My friend Elaine came by yesterday looking for weight-loss tips to pass along to a friend who’s struggling, and it made me realize that I really ought to put together a weight-loss page with a list of the key changes that helped me the most.
Here are six things I’d want to include, pulled from a newspaper column I wrote last fall called “Little Things That Can Add Up to a Big Weight Loss.” So we’ll start with these, and I’ll add to this list as things occur to me:
1. Eat your French fries first
I don’t eat French fries anymore, but it’s the principle that’s important here. If you’re eating something with lots of itty-bitty moving parts, make sure you mop all those up before moving on to something more “solid” that can act as a barrier representing the end of the meal.
Back in the days before I gave up fries, I noticed that if I ate all of those first — including any that had fallen to the bottom of the bag — I could then turn off the “foraging” part of my brain and concentrate on my sandwich, which had a more obvious beginning and end point.
Now I often do the same thing, even if I’m eating something healthy like grapes, just because it’s annoying to keep eating past the point of being satisfied.
2. Treat exercise like an appointment
Even though I love to run — and I’m learning to enjoy swimming and cycling as well — I find that if I don’t plan a workout into my schedule ahead of time, it usually won’t happen.
3. Eat your vitamins
Instead of popping a pill every morning, I sucked on a kids’ tablet in the afternoon. The faux Sweet Tart break often got me past a point in the day when I tended to want “a little something.” (And I found I was much more likely to remember to take my vitamins, too.)
4. Redefine your food groups
As far as I’m concerned, there are only three: munching foods, filling foods and treat foods. Each category contains both “good” and “bad” choices, but when you designate them into these groupings, it clarifies your decision-making.
When I’m in munch mode, I could eat chips. But I could just as easily reach for baby carrots or 94 percent fat free popcorn. If I’m not craving a taste so much as the need to chew on something, this is a great place to work more veggies into my diet.
I structure my diet around filling foods, because I hate to get hungry. And if I’m focusing on filling my tank, it’s easier to make healthy choices.
I never plan to lurch into munch mode or treat mode. But I know it’s going to happen from time to time. When it does, I try to work from a list of approved choices I keep on hand for emergencies.
5. Eat this, not that
You don‘t always have to choose the low-fat option. But in cases where it doesn‘t make much difference, why not? Sometimes it’s not a matter of taste so much as ignorance.
Classic example: cheese dip. The realization I could have two tablespoons of salsa con queso for just 45 calories and not much fat was huge. I put it on tortilla chips (on a plate, rather than dipping straight from the bag), but I also drizzled it on steamed broccoli, baked potatoes, taco salad, you name it.
Keeping this taste in my diet — while avoiding full-fat “cheese sauce“ that isn’t cut with salsa — was a big factor in helping me avoid feeling deprived.
6. Don’t sweat screw-ups
One reason it’s so important to track your eating is that it helps you realize one bad choice — or even one really bad day — isn’t as devastating as you might think.
About three months into my weight loss, I screwed up one day and had five oatmeal cookies and four slices of pizza. I was devastated, certain that my “losing streak” was over.
But when I added up my Weight Watchers points, I saw it might be possible to make up the amount I went over by cutting back and exercising more the rest of the week.
By weigh-in day, I discovered I’d not only recovered from my mistake but had somehow managed a 3-pound loss for the week.
It was my single biggest comeback in what eventually turned into 37 weeks of consecutive weight loss.