Let me just start with saying that weight loss is really stinking hard, especially when you’re over 40 and/or have a stressful life. There are so many variables when it comes to trying to lose weight, which makes everyone’s efforts different. What works for someone in your office may not work for you. Your hormone levels, amount of sleep, and stress might not be the same as your office friend, which may be frustrating if you’re doing a challenge together where she’s losing weight and you’re not. I’ll just give you a few ideas on things that have worked for me and you can try them for yourself and see how you do.
My biggest tip for losing weight is food journaling. This is a slippery topic, because sometimes innocent tracking at the beginning of your weight loss efforts can turn into obsessive tracking, like trying to figure out the calories in that sample you had at Costco–but I think tracking is useful when you start out with your weight loss plan. To me, tracking helps you discover what portion sizes look like, and how fast calories can rack up if you’re mindlessly pouring or eating out of the bag or box. If you’re thinking about setting a weight loss goal and you’re ready to get started, I always advocate starting with a three day food journal, and one that represents a typical three day stretch. So perhaps a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so you can track a couple of week days and then a weekend day.
Let’s take breakfast, for example. When I started tracking, I was surprised to discover just how much creamer I was actually using in my coffee. In my mind, it was about a tablespoon or so, when in fact it was three, and sometimes even four. No big deal if you just have one small cup of coffee, but if you’re a junkie like me and have a giant mug to start your day (and then maybe one post lunch…) those calories can add up. But don’t get me wrong — I will never cut out creamer. You will have to pry my creamer out of my cold, dead hands–I just can’t get on board with drinking black coffee–but I do pay attention to how much I use. It’s the things that you drink or eat every day that are the most important things to be aware of.
Cereal is another big one for breakfast. When I was in high school, I used to eat 2 or 3 bowls of cereal after school every day. I LOVE IT, especially Oatmeal Squares. But do you know how small the actual serving size is? It’s usually pretty skimpy. You might be surprised when you start measuring out your usual ration during your three day tracking.
I always think about how I used to eat bran muffins every day when I was in my 20’s back in NYC. I’d get one with my coffee every day from the guy in the cart across my office. I thought I was being healthy by eating a bran muffin but in truth, they were probably around 400 calories each. Nowadays I’m pretty much all protein and veggies for breakfast. It’s a little weird at first to sit down with a bowl of brocolli and chicken sausage at 8am, but I’ve gotten used to it. Now I really like it because it keeps my energy level really stable through the morning.
Lunch was a big place for me to pay attention to because even though I love giant salads, I love to throw all sorts of fun stuff on top–toasted unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted almond slices, pumpkin seeds, etc–which can tack on a lot of fat and calories if I’m not paying attention to how much I’m using. So instead of eliminating them (that’s a fast road to a major craving for them down the road) I just measure out a portion, and stick to just one of those toppings.
And then there’s the snack hour when the kids get home. My kids love salty snacks like pita chips and Ritz crackers. (What is it about Ritz crackers that makes them so delicious?!) While they’re okay in moderation (as with most things), I tend to be a fly by eater. Every time I’d walk by the table, I’d grab a few crackers. No big deal if I did it once, but when it was three or four times, it added up. So I started making myself a cup of tea when they came home, and then taking it upstairs away from their table.
I also had to be honest with myself about how much I was snacking on almonds and nut butter. Again, these foods are delicious, mostly healthy, and fine in moderation, but they can pack a huge caloric punch. My little habit of a “few teaspoons” from the jar of nut butter each day was probably a lot bigger more than I realized.
Dinner is also where I tend to pick at things. I’ll typically put the food in serving dishes and put it all on the table so everyone can serve themselves. But since my kids are SLOW EATERS–which drives PJ insane–I’m usually done before them and tend to start picking at what’s in front of me while I wait for them to finish. It’s not a big deal if I’m sitting in front of the dish of roasted veggies, but if I’m sitting next to the baked ziti, I love to pick off the toasty parts on the top. My way around this lately is to leave the main dish in the kitchen and serve from there, or place it closer to the kids and away from my picky reach.
My other trick at dinner is to always eat off a salad plate instad of a dinner plate. It’s an old trick but still useful to keep portion sizes in control.
So if you’re frustrated that you can’t seem to lose weight or if you want to start a weight loss plan, do a little research on your eating habits first. Find a few places to make some swaps or changes and start there, especially with the things you eat or drink every day. I definitely do not recommend overhauling your diet. Start small and manageable. For me in my 20’s, the bran muffin was the first thing I changed. When I swapped out a 400 calorie muffin for a 150 calorie oatmeal pack with a banana, it made a big difference.
Or maybe you’re a fly-by snacker like me, and need to find a new trick to keep that picking at bay. Or maybe you’re a late night snacker, which is tacking on an extra 200 calories each day. Maybe instead of reaching for that late night snack, you just brush your teeth?
But friends, please don’t let the data take over your world. Use it as a short term tool and then trust yourself to eyeball portion sizes from there on out. Always think of weight loss as a long game, and aim for about a half a pound or so a week. It can be frustrating to lose it that slow, but in my experience, the slower you lose it, the longer it stays off.
What are your weight loss tricks? I’d love to hear from you!