Monday, January 23, 2012

Achieving a Healthy Balance - Weight Watchers

Last week I wrote about my New Year's resolution to get back in shape and drop the extra pounds I've put on over the past two years. Sound familiar? While this is not my typical subject matter for My Scenic Byway, it is a big part of what is going on for me right now, I like to share information, and I want to tell folks about some things I've discovered that are helping me. Maybe they will help you too.

Nothing magical here. We all know its about getting enough physical activity and eating healthy - achieving a balance. Sometimes easier visualized than actualized. For exercise, I found the Bar Method. I am just into my second month of doing it and I love it, I feel great and it is working. I am getting stronger and more in shape, and pretty fast. The important point here - you have to find something that is easy for you to do and that you enjoy doing. However, even with that, as we age we know that exercise alone won't take care of things. Diet matters. I am not saying you have to diet. I do not diet. I think diets are a bad way to live your life. In saying that diet matters, I am referring to what and how we eat. For that I have turned to Weight Watchers, and I really like and recommend this program.

Weigh Watchers
I tried Weight Watchers (WW) many years ago for a brief period of time and it worked for me. I liked what I learned from the process. I didn't buy any of their meals, I just followed their advice. I learned to think about what I eat, to make choices, to moderate, and to write down and track every day what I ate. In WW you can eat what ever you want, but you learn that everything you eat comes with a price. Every item of food has a number of points. So you learn to make choices. You also learn about portion control. You discover what satisfies and fills you, and what does not. You pay attention.

The Point System
In WW you are given a certain number of points per day and you try to eat to come within or under those points. You are also allocated a number of extra points for the week. You can use your daily points and extra points any way you like. The span of a week is important. You can do whatever you want within that week. You are trying to end the week by not going over all of the points you've received during the week. One day you might not be very hungry and you may use less points. But some other day that week you may find yourself hungrier than usual and you use more than your daily number of points. You can use your extra points each day for some extras (dessert, wine, snacks), or if you have a party or special dinner planned, you can blow it all at one time. You get more points if you exercise. Knowing that you can earn more points by exercising is a great motivator. It works for me.

Sticking With It
You do the best you can during a week and then after the week, you start a new week. So, if you blow it one week and can't stay within your points,  just forget about it and move forward. You can regroup the next week. You only check your weight once a week, so you have the whole week to show some progress, which is important because we all have good and bad days. If you are like me, your weight might fluctuate a lot during a week depending on many factors. We also have good and bad weeks - which is why you just keep on going. A bad day or a bad week doesn't mean you quit the program. That can be a hard thing to remember. This is a slow way to lose weight, but it is effective and usually sustainable. You learn healthier eating practices and they tend to stick with you. You aren't denying yourself things. Denying yourself pleasure from eating sucks. It doesn't work for most of us. The WW system is not a diet, it is a lifestyle.

Joining WW this time, I continue to only follow the practice, not buy the meals. I know the meal packages work for a lot of people, but I am too obsessed about preparing my own unprocessed and unpackaged foods to go that route. Unlike last time I am only doing WW online and choosing not to go to the weekly meetings for the pep talks and weigh ins. I chose not to do that because its not that convenient for me and I believe I can do this without it, but I recommend those meetings if you are new to the system or concerned about sticking with it. They can be helpful motivators.

Of course nothing motivates more than starting something like this and having it actually work. I lost 3 pounds my first week and 1. 5 pounds my second week. That feels great! Often the more weigh one loses, the slower it will drop. That is just how it is. When I did WW last time they told me to expect to only lost around .5 to 1 pound per week. That makes sense because you aren't starving yourself or denying yourself - you are just moderating. Losing my first 5 pounds is fairly easy because its there from too much holiday indulging. While we were excited to find the best holiday peppermint bark that's ever been made, in hindsight we probably shouldn't have bought and eaten 3 pounds of it. I know that for my next 15 pounds I want to lose it means tempering the fun, bad habits that caused my slow weight gain over two years, including: cooking with too much butter; not being able to be satisfied with just one glass of wine; not saying no to the extra slice of pizza even when I was full; deciding that microwave kettle corn is a great idea to have several times a week and that I need my own bag to myself; not being able to resist, a little too much, the chocolate that my husband regularly brings into the house; and generally loving all cheese way too much. Sound familiar?

I recommend WW for anyone serious about losing some weight, not interested in fad diets but interested in learning better eating habits. It worked for me and is working again and I've seen it work for many, many others. It doesn't have to be expensive if you don't buy the meals, and to be honest, you only need to do it for awhile to get information about the system. Once you feel like you have it down, you don't have to continue subscribing unless you feel that helps motivate you. You pay a monthly fee to access their website and tracking program, plus recipes, tips, etc. In my case knowing that I am paying a little money each month for this program actually does help me take it more seriously and stick with it. However, after I achieve my goal of losing 20 pounds, I will probably drop my subscription, but continue to monitor my eating habits more informally.

Lessons Learned
Here are a few things that I've learned through WW and that are helping me stick with my new eating program. None of this is rocket science - you've probably heard it all before, but sometimes a reminder is helpful. You can do all of these things without joining WW. Good luck!

          Practice Portion Size: With WW you can eat anything you want, but you need to understand portion size. You will be shocked at how screwed up our entire country is with portion size. For example, your typical chicken breast that you will find in the grocery store is actually about two servings according to WW standards. So forget about eating that whole breast. You cut it in half and eat a lot of vegetables with it. You aren't denying yourself the luxury of eating it, you are only denying yourself the luxury of pigging out on it. You should count out a portion (10) of corn chips instead of just dumping out a huge bowl, or worse yet just chowing from the bag and having no idea how much you are eating. Measure things. I've come to realize that 1/3 cup of shredded cheese is plenty for an omelet and I don't need to dump in more.

          Love Vegetables and Fruits: I am very fortunate in that I love all fruits and vegetables because most of them carry zero points under WW. If you like them too you are in luck. Incorporate these into your meals and snacks as much as possible. Not all fruits are zero points (oranges, pineapple for example are higher), but many are. I eat more fruit than ever - bananas, apples, grapes, berries - all have become snack foods. I eat a lot of veggies on their own, raw or steamed or sautéed with as little olive oil as I can, but I also add them to omelets, pizza, pastas, etc. More veggies, less of the other stuff. It helps to buy good, fresh vegetables (they taste better than frozen and canned) and to flavor them. Vegetables can taste great if you prepare and spice them right.

          Spices Are Your Friends: Pepper and spice the hell out of everything. The more flavor, the more satisfied you will feel. You can't do it with butter, so get creative with dry and fresh herbs, hot sauces, flavored vinegars. They take away zero points. I have always loved herbs and spices and I love hot sauce on just about everything, so this has been easy for me. My new discovery is lemon flavored vinegar. Vinegar is zero points. Put that on a plate of cooked vegetables with some pepper and salt and you won't miss olive oil. Olive oil may be good for you but you need to use it sparingly as the points for using it add up very quickly.

          Drink Tea: We all know that drinking water is good for you and you should drink a lot. But sometimes water gets boring. Soda, diet or regular, is really not good for you and should be avoided as much as possible - we all know this. Juices are good for you but they burn a lot of points. What to do when you are bored with water? Add lemon for one. But you can also drink herbal tea. I got a bright red, sweet, sweet Le Creuset tea kettle for Christmas which made me want to make tea more often (new things can inspire). Then I realized that drinking tea is a great filler for when I think I want something to snack on but I am really not hungry - its just the bad habit of wanting to eat something. So I now have 13 types of herbal, green and black teas to choose from and I drink 3-5 cups a day on average. This is best of course if you don't need sugar in your tea.

          Plan Ahead: You absolutely have to plan ahead, make a shopping list, and shop and fill your fridge and kitchen with the right foods. You have to have choices and things that make you happy and will satisfy you, or it isn't going to work. For example, a typical weekly shopping list for me will look like this: eggs, egg whites, whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat english muffins, shredded parmesan cheese, string cheese (2 points only!), organic fat free yoghurt, apples, grapes, bananas, lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, scallions, carrots, sugar snap peas, spinach, frozen vegetables, salsa, brown rice bowls (costco), Amy's vegetarian, organic soups, pretzel crisps, veggie burgers,  skinless chicken breasts, creamies (low calorie chocolate popsicles that are the only preservative filled things I will allow because they are only 3 points each and its a nice easy dessert when you are craving something like this); and on and on. Basically think fruits, vegetables, high fiber items, whole wheat vs regular, low or no-fat vs full fat, healthy cuts of meats. Your usual kinds of healthy food choices. There are lots of processed foods out there in the grocery store that promise low calories, low fat and probably mean very low points. That might work well for you. Personally I don't buy those kinds of things. I won't eat all of that processed and packaged stuff (except for the creamies) so it makes creating good meals more challenging. Through trial and error you will figure out what works for your meal plan, but planning is everything. Also, don't ever let yourself get too hung. If you get too hungry, then you tend to eat more. Small, healthy meals and snacks throughout the day will keep your body running. There is nothing worse than being really hungry and then also having no good, healthy options that you want in the house.

Most important of all - if you have a day of splurging, just regroup and rebalance the next day. Your plans aren't ruined and you don't need to give up. You can and will get back on track. One day at a time.

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