I’ve been asked many versions of that question by friends, acquaintances and a handful of nice strangers who I often see in elevators, the gym and the metro. By the way, I’m always happy to chat with those strangers, which some of my friends view as a symptom of my southernness– bless their hearts! Just in case you were wondering too, I thought I’d just lay it all out there. If you are thinking that you could care less, stop reading now and go have a cup of tea. Before I give my answer, promise me that you know that what has worked for me might not work for you. I’ve tried things that have worked for other people with no success. If you want my advice, you will find an approach that you can stick to for the long run, that fits well with your lifestyle, and that gives you the results you are seeking while keeping you healthy in the process.
As a chubby kid growing into a very fat adult, I didn’t know a lot of people who actively pursued healthy eating and exercise as part of their normal everyday lives. Dieting was always a big event. A diet was something that you were “on.” It was synonymous with deprivation and lettuce. I saw people around me try whatever the current fad diet happened to be, lose weight, go back to their old habits and then gain the weight back. I tried some of those myself, but never managed to have a loss at all. I like to think that I knew what I needed to do all along. Maybe I did. Maybe I just didn’t think it would work for me since eating tons of grapefruit had failed. If that wouldn’t work, what would? All of that stuff about eating less and moving more probably wouldn’t lead anywhere. Right?
At age 26 and my highest weight ever, my thinking shifted. I was teaching K-6 music at the time in a public school, and making plans to start law school the following year. I’m not sure exactly when or how the shift happened, but I think I had just had enough. I started limiting the amount of fat I ate, and I started walking. I wasn’t all that optimistic, but I knew that I needed to try something. Much to my surprise, it worked. I walked every day. I ate more fruit. I ate more vegetables. I ate less cookies. I broke my good southern habit of seasoning everything with tasty pork fat. I felt better. I looked better. I lost 110 pounds. When you boil it down to its essential parts, what I had really done was to start eating less calories and moving more. I’d heard that wild and crazy theory before, but, as I said, I don’t think that I believed it would work for me.
At age 27, I moved to Virginia and started law school. I tried to continue with my newfound approach to eating and exercise, but it fizzled pretty quickly for several reasons. It was hard to accurately count fat grams without preparing all of my own food. I love to cook, but the demands of law school made it hard to find the time. Plus, my strict fat gram scheme didn’t have flexibility that would allow me to check out the cool restaurants in my new town. My weight loss had tapered off so I wasn’t seeing encouraging results on the scale every week, and my motivation suffered. I kept up the walking for awhile, but then I had to have surgery to remove my gall bladder. After I was sidelined for a bit post surgery, I got out of the exercise habit too. While some newly developed healthy habits stuck around, my scheme pretty much went out the window and my weight starting creeping up.
After I graduated from law school in 2004, I moved to the DC area to start my legal career having regained 60 of the 110 pounds I had previously worked so hard to lose. I knew that I needed to get back on track, but I wasn’t ready to take on the challenge just yet. By the end of 2005, I was ready to give it another shot. I lost about 15 pounds using my old methods, but I was faced with the same old challenges. I also didn’t like the idea that I was sort of making it up as I went along without any kind of assurance that I was going to succeed. I decided that it was time to turn to the professionals. I joined Weight Watchers on-line, started tracking my food and exercise every day, and started to see results. I’ve been on the plan since then.
If you kept reading instead of going after a cup of tea, I’m going to guess that you were curious as to the answer. You may not have expected this much detail, but I think it is important to explain the path I’ve taken so that you will know where I’m coming from.
One more important part of my plan: Peanut Butter and Jelly Grits. If you just made a face, you don’t know what you are missing. I love grits, and even though I think I might be in the minority, I usually prefer mine to be sweet rather than cheesy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never met a grit I didn’t like, but if I am having them for breakfast, they are likely to look like this:
I make a bowl of grits and add 1 T of Better ‘N Peanut Butter, 1/2 T of blackberry jam, and a splash of the skim milk and unsweetened vanilla almond milk mixture that sits in my coffee mug each morning eagerly awaiting an infusion of blissful coffee. I figure that the snowman mug is ok to use as long as there is a possibility of snow. We don’t get a lot here in DC, but it is in the forecast for tomorrow. I’m kind of hoping for a snowy Saturday!