microwave method. I also grossed myself out on healthy choice and lean cuisine frozen meals in the 1990s so I can’t really eat them anymore. So I need another option besides skim milk and fat free cereal for dinner.

3. Healthy food is expensive! And Complicated! Yuck, or it’s raw which isn’t that great. I really can’t afford salmon or a fancy salad every night. I have to look into some low fat/cholesterol options.

4. Carbs may play a role in this. Both because many carb-licious items have butter/iol/fat in them and because carbs get eventually turned into and stored as fat. I am a carb addict. I would much rather come home and eat a pile of pancakes or muffins than meat any day. But then again I’m polish and we do carbs like nobody else. (and I like the serotonin from them too)

5. I have to get reading labels again. Both with packaged groceries and in restaurants. Hmmm an iPhone would help with looking up nutritionals at restaurants. I really have been lax in looking into that and keeping track of what the heck I put in my mouth.

6. I am consistently surprised that I gain so much weight from just a few calories extra and how little I work off. I think part of the equation is also loosing weight, but I’m not morbidly obese either. I am bout 20 lbs heavier than I should be, which definitely needs to go since its a cholesterol making machine, but it’s not like I have done anything drastically bad yet and I’m already in trouble.

The man-foods we usually have at home that I am no longer allowed are:

1. Brats (duh, we’re mid-westerners and they are really cheap)

2. Pizza (again a cheap fast food with a huge amount of cheese and most of the time Steve also likes meat)

3. Bakery (sob!) I love any kind of baked goods and I just got a kitchen aid mix master for a wedding gift. Sigh… I have to do things like angel food cake (egg whites, no fat) and light bread and limit carbs generally.

4. Hamburgers (again cheap food that is freezer friendly and fast to make)

5. Ice Cream – I usually eat light ice cream and not all the time, but this is probably best left off limits.

6. Snacks – Granola bars are really formulated to taste like cookies and bakery these days, and they have the bad stuff to match. Candy of all kinds can’t be good either.

What we eat and How we eat

I have been thinking more and more about what I eat and how I eat latley because my health hasn’t been great in the past year and I wonder how much my diet contributes to that. I also realized not being able to cook really puts me in an awkward place only eating pre made or pre packaged foods. And that could be a problem. My body then has to process out all the chemicals and preservaitives used to keep the food from spoiling, give it betetr flavor and color as well as add texture and smell. All those things that make their product yummy may not be good for our health and our bodies have to work harder at removing all of it before it gets to be a problem.

The things I live on are lean cuisine microwave meals, canned soups, dried fruit, fresh fruit when I can get it, sandwiches, eggs, english muffins, nuts, yogurt, granola bars, cereal, diet soda, cranberry juice, diet ice tea and whatever takeout is local. At work it could be chinese, potbelly sandwiches or a hot dog and fries. At home it could be pizza or a salad. But overall I am sure the makeup of those foods is not what I should be eating nor does it have the full balance of nutrients I need.

I have never learned to cook because I never have time. I am always running around busy and working 8-10 hour days. I am lucky on weekends if I can vacuume the appartment, go to the grocery store, take out the trash and do the laundry and dishes. And that is only because I don’t have to work or be anywhere else. If I do have to work on the weekend and there is a family thing like there was last weekend and I don’t have a free day, everything sits 2 weeks.

So how do we busy urban people get better food that is better for us? I am not sure yet but as I find out I will post more.

Food Catering for the Holiday Parties

I was at a dinner the other night and was surprised that the people attending were oblivious to the cook’s time and work put in to the dinner and were generally acting very un-enthusiastic about it. And yes, it wasn’t fancy or anything but still, where are their manners? What do they expect? I have no idea but it made me think of what I would do if I ever was in the position to host something and I had to involve food in the event. Two past companies for catering came to mind. I am no cook, not even when my life depends on it, so catering is the most responsible thing to do when food and guests are coming over. One great caterer is LaBelle Catering in LaGrange, IL and another that is good, but not quite as good as LaBelle, is The Perfect Dinner in Oak Park. They both specialize in pre-cooked meals either for a family or catering an event. Labelle has more options, better packaging to retain freshness, better taste with more seasoning and higher prices. The Perfect Dinner has good food, but avoid the chicken and twice baked potatoes because both become really dry when refrigerated there at their store all day. (they cook in the mornings) I have had 3 dinners from there and the salmon and rice was great, the house salad was to die for, and the steak was luscious. It’s just the potatoes and chicken that they don’t season enough or keep any moisture in or liquid. Both places deliver anywhere in the Chicagoland area and with advance notice are great for catering holiday Christmas parties and work related corporate events. The broccoli salad at La Belle with peanuts and rasins is the best salad ever. You have to try that if you call them. Check out both these great food catering businesses this holiday season if you need a caterer.

What groceries people buy…

Last weekend I was at the Jewel food store and I was waiting in a long line with all the other working people who had the 2 day weekend to get all their shopping and household chores finished and I couldn’t help but notice what other people were buying. I get picked on a fair amount among friends and relatives for not knowing how to cook. I can boil and egg, make fried eggs, scrambled eggs, an omlette, pancakes, french toast and bake cookies but that’s about it. If it’s not for breakfast or with an egg I probably can’t cook it. Especially if it involves meat and no grill. I am the kind of person who thinks that putting a frozen lasagna in the oven for a hour is both cooking and stressful because I am not really sure how to operate my oven. (although I bought this place 6 years ago)

What I was suprised to find was that it looks like I am not the only one who occupies this category of shopper. And I wonder if I am this way because I want to be, and I find things that are no-cook to support my needs? Or if I was driven this direction by the prepared foods movement that all the food manufacturing companies have invented and deposited in my grocery store? The age old chicken or egg question?

As I looked around at the people’s carts in line around me I saw a lot of similar things to what I had in my cart. Bread and sandwich makings, salad vegetables, frozen vegetables, frozen lean cuisine, yogurt, fruit like apples, grapes and peaches. Sports drinks, mostly by people who look like they haven’t played a sport in at least 10 years, packaged snacks, granola bars, chips, dips, soda, milk and cereal. None of which require any cooking at all.

Where was the Martha Stewart clone with the flour, eggs, paprika, spices, sugar, rare vegetables, fresh meat and freshly grown herbs? Isn’t that what they put in the grocery store commericals and print ads??

So, we still have that image of a grocery store as a place to buy raw ingredients but we don’t actually buy them. Why don’t they advertise grocery stores as no-cook grocery stores? That would be a niche for people like me. Nothing for me that isn’t coming out of a cardboard box please. Oh right, those stores are called convienient stores.

I wonder if it is our societal laziness and procrastination that leads us to this place where we consume foods manufactured with ingredients from China (which has no FDA regulations) and consume additives that we can’t pronounce while trusting the agribusiness and food manufacturing companies the whole time. We really have no idea what the effect will be on the lifespan of our generation who was raised on Chef Boyardee rather than Chef Mom the cook. Will average expected lifespans shorten? Will we all shrivel into a lump of red number 5?

I am not sure, but if I can be a Martha Stewart fan and not know how to cook a chicken to save my life it is possible that at some point the grocery stores won’t carry the ingredients anymore and only pre-prepared foods. I think sometimes that living more organic and less processed would be good for me and for our country as a whole, but alas, I have no idea how to do that and working 50 hrs a week doesn’t really allow for a cooking class. So I guess I am not going to find out…