Nutrition Seminar

Yesterday, I went to a nutrition workshop sponsored by my gym as part of its Biggest-Loser-style competition. I’m not doing the competition this time around, but the gym allows any member to participate in the seminars. I wasn’t impressed with the Nutritionist’s presentation skills, but I took notes anyway (to ensure I paid attention and didn’t nod off!) and discovered that I really did identify with and learn a lot once I reflected on my notes later.

The presenter has a varied clientele, but seems to take a very holistic approach to her practice. She identifies four tools required to develop a successful “weight solution”:

1.       A reasonable and adequate food plan

2.       A reasonable and adequate physical activity plan

3.       A reasonable lifestyle (on most days)

4.       Stress management/solution skills to help balance emotions and behaviors

She said all too often “dieters” leave out one or more components. They have have short-term success, but they usually don’t experience continued success. She said “exercise is like medicine. If you underdose you don’t get the benefits, and if you overdose, you experience undesired effects.” More and more studies are showing that weight loss and weight maintenance requires a balance of nutrition and exercise, further illustrating her point!

I could see people in the group rolling their eyes when she talked about stress management/solution skills and addresses emotional eating. I absolutely understand where they’re coming from. In fact, I think it’s us planner-types that tend to struggle recognizing the need for that third and fourth tool. I had so many reasons that I attributed to my weight gain (poor food choices, oversized servings, a love of dessert, busy schedule, PCOS, limited options at the dining hall where I always ordered lunch, not liking “diet” food), and for the first year and a half of my weight loss, I NEVER acknowledged that there was an emotional reason. In fact, a year into my weight loss, I saw a nutritionist and she asked if I ever binge ate. I said no. And I believed it. But, man, was I lying. I think it was only this fall that I finally realized that I eat when I’m stressed and anxious. I recognized this when I was lonely, tired, bored and a little bit stressed and nervous after having back surgery. I found myself grazing and craving less healthy food options. It happened again when I was anxious about my boyfriend’s job search. Funny… my eating tends to get out of control when I feel out of control. You’d think when I felt powerless, I’d want to try to regain control and perhaps have a stronger handle on my food intake. Sadly, no.

So sure, I got fat because I was making poor food choices and having oversized servings, but when I was doing that, it was often when I was also under stress or struggling to deal with other emotions.

Also along the holistic healing front, this presenter doesn’t demonize food. When we diet, we tend to have  a mental list going of “good” foods and “bad” foods. She said having that all or nothing approach tends to lead to bingeing. Instead, she allows her clients up to one serving of “fun food” daily. She advises them to recognize whether they truly have an appetite for it and ask themselves “Do I need it?” If the answer is yes, then they should indulge in a modest serving, fully allowing them to taste and enjoy it. And they are not allowed to feel guilty about eating it—after all, it’s allowed.

My interpretation of this is that some food is meant to fuel your body and other food is meant to fuel your soul. Creating a healthy weight loss solution isn’t about deprivation. It’s about nurturing yourself.

This has been a major A-HA! perspective for me, and something that I try to share, especially if people ask me about my weight loss and how I’m able to do it and maintain it. Granted, I’m not at goal yet, but I think it’s pretty terrific that I was able to lose 50lbs in 2007 and maintain it throughout 2008—despite a new relationship, back surgery, the inability to work out most of the year and other normal and not-so-normal stressors.

Food for me is a pleasure. I respect, value, enjoy and appreciate food MORE now that I’m losing weight, and it’s not because I’m starving myself and therefore love the few morsels I do eat even more. I look at it this way: I have a daily budget of calories, and I don’t want to go into debt. When I do spend, I’m going to do it on high-quality, delicious food that I enjoy and that makes me feel good (physically and spiritually). Of course, I still have the lessons my parents ingrained in me, so I still struggle with throwing food out if I’m full or if it doesn’t taste good. Instead, I make full use of my spice collection, and I also invest in a lot of food storage containers. Even if my leftovers don’t make a whole meal, I can consider using them as part of another meal or one of my midday snacks.

This workshop had interesting timing for me. Earlier this week, I participated in a TBL liveblog with Fat Bridesmaid and she commented that they needed to adopt a quote from the show “I need to love myself more than I love food.” I argued that you should be able to do both. (It turns out, we both agreed!) At about the same time, another blogger friend told a story about a participant in her lunchtime Weight Watchers at Work meeting saying he packed a “good” lunch because he didn’t want them to see him eating “bad” foods. She told him she made it a point to fit a piece of chocolate into her point allowance. Every day.  She understands the danger of feeling deprived and plans ways to prevent that.

Here’s how I ate before I started losing weight:

  • Cereal with milk (maybe fruit) for breakfast. Some type of coffee beverage (regular brew with half and half or a nonfat latte, no sugar) would be consumed in the process.
  • Lunch would be whatever looked “good” at the dining hall. I use the term “good” loosely because this dining hall sucked. Apparently, the “Fri” in Friday stood for fried everything day. You had your choice of fried clams, fried fish sticks, fried shrimp and French fries. The only veggies would be a salad bar with wilted and browning lettuce, steamed frozen peas or corn. The rest of the week, the dining hall specialized in grade school cafeteria food options: chicken nuggets and tater tots, chicken pot pie, pasta and sauce, etc. Sometimes I’d forego hot entries for a turkey sandwich, but they never carried light bread or mayo. Not that it mattered–I would always have two cookies for dessert. At the time I thought they were really good cookies, but if I had them now, I would simply recognize them as sweet (not necessarily flavorful).
  • No snacks, unless I was really hungry in the afternoon and snuck into the dining hall for a cookie or a bakery treat at the local coffeeshop. I would often have a coffee in the afternoon, sometimes with sugar).
  • Dinner: I’d usually be starving at this point, so I’d cook something quickly. It was often pasta of some sort. I’d have a couple servings. Occasionally, I’d also take the time to prep veggies and a protein (I loved making stir-fry), but oftentimes I just consumed carbs. I’d eat two servings of the pasta, and I’d think I was still hungry so I’d have more pasta or I’d reach for something sweet. Now I realize I wasn’t still hungry—my tastebuds were simply feeling deprived.

Now, it amazes me that my body actually felt deprived with such a high calorie diet! Sometimes I wonder how many calories I was actually consuming in those days. Regardless, it was enough to gain 35 lbs in a year–the most I’d ever gained in such a short time!

Now I make food choices based on both flavor and healthiness. Cheese can be an indulgence, so I don’t waste time with low-flavor cheeses (American, mild cheddar). Instead, I opt for feta, extra sharp cheddar or romano cheese which practically assault my taste buds with flavor and, as a result, I find that I don’t need as much.

I  have a protein, complex carb and 1-2 servings of veggies at every lunch and dinner. I have 2-3 snacks a day (under 250 calories). My breakfast is either oatmeal with a protein (Aria vanilla protein powder, nuts or peanut butter) or it’s some kind of eggwhite omelet with a little cheese, veggies and a complex carb (fruit or a light, high fiber bread product).

And I still make space in my “budget” for a tall nonfat, sugarfree latte! I much more satisfied with the food I eat now and I consume a greater variety of flavors, vitamins and minerals.

Yes… the food I prepare fuels my body, but it also needs to fuel my soul. How many of us grow up thinking of food as love (babies being held by their mother as they nurse, giving a loved one chocolate on Valentine’s Day), celebration (birthday and wedding cakes, champagne) or solace (“comfort food” like bringing a casserole to a friend who has experienced a death in the family or cooking a big pot of soup on a cold winter day)?

This is why I will probably never diet. I would have to give up part of my life in order to do so. The reason why I decided to start losing weight is because I wanted to lead a fuller life—not just have a full belly. Dieting wouldn’t allow me to lead that life I envision having for myself.

Okay… back to success strategies. In order to create an effective weight loss solution, you need to have the following:

·         A purpose. This can be intrinsic (to have more body confidence or to reduce my risk of diabetes) or extrinsic (to be a better role model for my children).

·         Intimacy with yourself. Know what fuels you and what sets you off. Be connected to your feelings, both physical and spiritual.

·         Support.  Some people engage friends or family in their weight loss efforts. Other prefer Biggest-Loser style competitions or the support of a Weight Watchers meeting.

·         The understanding that you will feel uncomfortable at times. This could be feeling awkward going to the gym for the first time, the soreness after a tough workout or the initial discomfort of making the lifestyle changes necessary to meet your goals.

·         The feeling that the benefits and payoffs are coming through for you.

The last point I’ll share from the workshop is the concept of a “healthy and natural weight.” The presenter was tossing this phrase around a lot and assuming we all knew what it was. Of course, I can tell from the conversations I overheard before the session that the participants were thinking “goal weight.” They had some number in mind, based on the size of the jeans they wore in high school, the number on their WW weight chart or the scale reading that would put their BMI in the ‘normal’ range. Finally, someone started to suspect not everyone was on the same page, so she asked “What’s a healthy and natural weight?” A healthy and natural weight isn’t chart-based. It’s what I’ve heard some magazines (Self? Oprah?) call “a happy weight.” It’s a weight that you can get to through moderate diet and exercise program and a weight that you can maintain somewhat easily. In other words, you shouldn’t be on a constant diet to fight to stay at whatever that number is. You should be able to maintain that weight by eating healthy foods and exercising moderately. This weight will change as you age. It might not be the same number as that BMI chart. Those “last 10 lbs” may be impossible to lose and maintain.

Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve begun to realize that my ultimate goal weight (160-165lbs) may not be unattainable but it might be unmaintainable. I’m not changing my goals yet. I expect to see how far I’m able to go before I make a final determination. Really, my goal is to be satisfied with my health and fitness, my food choices and how I look in my clothes. I don’t need to be a size 6 or have supermodel proportions.

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