Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Life As A Weight Loss Counselor

I woke up this morning and wanted nothing more than to stay at home and lie in bed all day. I was thinking, "No more, please no more." We've had our first hot spring days, and suddenly everyone's forgotten that there's a recession. Swimsuit season is upon us, and there's a mad rush to lose weight. This is great for business (especially considering how tough the year started out), bad for my sanity. Every day for the past couple of weeks has been a never-ending parade of clients. As soon as one leaves my office, I'm ushering another one in. Please lose weight, I pray to myself as we step up to the scale. I know if they lose weight, they're happy for another week. If they gain...sigh...you really get to see everyone's inner psycho when you're dealing with their weight.

On this particular day, I was stressing out about a relatively new client. I knew I had an appointment with her that afternoon, and I wanted nothing more than to run away. Actually, it wasn't her I wanted to escape. It was her mother. My client is sixteen and trying to get into show biz. Her mother makes me think of the stories you hear about horrible stage parents. According to her, I can't manage to do anything right, and I anticipated another session spent being reprimanded for her daughter's lack of weight loss. As I sat on the subway, squished between two other stone-faced commuters, I dreaded the day ahead of me.

But there was something wonderful waiting for me when I got to work. One of my clients had left me a note. And it gave me what I needed to get through the day: belief that I was making a difference for someone. This one is a binge-eater, an alcoholic, and a fad diet expert. She's tried everything and knows all the tricks to lose weight quickly. She knows how to keep the weight off, with a healthy low-fat diet and moderate exercise. But she can't stop herself. She overexercises and undereats. She drinks her calories more often than eating them. And she worries me. I know her health is at stake, and the only thing I can do is to continue to urge her to treat herself with more respect, to believe that she is worthy of being healthy. She listens, but she's stubborn and doesn't want to believe that slow and steady weight loss is better in the long run. Yet apparently I've been getting through to her more than I realized, and I wanted to share what she wrote:

I'm trying to convince myself that the number on the scale is not the only indicator of how well I'm doing. I haven't had a drink since Friday. I'm eating a balanced 1200 calorie diet consistently, drinking plenty of water, and I even started working out with weights. I cut down on the exercise because I thought it would interfere with my weight, and it has. Yesterday was a perfect day with eating and water. I worked out (cardio, strength, and flexibility) for an hour. And I gained a full pound!

But, when I woke up this morning, I felt healthy! And I felt so STRONG - physically and also mentally. So seeing that gain really sucked, but I"m trying not to let it detract from how good I feel. I will add 300 calories per day (probably cottage cheese and raw almonds) to see if increasing calories will help me lose more consistently. But I will not give up exercise because I am afraid of not losing. This healthier body feels so much more energetic, and I feel confident and proud when I test my body through training. I won't let fear limit me.

THANK YOU for helping me realize that feeling strong and healthy may actually be worth more than seeing the number on the scale go down.


Wow, I thought while reading this. This is worth dealing with a stage mother. This is why I love my job...even on the days when I hate it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

9 Days Gluten-Free

I'm getting grumpy. I'm hungry and I want sushi and I'm grumpy. Why am I grumpy? Because I've realized that before I eat anything, I have to research it and find out if it's gluten-free. And according to many websites, sushi is not always as gluten-free as I assumed. Eel is out. That makes me want to pout and stamp my foot. Okay, fine then. I'll go with spicy tuna. But according to some people, that's not okay either. Well that was just enough to make me cry! But I went on the glutenfreegirl's website, and saw a post where she said she eats spicy tuna rolls. So I'm listening to her and pretending I never read the other post.

I've learned that I shouldn't read websites about eating gluten-free when I'm hungry. When I'm not hungry, I don't worry about the fact that I've still never been to Grimaldi's Pizzeria, which is touted as being the best pizza in Brooklyn. The line outside the door attests to that. And now I'm thinking, will I never get to try that? Of course I have to remind myself that I don't have Celiac disease and that this is a personal choice I'm making. I can eat all the gluten I want. So why am I sticking to this? There are a number of reasons:

  • Within a day of cutting out gluten, my mood swings seemed to disappear. I've always been a pretty moody person, but the past couple of years have seemed especially bad. "I have PMS!" I'd always tell my boyfriend. But truthfully it felt like I always had PMS. Well, I have to tell you that compared to 9 days ago, I feel much more even-keeled. And my boyfriend agrees. In fact, I heard him tell someone last night that he never wants me to eat gluten again!
  • That little pain under my ribs hasn't gone away, but I feel much less bloated than before and that's really nice.
  • I've realized that most of the foods that triggered binges for me had gluten in them. Pizza, bread, cereal, cakes, cookies, etc. My new carb sources, like rice, sweet potatoes, and corn tortillas don't trigger that urge to binge at all! So whenever I'm in that antsy mood and start thinking of cookies, I just remind myself that I don't eat gluten anymore and that seems to be enough to stop the craving before it really starts.
  • Social events are much less stressful now that I can't eat most of the food there anyway. Last night I went to a crawfish party. Someone brought some amazing looking chocolate chip cookie bars. Now normally I would have looked longingly at them for a few minutes before allowing myself to have one. But the problem is it wouldn't stop there. I would keep going back to the point that I would feel ashamed and worry that people were watching me. But last night? Not a problem at all. There were some great gluten-free corn muffins, and corn tortillas and guacamole. I enjoyed those and learned that I love crawfish. But I stayed away from the cookie bars and barely thought about them. Since eating them wasn't an option, there was no need to obsess over them.
  • And the last reason I'm sticking with it for now? If I feel this much better after only 9 days, how will I feel after 9 months? I want to find out. Even if it means giving up my eel sushi rolls. Sigh.

Friday, April 24, 2009

More Yummy Gluten Free Ideas

Last night's gluten free dinner: Kung Pao Tofu, adapted from Gluten Free Mommy's recipe for Kung Pao Chicken.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

14 Things To Do Before You Binge

I have a confession to make. And it's not an easy one to admit.

I binged a couple of weeks ago. April 4th to be exact. I know because I just checked my food journal. Yep, that was me, standing at the counter shoveling food into my mouth. I didn't even take the time to sit down while I ate - perhaps I was thinking that as long as I wasn't sitting at the table, then it didn't really count. But it definitely counted. Remember how I told you that the company I work for makes pre-packaged food? Since it's a weight-loss plan, the meals are rather small but that's not really an excuse. Somehow I found myself eating six breakfasts at once. Dipped in butter and sugar. And a fat free yogurt. And all in the span of about ten minutes. It was a Saturday night and I had known since I got home that this was going to happen. I kept ignoring it, trying to nudge that niggling binge monster away. I turned a cold shoulder to it and stared at the TV, hoping to distract myself.

But the binge monster wouldn't go away until I gave in. Afterward, I wallowed in the age old guilt, and wondered why I had let that happen. It had been so long since I'd done something like that. The terror crept in that it would keep happening and I would find myself back in the binge-cycle and gaining weight at a rapid pace. But I did a few things this time that I wouldn't have done years ago when I was binging. First, I admitted it to my boyfriend when he got home and talked my fears out with him. And second, I used the lapse as an opportunity to learn how to do something different next time.

I know that when I'm in that frame of mind, I feel overwhelmed by the need to eat, and have trouble thinking of anything else. Common sense flies out the window, and I pace until I finally give in. But what if I had a list of other options? Not just a vague idea that I should do something else, but a concrete list in front of me telling me exactly what to do! So I made myself a list, and I posted it on my fridge. I promised myself that the next time I wanted to eat when I knew it wasn't hunger prompting me, I would read that list before opening the fridge or cupboard door. Here it is:

  1. STOP! Try everything on this list first.
  2. Close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath. Take ten more.
  3. Brush your teeth. You can always eat more after. Just do it!
  4. Go to the gym or do a workout video.
  5. Go for a walk outside.
  6. Call a friend to talk or meet up.
  7. Write in your journal, paint, or draw.
  8. Clean your house.
  9. Put on some soothing music and lie down, or put on some fun music and dance.
  10. DRINK WATER OR MAKE SOME TEA!
  11. Reframe your self-talk. Change "I should" to "I deserve. For example, I deserve to feel good about myself.
  12. Give yourself a spa day. Do it yourself or get pampered at a salon. It's hard to eat when you have a goopy mask on your face.
  13. Call someone and admit that you want to binge before you give in. You can still binge after you've told them, but fess up first!
  14. Finally, if all else fails...make better choices. Fat free yogurt, sugar-free jello, popsicles, fruit, vegetables...a bag of grapes will make you feel better than six breakfasts dipped in butter and sugar.
This list is a little more general than the one on my fridge. Mine includes a few ideas more specific to me, plus the names of certain friends that I should call to talk to. There's nothing vague to allow me to make excuses. I urge you to make your own list and put it on your fridge. Go ahead. What do you have to lose? A pound?

My Magic Formula



Somehow when I moved to New York, I managed to lose that 25 lbs I'd been struggling with since college. Truthfully, I'm not 100% sure how it happened. I think it was a combination of lots of fat free yogurt with nuts (I suddenly started craving it), lots of walking around the city, and finding myself happier than I'd been in a long time. After all, bingeing and happiness don't go together as well as bingeing and unhappiness do. Suddenly I was getting compliments from everyone, but I didn't trust myself not to fall back into that bingeing hole. Have you ever had this happen? You lose some weight and everyone tells you, "Wow you look amazing!", and you think, "Well geez I must have looked horrible before!" Instead of feeling happy, you stress about it because you're afraid the weight will come back on and the compliments will stop.

This was my state of mind when I started at my job almost two years ago. Feeling great at my new weight and binge-free (although I wasn't sure at the time if that would last), I wanted to help others to do the same. So I became a weight-loss counselor for a popular weight loss company. I've been there since, and boy do I have stories to tell... But I'll save those for later, and just start with the most basic thing I learned. The thing that simplified everything for me. My magic formula. As I said, I didn't quite know how to keep the weight off, and I realized quickly that this was a fear most of my clients had as well. At work, we take the guess work out of losing weight by giving clients pre-packaged food. But I love to cook, and I knew that I didn't want to start eating out of a box every day. So I studied our literature and learned how to follow the maintenance plan (strangely they never taught us that in training). So for the past two years, I've followed that plan and it's given me the confidence to simply say, "Thanks," when people compliment me on my weight. I still have momentary freak-outs when I think I'm going to stuff my face with cake for days and gain all the weight back, but for the most part I trust now that I know what to do.

So what is my magic formula? (I have to be honest here and say that it's really not that magical and can be found on a lot of websites) It goes a little something like this:

I'm on a 1200 calorie plan. In all honesty, I know I eat more, but it's an easy guideline to give me structure. Those 1200 calories are broken down into:

5 starches
5 proteins
3+ non-starchy vegetables
3 dairy servings
2 fats
2 fruits

(To see what counts as a serving size for each group, here's a description I found that's pretty close to what I use).

I try to eat every 2-3 hours so that I don't get so hungry I want to eat everything in sight. As my boyfriend will tell you, I'm not someone you want to be around when I get to that panicky hungry state. So here's a pretty typical sample day of what I eat:

Breakfast (See the pictures above)
1/2 cup quinoa (1 starch)
1 cup fat free plain yogurt (1 dairy)
1/2 cup chopped fruit (1 fruit)
1/8 cup assorted unsalted nuts (1 fat)

Snack
banana (1 fruit)

Lunch
1 large sweet potato (2 starches)
big plate of sauteed green beans (non-starchy vegetable...unlimited)
3 oz. grilled chicken (3 proteins)

Snack
6 oz. fat free yogurt (1 dairy)

Dinner
1 cup brown rice (2 starches)
2 oz. salmon baked with salsa (2 proteins)
big bowl of salad with balsamic vinaigrette (non-starchy vegetables plus 1 fat)

Snack
Another fat free yogurt if I'm still hungry

So that's it. The end of the day. I keep track of everything I eat when I feel like I might be gaining weight and need to be more aware (or if I'm going to be a maid of honor in my sister's wedding and want to look really great in a couple of months). And when I'm feeling more relaxed, I just guesstimate throughout the day. It seems simple to me because I'm so used to it, but I know from the glassy-eyed stares I get from my clients that it can be a bit overwhelming at first. But if you're looking for a simple method for losing weight and keeping it off, this works. I know people say it's all about calories, but I firmly believe if you measure how much you're eating (e.g 1/2 cup cooked rice = 1 starch) you don't have to count calories as well. And if you're not sure how much you should be eating at your weight/age/activity level, drop me a line and I can let you know...

P.s. Today is day five of gluten free. So far so good. My friend introduced me to my new favorite side dish, polenta chips! You just slice the tubes of polenta into thin slices. Add whatever spices you like and bake them until they start to crisp up. Simple, fast, easy.

P.p.s. That pain under my left rib? Hasn't gone away...not even close.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How strict do I want to be?

My boyfriend and I moved in together seven months ago. Knowing that I have issues with food, he agreed from day one to keep certain things out of the house on a regular basis. Cookies, ice cream, anything that might trigger me to binge was banned...and this wasn't easy since he has a major sweet tooth. But he's been pretty good about it, and when I decided to go gluten-free, I was surprised to hear him say he would try it too. Now that doesn't actually mean he's going to do it, but he said he would try not to buy bread or anything that I couldn't eat.

Now so far (and yes, I know it's only 4 days in) this has been not only easy, but actually fun. Rather than focusing on what I can't eat, I've been having a great time figuring out what I can eat. Since I love cooking, this is like a whole new playground for me. I've been poring over gluten-free websites (a bit obsessively, my boyfriend tells me) and am excited to try new recipes. Last night's dinner? Lime chicken tacos from The Gluten Free Goddess. They were amazing! And tonight, my friend (who has Celiac's) and I are heading to a local health food store where they have a lot of gluten-free items. The funny thing is that I used to live next to that store and go there all the time. But I never paid attention to the gluten-free labels, other than to note that it might be a good place to buy presents for my friend. Now it's a new place to explore, and I can't wait to see what fun things I can pick up.

But here's the tough part for me. When I asked my friend how to get started eating gluten-free, he told me that everyone has different views on how strict you should be, but that he lets some things slide and feels okay. Since I've never been diagnosed with a wheat or gluten allergy and this is simply an experiment for me, I figure I should simply do the best I can to avoid gluten but not stress myself out about it. On the other hand, if I really want to figure out if avoiding gluten will ease some of my digestion problems, I should probably be as strict as possible. So last night I came home and saw that my boyfriend had bought Trader Joe's Tomato Soup. I had been eating their Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup (which is gluten-free and super yummy), so here he was trying to be sweet and buy something I could eat on my new plan. Strangely enough, that soup is on the Trader Joe's list of gluten-free foods online, but the label on the box clearly states that it is made in a plant that processes wheat. So shoot! What do I do? Eat it because it doesn't have wheat in the ingredients list or leave it for my boyfriend to eat because it could be contaminated? (Here's where I pause and stare at the computer for a few minutes, biting my lip.)

I don't have the answer yet, but I know myself well enough to guess that I'll probably end up eating the soup. And I haven't decided if I'm willing to give up sushi with eel either. I always thought giving up bread would be the hardest thing for me, but surprisingly enough I've let that go without even a backward glance. Well, maybe a teeny glance. But it's the smaller things that have been harder. What am I going to do with the cocktail sauce in my fridge that has wheat in it? My boyfriend won't eat it because he's allergic to shrimp, and I won't throw it away because I can't stand to be wasteful. I have a feeling I'm going to have to start inviting friends over to eat my leftover gluten-filled food. And I definitely have to find a gluten-free cocktail sauce. Thank God for wheat-free tamari. If that didn't exist, this whole experiment would have been over before it even started.

So what do you think? Do you let things slide or take it that extra step to stay completely gluten-free?

Update 12.28.09 I've been strictly gluten-free since August, when I went off the gluten-free diet for 3 weeks to get tested for Celiac Disease. The test came back negative, but I felt so awful during those 3 weeks that I decided I need to be 100% gluten-free. I'm much stricter now that when I wrote this post.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Day One of Eating Gluten-Free

Today is day one. Actually yesterday was day one. Today is day two. Clearly, going gluten-free hasn't helped my clarity much, but I feel super healthy today, and I haven't felt that way in a while. I also woke up in a really great mood and unfortunately I can't say that happens all the time. This could be a result of the placebo effect, because it's probably too soon to feel a big difference, but if so I'll take it. Now, I have to admit that I'm just starting and I'm sure I'll end up inadvertently eating lots of things that have gluten in them. For instance, yesterday I had sushi for dinner. I looked up the type of roll I had (with eel in it) today and learned it was a "definite no-no." Oops...well, I'm trying. It's a learning process and I'm going to keep working on it.

Now a little explanation on who I am and what I'm trying to do. Weight has always been an issue for me because I love food and I really love carbs. After packing on the freshman 15 in college (except for me it was 20), I struggled for years to get the weight off. I worked at a pizza place in college, which obviously didn't help, and found myself secretly bingeing on carbs, peanut butter, sugar...anything that felt like a guilty pleasure to me. For a few months I used laxatives daily. Luckily the inconvenience of that convinced me to stop sooner rather than later. I tried eating all raw foods (that lasted for barely three days), tried exercising like crazy (which doesn't really make a difference if you go home and eat everything in sight after), tried Overeaters Anonymous (definitely a great resource for food addicts), and of course tried cutting calories, but I always lost my resolve around 4pm and ended up overeating. I also attempted to just convince myself to be happy 25 pounds overweight and not to put so much emphasis on my appearance. After all, being skinny doesn't make you happy, right? And was I really so shallow that I let my weight make me feel bad about myself?

Well...here's the thing. Being skinny doesn't make you happy. But having more energy, liking how you look you look in clothes, feeling confident when you walk down the street...those things definitely make you feel a lot better. And here's something else I've learned...you really are what you eat. Eating white bagels and sugary peanut butter made me feel like a lump. Just standing made me tired. My healthy diet now makes me feel empowered. Maybe I'm a little obsessed with food, but the fact is I love food; always have always will. And now I'm learning how to love food without also hating it for making me feel fat and guilty. I don't want to spend any more energy on feeling guilty about food. From now on, my goal is to enjoy it and strike the word diet from my vocabulary.

So why am I trying to go gluten-free? It's an experiment. I've suffered from IBS since high school (self-diagnosed; the one time I talked to a doctor about it, he told me I was exaggerating...he was an idiot). I have chronic constipation, stomach cramps, bloating, gas, and a lingering pain under my left rib. I've recently realized that cutting out most dairy (I still eat fat-free yogurt daily) helps a lot with the gas and bloating. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by that. But after making gluten-free cupcakes for a friend with Celiac's recently (they were amazing by the way!), I decided to experiment with going gluten-free to see if that would alleviate some of my symptoms. So...day one has passed. The pain under my rib is still there, but I woke up with a flat stomach this morning and feel skinny for the first time in months. So maybe the wheat is responsible for the chronic bloating? I guess we'll see.

So this is my journey to be healthy, to be diet-free, and to get rid of that niggling pain under my rib that's telling me it doesn't like something I'm eating. I'm going to figure out what that something is...

Update: Since starting this blog, I've realized I'm gluten intolerant. Although my Celiac test came out negative, it is my intention to follow a gluten-free diet for life. I feel ten times better when I'm not eating gluten!

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