My “Common Sense” Diet — 22 Pounds Down and Counting

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This is not an account of how some miracle diet helped me drop all kinds of weight.

In fact, this post is also not me trying to get you to do what I did. It’s about me trying to get you to figure out what you should do, by telling you what I did.

You see, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way you can really lose weight is to use some of what you’ve learned from all those diets that didn’t work, to create a plan that does work for you. Possibly only for you.

If you’re interested in trying that, read on.

It was the “pre-diabetes” thing that scared me into it.

Doesn’t run in our family, diabetes. I’d always been very grateful for that. So when my doctor dubbed me “pre-diabetic” based on weight — my A1C level was actually at the high end of normal — I was gob smacked.

I’d quit even trying to diet years ago. Never the healthiest choice, diets really don’t work at my age (66). That’s because after menopause, the female body fights so hard to hoard fat. There are hormones in it. The very ones that some of us used to artificially replace as the natural ones gradually decreased.

So our bodies begin trying to hold onto the little we have left, stubbornly storing up a little bit more fat with each passing year. Which makes it more and more difficult to win the battle of the bulge.

That’s why none of my tried and true weight loss “tricks” worked anymore. Nor did any of the ones my doctors suggested. Including a doctor-supervised one that had been touted as one of the most effective, ever.

That one, a very time intensive “keto style” plan, made me almost have to wear diapers. I had “the trots” and a raw bum almost all the time, which, I was told, was supposed to be one of the surest signs that I was doing it right.

Who wants to live like that?

But having lived on the Hopi reservation where I lost quite a few in laws and friends to diabetes, that diagnosis terrified me. I knew it could be controlled, but I also knew it was a constant struggle and that the complications were often dire.

So I decided to sit down and go over everything I’d learned about how I handled dieting. What had gone well and what had gone wrong. And most of all, why.

What did I like to eat? When did I like to eat? Even food preparation.

That last bit was crucial. I do not like to cook. And many of the diets I’d tried relied upon very strict, specific recipes, some quite complicated and time consuming. Even snacks had to be painstakingly prepared and portioned.

That alone prevented me from sticking to many diets I’d tried. I hated the prep work. Or being restricted to the prescribed or prepackaged meals. I needed to create a process that would work for me, based on all of the above.

I’m retired now, which could have made that a wee bit less vexing. But it had also allowed me to become more sedentary at a time when I either needed to consume less or work out more. Or both.

The good news? I came in contact with fewer temptations now that I no longer had to worry about co-workers bringing in and passing around boxes pastries or bags of chips, popcorn and candy. I could take charge of my diet far more easily now.

It was time for me to do exactly that. I just didn’t know where to begin.

I did know that the only diet with which I’d been relatively comfortable after the “raw bum” regime was a modified “paleo” thing I’d stumbled upon online. And intermittent fasting worked for me, too. I’m an obsessive writer, and I often write right straight through ’til evening without eating. No problem.

So I’d gotten into the routine of having protein and fresh produce for dinner. Lots of veg with that protein. Homemade or spice “waters,” mostly lemon and cinnamon, to drink.

It was easy and I liked it. I just couldn’t cut out all the carbs. And I’d hated feeling like a nag when I dined with friends. Hated restricting their diets. And not being able to share dishes the way we used to.

To help myself get started, I made a little list of foods I really liked that I could have lots of. I had some “low cal” lists left over from some of my diet programs, so that was pretty easy.

I also looked for all kinds of foods I could “snack” on without adding tons of extra calories, and ways to make them extra tasty. I’ve never really liked sweets, so this part was pretty easy.

And when I started thinking ‘way outside the box, away from packaged sweets and salty stuff, I found that lots of things I loved, foods I usually thought of only as entree fare, were less fattening than the snack stuff.

I could have a slice of chicken breast or some other leftover meat from last night’s dinner. I even bought some of those little plastic egg cups you boil eggs in, because you can beat the egg, put seasoning in it, and boil up these little “omelet balls” that are perfect for a quick breakfast or evening snack.

Felt like I was “cheating,” snacking on “real food.” But I was actually eating something healthier than the snack foods I might have chosen otherwise.

There were other little surprises. Like discovering that peanuts — all nuts — soaked in salt water overnight and oven roasted, have fewer calories. Once I found that, I kept looking for more ways to eat things I really, really love, relatively guilt free.

But my new diet plan was simplified immensely on the very first day when I did this really interesting thing entirely by accident. I ate toast with tea that morning, intending to have an egg or something with it. But I got busy with some writing I wanted to finish, and never got around to the egg.

For lunch, I steamed a bunch of broccoli crowns and put butter and lemon on them intending, again, to add a protein. But the crowns were so good that I gobbled them up and got very full from just that (fiber). So I just stopped there.

I was still full when dinnertime came around, so I George Foreman’d a pork chop and put a special salsa I like on the side. Didn’t want the salad I’d planned to have. And I wasn’t hungry or craving one bit.

So I actually only had one full meal that day. A dinner, more or less: meat, veg, bread. With with a protein snack and more tea that evening I was completely sated. Surprised me how easy and natural it had been.

And I dropped a whole pound in one week when I kept doing that.

Gradually, I began to vary the “veggie” part from steamed things to small salads or just cut up cukes or something. Whatever sounded good that day. I didn’t even worry about the dressing that much, even though that can add lots of calories.

Everything has to taste good. If that means going a wee bit overboard with condiments, spices or dressings, so be it. I generally have enough wiggle room for things like that, calorie wise. The key is to keep those careless calories to a minimum.

I avoid starchy veggies as much as possible. Though I’ve been having green and yellow squashes and even sweet potatoes — “good starches” that my doctor suggested recently.

With minor adjustments, using My Fitness Pal solely to count my caloric intake (1000 to 1500 per day) and find the calorie counts of the foods I eat, I’ve continued losing at the same rate.

And I’ve discovered, over the past couple of months, that fresh food, simply prepared, works best. It’s easier to count the calories of packaged foods, but I lose more slowly when I rely on them. Probably the sodium.

So I’ve become a master at steaming veggies in the microwave and bossing that Foreman grill around. And yes, Oprah, I eat bread, too. Whenever I want.

Sometimes homemade, like the bannocks I have for breakfast sometimes. The portions depend on the calorie count.

If I overdo anything, something else gets removed from the day’s “ration.” That rarely happens, but when it does, if that means missing something tasty later, hot tea or coffee with something added to make them a little yummier, will quell my cravings.

This is very important, too:

Once a week, I eat pretty much whatever I want. In fact, I go out to lunch with a friend and pick something sinful on purpose. Not because I’m desperate for a big meal but because if I don’t, I stop losing.

Again, our bodies are pretty danged smart. If they feel deprived, they start storing up stuff again by slowing down our metabolism. Counter productive, right?

Where’s the exercise? One of the few good things about the doctor supervised diet I disliked so much was the doctor’s very wise admission that his patients did better when they waited until after they’d lost a few pounds. If they tried to work out at their initial weights, they got discouraged or even injured, and went back to being almost totally sedentary and, worse, very defensive about it.

I looked at exercise the same way I looked at my diet. I know what I will and will not do. So I kettlebell when I’m good and ready or the weight loss slows even after I’ve upped the calorie count.

I love kettlebells. I have lots of them. AmazonBasics has at $15 starter one you can try if you’ve never tried them.

My favorite kettlebell routine takes about 20 minutes. It’s the very first workout on Absolute Beginners 3-in-1 by Amy Bento, an oldie but goodie with three routines. Each one a little harder than the last.

I have some easy yoga DVDs, too. But I prefer kettlebells because they let you do weight training and cardio at the same time. And that particular DVD, which can also be streamed on Amazon, is my “go to.” I sweat without too much strain.

So at 22-plus pounds down, I’m still fine tuning, but pretty much completely content. Christmas will test my will power a bit, but I’ve noticed that because I don’t feel like I’m “dieting,” I probably won’t go too far off track.

So to recap: it’s just common sense. I took a good look at what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I would and probably would not do. And I made doing whatever I chose to do very, very easy.

If I can do that, I’m pretty sure you can do whatever you need to do, too.

Give it a try. And let me know how it goes!

Award-winning former features reporter for the Chicago Sun Times and Arizona Daily Star, HuffPo contributor and author.

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