Learning New Eating Habits

I’ve gone through phases in my attitudes toward exercise, fitness, and food. I went from blissful ignorance to a sense of dread when I saw I’d gained too much weight and couldn’t lose it. I needed to relearn how to eat. How did other people lose weight, other than by going on unrealistic diets? Small, discrete suggestions from people who’d been there were what I wished for. Eventually I found routines and meals that allowed me to get back the fitness I lost. I want to share some of the stages I went through and steps I took, in case someone else is looking for tips as I was (and always am).
I was an active kid and ate whatever I wanted, including unlimited quantities of the foods you’re supposed to have only in moderation. I was a miserable flop in gym class, never able to concentrate on organized games or remember the rules. Instead of playing sports, I climbed trees, ran sprints on the sidewalks and in the local vacant lot, skateboarded in front of the house, and rode my bike as fast and as far as I could.
In my twenties, I biked to work in summer and paid no attention to what or how much I ate. Although I noticed I was slowly gaining weight, I had no idea how to stop. Rather than make the effort to learn about nutrition or to fit more exercise into the cold months, I went into denial. I told myself I was still very active and had a long way to go before I’d have a weight problem.
By my mid-30s, I had gained 25 pounds. I had lost all of the muscle definition I’d had in my upper arms, shoulders, and thighs. I’d started a workout routine at the YMCA two years earlier and had continued to gain weight (though much more slowly). I was frustrated, but all I knew to do was to keep exercising. After all, what would I eat if my favorite, convenient, comfortable foods were off limits? I don’t cook and I don’t make detailed meal plans. Thinking ahead about the week’s meals is tedious and stressful for me, and I can’t make myself do it.
In 1999 I learned that my aunt, 30 years older than I, had osteoporosis. Because I knew I could still prevent this disease in myself, this event motivated me to change my diet. I changed one eating habit at a time, continued exercising, and finally started losing weight. I was stunned when I weighed myself after a two-week interval and discovered I’d lost five pounds. I actually asked the gym staff if their scale was out of calibration. In eight months I lost eighteen pounds and regained some of my muscle tone.
To lose the extra weight, I made the following changes one at a time, adding a new one every week or two, in approximately this order.
* Substituted sparkling water for Coke, both to cut calories and to try to protect my bones from calcium loss.
* Ate two pieces of fruit during each work day, whether I wanted them or not.
* Eliminated pizza for eight months, substituting smaller portions of Thai or Chinese food (also fattening but not as bad, either because I ate less of it or because pizza is so extremely high in calories).
* Eliminated ice cream for eight months.
* Bought small quantities of fruit home to eat each weekend and made sure I finished it all by Monday morning.
* Ordered only nonfat lattes and mochas if I wanted a coffee drink during the workday.
* Bought and installed a nutrition software program to help me count calories eaten and burned.
* Measured ingredients in my meals to make sure my calorie counts were accurate: exactly one tablespoon of mayo in the tuna salad, exactly half a cup of cereal and milk, and so on.
* Eliminated lattes and mochas completely (including nonfat) for five months after deciding to think of them as a snack choice. Instead if I wanted a snack, I’d have one handful of trail mix (nuts and dried fruit) or one ounce of smoked salmon. I kept these snacks at the office along with bottles of sparkling water.
* Reduced my consumption of peanut butter sandwiches from one a day to three a week. Substituted spicy, Asian-style frozen meals made by an organic brand.
Along with continuing to exercise at the Y every other day and to walk as much as possible, those changes to my diet were what finally tipped me toward weight loss. I never had to meticulously plan meals or cook ahead for the week; all I had to do was learn some convenient one-step meals and go easy on whatever ingredient was the most fattening. It also helped to tell myself, in a loud internal voice, that I could have the leftovers tomorrow instead of finishing the whole serving now, or that I could come back to the restaurant for dessert another time if I still wanted to.
What are the most useful changes you’ve made while building healthier routines into your life?

14 thoughts on “Learning New Eating Habits”

  1. Being careful with refined carbs is the most radically effective weight management thing I do. I don’t pay attention to fat content, unless it’s hydrogenated, of course.

  2. Response for Fran

    In response to FitNotes: Learning New Eating Habits from Fran over at Northwestnotes.net’s new fitness and nutrition blog FitNotes.net: ((Disclaimer: I am talking about my own experience and thoughts and…

  3. Hey Fran!
    Great to see your new site up! Congrats!
    In January I decided that I was going to try to lose a little weight and I was successful. Two of the things you mentioned really helped me I think:
    1. No/few soft drinks. I used to have 2-3 a day with meals. I’ve made the switch to water now with every meal. it wasn’t as hard to wean myself from colas as I thought.
    2. Ice Cream. I could live on ice cream alone and used to eat it almost every night. For a while I switched to yogurt. Now I only have it on special occasions.
    3. Beer. I used to not consider alcohol in terms of calories, but now I’m aware and I usually keep the beers for the weekends and special occasions.
    Best of luck on the site…

  4. Hi Fran,
    I am overweight from bread and chocolate. No beer or ice cream these days. I have got weight off in the past, but my problem is to keep it off. We walk a few km most days, but that is not enough. Self-discipline seems to be the story, but losing weight for me is as hard as giving up ciggies is for Sandra. Hmmm. Keep writing Fran. I got onto the program when I read an earlier post on losing weight.

  5. Bread can be an example of a refined carb that Diane mentioned in the first comment. I wonder if a bread craving could be indulged more healthfully by using dense, whole-grain, or nutty breads. Limiting refined (or simple) carbs seems like a useful method as an alternative (or along with) calorie counting.
    As for chocolate and beer, not sure if they’re simple carbs or if they’re just astronomically high in calories. They’re both high in sugar, I’d think – isn’t alcohol a sugar?

  6. Hi Fran. First of all, thank you so much for visiting my site and sending me an email. Expect a reply very soon.
    It was so nice to visit here and check out your site. I most definitely bookmarked it straight away and look forward to visiting regularly.
    As for this post, I have been meaning to sit down and write down all the changes the hubby and I have made since we began our journey just a few months ago. Many of them are ones you mentioned, and there are more as well.
    Cutting out sugar has been a major thing for me. I’m southern and like that iced tea sweet. I like my coffee sweet. I like my cereal sweet. And I wasn’t shy about piling it on or in those things, either. Now I hardly use sugar at all. Splenda has become my friend and sweetener of choice. But many times, I use nothing. I’m getting used to it that way. And believe me, coming from me this is a HUGE thing. 🙂

  7. Hi Another Lee, thanks for visiting. Junio, the software is NutriBase. They just keep on upgrading! I don’t use or own it any more but I loved the amount of detail and (most importantly) customization you could do with it. Create your own recipes for your actual foods and then plug them in over and over, etc. Thanks for asking.

  8. Hi, Fran! This is my first time visiting your site. I just started on my own weight loss plan about six weeks ago…I’m down fourteen pounds so far.
    Useful changes…increase in water intake. I used to only drink a glass or two a day, and that only if I was exercising. Now I drink 80-100 oz. a day. I also used to drink 2-3 Cokes per day; now I limit it to only one and try to make it diet Coke about half the time. I believe that those two alone have made a big difference. Oh, and I eliminated chips as much as humanly possible. I have absolutely zero control where these are concerned. I can go through a whole bag in one sitting. It’s awful. If I NEED to have them, I buy baked chips. Also substituted Morningstar veggie sausage and veggie burgers for ground beef; they taste pretty much the same.
    Anyway, I like your site! I’ll keep checking back to see how you’re doing. =)

  9. Whoa! Jenny’s comment reminds me I forgot to list potato chips and fries as things I gave up for several months. Lately I’ve stayed away from chips but have been eating too many fries this summer. I’m afraid my arteries could be in terrible shape even though my weight and fitness are good. It’s always something.

  10. Hi Fran! I really enjoyed perusing your site. It’s nice to hear how you and others are living healthy. After gaining a whopping thirteen pounds (on my small-framed 5 foot 1 body) since last October, I find myself instituting a total change in my eating habits. I started small — gave up coffee (which I heavily sugar) except on the weekend, stopped finishing the kids’ lunches, cut down on pasta and potatoes (I have actually thrown a chip in the sink after nearly biting down on it) AND started drinking more water — lots more. So far — in three weeks, I have lost 5 pounds. My exercise plan is walking my 50 pound 5 year old and 35 pound 3 year old around in their double stroller nearly everyday and a video called Pick Your Spot Pilates — that features 10 minute workouts for belly, butt and thigh. It’s quick and seems effective. I also switched to Michelob Ultra beer. I like a beer now and again during the summer months and it’s really not that bad!
    I’ll keep checking back, Fran. This is a great site.
    Take it easy, Chris

  11. Chris has a great example of thinking creatively about finding both the time and the means to exercise. She’s spending time with her kids and exercising at the same time. Cool!
    Wish I had the spine to throw a chip in the sink instead of snarfing it!

  12. Does anyone have tips for how to stop yourself from wanting something? I really enjoy a beer at night–I work hard (mentally, at least, I’m desk-bound for at least 10 hours a day), and even if it’s all in the mind, nothing feels more “relaxing” to me than a cold one. I haven’t tried the Michelob Ultra that Chris mentions, but I also don’t really *fancy* it, and since having the beer is all about treating myself, I don’t want to “make do.”
    I guess this is all about motivation issues, isn’t it? I feel like I should eat better because I’ve piled on the pounds in the last few years–after being skinny for the first 30-35 years of my life, very skinny for the first 25 or so–but I don’t really want to give up all the fun foods and drinks that I enjoy.

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