Saturday, February 13, 2016

How I Lost Weight in Middle Age

Yesterday I got an ad in the mail. A one page post card, it was from Jenny Craig. The general gist of the offer is that since I was a premier member once upon a time, I can join for the just $49 a year and purchase all the food I want. They will help me "get back on track". The problem with this special offer of course, is that, well, I'm losing weight. Without Jenny or anyone else.

Early in 2011, my children and I had a "sit down".  You see, in the year after my husband had died, it had basically sat in a chair and shopped on the Internet, and ate-all day every day. Jump to a three years later, and things had not gotten better, and my children were concerned. Rightfully so. As an intervention, my daughter purchased a one year membership for me to Jenny Craig, bless her heart.  I went to them faithfully every week for less six months, and except for lunches and desserts, went back to cooking for myself and my family in about three months.

Fear not, this is not a story of failure as such.  In the ensuing four years, I have lost well over 100 pounds, closer to 150. Without belonging to Jenny Craig or any other company.  And with the exception of about ten, I have never gained it back. I did this without jogging, or exercising for five hours a day, or eating shakes and bars or taking pills, or shaking little powder on my food. I ate real butter, eggs and drank one percent milk. Never has fake sugar passed my lips and I still love a good lemon meringue pie. I ate all those good things. Mainly however, I ate healthy food, and lots of it, with the sweet stuff thrown in here and there.

I am not an expert on weight loss. I still have more weight to go, and I am working in that direction. My goal is to get healthier. It is not to be a size ten, by any means. I am comfortable being a voluptuous woman at this point in my life, I just want to be a healthy one. I have no specific interest in fitting into my wedding dress as such, or wearing a bikini again. 

None of those things are bad goals, they are just not for me. I love eating as much or more as buying clothes, and living on salads and chicken would be unsatisfying to me.  I say all these things to point out that my goals are not what others might have, and I do not live in fear or shame of being a "larger than size 12" woman. When people have a problem with that, frankly, it's their problem, not mine.

Still, healthy eating, and losing weight were a large part of that first year for me, and I managed to lose weight at the age when many are gaining, or holding strong. So while I am not an expert (although I am the mother of a holistic nutritionist), at the request of readers over the years, here are my quick and dirty thoughts on losing weight-for the rest of is.
  • Losing weight is metabolic. I lost weight because I changed what I ate, pure and simple.  How much I ate, to some degree, but mainly simply what I ate. Yes, exercise is wonderful for your health, but it will probably not help you lose weight as much as you think it will, unless you are a true athlete who does that many hours a day. Exercise increases hunger and you are probably not using as many calories as you think you are, unless you are working really really hard. The two times I lost the most weight were when I was basically not exercising at all. Don't stop exercising! Just don't rely on exercise for weight loss.
  • It was a long, slow journey. Some weeks I lost one pound, some weeks I have lost less than a pound, and that's okay. During the very beginning of my weight loss there was a short period where I was losing up to five pounds a week. That was because I was VERY heavy, and I made a single drastic change in my life (see the coke comment below). I do not panic if one week I stand on the scale and nothing as changed.
  • Fake food is fake food, and not helpful to long term weight loss. Whether it's a bar or a shake. In my experience people who keep off weight eat real food. We cannot live on shakes or bars or even smoothies for two meals a day in the long term, it's not sustainable. I do know some people who have had super results drinking shakes for two meals a day and one single meal-for a week or a month. Then the real world takes over.
  • Jenny Craig did provide me with two things. The first was a computerized scale, and the advise to never, ever, weigh myself in between times. Weighing every day can be self defeating. Weigh once a week at the most, and at the same time and on the same scale. Don't weigh yourself at home one day and at the health club the next.
  • Recognize that what you think is a portion is probably not actually a portion. Using my trusty can of coke as an example, while it used to show that  there were two servings, how many of us only drink half a can, once we have opened it. Most servings of pasta or rice are measured by 1/3 or even 1/4 cups. Two huge overflowing serving spoons have that 1/3 beat.
  • It helps if you divide meals into courses. This is the other thing that Jenny Craig taught me. I don't eat salads. I love fruits and veggies, but lettuce is not my thing (and I don't just mean iceberg). However, when I was in the throes of serious dieting, I ate a big salad before lunch and dinner. Then I often had a low calorie soup. THEN I had my dinner or lunch. Doing this also turns casual meals into something more elegant.
  • Everyone has to be on board. This one is for the other half of the equation, the husband, wife or child who eats whatever he or she wants and never loses weight. If you want your spouse to lose weight, you need to learn to cook like she or he does. You need to go to Baskin-Robbins for your triple scoop of ice cream, not the living room while your wife has her half cup of diet pudding. To do less is to be cruel. There are many family meals that can be made that serve both the dieter and the non dieter.
  • Which leads me to "do not compare yourself to others". My late husband was six foot plus, and never in his entire life wore larger than a size 31 pant. Thankfully, he knew he was blessed by good genes and natural metabolism, because while I was not always seriously overweight, I have always been larger than a size twelve-even when I was in the army and running an hour a day! Early in our marriage he ran a private club and part of our "duties" were to go out and eat  and compare. The second part of the job included monthly dinner rotations at all the private clubs where chef goals were to out cook the last chef. I cannot tell you how many times my husband at two and a half meals (one of his and half of mine) and two desserts and never gained a pound. And he never worked out at all!
  • I am not a cook, so learning to cook did not make me eat healthier. For some people taking up cooking as a hobby when they are trying to diet and eat weight helps them, so I have to mention it here. For me however, it was just the opposite. By not being in the kitchen, I was not around food. I am one of those who love to eat, but never learned to love to cook (probably because I have always had really, really good cooks around me).
  • Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed, and that includes food. I still have a small coke every morning-not the diet type. It's an addiction and my method of morning caffeine intake. I never turn down food when I go out to eat or visit someone. I may ask someone to share dessert with me, but I eat dessert. I drink wine. Tomorrow I am going to dinner for a birthday. I will have escargot, the German sausage and potato platter and cake and ice cream. With no regrets.  What counts is the average. You can still live to eat and maintain weight. Tomorrow morning before said dinner I will have two scrambled eggs with fruit and a similar lunch to make up for my gourmet dinner.
  • It may help to have a partner or join a group-depending on your personality. I did not find myself served by a group, or by a weekly counseling session in the long term, after that first jump start month or so.  I didn't join a walking group because I like to use my walking time alone for quiet contemplation. However, I do know friends who have exercised together, and those who have joined Weight Watchers together or have dieted with a spouse, so this is very subjective. I did do early morning water aerobics for a year with some neighbors in my community pool.
  • Sugar as such is not the "evil empire". A carb is a carb and a sweet carb is no worse than a non sweet carb. In other words, the two pieces of toast with my eggs are just as bad as three cookies I may have had at lunch. The cookies are not worse. And cookies made with fake sugar are much, much worse. Learn to cook with less sugar, and substitute whole wheat flour for part of the flour in waffles and french toast.
  • Fat gets a really bad rap. Almost a year ago, I began counting carbohydrates instead of calories and it has served me well. I learned something along the way though. Did you know that "light" ranch dressing has more carbohydrates than regular ranch dressing? And that the same is true of sour cream? Admittedly there are bad fats (steak and chicken skin come to mind) but all fats are not bad.
  • You will probably do much better if you make one change at a time, with the goal being health. Changing overnight from eating what you want to eating 1200 calories is not usually successful. The first month that I began dieting, I simply switched from four cans of coke (the large size) a day to one. Everything else I ate throughout the day was as it was before. then I added those pre-meal salads..........and so it goes.
  • Last but not least, healthy eating is a marathon, not a sprint! There will be days when you feel bloated, days when you simply must have at least one donut, weeks when there will be no weight loss on the scale. This does not mean failure. The goal is long term health and permanent weight loss. If a donut or two helps you, go for it.
I continue to be a non-expert at this, to say the least. And my situation was unique to me. For example, I did not have constant weight creep.  I gained all of my weight at two specific times in my life (my bed rest pregnancy for my 26 year old, and my husband's death). I had those two drastic weight gains, after which I neither gained nor lost weight, but stayed the course. 

People who have steadily gained weight over the years have other issues and may benefit from more support that I needed. Also, because I was in Europe, I was always doing some kind of walking (either for tourism or because we walked and took the train most places), so I had a tradition of walking close to 5000 steps a day even when I was drastically overweight-at least until I injured my leg. Walking was my time to be alone and let my mental computer take over.

In the past month I have purchased five new pairs of pants, as I was beginning to look like I was wearing my great grandpa's baggy pants. I must have been doing something right. On the other hand, my bra size has not lessened a single inch since that first day of dieting. Pretty soon I'm going to need one type of store for the lower part of my body and another for the upper. 

What's a girl to do!??!!


  1. I am much like you. Put on weight during what was supposed to be a twin pregnancy, never lost it all then five years ago my husband passed away. I didn't hardly eat the first year, but what I ate was stored as fat. The weight kept going on until Christmas 2014. Changed when and how I ate and have lost 58lbs so far. Have around 70 more pounds to go. I am not in the least worried about it as I know the rest will come off. The best to you on your journey. I like your writings as you challenge me to think another way.

  2. That's really great! best of luck to you and continuing your journey :)

    I lost 35 pounds doing pretty much the same things. Though I am 19 (probably dont fit in here lol!)

    And just to add to your post, to make sure you stay consistent with your healthy eating or lifestyle change, its important to form habits, dont forget that! Theres some information on how to do so here on my site:

  3. I like what you say about it being a marathon, not a sprint. I get annoyed when I see food labelled as "good" or "bad". There's a lot to be said about balancing calories in and out although individual metabolic rates have to be taken into consideration. Like you, I enjoy real foods, therefore there are no diet drinks or artificial sweeteners in my house. And yes, there's real cream too. I would rather exercise than go on a restrictive diet. I also believe in the old adage - everything in moderation - including moderation.

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  5. Barbara, I so admire the changes you made in your nutrition and the results you achieved! If only I could get results like you do! I changed my eating habits, I exercise daily, and I have not lost any weight. I haven't gained any either, so I have looked at my results as a permanent plateau. I don't want to be a size 10 either, but I'd sure settle for a 12. You are doing great. Thanks for your list of principles!

    Rin Porter

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  7. You have done so well Barbara! Yes food manufacturers slip so much extra fat, sugar and salt into our foods, we have to be so vigilant with what we eat in the way of processed food. Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog too!

  8. I am 40 year-old now. And I want to cut more 5 pounds. Your post is full information to help me.
    Thank Michael ! Visit my blog to read my new post here

  9. I like your ideas and can see you are on the right path for you. One point you made is to eat healthy food, whole food, which is a great point and which my husband and I do.

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