It's been 3 months since we started "dieting" and I have lost 25 lbs, while Leah has lost about 30 lbs. I put dieting in quotes because, as the old cliche goes, it's really more of a lifestyle change. It's not something we're planning to change once we get to our goal weight. We're trying to eat healthier in general, cut down on refined sugars, eat more whole grains and include lots of fruit and vegetables in our diet. I'm documenting our process because a few people have asked how we are doing it, plus it's nice to see all the things you do right every once in a while.
One of the most important things we did to start was to track our calories every day, for everything we ate and drank. This allowed us to really see how much we were eating and get used to what realistic portions should be. Also, it made it a lot easier to aim for a balance of 50% or less carbs, 20-30% protein and 20-30% fat, and at least 20g fiber. If we were too high or low in a category, we could adjust our later meals to compensate. We used the website Fatsecret.com to track our calories, exercise and weight. They have a great android app that can also scan barcodes to automatically import into your calorie tracker.
We tracked daily for a month, until we felt comfortable on our own. My goal was 1700-1800 calories daily, but after we started tracking, I found it harder to eat even that much! The first week or so we were generally over that amount, but we rapidly got into the habit of eating less once we knew how much food we were eating every day. We also allowed ourselves some cheat days (2 birthdays, Valentine's Day and St Patrick's Day, plus a random Friday or Saturday here and there) where we ate whatever we wanted without worrying about it too much.
Another big change was cutting out soda completely. I have had only 2 sodas in 3 months! We had been gradually reducing the amount of soda we drank the last few months already. We started by not buying any soda at home and I only had 1 per day at work. We usually get unsweetened iced-tea or water when we go out to eat anyways, so replacing soda with other drinks was pretty easy for me. I also made it a habit at work to have a 20 oz water bottle at my desk that I refill at least 2 times per day, which also helps to cut down on the soda. I love carbonation, so we do buy club soda or sparkling water to drink at home and that helps with the cravings too.
Here are some other things we have done to keep on track:
- Eat breakfast every day. It's true what they say, it really does help. I am one of those people who never eats breakfast because it makes me feel sick to eat right after I get up. What I do now is pack something to take to work every day. I get up at 7 and by the time I'm at work at 9:30, I'm hungry. My go-to breakfast is 1/2 cup of Yami lowfat vanilla yogurt (try it if you can find it, it's super thick and creamy and a little tart) with 1/2 cup of Kashi GoLean cereal on top. That adds some texture, some extra protein and a bunch of fiber, which helps to keep you full longer. Occasionally I will have some sliced deli ham, a few thin slices of cheese and a toasted whole wheat english muffin or Wasa Rye Crisps. The yogurt and cereal breakfast is a little carb-heavy, so I try to compensate with my snacks to add some more protein/fat (like having some trail mix with no fruit in it).
- Keep healthy snacks around. I keep a bag of trail mix and a box of Nature Valley nut bars at work, so when I forget to pack something, I have some good choices. At home, we got rid of all of our "bad" snacks like chips, pretzels and candy. We try to keep fresh fruit (apples, oranges and grapes, mostly) for snacking and dessert, and cut up veggies like celery, carrots and jicama. One of my favorite snacks is jicama (with lime) dipped in homemade hummus. Half an apple, sliced and dipped in some peanut butter, feels decadent, and celery sticks with peanut butter feels downright healthy. Both can satisfy a sweet tooth and the munchies!
- Use a kitchen scale. If you can weigh your food, it helps a LOT to know how much 1 oz of cheese is (it's more than you think when grated, and less when slicing), or how much that 2 oz serving of whole wheat pasta should be. We all tend to underestimate actual serving sizes (and sometimes the manufacturers make them misleadingly small). A 4 oz serving of chicken breast is only 1/2 of one of the breasts that comes in a package, so you really need to be able to know the real amounts of your food intake before you can track them.
- Eat lots of lean protein. In our cooking, we mostly use chicken breast, extra lean ground turkey, chicken sausages, pork loin chops, shrimp and tofu, with an occasional steak thrown in. We eat egg whites in various forms (hard boiled eggs with hummus instead of yolks = yum!), add garbanzo and kidney beans to salads and replace pasta, rice, or potato sides with beans or quinoa. Lowfat or nonfat plain yogurt can replace sour cream in recipes and makes great dips and sauces. Tuna is also a really great low-calorie source of protein.
- Bulk up on vegetables. You don't have to eat a big salad for every meal. But you can eat a large salad with lots of veggies and some beans as a side to a main entree, or as a decent lunch with some spicy tofu, chicken breast or shrimp added in. You can have 2-3 cups of roasted broccoli with lemon and garlic as a side to that 6 oz steak you splurged for. A good way to think about vegetable sides is 50% of your plate covered with vegetables, 25% with protein and 25% with starch (if you feel the need to include them).
- Eat whole grains when possible. We choose brown rice instead of white, whole wheat instead of regular pasta, and whole wheat breads with extra fiber. I find that whole wheat tortillas generally all have a similar taste and texture that I hate, but found ways to doctor them up a bit that make them palatable. A squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt, along with baking or pan frying in a non-stick skillet, can go a long way to enhance a tortilla!
- Pack a lunch. Going out to eat is the bane of any diet, so I try to bring lunch with me to work (and I do about 4 days a week on average) and cook most of our meals at home. This allows you the most freedom and flexibility, and is also way cheaper. You know exactly how much of each ingredient is in your meal and portion control is much easier. There's less temptation to order the less healthy options, like burgers or fried food or dessert. If I have to buy lunch at work, I try to go to the salad bar or choose healthier asian food. Eating at restaurants is always a crap shoot when it comes to calories and fat. Few provide easy ways to access the nutritional information. As an example: we decided to go to Outback Steakhouse one evening, but were determined to eat the lower calorie, healthier options. We asked the server what the "Light-style" option meant for steaks (assuming that most of the calories in steak come from the steak itself) and were shocked when she said it means they don't dip the steak into butter before they cook it! So, you never really know what kinds of hidden fat and calories are going into your food when you order from a restuarant.
Lunch from the salad bar. Salad is romaine lettuce and spinach, shredded red cabbage, yellow peppers, mushrooms, pickled beets, 1/2 an egg, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sides include barley salad with tomatoes and zucchini, chicken breast, grapes, pineapple and papaya.