Archive for August, 2009

This is NOT a photo of me, but I wish it was.

This is NOT a photo of me, but I wish it was.

Seven pounds gone! I can’t believe it. This is the lowest my weight has been in years.  And I did it by simply thinking about  how I failed in the past.  Here are my 5 mistakes that led to diet failure. 

Mistake #1: Believing that I can effectively limit my intake of carbs and sweets.

Mistake #2: Failing to understand the importance of protein as a hunger suppressor.

Mistake #3: Failing to create a way of making myself accountable.

Mistake #4: Trying to be perfect.

Mistake #5: Not planning for my inevitable slip-ups. 

Today let’s talk about Mistake #1.  My most important diet insight has been that I am a carb and sweetness addict.  That means that just like other addicts I cannot control myself when I am tempted by my addictive substance.  I have almost as much trouble saying “no” to a piece of chocolate cake as a heroin addict has saying “no” to the next fix. 

Lucky for me my training as a psychologist and my experience in helping people overcome their addictions have given me some tools to fight this situation. 

The first step in any addiction program is admitting that you have no control over the addiction. Telling myself that I can “just have a taste” of a piece of cheesecake is just giving myself false hope.  We all know where it will end.

Let me tell you about a situation that has occurred probably thousands of times in my lifetime.  I am having dinner with friends.  I have avoided the bread and ordered a healthy low fat meal.  Then. The waitress asks, “Will there be any dessert?” We all look at each other.  Who will be the first to give in? Finally, one of us takes the bait. But we are all hooked. “Let’s just order one slice and share it.” After we polish off the dessert we talk about how wonderful it was, how delicious.  We don’t feel guilty at all because, after all, WE SHARED! 

Later that evening as I am sitting alone in my living room watching TV, an uncontrollable urge for something sweet comes over me. I have had a taste of the forbidden fruit and my body craves more. In a trance-like state I unconsciously move into the kitchen and grab whatever is available to me.  It can be ice-cream, cookies, or leftover Halloween candy. It doesn’t matter to me. I will look at an apple and reject it.  I will look at the celery and think, “No way!” I will search until I find what I am looking for and then I will eat, and eat, and eat until I feel a feeling of satisfaction.

Were you wondering how I gained 20 extra pounds? Now you know.


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Snickers dressed for a party

Snickers dressed for a party

Can a dog really help you to lose weight? Absolutely! My dog (8 year old Cock-a-poo) Snickers has become a vital part of my weight control and fitness plans. He watches my every move thus ensuring that I will feel guilty if I cheat. He motivates me to make healthier choices.  And. He encourages me to go just a little further. Sometimes it seems that Snickers will go to any lengths to help me. Let me explain.

Recently my daughter, Laura, gave me a book, How to Have an Ill-behaved Dog (published by Knock Knock). This hilarious book has been a real eye-opener.  Many of the behaviors that I had thought were “bad” turn out to be wonderful expressions of my dog’s love for me.

Every time I start to prepare food in the kitchen Snickers rouses himself from wherever he has been napping and sits at my feet staring at me with such an intensity that I can almost feel it. After reading the book I understand that he is trying to communicate with me.  “I hope you are going to make something low calorie and healthy” his eyes seem to be saying. He sits quietly as I prepare salad or vegetables.  But as soon as I put meat, poultry or fish on the counter he starts to whine.  It is as if he saying “Is that too many calories?  Is there too much fat? What about the sodium?” Sometimes if the meat is too fatty or there is too much chicken, he becomes even more agitated.  For a little dog it is amazing how high he can jump. That’s right! He will actually jump up repeatedly to remind me to watch my portion control. And sometimes when I don’t pay enough attention to his good advice he becomes such a nuisance that I just have to take some food off my plate and give it to him. Then he looks up at me as if to say, “Good girl! You know that was more than you really needed.”

Watching my food intake is not the only way that Snickers helps me to lose weight. He also encourages me to exercise more. When he thinks that I have lounged around the house or worked at the computer for too long, he gently reminds me that it might be a good idea to get some exercise by going for a walk. From past experience I have learned that if I don’t heed him there could be some nasty surprises in my future. His successful motivational techniques get me out of the house and walking in no time. Sometimes after walking for 10 or 15 minutes I want to go back home.  Not Snickers! He knows I need more than that. He pulls on the leash until I get the idea that we have to walk more. What a friend!

Thanks, Laura, for such a thoughtful gift. Those of you who found this blog by accident and aren’t into a healthy lifestyle might be interested in  another of the books in the Self-Hurt series, How to Get Fat. This book guarantees that “even if you’ve failed at weight gain before, with this easy, step-by-step guide, you’ll actualize your inner corpulence. “

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Snapper dinner

Snapper dinner

Any diet that requires me to spend more than about 10 minutes preparing a meal is already off on the wrong foot. I know myself. I will not be able to stay motivated to put in that kind of effort day after day after day. Plus, I am hungry when I get home from work. I do not have the patience to play around in the kitchen dirtying bowls and spoons and the like which will only mean lots of clean-up time once the meal is just a memory. So this time I am creating fast, easy, nutritious and satisfying meals that can be put together in 10 minutes or less.

For those of you for whom reaching the height of 5 ft. tall is a memory from childhood, you might be interested to learn that for me it is still a goal yet to be reached! Being small means that my daily caloric requirements are less than that of an average-sized person.  So it is especially important for me to devise meals that are low in calories.  If you find that my meals are too low in calorie for you, I am sure that you can find simple ways of making up the difference. For example, you could make the portions larger, have a dessert, or snack more often.

Last night’s dinner: Grilled Snapper with vegetables and salad

(1)   The fish.  I bought frozen snapper filets at my local super market. The package indicated 110 calories per serving. But when I opened it up I realized that the label must just be a marketing scam. I ended up using the entire 6 oz. filet at 220 calories (3 g. fat, 100 mg sodium, 44 g. protein). Pre-preparation: Remove the frozen fish in the morning. Place in the fridge to defrost while you are away.

(2)   Lucile’s African Creole Seasoning. The trick to making simple food delicious is to make it interesting. I picked up a jar of Lucile’s African Creole Seasoning during one of my visits with Amy in Boulder, CO. Let me tell you, this little spice jar packs whallop of flavor! Preparation: I lightly coated the snapper filet with the seasoning (you can use your own favorite kind). Then I grilled the fish using my George Foreman Grill for about 5 minutes. It is important not to overcook as the fish can get dried out.

(3)   The vegetables. If you have the time I recommend that you buy fresh vegetables and steam them within the day you buy them. However, if you are anything like me you will need an easier option. I used Birds Eye Steamfresh Baby Broccoli Blend (60 calories per cup serving).  There are about 3 servings per bag. In the past I would have eaten the entire three servings at one meal because everyone knows vegetables are good for you and their calories don’t count. This time I actually measured out a one cup serving.

(4)   The salad. I buy Romaine lettuce at the supermarket in a plastic bag that contains 3 Romaine hearts. This lasts me an entire week or more. I chopped up about 1 cup of lettuce, added two slices of tomato, sliced in some red pepper and just to make things interesting I added 5 pitted olives (25 calories).  The brand I used was Lindsay Naturals.  The label says, “California olives in water and sea salt, nothing else.”

(5)   The finishing touch. I added some lite salt and ground pepper to the salad and squeezed some lemon juice over the salad, the vegetables and the fish. Voila! A wonderfully satisfying meal in less than 10 minutes and under 350 calories.

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Has this ever happened to you? “I start the day good and end the day bad.  I eat a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch. Then around 3 or 4 o’clock I want cookies.  Once I eat the cookies it’s all over! After that I feel like my day has been ruined and I might as well just eat anything and start again tomorrow.” According to my daughter Amy, this happens to her almost every day.

How can we overcome the urge to splurge?  Even if we get past the 4 o’clock sugar crave we still have to face the 10 pm munchies where we can easily undo all the healthy choices of an entire day by over-indulging in ice-cream, cakes, cookies, chips or other snacks.

I have found it useful to have a few guidelines. (1) Restrict ALL snacks to a short list of acceptable choices. Mine are: fresh apple, fresh peach, unsweetened applesauce (a small amount of Equal and/or cinnamon can be added), and sugar-free Jello.  (2)  Eliminate sugar, carbs and sweeteners as much as possible during the day. (3) Eat lots of protein rich foods to reduce hunger and drink lots of water.

When 4 pm rolls around be prepared. You can add some sugar to your diet with fresh fruit instead of cookies, if you have planned ahead. I find that it is important not to let myself get too hungry. It is much easier to control myself when I am thinking with my head not my stomach.

It’s a struggle. That’s for sure. We love the foods we have always enjoyed. Some foods feel so comfortable to us that our emotional attachments to them can prevent us from moving forward. If you need comfort, get a hug. If you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up try fresh fruit or other acceptable snack. If you are still hungry eat a little more. Drink more water. Then eat a protein rich dinner.

By the time 10 pm rolls around you are probably tired.  I am. This is also when I am at my most vulnerable.  My defenses are down. The urges begin to loom large. Again, being prepared helps. Sugar-free Jello, a small amount of fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese on a rice cake or your own favorite healthy snack can be substituted for pretzels, ice-cream or potato chips. To be honest the healthy snacks are not as much fun or as enjoyable going down. BUT. You will sleep better because your nutrition will be more balanced. And. You will wake up in the morning feeling good about yourself instead of disappointed and weak-willed.

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Turkey & honey ham sandwich for lunch

Turkey & honey ham sandwich for lunch

Going on a weight loss diet is challenging. I believe it is important to have a healthy diet brimming with vitamins, low in fat, low in sugars, low in “bad” carbs, high in fiber, low in sodium, and high in nutrients. But honestly it is difficult to keep track of it all. So often I think I am eating something good for me only to find out that maybe I was wrong and it is actually the worst thing I could be eating. Today I talk about how to keep it easy and simple as I work my way toward diet success.

Let’s talk about cold cuts. There are several brands of cold cuts that I buy regularly. The one I like the best is Healthy Ones.  They make 5 or 6 varieties of deli meats that come in a nice reusable tub (how green is that?) with a sealed plastic bag of lean, thinly sliced deli meats inside. All are low in fat and calories. It appears to have been endorsed by the American Heart Assn. as their logo appears right on the container.  Cold cuts are important to me because I like to take lunch with me to work. So they make a quick, easy and nutritious way to stay on top of my diet.

Today my lunch consisted of the following: a sandwich of 5 slices of Honey Ham (approx. 45 calories), 5 slices of Turkey Breast (approx. 45 calories), I used two slices of  Weight Watchers Multi-Grain bread (100 calories) spread with Grey Poupon Dijon mustard, a Romaine lettuce leaf (rib removed), and a slice of tomato. Since peaches are in season I took a half sliced in a plastic snack bag.

Cold cuts like these are wonderful for someone like me because it makes it possible for me to take a satisfying lunch to work with a minimum of fuss and bother.  I also find them to be a nutritious snack by rolling one or two slices in a Romaine lettuce leaf with a smidge of mustard. Yum. 

Mmmm.  I can hear you asking, “Whatever happened to those chocolate covered cranberries that you wrote about yesterday? Did you eat them all?  Throw them out?” No. I took those wonderful chocolate covered cranberries to work. But.  I only ate one.  I shared the rest with co-workers who were very happy that I was on this diet.

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We all know that dieting is simply a matter of (1) eating right, (2) exercising, and (3) staying on course. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.  So if it’s so simple why is it so difficult and frustrating? The answer is because we cannot seem to control our behavior.  We say we want to eat right and then succumb to the first piece of chocolate that passes by. We say we want to exercise but never find the time to get away from the couch or the computer. We say we want to stay on course, but honestly how can you diet during Christmas? On your birthday? When guests are coming over? When you are invited to a party? Etc., etc., etc. We know what to do, but we find it difficult to follow-through. I think we are being undone by our own psychology. So I intend to use psychology to fight psychology.

Have you noticed that I haven’t been talking a lot about snacks?  That’s because the only snacks I allow myself is fresh fruit (peaches and apples), unsweetened applesauce, or sugar-free Jello.  I have avoided low-fat, low-cal ice cream; diet cookies and cakes; and sugar-free candy. The reason is that it is easier for me to stop cold turkey than it is to control myself.  I am an addict. I used to think that I was a sugar addict.  Now I realize that I am also a sweetness addict. Using these diet snacks changes nothing for me. I may be taking in a few less calories but my eating pattern is remaining the same. I admit that I have cheated. I already confessed about the peanut butter on a rice cake.  I’ve also had a few chocolate covered cranberries (exquisite!) that my daughter brought back from Nantucket. But I think it is better for me to cheat and know that I strayed than to regularly eat a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich each night and think that I am  making progress. 

What do you do about the urge to snack?

Sunday evening. A movie and dinner with a friend. Where to this time? My friend Phyllis and I usually eat at a little Italian restaurant after we see a movie together. The food is delicious but I have no idea how many calories I am consuming. So tonight we decided to go to Carrabba’s where I had a house salad with vinaigrette on the side and an appetizer order of crab cakes

Italian food is delicious but it is often high in calories, fat and salt. When you can’t be perfect maybe it is ok to just make the best choice that is available to you. The appetizer crab cakes were very filling and at $10 a bargain as well. At 340 calories it is one of the least fattening things on the menu. But watch out for the sauce; it is loaded with cream.

Carraba’s crab cakes

Carraba's crab cakes

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Surprise! The first week of my 20 pound struggle hasn’t really been much of a struggle. In fact, I’ve done so well that I think I’ll indulge in a treat.  Mmmm.  What should it be? Ice cream?  Chocolate cake? A nice big steak?  Just kidding! One thing I’ve learned from past experience is that getting too confident after an initial weight loss can make me even more vulnerable to temptations. Not this time!

I’ve said it before.  I’ll say it again.  I’m in for the long haul. 

Today I stepped on the scale for my first official weigh in.

The results? Four pounds gone. 16 pounds to go.

I’m very pleased and surprised that it was so easy. But. We all know what’s up ahead.  It’s getting closer every day.  The wall of pain – the dreaded plateau!

I want to thank everyone who has been reading this blog and especially those who have left comments or e-mailed me.  Your support has been crucial to my success so far. And I am learning so much. I know a lot about motivation and the psychology of dieting because of my training and past career in Clinical Psychology.  I am not a nutritionist or an expert on food. Yet, I thought I knew quite a bit and could make good choices.  It turns out that there is still a lot to learn.

On Day 2 (Gifts of love) I wrote about my struggle when my daughter made Baked French Fried yams for dinner. Candy thought I should know that yams might not be as bad as I thought they were. “About the yams… they are one of the best foods you can eat to lose weight. They are high in fiber, antioxidants, beta carotene, low in calories and give you a sense that you are cheating because they are naturally sweet. A good option that is not as bad as you think. I make them with sugar free syrup and they are delicious and filling. Also there is a diet recipe where you bake them and fill with spinach and cottage cheese salt and pepper and bake them again. Delicious and about 240 calories for both halves.

Yam fries

Yam fries

On Day 6 (I’m in it for the long haul) I compared two types of canned soups and got reminded about an important reality by chocolateprn.“I would say if you want chicken soup make some from scratch with no salt OR, buy a low sodium option. Canned soups are extremely high in sodium which affects your blood pressure among other nasty things. Sodium causes water retention too (more water weight). It’s an ok snack in a pinch, but there are better options.”

I don’t have high blood pressure.  But I am sure it doesn’t hurt to watch that sodium.

Tomorrow starts week two of my 20 pound struggle.

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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