The Skinny On Dieting (A Repost)

I have close to 30 years of dieting experience. I was only in the fifth grade when I thought I needed to lose weight. I started taking ballet lessons and, in my pink tights and blue leotards, it was hard not to notice two things: I was heavier than the other girls and I didn’t really look nice in the body hugging outfit. So I stopped eating rice. Looking at my photos several years afterwards I could see I wasn’t even remotely chubby, it was just 90% of my classmates were thinner than me. But the same thing couldn’t be said as I grew older. At one point in college I was very close to being obese (I had a BMI of 28+; my BMI now is 22).

Striking the “15-pounds-lighter-after” pose in my 4 1/2 year old civil wedding dress. Imagine me walking back and forth a few paces in those high heels several times to get a satisfying shot! It has to be said, except for the cropping, the photo is unPhotoshopped – wrinkles in dress, cat hair in rug and all.

So how did I eventually develop the weight problem? Looking back, it was really the lack of guidance on how to drop a few pounds and maintain it. My mom was very supportive even buying me a Sweet Valley High diet and exercise book for young women when I was 13 years old but like most weight loss books in the Philippines they weren’t applicable to filipinos mainly because the program consists of eating food not available locally, especially in the province where we don’t even have wheat bread. So my diet plan were eclectic tips from people who heard what worked from other people they know: just eating skyflakes crackers and drinking calamansi juice with no sugar, the yucky vegetable soup only, ova-vegetarian only, then protein only, no rice but bread only(which I could finish 6-7 pieces in one sitting), Kankunis tea, Fiber Trim (which I took infrequently because they were expensive) etc.

There were times I would have the ideal weight streak for several months. Like in college when I did the no meat-no rice diet, I lost a lot of weight but I would experience bouts of dizziness and have my menstrual period affected. Or when I became my sister’s maid of honor. Not wanting people to pinpoint my being fat as a reason for my younger sister to have married first, I did the 3 Day Diet (where you are suppose to lose 7 pounds in 3 days) for six months (3 days on a diet, 4 days eating “normally”) and jump roped for 45 minutes (there was a point I could do 3,000 rotations in 1 session) five times a week. I lost 25 pounds alright but I was also feeling lightheaded, hungry all the time, short tempered and, worse, have a memory retention problem.

Overall the ups and downs resulted to more pounds gained through the years. I was forever going on a diet “two weeks from now” which resulted to bingeing on all the food I love because I won’t be eating them for 3-4 months until my diet ends. Yeah right. Whatever diet I was on it would only last me for a week or two then I was back to bingeing because, after all, I would start “two weeks from now” again. So goes the cycle.

The last successful diet I did was Herbalife. I think it worked mainly because for 1 meal a day I could eat whatever I want and how much, snack on fruits and veggies too but for the other meals I could only drink the shake and take their supplements. I used it for 10 months, did Taebo and lost 22 pounds. I was able to maintain that weight for 2 years. The longest and probably even longer hadn’t I become pregnant 3 times. I would soon find out that doing Herbalife in the US is very different than in the Philippines. So I had to rule that out.

I was reluctant to join Weight Watchers since it gave me the impression that it was too sensible – eat less, move more – how boring was that? I wanted something more revolutionary. But in the 3 months I have been in WW have learned so much, a lot more than the past (almost) 30 years I have read and experienced about dieting. Here are my learnings:

What I’ve learned from this experience is that you really don’t need to eat that much food to be satisfied. Rhebs in our Ohio trip commented that I eat so small. That was my first reaction too on when I saw what my correct food portions were during the first 3 days of WW but the surprising thing was that I only got seriously hungry on the 1st day.

What I’ve learned is it’s not about having the willpower but feeding the body when it’s hungry and feeding it with correct food. At WW starving is not allowed. If you are not losing weight you will also be asked if you are eating enough and be reminded not to eat below your alloted points. I find that having protein for breakfast is a must for me and I try not to eat anything too sweet at night because it triggers early morning hunger.

What I’ve learned is it’s not simply having the discipline. If I was so disciplined I would have never had this problem for many years. But more like undoing screwed up way of thinking and unrealistic goals. Diets fail when we work out too hard, try to achieve a goal too fast, not feeding our hunger and not eating the right food. Oprah, at her fittest a couple of years ago, boasted that she doesn’t even eat a grape after 7:00 and how she runs 7mph in her 45 minute workout which sounded very impressive but also something that is impossible to maintain. Although I was shocked when I saw Oprah recently I wasn’t surprised by her weight gain. What I’ve learned in the past 13 weeks is if you can’t see yourself doing the diet and exercise program you are doing now for life then that’s not a good sign.

What I’ve learned is counting points is not the same as counting calories. It’s so much easier to visualize what food I am giving up if when counting points. For example if I have a 6 pt. Snickers bar, I can picture instantly that it would mean giving up a lunch 4pt frozen tray lunch, a 1pt yogurt and a 1pt fruit. Or with that 6 points I can have a 3pt 1/2 cup of Selecta buco salad ice cream and 2 pieces of Goldilocks polvoron (1.5 each). At one time I had 3 pieces of Lindt truffle candy sitting on my office cube for 2 months, not because I have so much willpower but because I knew that those 7pt chocolate candies (total) would be taking out a lot of my more filling treats for the day. They weren’t worth it.

What I’ve learned is it’s not good to be put ourselves inside a diet bubble. There were several times that I would have rather not dined out (which we do twice a week) while still in the WW program but I realized that I should learn how to navigate in the real food world out there. That is why I am glad I didn’t go through the prepared food route like Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem or Seattle Sutton because what will happen once I’ve achieved my weight loss goal? I see my Weight Watchers experience as a short 6 month course that I have to pay so I will be taught, guided and trained how to eat healthily.

I’ve learned how to take care of my body as how I would care for a young child. One evening 2 months ago, as I was preparing to steam vegetables for my toddler a voice inside my head asked “what about you? Aren’t you going to have some of that too?” This started me on trying to get 2-3 servings of vegetables a day.

I’ve learned Christmas is actually the best time to go on a diet. By that time I still haven’t been deprived of my favorite food yet which made it easier to eat just a little at the several Christmas parties we had to go to and after prevailing over the endless temptations of this holiday the following months will seem a breeze (almost) after that.

I’ve learned that having a toddler can make a weight loss program easier. While not having enough time are often used by moms as an excuse why we are not taking better care of ourselves but kids really are a good distraction from sitting too long at the dining table. Chasing after and taking our children outside to prevent them from climbing the walls in boredom is a great motivator for moving more. Having a child around is also saying good bye to extended siestas. A recent article in a parenting magazine even states that just pushing a stroller burns up to 20% more calories than walking alone. Not to mention lugging 20-30 pounders arounds are as good as weight training.

I’ve also learned that dieting is actually easier in america. Sure, there are more treats, gigantic portion sizes BUT there are loads of low calorie nonfat alternatives that taste almost as good as the fattening ones, salads are almost always served everywhere, variety of fruits and vegetables that are available year round, we can almost always customized our food order in restos, there are nutrition labels on almost anything we eat, gyms are not that expensive, and when winter is over the weather is great for exercising outdoors. The first thing I noticed when I first ran around the park 4 years ago was that the cool, dry air can make me run longer and that I didn’t have to fear tripping on cracks on the pavement.

When I become a lifetime member of Weight Watchers I eventually would like to eat what my son eats (he has the healthiest food in our family), maybe eventually go organic, still exercise moderately most days of the week, still eat 1/3 of restaurant food serving portion (yup, a lot of doggy bags), still be conscious of how many chips or candies or cookies I will put in my mouth, still plan weekly menus, still be prepared, still follow the food pyramid as close an frequently as I can as, still drink green tea 4 times a day and 6 glasses of water too, still have WW snack bars, yogurt (simply because they’re delicious), still share my dessert, jog in the park when weather permits, join a yoga class. I also do look forward to eating more points and spending all of my 35 bonus points every week.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is there is no timeframe for a healthy lifestyle. This is forever and, strangely, I don’t mind at all.

first posted on 03/18/2008

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