Oh, you too? I thought I was the only one.
I have a diet plan that I loosely follow. It’s a good one, if you prefer to follow a sensible, controlled plan. In all honesty, I don’t like sensible, controlled plans. I like to play it fast and loose and fly by the hem of my skirt. The only problem with this approach, is that the weight loss is slow and unreliable. Still, it keeps the food-crazies at bay, and that is pretty worthwhile, all on it’s own.
So sometimes, when I feel like I simply cannot follow my food plan, I let myself go on an Un-Diet.
What in heaven’s name is that? You might wonder.
For me, it’s a type of intuitive eating. It doesn’t always work for weight loss, but, at least in my experience, it can.
My Un-diet is based upon small changes that can add up to big health-benefits and even weight-loss, when they’re incorporated over time. What follows is a bulleted list of changes I aimed for, when I began my journey in August of 2012.
Miss Maggie’s Un-Diet
- Eat when I’m hungry. Not out of boredom, not out of anxiety, not to stuff my feelings, not because I’ve been working so hard, and no one appreciates my efforts and I deserve a treat. Not because I’m angry or hurt and trying to numb my feelings. Eat only out of hunger. This is a lot harder to do than it seems, but it works.
- Stop eating when I’m full. I have this gentle sense of “enough” when I’m full. I try to stop at that point. It’s hard to do. At my initial sense of fullness I find that I can still keep eating until I am “too-full.” It’s terribly tempting to do so too. But when I’m in the groove, in the sweet-spot, I can stop at the initial sense of fullness and when I do so, I lose weight. Stopping the momentum of eating is weird and hard at first, but it does become easier with time. Prayer helps a lot. This is my un-diet answer to portion control.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Experts say we need 1/2-ounce of water for every pound of body weight. That means if you weigh 200-pounds you need 100-ounces of water per day, or about 12-1/2 cups. If you weigh 150-pounds you need about 9-1/3 cups of water a day. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but this gives us a general idea of how much water to drink on a daily basis. Most of us aren’t getting enough. Sometimes we think we’re hungry, but really we’re just thirsty. We may crave salty foods when we’re thirsty because our bodies know that we will have a beverage along with salty foods. If you find yourself craving salty snacks, try drinking a glass of water first. It may save you some calories along the way.
- Prepare healthy meals. I’ve been cooking for long enough, and I’ve read enough about food and nutrition that I know the difference between a healthy meal, (oven-fried chicken and broccoli) and an unhealthy meal (deep-fried chicken and French fries). At every meal I have a choice about whether I prepare the food in as health-giving a manner as possible, or as fattening as possible. The food gets prepared and eaten no matter what. I have a choice about whether I do it the “right” way or the fattening way.
- Avoid processed foods and fast food. Processed foods and fast food make me sick. I know they do. After eating them I feel bloated, uncomfortable and miserable. I overeat because something about processed food and fast food triggers me to go beyond my sense of fullness and into discomfort. I know all of the reasons that they are bad for my body. I feel it after I eat it. I’m not able to eat moderate portions of fast food or processed foods. I have two choices. I can either avoid fast foods and processed foods or I can eat to excess. For me there is not middle ground. Plus, good grief, is it expensive. I’m actually grateful that it costs so much because it gives me more motivation to avoid it.
- Intentionally eat more vegetables and fruits. I like fruits and vegetables. I feel good physically when I eat them and I feel virtuous in my heart. I make sure to eat fruit with breakfast and lunch and also for at least one snack. For lunch and dinner I include at least 2 different vegetables. For lunch this may be a large salad with several vegetables, or it may be a soup with lots of vegetables. For dinner it’s usually a stir-fry or one cooked vegetable and one raw vegetable or a casserole with extra veggies. One way or the other, I make sure to include lots of fruits and veggies. The hard part is preparing the vegetables. This is the stumbling point for me. I give myself a lot of encouragement and kindness for this task. It’s probably one of the hardest and one of the most challenging for me. I do my best to do it anyway. Prayer helps, as does finding new recipes that make veggies taste good.
- Choose Whole Grains. For me this mostly means brown rice because rice is our main grain. We eat cooked brown rice almost every day. I grind brown rice into flour using an older model K-Tec grain mill (now called Blend-Tec). It’s about 15 years old and still going strong. Grinding our own rice flour saves BIG bucks. If you eat gluten free and you want to save the most on your grocery bill, investing in a home grain mill is one of the best ways to do it. Other choices I make are to use old-fashioned rolled oats, corn tortillas and whole grain cornmeal. The pasta we eat is not 100% whole grain. It’s made from brown rice flour and corn flour. The corn flour is not whole grain. I also use cornstarch and tapioca starch in baking and they aren’t whole grains. I would estimate that about 75% of the grains we eat are whole grain, and I reckon that’s a good enough ratio for my family.
- Avoid beef and pork. Base meals upon chicken, turkey, fish and dried beans. Beef and pork taste good, but they’re expensive and they have more fat and cholesterol than poultry, fish and legumes. Turkey bacon, turkey sausage, chicken breasts, chicken leg-quarters, ground turkey, fish fillets, tuna, salmon, and all the lovely dried beans, are low in fat, easy to find, reasonably priced, versatile and they taste good. They save me money and they save me calories. If I lived on a pig farm or a cattle ranch, I would eat more pork or beef. They would be affordable to me and I would figure out how to make them as healthy as possible. I don’t live on a farm though. My protein has to be purchased at the store, so I buy those foods which are cheapest and healthiest in my area.
- Remove the fat from meat to make it leaner and reduce the calories and cholesterol. I buy giant packages of chicken breasts that still have a few gobs of fat on them. I take the time to cut away the fat before using the chicken. For chicken pieces like thighs or leg-quarters, I remove the skin and cut off any visible fat before using them. When choosing ground turkey or ground beef I buy whichever is the lowest price per pound, regardless of fat content. When frying ground meat I drain off the fat and then rinse the meat and the skillet in hot water before using it in a recipe. This makes an ENORMOUS difference in the fat, calorie and cholesterol content of ground meat. This takes work, and not everyone is willing to do it, but when you’re on a budget and trying to eat better, it makes the difference between success and failure.
- Use as little added fat a possible. I know how to fry chicken in 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil and I know how to fry it in 1-cup of oil. The chicken gets cooked and eaten either way. I get to choose which method I use. The same is true for stir-frying vegetables, for frying pancakes, and for homemade salad dressing. I know which choice is better for my obese body. I just have to do it. No-stick spray is useful for using less fat. I do not personally use non-stick pans, but some folks swear by them.
- Switch to egg whites instead of whole eggs. This reduces both fat and cholesterol. I’ve been doing this faithfully for several weeks and it’s really a lot easier than it seems. I buy quart-sized cartons of liquid egg whites, although sometimes I use liquid egg-substitute that is 99% egg white and colored yellow. It makes prettier scrambled eggs. In baking, 3-tablespoons of liquid egg-white equals 1- whole egg. 1/3-cup of egg-whites equal 2-whole eggs. If you separate your own egg whites then use 1-1/2 or 2-egg whites for each whole egg called for, and 3-egg whites to replace 2-whole eggs. It used to be that liquid egg whites in cartons were always more expensive than separating our own eggs. This isn’t true any longer. Store-brand cartons of egg whites can actually cost less than separating your own eggs now. Compare prices to see for yourself. If you do not have high cholesterol then whole eggs may be fine for you. Make your own choice, based on your dietary needs.
- Choose low-sugar, low-sodium and reduced-fat products. For me this means using light mayo instead of full-fat mayo. Also reduced calorie pancake syrup (if I don’t make my own), fat free Italian salad dressing and making light margarine our main spread. I choose low-sugar jelly or jam, and fruits that are canned without added sugar. I use low-sodium soy sauce, choose canned vegetables without added sodium, and use granulated chicken broth powder instead of higher-sodium bouillon cubes. If I ate dairy I would use skim milk, nonfat yogurt and reduced fat cheese. These are all small changes, but they add up.
- Avoid excess sugar. Regular sugar is my main sweetener. It’s cheap and easy to use. It’s easy to find and I know how it will perform in recipes. It’s also terribly bad for us, especially when trying to lose weight. I use as little as possible. When I do use it, I do my best to only eat moderate portions of whatever it’s in. This is hard for me, so mostly I try to avoid it as much as I can. I do not add sugar to fruit. I use very small amounts of sugar in baking. I do not drink soda pop or other sugary drinks. Low calorie sweeteners are a good alternative for some things, but I still wonder what types of side-effects they have in the long term. Saccharine has the longest history of use, from the 1880’s (yup, 1880’s) and I personally consider it one of the safest. Splenda tastes good, but it’s expensive, even in store brands. Stevia is mostly natural, but has a very strange flavor to me and it costs an awful lot. I think saccharine is the safest and I think sucralose is a good runner up, although I reserve the right change my opinion on sucralose in the future. If you can afford honey, it’s probably the best choice, but for the most part I use sugar. I just use less.
- Avoid and even eliminate Trigger Foods. Everyone has trigger foods. These are foods that we are not able to eat in moderate portions. We have to keep eating them until we feel sick. Sometimes even a bite or two is enough to make us binge for the rest of the day, or even the rest of the month. Macaroni and cheese is a binge food for me. I’m talking about the kind made from wheat macaroni and dairy cheese. I cannot stop at a single portion. I cannot stop at a double portion. I have to keep eating it until I’m sick. Actually, wheat of any kind is a trigger for me. I will eat and eat and eat and never feel satisfied. Gluten of any kind is a trigger for some people. Rye, barley and spelt, all of which contain gluten, do not trigger me. But wheat, whether it’s whole grain or processed, makes me eat like there is no tomorrow. Sugar is a trigger for some people. Grains of any kind are a trigger for some people. You probably already know your trigger foods. The best way to deal with them is to never eat them again. And when you do eat them anyway, forgive yourself and get on with the business of living. Use the discomfort you feel after binging on a trigger food to reinforce your desire to avoid them.
- Limit myself to only 3 or 4 meals a day. This prevent grazing, which is an almost guaranteed method of weight gain for me. I eat a meal and then I do not eat again until the next meal. If I am experiencing genuine hunger then I have a sturdy, healthy snack. Otherwise I wait until the next meal to eat again. My practice is to eat a light breakfast at 6am, a hearty brunch or lunch at 11am, a hearty dinner at 4pm and then a light supper or bedtime snack at 9pm. This works for me, but it may not work for you. Eating at night is a problem for many people, but it doesn’t seem to bother me much one way or the other. I’m hungry right before bed, so I eat something tasty and good for me and then I don’t worry about it. Figure out what works best for you and your needs and then try to stick to it.
- Use smaller cups, plates and bowls. This one seems so silly to me. It seems like something that shouldn’t work. After all, I’m a sensible, intelligent woman. Magic thinking shouldn’t have a place in my life. The size of my plates and cups shouldn’t make that much of a difference to me. But it does. When I look at a small serving of cereal or chili in a large bowl it makes me feel resentful that I’m not getting “enough.” It makes me feel sad and pitiful. So I keep filling my bowl until it’s full. Then I look at my bowl and think, “Oh, good. That is enough.” It is absolutely ridiculous to me that such a small detail can have such a giant impact on how much I actually eat. When I finally admitted to myself that this detail really does make a difference to my psyche, I bought a few small plates and bowls at my local Goodwill. It has had a HUGE impact on how much I have to eat before I feel like I’ve had “enough.” Smaller cups or glasses help me too, especially for soymilk and juice. This is one of those things I don’t understand, don’t even agree with, but it really does work. And that’s the bottom line.
- Only eat foods I enjoy. I try not to bother wasting my calories on anything I don’t like. Meals are precious, I want to wring as much pleasure as possible out of each morsel that goes into my mouth. I am not willing to waste my calories on anything that tastes bad or that is a chore to eat. It’s just not worth it to me.
These are the basics of my Un-diet. When I follow it I lose weight, when I don’t, I know I have to get back on track by using the exchange plan again. If you sincerely cannot abide a diet, then developing your own list of dietary goals may help you avoid going on one. If you eat dairy and wheat you may find my booklet, Making The Best Of It!, helpful.