Around eight or nine months ago, I took part in my regular timed run at the local park. I found I struggled more than usual and ended the race sweating copiously and straining for breath. Although in good health, something was wrong, so I weighed myself and saw my weight had crept up to higher than I expected. I'd lost my job in town a few weeks beforehand, and so wasn't cycling to and from the office anymore, but the weight gain wasn't just through less time on the bicycle, but more a case of slipping unchecked into bad habits. I determined to lose the weight I'd gained without knowing.
Now bear in mind, and I started my new diet from a position where I already exercised regularly and kept an eye on my food consumption. But if you are obese, and not just a few pounds overweight as I was, the general principles still apply, and you can adjust these to suit your personal circumstance.
After weighing myself, I started by looking at my diet. For breakfast on an average day I ate toast and preserves, grapefruit, prunes, and black coffee with sugar. A lot of healthy fruit there of course, but a lot of sugar as well. I replaced the sugar in my coffee with sweetener, and instead of toast and preserves, I decided to make oatmeal instead. Now, oatmeal is messy and takes a long time to prepare compared with cereal or toast, so I prepare the oatmeal the night before. Seven to eight heaped tablespoons of oats in a bowl, a little sugar to taste, soaked overnight in semi-skimmed milk, makes for a substantial breakfast (along with the fruit) which will keep you going all morning. Heat it up in a microwave if you prefer, but I’m not fussy when it comes to eating oatmeal cold. To liven it up, mix in a couple of handfuls of your favorite unsweetened cereal.
As for lunch, I’d usually eat something like a cheese sandwich or a bag of low-fat chips,
followed by an apple, banana, and a crunchy honey-and-oat bar. Again, you’d think there’s not a lot wrong here, but unlike the morning, when I’d often go for a run, the afternoons were more sedentary. I resolved to cut out the cheese, chips and oat bar, for alternatives even lower in fat. I decided on a couple of flavored rice cakes instead of the sandwich, and replaced the oat bar with a low-sugar granola bar, of no more than 4g of fat per 100g, half the fat content of the oat bar. When checking the nutrition label on food products, go by the fat content, and not just the calorie content. A candy bar has 12g to 25g of fat per 100g, so keep below that amount if you can. The rice cakes are almost fat-free and are now available in many varieties, both sweet and savory, or you can flavor plain rice cakes with herbs or spices.
I’ve always considered dinner the main meal of the day, but instead of making an Indian or Mexican meal, I now put together a meal concentrating on food more in keeping with a
Mediterranean diet, revolving around tomatoes, onions, pasta, chicken, fish (usually tuna or sardines) and garlic. A typical evening will see me use a pasta sauce as a base for a meal, adding half a jar to a pan containing a lightly fried onion (I switched to using vegetable oil and not olive oil), before adding chicken, fish, pasta and/or beans to the dish. Add chili, garlic or Italian seasoning according to taste, and for extra goodness, add a tablespoon of tomato purée, or stir in half a can of drained chopped tomatoes. A can of diet tomato soup will do perfectly well if you’ve no pasta sauce. Eat with a slice or two of wholemeal bread. I eat a dinner based around these ingredients four or five times a week, with just a meat-based salad on the other nights, or a hearty soup with plenty of wholemeal bread, with a ‘junk food’ meal of fried fish and thick-cut fries or healthy-option pizza once a week, if that.
Snacks and Soft Drinks
Of course, we all get peckish between meals, and I’m no different. A rice cake, slice of buttered wholemeal bread or another banana always fills a hole nicely until meal-time. As for soft
drinks, I only take diet cola or black coffee during the day, aside from water. I would suggest against drinking fruit juice more than once a day, as although good for vitamins, many fruit juices are also high in sugar, and contain no fiber, unlike real fruit. If you've a sweet tooth, and can't do without some sort of candy, eat a couple of hard-boiled sweets like Jolly Ranchers, or peppermints, as these take longer to eat and so you eat less of them during the day. Remember however, the bad effect of hard candy on your teeth.
Now, what about the booze? I have to admit, I am fond of beer, and drink most nights of the week. I have at least two ‘dry’ nights each week; if you drink every day, it might be a good idea to start going at least one day per week without alcohol, just to give your body a break.
However, as much as I like beer, I now drink less, and later in the day, than several months ago. This is because I added an extra exercise routine into the evening, lasting an hour or so, and less strenuous than running. Of course I don’t drink before the exercise, but wait until I’ve finished the routine, by when there’s only time for a few beers before bedtime. I avoid wine (certain types disagree with me), reserving liquor for special occasions; why get drunk on quickly downed shots when you can relax with a few beers and take your time to enjoy them? One tip for the barflies - avoid bar snacks such as chips and nuts. Those are the usual causes of the 'beer belly', and not the beer itself.
If you are not used to exercise, then remember that any physical activity is better than doing nothing. I run four or five times a week, and extended those runs, an do the exercise routine most evenings, but if don’t
feel ready to undertake vigorous exertions, simply spend more of your day walking. You can even pace your home or apartment each day for thirty minutes, or an hour, while listening to the radio, or the TV. Or why not dance, in the privacy of your own home, to your favorite albums? Exercise can take many forms, so if you feel uncomfortable exercising in public, just go for it at home instead. The only time I've ever used a gym came when I worked for a company with its own private leisure facilities, but even so, I prefer working out at home, where you can choose your own personal soundtrack!
All in Good Time
There is one thing you must allow for however, and that is time. By making the changes I
detailed above, I lost two stone in weight, going from eleven and a half stone to around nine and a half stone, over the course of six to seven months. If you are heavier, you may experience greater weight loss, but you must get used to the idea of safe weight loss taking place gradually. Ignore any adverts you see on TV for diets based around the idea of losing x
amount over 30 days or similar; those diets often hide a lot of hidden work (such as extreme dieting and hard gym work) done by test subjects in order for the ad to get by the (very loose) advertising standards regulating such broadcasts. A 30 day diet is a bad diet and only exist to make the unscrupulous wealthy.
And that’s pretty much it. I weigh myself once a month to keep track of how I’m doing and this gives me an incentive to stick to a diet which I find easy enough keep to in the first place. Give yourself time, set your mind to it, and you can find losing weight easier and cheaper than you imagined. I don’t have bulging biceps or sculpted abs, but I’m well within my ideal weight range, and feel healthy, and better about how I look. I can run faster and have friends asking me ‘how did you do it?’ Well, that’s how I did it, and now you can do it as well!