Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The non-miracle not-diet

Diets are bad, right? They mess with your metabolism, screw up your thinking and are generally A Bad Thing. We all know this from the proliferation of blogs, websites, magazine articles and books galore that tell you to give up dieting and just follow your instincts to find the path to true happiness.

So what are you supposed to do when you need/want to lose weight? What’s the opposite of dieting? Eat whatever you want, in any quantities you want, whenever you want? Obviously, that isn’t going to work - simple maths tells us otherwise (or is it physics?) Whatever: energy in vs energy out and all that.

I regularly go on about not being on a diet. But you might be wondering: what does she mean by that? If she’s not on a diet, how is it possible to lose weight? Here’s my take on it….

A diet prescribes certain (unpleasant) rules, such as not being able to eat particular foods at all. Or eating certain foods only at certain times. Or combining (or not combining) certain foods. There are some foods you must eat, even if you hate them, because they are Diet Foods and are Good For You. You must not eat a mouthful more than you’re allowed to. Ever. Nope, not even if you’re starvin’, Marvin. And the diet usually has an end date – that glorious, much-anticipated day when you will reach your goal weight or dress size and be happy.

None of that sounds appealing, does it? Except for the happy ending, which will usually last for only a short time, once the diet rebound effect kicks in.

So how do I approach weight loss? (By the way, if you’re expecting a miracle solution from me, all about having chocolate and champagne for three meals a day and still dropping a dress size before summer, you might want to stop reading now.)

I don’t change the basic way I eat. I choose to eat mostly healthy food because I enjoy it and because I like how it makes me feel. Being sluggish, tired and lacking energy is no fun, and that’s how a regular intake of crappy food affects me. So I follow these principles:

1. I eat regular, small meals because that works for me. It seems to keep me more satisfied than less frequent, larger meals.

2. I eat plenty of veggies. Pretty much always with lunch and dinner, and often with other meals too. I can assure you, spinach goes with everything. ;)

3. I balance my macronutrients. More or less. Plenty of protein keeps me full longer. Ditto for high fibre carbs. And I make sure I get a good quota of fat too, otherwise my skin goes all dry and itchy and my hormones go a bit crazy.

4. I make my meals interesting, and I mostly eat what the family eats – unless they’re having “man food”, like sausages in bread with sauce. Or fried eggs with baked beans. Bleurgh. All that’s usually required to meet my nutritional needs is to slightly modify a recipe, or to have a smaller portion, or maybe to skip the mountain of mashed potato (yuk) that everyone else is having and choose some baked sweet potato instead.

5. I have treats on a regular basis. I won’t settle for any old thing though; it has to be something worthwhile. My weekly or twice-weekly chocolate is always welcome, but I don’t count a spoonful of jam or a slice of sourdough bread as a treat. I just work a few of those things into my normal meals in small amounts.

6. Most evenings, I plan my lunch and snacks for the next day and pack them in containers in the fridge. That saves me time in the mornings, saves me money because I don’t have to spend $9 daily on a sandwich, and makes me a lot less likely to get hungry at work and think “Bugger it, I’m starving. I’m too busy to hunt around the shops for something decent; I’ll just go buy a giant-sized muffin from the cafĂ© upstairs”.

7. I’m flexible. If my team decides to go out for lunch, I won’t be the one staying back at the office eating out of my Tupperware. I’ll either choose something from the menu that fits my healthy criteria, or decide to have a treat meal. No biggie. Getting stressed out by those sort of situations is just a little bit nuts, you have to be able to go with the flow.

8. Sometimes I track food calories and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I weigh my food, sometimes I don’t. As long as my weight is dropping and my waistband is getting looser, I’m not fussed about those things; I just eyeball my food portions and leave it at that. If things aren’t going the right way though, I call in my extra weapons – the kitchen scales and measuring cups and my calorie tracking program.

9. When I eat, I try to remember to pay attention to my food and to how I feel. Am I still hungry? Do I want more? Have I got to the “full enough” stage yet? Sometimes it’s a small step from I’ve had enough to Ugh. I’ve overeaten. This one took me quite a while to learn…

10. If I’m genuinely stomach-rumblingly hungry and I don’t have a meal planned, I will usually eat something extra. It’s not a crime to eat when you’re hungry. The trick is not to overdo the amount, and not to grab any old rubbish.

That’s about it. There’s nothing earth-shattering in there, but it works. Some people might consider what I’ve described as “a diet”. But given that the only differences between this and the way I generally eat all the time are: a) the amounts of food; and b) the frequency/amounts of treats, I can’t see it that way.

The fact is, to lose weight, you must eat less calories than you expend. There’s no getting away from that. So it’s physically impossible to lose weight without eating less and/or moving more. How you choose to implement the eating less part is up to you, but following a punishing, restrictive diet is not my choice.

By the way, my not-diet is going very well (thanks for asking). I’ve enjoyed chicken mignons, lamb souvlaki, tandoori chicken, Thai beef salad and tonight we’re having tacos… A block of Green & Black’s has been consumed over the past five days too, and the scales tell me I’m going great guns.

Now that’s what I call a not-diet.


Sandra said...

AMEN! Especially love the "working-in" of the sourdough and jam and chocolate (dark is my favourite at the moment)

kathrynoh said...

Point 9 is where I fail! Oh and my love of "man foods".

linda said...

All sensible eating! I've found that by cutting out one 'bad' thing at a time works for me. I'm much better at 'cutting out' rather than trying to control the amount. I guess it really does come down to what works for the individual. ps- haven't eaten chocolate for over 2 years and don't miss it at all!!!

Kathleen said...

Good for you! It sounds very healthy and sensible. Although I personally don’t see ‘diet’ as a dirty word. I consider ‘diet’ just to be what people eat. So, every one has a diet – some have good diets, some have bad diets, some work on their diets, some don’t even think about their diet – but everyone who eats has a diet. I am glad you are enjoying how you are eating – I think that is the key. I think people too often associate the word ‘diet’ with deprivation and misery. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Great post!

Pip said...

Love it Kek, great blog and great list and actually sounds very similar to what I do (except for lunch which work supplies for me for free). I mostly make a multigrain baguette and scrap out a bit of the middle dough and fill it with a scrap of dijon mustard, chives, salad and some lean protein I may bring from home, (instead of work salty processed luncheon meat offerings).

yublocka said...

Yum! Your non-diet is making me hungry!!!

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