I know a lot of folks…

I know a lot of folks have been making weight-loss resolutions in the last few days, so I just wanted to put this out there -- I really don't think it's as simple as cutting calories. I've tracked my own a fair bit over the past few years, and one thing that's become clear is that while cutting calories will, to some extent, work, it doesn't work nearly as well as you'd expect it to. (Also, it makes me hungry and headache-y and cranky and obsessed with food, but that may be just me.)

Part of the reason calorie restriction doesn't work that well has to do with metabolism, I gather -- something about your metabolism slowing down when you cut food intake. I'm guessing there are also much more complex body-regulatory mechanisms at work. I haven't really researched the science, but I've definitely tracked a slowdown in weight loss even when I was rigorously cutting calories (and maintaining the same exercise levels). And the gestational diabetes carb-restricted diet was much more effective at weight loss than calorie restriction ever was for me. It was useful counting calories once, just to get a better sense of how many calories are really in an egg (80), or a banana (100), or a fruity mixed drink (300 - 600). Ditto for counting carbs. But counting all the time made me crazy.

So for what it's worth, this is what I hope to do for my body in 2010 (along with the breastfeeding, which I know most of you can't do right now).

  • eat when I'm hungry
  • drink water when I'm thirsty (I often forget this one)
  • sleep eight hours a night whenever possible
  • cook a lot of yummy food
  • eat small meals frequently (aim for about six a day)
  • eat more high-fiber foods; whole grain pasta if I can find a brand I like (I hear Barilla is good), whole grain bread and cereal, vegetables, fruit
  • go to the farmer's market regularly once it opens
  • consider getting a farm share again
  • go a little lighter on the carbs I love -- more protein, etc. (including fat)
  • just not buy the foods I tend to gorge on (Pringles, for example -- I swear, they put something addictive in that sour cream and onion powder)
  • drink whole milk instead of skim -- fewer carbs, surprisingly
  • exercise 20 minutes daily; more is okay if I feel like it
  • keep small treats around, so if I want something sweet, I can easily eat a small version of it; a spoon or two of (full-fat) ice cream, a few Hershey kisses
  • make plans for our urban garden -- tomatoes, herbs, and who knows what else. chickens?
  • aim for a healthy, high-energy body, not just weight loss
  • don't stress about it
Hope this helps.

10 thoughts on “I know a lot of folks…”

  1. Someone told me once that the way to eat less meat was to eat more vegetables, and I bet something like that is true for eating fewer calories: Eat better first. I also found that exercise makes me much more attuned to what fuel my body actually wants. (I’ve never restricted calories; I get sugar crashes easily and when I need to eat, I eat. But *what* I eat makes such a huge difference.)

  2. Barilla’s whole grain line (Barilla Plus) is great. I tried a couple of other whole grain pastas and thought the texture seemed off, kind of gritty/grainy. But the Barilla Plus pastas taste just like regular pasta to me, while delivering twice the fiber. The only drawback is that they make a limited number of pasta varieties. When I want my mezze rigatoni, I have to buy the regular stuff. 🙂

  3. Catherine Shaffer

    I’ve been trying to figure this one out for a long time. I agree you can’t just cut calories back to X and expect to succeed. 90% of people who lose weight on diets fail. This is why. Self denial is unsustainable. Have you thought about going back on your low carb diabetes diet? I am not diabetic, nor even pre-diabetic, but I am finding a low carb diet is working really well for me. I use a plan called Sugar Busters, that is not as restrictive as Atkins. You can still eat modest amounts of whole grain breads, but absolutely no simple starches like white bread, white pasta, anything with corn, and you also don’t eat high glycemic fruits and vegetables like carrots, bananas, beets, etc. It’s really simple to do, and what I found is all of a sudden I *can’t* eat more than 1200-1300 calories per day. The only way I can do that is if I go off the plan and start eating sugar for a couple of days. Then I find my appetite creeps up.

    Also, I think you’d be interested in a book called The End of Overeating by David Kessler. It explains why those potato chips are so addictive. Like you, I used to indulge in small treats regularly. Since reading the book, I’ve decided that’s a bad plan that keeps me hungry for more constantly, and it’s really better to indulge in treats once or twice a month, so I am not keeping my body constantly primed for high fat, high sugar foods.

    Since I’m not eating sugar all the time anymore, my palate has adjusted and I am tasting much more sweetness in less sweet foods. I’ve also developed quite a fondness for the 70% cocoa dark chocolate that is “legal” on the Sugar Busters plan. OMG so good.

    I wish I could say losing all of this I dropped 30 pounds in a month, but it’s going slowly. I do feel I can stick with it and succeed, though. *crossing fingers*

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Catherine, I should maybe have noted that my goal isn’t weight loss at this point. I’m a size 14, and while I’d be happy to be an 8 for aesthetic reasons, I’m perfectly fine with my weight for health reasons. My doctor is too.

    At almost 40 and post-two pregnancies, having a cushioned mama-shape is mostly okay with me. (And when it’s bothering me, I try to remind myself of how obsessive our culture is with youth and the bodies of teenage girls.)

    I don’t generally overeat, I think — if I were gaining five pounds a year, I’d be worried, but my weight has held basically stable for a decade or so, aside from the pregnancies. And I think a bit of chocolate after a meal is actually a good thing and makes me happy — I don’t tend to want more than a single small bite. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I’m pretty happy with my plan for me.

    AJ, yes, that’s what I’d heard about the Barilla Plus — looking forward to trying it! Regular whole-wheat pasta tastes icky to me.

  5. Funny, until reading Catherine’s comment I’d forgotten that I’ve nearly cut out white flour and white pasta, just because they make my blood sugar all wonky.

  6. The latest issue of Cooks Illustrated rated Bionature Organic 100% Whole Wheat Spaghetti highest among the whole wheat pastas that they tested. Heartland Perfect Balance Spaghetti came in second. Barilla Plus Multigrain came in third.

  7. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Thanks, Cappy! I really do need to re-subscribe to Cook’s — clearly, picking up random issues at the grocery store is not sufficient.

  8. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Hmm…I don’t think of it as tricking the metabolism — it just feels better to me. I eat the same amount of food, I think, but I feel comfortably full for longer, and I don’t get uncomfortably stuffed from eating too much at one go.

  9. A friend of mine has a great blog in which she has tracked her progress developing a healthier lifestyle. It has some great recipes, tricks for healthy eating without denying yourself the pleasures of the table and inspiration/philosophy. She is very firmly in the no-diet, only whole life changes school of thought. I’ve found it helpful as I try to become healthier in my habits.


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