Nearly a year ago, I weighed 17 pounds more than I do now. I had been gaining two pounds every four months for a long time.
My relatively new suits no longer fit. Every T-shirt, blouse, and top I owned was as uncomfortable as a blood pressure cuff.
When you're only 5' 1" (and that's rounding up), even a five-pound variance is a big deal. My family certainly noticed. It's a good thing Italians are subtle...
Mom called one day, excited about something she saw at Macy's that was perfect for me. I don't like to shop but figured if there was a fabulous outfit on sale, I could just run in and buy it.
"What is it?" I asked Mom, intrigued.
"It's one of those stretchy things," she eagerly explained. "You know......for your stomach?"
Even Dad (who is not Italian), and is the sweetest man I have ever known, had to say something.
"Honey, do you ever exercise?" he asked one day, observing me as I cooked dinner.
I should mention that Dad is in the Shaker Heights High School Hall of Fame for wrestling. Now 83 years old, he recently lamented that he can only do 50 pushups every morning instead of his usual 100 (in addition to other calisthenics and walking every day).
No, I was not exercising. But I was eating the way I always had.
What was going on with this insidious weight gain? (Don't miss my real talk about a healthier diet.)
I guessed that's what happens when you're in your mid-40s — you just can't eat the way you used to. I assumed my metabolism would slow with every decade.
And then I read a book that changed my life and knocked that depressing, middle-aged narrative on its head. Well, actually, two books in quick succession.
The first was VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health...For Good by The New York Times' Mark Bittman. The second was In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan, explaining the dangers of processed foods and proposing some "food rules" to follow.
I soaked up the information like a sponge and began implementing some changes to my diet, tweaking the books' suggestions to accommodate my preferences, lifestyle, and willpower.
So, without further ado, here is what I, well, do:
- Have a vegan breakfast. That means no dairy or animal products (except for the milk in my coffee). I've fallen in love with smoothies using almond milk and a banana as the base. Check out this Melon Creamsicle Smoothie.
- Eat a vegetarian lunch. I didn't want to give up cheese and the possibility of eggs at lunch time, so I made my second meal vegetarian instead of vegan. I usually have leftovers from dinner — vegetables over rice or pasta, maybe a huge, baked sweet potato, or else an egg white omelette with veggies and mozzarella. If I'm out for lunch, I'll order a salad with oil and vinegar on the side.
- Eat meat only 3-4 times a week for dinner. I eat beef, pork, and poultry once a week each. I eat fish or shellfish twice a week. I eat a pasta dish at least once a week for dinner and then maybe soup or a vegetarian pizza on the remaining night.
- Eat fewer processed foods. When I'm at the grocery store, I really try to follow Michael Pollan's rule to buy items with five ingredients or less, and minus hard-to-pronounce ingredients. I switched from margarine to butter (yay!) I've given up luncheon meat, cereal, chips, and those evil 100-calorie packaged snacks. In between meals, I usually munch on nuts, dried fruit, and dark chocolate chips (I love Ghirardelli 60% cacao.) I make things from scratch whenever possible — including sweets, which I eat 3-4 times a week.
- Eat more whole grains. Oatmeal is the new cereal in my household, thanks to the oats I keep in our pantry. I buy brown rice, barley, and even quinoa occasionally. I keep whole wheat flour in my freezer (I like King Arthur's white whole wheat flour) and bake bread and bagels with half whole wheat and half white flour. See my Easy Beer Bread.
- Drink lots of water. I've been doing this for years, but now I've even given up a daily glass of my husband's homemade wine. (Sorry, Honey!) The only beverages I drink besides water are my morning shot of orange juice, my breakfast smoothie, my three cups of coffee (one is usually decaf), and occasionally, tea.
I'm not a nutritionist, and you'll have to experiment for yourself, but this really works for me. I only recently started exercising 1-2 days a week.
I don't count calories or points. I just eat real food when I'm hungry. It tastes so much better than processed.
Best of all, I've dropped 2.5 sizes and can wear almost anything I want. (Good thing I saved most of my "skinny" clothes.) Instead of hanging my head in shame after I get on the scale, I'm doing a victory dance!
Who would've thought this woman who plucks white hair out of her eyebrows could eat so well yet lose so much weight? And more importantly, folks, what the heck is going on with our food?(!)