About 3 years ago, my husband and I underwent a lifestyle makeover in order to get healthier. The goal was health, not weight loss, and at the time I figured I had about 5 extra pounds to get rid of, nothing major. Four months later, when I was shedding weight faster than I could eat, I had lost about 17 lbs and went to the doctors to make sure nothing was wrong. It turned out I was in insanely good health, I was just doing it right. Because of that little era, a lot of friends kept asking me the secret, and after responding many times over email, I figure I should put this on the blog (3 years later!). Now, given I’m about 8 months pregnant, this might be a funny time to write a blog post on my weight loss secrets. But it’s relevant because while I’m not trying to lose weight right now, I want to remind myself of what we did back then to get in such good health.
I don’t believe in quick fixes. I don’t think there’s such thing. A pill isn’t going to help you. Neither is an all grapefruit diet. You need to learn to eat how your body was designed to eat – we have tens of thousands of years of evolutionary design behind our digestive and metabolic systems that fit with our environment, and only about 100 years of the current quick-fix, salt-and-sugar-laden, preservative ridden, pesticide-infested nastiness that companies try to pass off as food. They inject growth hormones into that cow, and then you eat it – shocking it should make you gain weight too.
This is a commitment. It’s really hard to do. Its not a diet. Its a complete lifestyle change. Your friends will hate you for looking good and hate you even more when you go to that restaurant and can’t eat anything on the menu, so you order a piece of fish, baked, with nothing but lemon and a side salad with oil and vinegar dressing. But you’ll look and feel fantastic. You’ll be the healthiest and leanest you’ve ever been in your whole life. You’ll glow. You’ll sleep better at night, your hair and skin will be fantastic. You’ll have more energy than you’ve ever had. And if you are like us, my husband and I cooked together. It became our nightly ritual – the thing we did to spend time together. We caught up, we talked, we shared. It was the best bonding of the day. We did this about 3 days a week, and made sure to make enough for leftovers the rest of the time. Cooking becomes infinitely easier, more fun, and less time consuming when there are 2 of you doing it together.
So here goes:
The food we were eating basically followed a caveman’s diet, or what a nomadic native American might eat, but anything you had to cultivate, we didn’t eat. So meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, potatoes, stuff like that, all good. Bread, not good. Rice, not good. We weren’t avoiding carbs, we were just avoiding processing and artificially occurring sugars. A conscious decision was made every single time something went into my mouth. After a while, it became second nature, but at first, I was constantly deciding if what I was eating was okay. If it wasn’t, I found a substitute.
- Eat nothing processed: Absolutely nothing out of jars, cans, boxes, or bags. In America, this is really hard to do. No cereals, no breads, no crackers, no cookies, no chips, no pizza, no pastas, no sauces (unless you’ve made it yourself). This will cut out about 99.9% of the sugar you eat on a daily basis. It will also keep you from eating in restaurants. You’ll be cooking like mad. Yummy dinners would be fish and broccoli, or steak and potato. I highly recommend The Whole Foods Cookbook – we made about 90% of our meals from that thing, and they are yummy. Time intensive, but yummy. This will be one of the hardest things you’ll have to do.
- Eat organic: I didn’t lose any weight the first 3 months of our change, but the end of month 3 and beginning of 4, I lost 17 lbs all at once. The doctors told me this was because of organic eating. I haven’t done any research to backup the docs claims, but it sounded sane to me, and if nothing else, environmentally responsible. Anyway, the pesticides, preservatives, and growth hormones they spray/inject into your food gets into your system, and basically clogs your cells, radically reducing the efficiency of your body’s ability to metabolize the nutrients in food. It takes a while for that crap to get out of your system, and once it does, your body metabolizes food more efficiently and effectively. This isn’t hard, just expensive! But I’d rather be healthy and lookin’ good than watching cable TV, so get rid of you cable subscription and add that back into your grocery bill.
- Eat as much as you want, over time: I always made myself a super small meal, but promised that I could go back for seconds and thirds after waiting a full 15 minutes before the next helping. I was always ravenous after finishing my first helping, I didn’t feel satisfied at all. But after 15 minutes, I really wasn’t hungry anymore. It just takes a while for your head to understand your belly is full. This will account for a radical reduction in the number of calories you consume in a day.
- Eat lots of small meals. Of course, when I ate a super small meal (I used one of those salad plates to judge), I was hungry again in about 2 hours. Fine! Eat again! I would eat breakfast around 7am, then have a piece of fruit around 9am, then around 11 would eat a handful of nuts or something, then I’d go to the gym. Around 1 I’d eat half my lunch, around 3 I’d eat the other half, around 5 I’d snack on carrots or broccoli or another piece of fruit. Dinner was at 7, then if I was hungry before I went to bed, I’d drink a glass of juice or milk.
- Drink tons of water. I stopped drinking teas, coffee, all soda. Only juice (100% fruit juice), milk, and water. I started getting creative with my water though, putting lemon in it, or other fun stuff. A friend just told me about putting ginger and lime and honey in water. Sounds strangely good.
- No added sugar or artificial sweeteners of any kind. None. Honey is okay. This goes back to point #1. Sugar is in EVERYTHING processed. Ketchup, salad dressings, salsas, breads, pastas, cereals, canned soups, canned vegetables, EVERYTHING. If you start making your own sauces, you can leave the sugar out. When I had a sweet tooth, I just drank some juice or ate a piece of fruit. It isn’t nearly as satisfying as a cookie, but after a while I stopped craving cookies and starting craving mango orange juice. Yum.
- Exercise: The funny thing about exercise is that I was ALREADY exercising about 4-5 days a week. I bumped it up to about 5-6 days a week. So I can’t say that 1 day a week extra helped me lose weight. In fact I just read an interesting TIME article today that exercise isn’t really directly linked to weight loss, primarily because you come back hungry and offset your caloric burns with eating more. But exercise does get me in overall better shape, keeps my mind sharp, keeps my curves in the right places, and keeps my husband on his toes since he has to really try to beat me. Heheee, that alone is worth it. But I was doing at least 1 day a week of weight training, after all, muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does. If you’re curious, just ask and I’ll share my workout regimen too.
As an aside, people keep asking me if I’ve been able to keep it up. During really busy times in my life, no. But most of the habits have stuck. I still workout. We still make our own sauces, keep the sugar consumption to a bare minimum, cook 3 times a week, and eat mostly organic. Where I fall down is when I’m busy, I’ll eat out, and I’ll eat everything on my plate instead of rationing it and waiting 15 minutes. I always pay the price too, I feel sick about 30 minutes afterward because I’ve eaten too much, and an hour later I still feel sick because my intestines can’t handle the processed crap in them. Before I got pregnant, I had about 5 extra pounds on me (but down 12 from when I started the whole thing).
Good luck, and make that New Years resolution to get healthier stick!