If I Lost Weight, Anybody Can!
DO YOU hate your bathroom scale? I did. I remember staring in disgust last year as the dial climbed to yet another new high—nearly 240 pounds [110 kg]. I thought to myself, ‘I weigh more than the world heavyweight boxing champion and more than a lot of professional American football players. This is worse than ridiculous. This is getting dangerous!’
Perhaps you know someone like me—a male office worker in early middle age, physically active in youth but now given to spasmodic exercise between extended bouts of newspaper reading. Blood pressure borderline high, serum cholesterol a “little” high, 50 pounds [20 kg] overweight, still believing that the problem is not that serious.
Well, the problem is serious. People just like me are dying of heart attacks every day—lots of people having heart attacks. I could cite statistics about the dangers of each extra pound, but the problem is not statistics. The problem, to put it bluntly, is widows and orphans. The problem is children, like my two little girls, growing up without their daddy.
Think about it, daddies.
Once I had made up my mind to lose weight, I remembered the excellent information in the May 22, 1989, Awake! series “Is Losing Weight a Losing Battle?”—especially the “Four Ways to Win” the battle of the bulge. The four ways suggested are: (1) the right food, (2) at the right time, (3) in the right amount, (4) with the right exercise.
Those guidelines work! I lost 60 pounds [30 kg] by following them, and you can lose weight too. In the process, I learned a few things that you may find helpful.
Weight Loss Begins Between the Ears
Most of us who are overweight gained our weight slowly, a few pounds a year, often starting in our 30’s. From time to time, we would diet and lose a few pounds, only to gain them back again with interest. When this happened to me, it resulted in a sort of learned helplessness—a feeling that nothing would work, so why try?
The way to break this cycle of learned helplessness is to start your diet, not with your waistline, but between the ears, changing the way you think about food. This may call for some brutal honesty, but without it your diet is probably doomed from the start.
In my case, keeping track of everything I ate and drank for a week was an eye-opener. True, I usually ate lightly at mealtimes, but nonstop snacking in the evening undid whatever good had been accomplished by self-control during the day. When I added up the calories of the cheese, nuts, peanut butter, and cookies that went down the hatch after supper, I was astonished. Worse, those snacks were loaded with fat and sugar. For me no diet was going to work unless the evening snacks were eliminated. Sound familiar?
The next painful realization for me was that I would not lose weight and keep it off unless I eliminated all alcoholic beverages from my diet. Not only is alcohol high in calories and easily turned to fat but a glass of wine in the evening is all it takes to weaken my self-control and my resolve not to snack. A glass of wine is not just a glass of wine. For me, it is also six cookies and a bowl of nuts, so to speak! I discovered that herbal teas could be excellent substitutes. Now, even after reaching my target weight, I drink less alcohol than before.
These honest evaluations convinced me of the value of two firm guidelines during the weight-loss period of my diet.
1. Avoid all snacks in the evening.
2. Avoid all alcoholic beverages.
Know Your Diet-Killers!
The French have a saying, En mangeant, l’appetit vient, which means that the more you eat, the hungrier you get. For many of us, this is literally true. We may not feel hungry when we sit down to our favorite meal, but something snaps within as we start to eat, and suddenly we are famished. So we stuff ourselves until all the food is gone or, after four helpings, our aching tummies finally beg for mercy. What happened?
In my case the problem was bread, especially homemade bread. My long-suffering wife, who makes delicious bread, had to give up baking for a time. A man can stand only so much temptation! For you the problem may be chocolate or something else. The point is, know your enemy. Make a list of the foods that make you hungry when you eat them and avoid those foods. There are plenty of other choices. I found that salads and steamed vegetables taste good and fill me up without triggering that craving for more.
Getting Over the Hump
Yo-yo dieting, losing weight only to gain it back, is a sucker’s game that serves no purpose other than enriching the diet hucksters that flourish in most Western developed countries. Having done my share of yo-yo dieting, I was determined that this time it would be different. But how?
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Talk to your doctor. Find people who will praise and reward you each week as those pounds come off. This may be a friend who is also dieting, a family member, or the people at a reputable weight-loss clinic. Teamwork and reinforcement will help get you over the hump—past the point where your weight-loss efforts have broken down before. By this time you will be feeling better, and people will start to compliment you on your appearance. From that point on, the psychological factors work for you instead of against you.
Another key to getting over the hump is to have a diet that is reasonable and does not make you feel starved and deprived. I found that the best dietary advice I could get merely elaborated on the points made in that May 22, 1989, Awake! about the right foods. My weight-loss diet consists of a low-fat cereal or a diet muffin with half a grapefruit for breakfast, a generous salad with low-fat dressing for lunch, and steamed vegetables and lean meats for supper, with no bread or dessert. At 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, the diet is strict but hardly Draconian. An apple makes a handy mid-day snack, and for those rare occasions when hunger pangs cannot be shooed away, I always use one of my secret weapons, a wonderful dieter’s secret you too should know.
What is that secret? It is a substance that is good for you, fills you up almost instantly, contains no calories whatsoever, and is cheap! Water. It is amazing what six to eight glasses of water daily will do to help you make a success of your diet. Once your body learns that a glass of water is your determined response to stomach pangs, they begin to fade away. Water, more than anything else, helped me overcome my lifelong habit of evening snacks.
Another secret weapon for long-term weight control is regular exercise. Of course, everyone has heard that exercise helps in weight loss, so what is the secret? In this case the secret is the tremendous psychological boost you get from feeling better and looking better. That reward more than makes up for the lack of certain foods. It helps to keep you going, not even feeling envious when everyone around you is eating chocolate mousse and you are eating frozen grapes.
Diet and exercise complement each other perfectly. Losing weight does not mean that you have to look sick. Regular exercise will keep a glow on your features and will tone up your muscles. In fact, improved definition in my muscles gave the illusion to others that I was losing weight faster than I really was! I found that I needed a combination of sports that I could enjoy with someone else, like tennis, and exercises that I could do alone at any time, such as weight lifting. Just as the exercise made the diet appear more effective, the diet made the exercise appear more effective by uncovering muscles that had been buried beneath ten years of flab. As my weight went from 240 pounds [110 kg] to 180 [80 kg], I found myself looking forward to going through my paces with some healthy local teenagers to see if they could keep up!
If you have been overweight for as long as I was, you may have got used to feeling weighed down and worn out every morning when getting up, dragging around all day, and dozing off in the easy chair at night. Carrying 50 or 60 extra pounds [20 or 30 kg] is like going through life with a ball and chain! I literally did not remember how it felt to bounce out of bed in the morning feeling eager to get up, having energy to spare all day long. Now I know.
The War That Never Ends
Reaching your target weight is like winning a protracted battle. But while that first battle may be over, the real war has just begun. Those of us who are middle-aged and have sedentary jobs will always have to watch what we eat if we are to keep off the weight we struggled to lose. The trick is to think of your diet as a lifetime project. It may be modified for weight maintenance instead of weight loss, but it is never really over. If you return to your old eating habits, your weight will return to you.
Upon reaching your target weight, why not celebrate by getting some new clothes? Then consider getting rid of the old clothes. Keeping those old, baggy clothes just in case is like planning for failure. Wear clothes that are not too loose, and they will quickly alert you if unwanted inches begin to return. While your maintenance diet will have more variety than your weight-loss diet, be sure that you make a permanent, lifetime change to low-fat, low-sugar foods. Don’t give up on your regular exercise either. That is a key to feeling good.—Contributed.