In my post, Never Let Yourself Go, Part II – Your Body, I promised that I would give you the details of my diet from about 10 years ago that led to my losing 25 pounds in one month. So here they are.
When I discovered that I was, in fact, overweight, I, for the first time in my adult life, found myself in completely unfamiliar territory. I had always been terribly thin and never had to diet. I felt I did not have the skills or knowledge necessary to pull this off since I had never done it before – diet, that is. Then I realized that my mother, God Bless her, had been on a diet for as long as I could remember and, well, it didn’t seem that she really knew what she was doing either. I mean, if someone is always on a diet, there would seem to be some kind of disconnect there somewhere, right? So I knew that I didn’t want to do whatever she was doing.
Then out of the blue, I remembered a comment from my high school Science teacher who said that if you want to weigh 123 pounds, you simply consume the number of calories necessary to sustain your body at 123 pounds. Eureka! A scientific formula to which I could relate.
My teacher was trying to convey to us the scientific principles of calories and energy. He explained how a skinny person, like me, could eat what seemed like an enormous amount of junk food and never gain weight, while someone who ate what was touted to be a more healthful diet of grains and fruit could be overweight – it’s all in the calories. Take in more calories than you expend, the body stores the extra energy as fat. Plain and simple.
Now, if you’ll recall back about 10 years ago, counting calories as a weight-loss method was no longer popular. In fact, weight management instructors were saying that counting calories was the worst way to try to lose weight. But I remembered a comment from my college Health and Safety instructor who said that counting calories is the only scientifically proven way to lose weight. I like science. So with confirmation of my plan, I set out to find a way to customize a calorie-counting diet to suit my needs and achieve success.
At first, I really didn’t know how much I was supposed to weigh. I thought, maybe I’m supposed to weigh 150+. Maybe a Size 10 is right for me at this age. Wishful thinking, but I knew better. I worked for an insurance company at the time and was able to get their weight tables used to determine a healthy weight based on height. This gave me a range. I then went onto the internet and found a program that would also use my body frame and activity level to get the range a little more narrow. This gave me a range of 123 to 135. I decided to shoot for 123, figuring if I fall short – I’ll still be in good shape. At this point, I needed to lose 26 pounds.
My next step, and this is the critical part, was to determine how many calories I needed to consume to become a 123-pound person. When most people think of a calorie-counting diet, they immediately think of cutting their calories back to an unsustainable amount – like 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day. That’s the first place people go wrong. All you need to do, is determine how many calories your “future self” will be eating when s/he weighs that ideal weight. This is much easier than you think and is a critical part of the program.
I decided against adding an exercise regimen to my plan in the beginning for two reasons. One, I had been a member of a gym for several years and every time I stayed with a routine, I gained weight. Which was part of the reason why I was having to do this to begin with. I didn’t watch my weight and “treated” myself every time I worked out – adding calories and, apparently, fat. Plus, and this is reason number two, it was going to be difficult enough just keeping up with the diet. I wanted to get the weight off first, and then tone my muscle while maintaining my 123 weight. One thing at a time – focus.
So how does one go about eating like a 123-pound person? Well, first you have to figure out how many calories will sustain your body at 123 pounds given your height and activity level. I again, consulted the internet. There were fewer sources out there back then than there are today, and I have no idea what the one I used was called, but here is one supplied by the American Cancer Society that is easy to use. Simply enter your goal weight and be honest about your activity level. I would choose sedentary. That way, you don’t have to lift a finger if you don’t want to and any exercise you do get would just be icing on the cake. OH! That was cruel – sorry! Moving on to the next step.
UPDATE 2/20/2009 - A lot of you have expressed concern over the number of calories various calculators return to you. If you use a Basal Metabolic Rate Calculator, like the one at http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/ you will get a better “starting point.” Read the two short paragraphs at the top of that page, and then make a common sense judgment from there. If you are sedentary, try eating just 150 - 200 calories above your BMR. For example, my BMR at the time was 1250, I ate 1425, and lost the weight fast. Your results will depend on your BMR, how much you eat, and how much you burn. Your enthusiasm and vibrational energy also play a factor, and here are more things to consider. (Back to the original article)
UPDATE 8/7/2012 - The most common question I’m now getting is, “Are there any other systems out there that really work? I don’t necessarily want to count calories.” So after much research, I’ve found a site that reviews weight loss products and keeps us all updated. I’ve signed on with them as an affiliate - that’s how much I believe in what they do. Check them out and let me know what you think!
Now that you know how many calories you should be consuming, and this is where it starts to get difficult if you let it, you need to keep track – meticulously – of exactly how many calories you consume. I mean every piece of gum, breath mint, sip of soda – everything. Here’s what I did.
I started an Excel spreadsheet with each day listed at the top and the meal times at the left side. The calorie number I was given back then was 1425 calories per day. I divided that up into 300 calories for breakfast, a 100 calorie mid-morning snack, 300 for lunch, 150 for an afternoon snack, which left a whopping 575 calories for dinner. In this spreadsheet, I would log my actual calories for each day. I kept the sheet on a floppy disk, updated it every time I had a meal or snack and took it back and forth with me between work and home. I counted everything, and ate nothing that I couldn’t get the calorie count for. If you think this is over the top, just remember that you’re not going to do this part forever. I only did it for three weeks. After that, my body was retrained. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. The next step, was figuring out what to eat.
This could have been the diet breaker if I had allowed it to be. But I was determined. As stated earlier, I decided to eat absolutely nothing that I could not get the calorie count for. So I started out with pre-packaged and frozen meals. Ten years ago, there were good options in these areas, but not as many as there are today, so I became bored rather quickly. I then decided to research restaurant caloric charts. I found a book, which is out of print today, but very similar to the Fast-Food Guide. I used this book, in addition to as much information I could get both online and in the restaurants regarding the calorie counts of their food. Again, if I could not get the calorie count, I did not guess, I simply did not eat it. This is very important. I’ll explain why a little later.
Armed with a plan, a tracking system, and plenty of choices, I felt that I could stay on the diet as long as necessary as long as I did not become overly hungry or weak. I did have to adjust my caloric allowances for each meal and snack because eating only 575 calories for dinner was next to impossible. But I did stick to my daily allowance of 1425 and did not go over – even if that meant going to bed hungry. I learned that it’s okay to be hungry every once in a while. Too many of us have the belief that if you’re hungry, there’s something wrong with you, when in reality it only means that your stomach is empty. It’s a physiological response – that’s it. It does not mean that you must eat right away!
Another paradigm shift was realizing how small the difference was between a 150-pound body and a 123-pound body. This is the reason why keeping a log is so important and sticking to your allotted amount of calories is so important; the number of calories between the two are so small! One piece of cake or candy, or anything similar really will “blow” your diet. It could mean starting all over, which is what most people do and become tired of. Who wouldn’t! If the reward for something is failure, we soon lose interest in doing that thing.
For me, right now, an extra 100 calories per day would add 7 pounds to my weight in about a month. One hundred calories is nothing – and yet everything! You can use that calculator I gave you above to play around with different weights and calorie ranges. You’ll notice very little difference in the amount of calories you can consume at various weight levels. This is why so many people fail on diets – especially calorie-counting diets; they fail to track their calories honestly, and fail to exercise their self-discipline long enough to notice results. This is also why fad diets work at first, but then eventually fail. Fad diets usually have you consume or eliminate one particular food group, which causes you to drop your caloric intake for a few days or weeks. Gradually, however, you resume your original caloric intake, just with different foods. The diet stops working and you stop the diet. But if you earnestly count your calories, and you really want to lose weight, my system will work for you.
I also learned what kinds of foods to eat to make my calories last longer and give me more energy. Foods high in fat and sugar pack a ton of calories with very little benefit. The proportion of benefit to calories is not worth it. Foods high in protein and complex carbohydrates gave me plenty of sustainable energy, did not leave me hungry after two hours, and helped me meet my goals easily. When it came to fast food, I learned very quickly that there were some restaurants I just needed to stay out of - forever! Sure, I could have a Big Mac with fries and a coke, but that was almost my entire daily allotment! I also learned that small changes make a big difference. For example, when I went to Taco Bell, the new diet meant getting 2 tacos instead of 3, and a diet Pepsi instead of regular. I had almost as much food, didn’t really miss what I didn’t have, and it paid off big time.
While I’m not a candy or sweets person, I do like peanut M&Ms. I literally took the calorie count for a package of M&Ms, divided that by the number of them in the package, and had an on-going snack relationship with M&M’s. I guess I’m lucky to be one of those people who can eat like only 3 at a time. It would sometimes take me an entire week to finish off one snack-size bag! But the point is, I ate everything I wanted. I just paid the price for it and before eating it, debated on whether it was worth the price – just like a really nice clothing item. I’m sure you’ve done that before; you find a really nice suit or something you like at the department store, try it on, it looks really good, but then you look at the price tag and put it back. You have no problem putting it back on the rack because the price is simply not worth it to you at this time. Eating can be exactly the same way; is what you’re about to consume really worth being overweight?
Another method I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted was to “save” calories. This was actually fun. I had a friend at work who liked to go out on Friday nights. Her husband always worked a night shift that night, so when my husband was out of town, we would treat ourselves to dinner and a movie. She was supportive of my diet, but really craving a piece of “Derby pie” from a local restaurant. We made our plans on Monday, and I started “saving up” enough calories to be able to eat that piece of pie come Friday night. I called the restaurant on Monday and found out that one serving was 750 calories. Using my Excel spreadsheet, I decreased my calories just a little each day and each meal until I had exactly 750 saved up. That was, without, a doubt, the best tasting piece of Derby pie I’ve ever had – before or since! But the best part was, the next morning, my weight was continuing to fall. Which brings me to the next topic, I have yet to discuss how quickly the extra weight came off.
It was fast. My husband went away for two weeks on a business trip. One of the reasons I decided to start the diet at this particular time was because I knew it would be easier if I had only myself to worry about. I didn’t have to cook a big meal for him every night so I could get away with my Lean Cuisines. By the time he returned, I had lost 15 pounds! He could hardly believe it – he said I looked like a different person. I could tell a big difference in my clothes, but I had not really noticed a difference in the mirror yet – probably because I was wearing the same clothes. In about another week I lost the remaining 10 pounds almost effortlessly. By this time, my stomach had shrunk and my body was adjusting to my new habits. My system was working and I was working my system, everyone was supportive of me, and I was very pleased with the fast results. I really lost the weight I wanted to lose in about three weeks, but I stayed on the diet another week to really let it set in. I wanted to develop the habit of eating like a 123-pound person and wanted to make certain my body had fully adjusted. I also wanted to make sure I was eating as many calories as I could. In other words, if I continued to consume 1425 calories every day, would my weight level off at 123 like it was supposed to? Were the formulas used by the calculators accurate? The answer, as it turns out, is yes, they were very accurate.
Now, a lot of people who read this will say that losing that much weight in 3 weeks is unhealthy. I disagree. I experienced no negative side-effects whatsoever. I was eating more healthfully than before, overall. Your body will love you for this. If you think about it, no one’s body wants to be unhealthy. Your body craves to be strong and dependable. I really didn’t feel like I was depriving myself of that much. I ate almost as much food as before the diet, and I definitely ate as much as I truly needed to eat. While I would not, and do not now, eat a steady diet of frozen dinners and restaurant food, it helped my body to realize what amount of food is healthy for me. When I went off the diet, that is, when I stopped using the Excel spreadsheet, my stomach told me when it was full. I no longer needed a chart to tell me how many calories were in a menu item because my stomach told me when I had consumed 300 calories. And the amazing thing was, my body knew the difference between a 300-calorie lunch, a 150-calorie snack, and a 600-calorie dinner. I had developed good habits through this process that have stuck with me for 10 years now. I know when I’ve overeaten before getting on the scale. When my husband and I are planning an evening out and I know I’ll want to order the steak and lobster, I start about a week ahead of time, “saving” enough calories to be able to do that. I guess my retort to anyone who thinks this diet plan is unhealthy is this: which is healthier, fast weight loss by creating good habits through the use of some pre-packaged foods and healthy fast-food choices, or being overweight?
My husband used this plan to lose about 20 pounds over a two-week period just a few months ago. He was suffering from sleep apnea and knew losing weight would make a big difference – and it did. The sleep apnea is now gone, and he eats whatever he wants but maintains his new weight. We both weigh two to three times per week, and if we notice a gain, we cut back for the next couple of days. It’s so easy when you have just a couple of pounds to lose.
For you supplement junkies out there, if you really feel the need to take a pill to lose weight, you can do that with this system – take a good quality multi-vitamin. I use Centrum – not for weight loss – just for my general health, which is all you really need to do. Have you ever noticed how all of those pill-based weight-loss systems tell you that if you follow their plan exactly, which includes taking their miracle pill, eat complex carbohydrates, and exercise daily, they will guarantee your weight loss! And if you don’t do those things the guarantee is voided. Hello!
I’d like now to summarize this “diet plan” for you. I’ve shared a lot of insights and might have confused you along the way, so to be sure you understand the process step-by-step, here it is.
Debra’s 7-Step Plan for Achieving Your Ideal Weight
- Make a commitment to yourself to become healthy. Use a daily affirmation like, “I think and eat like a 123-pound person.”
- Research your ideal weight. Some people know the weight at which they feel their best. If that’s you, use that. If not, find your ideal weight by clicking here.
- Look into how many calories will sustain the weight you desire to be. Click here to find out.
- Focus on weight-loss only for now. You’ll add exercise when you’re ready.
- Keep detailed records. This is the most important part. You cannot guess or be “close enough” on this one. Your body’s habits are off – or you wouldn’t have a problem to begin with. You must use your mind to retrain your body. If you cheat on this, you’re only cheating yourself and your diet will fail. Don’t do that to yourself. You deserve to be healthy. If you find yourself thinking about cheating, go back to number one and strengthen your affirmation with a reason. “I think and eat like a 123-pound person because I want to live long enough to see my grandchildren graduate from college.” Remember, being overweight is an illness that will kill you.
- “Save” calories ahead for special treats. To “cheat” on your diet legally, use your tracking system like a bank account. Save up enough calories to indulge yourself at a future event. Don’t allow yourself to consume the calories first, then pay for them the follwoing week. That doesn’t work and is another source of failure. Pay for them in advance and only use up what you’ve saved for – think of it like a pre-paid calorie card!
- Surround yourself with only supportive people. If someone says to you, “Wow, what happened to you? You look bad! Have you lost weight? Why? You didn’t need to lose any weight – you looked terrific before, not you look sick.” Just ignore them. They’re either jealous, or have a very twisted view of what a healthy person is supposed to look like.
Good luck and feel free to use the “Comments” link below to ask questions.
UPDATE 11/11/09: This DVD, Think and Get Slim: Natural Weight Loss
explains WHY my systems works. I talk more about this in the other articles, but wanted to be sure to put a link here as well. IF YOU TRULY WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT, BUY THIS DVD. PERIOD.
UPDATE 3/31/07: DUE TO THE HIGH NUMBER OF COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS, I HAVE POSTED AN UPDATE TO THIS ARTICLE AT UPDATE TO WEIGHT LOSS ARTICLE.
UPDATE 9/17/07: LATEST UPDATE IS TO EXERCISE, OR NOT TO EXERCISE; IS THAT REALLY THE QUESTION?
UPDATE 10/01/2007: AMANDA FARIS SHARES HER PERSONAL SUCCESS STORY WITH THIS SYSTEM
Until next time,
This post was written by Debra Moorhead, Motivation, Education, Inspiration on October 11, 2006