Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Friend Winnie's Strategies

One of the things I like to talk about here on my blog are strategies for maintaining a healthy weight.  Why? Because it was a 39 year struggle for me and I only recently realized that I could actually do it.  So, I've asked a lot of my "skinny" friends to share their strategies with us all, in the interest of presenting many approaches to staying healthy.

I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine with whom I reconnected on Facebook after not seeing for about 20 years.  I was so excited to find out that she had become a Natropathic Doctor and that she had an amazing recipe blog.  Her story just makes me think that a lot of people struggle with their weight and we wouldn't even know it.  So, here she is, my friend Dr. Winnie Abramson:

"When Wendy first asked me to share my 'strategies for staying thin' with her readers, I almost said no.  Because even though I've maintained a healthy weight without too much fanfare for many years, things for me were not always this simple. Far from it.

I'm more than happy to share my current strategies with you (hint- I eat pretty much everything but I am moderation kind of gal), but first I'm going to tell you how I ended up where I am today.

It all started back when I was about 16 and I thought I was fat (I wasn't). All of my friends were dieting, so I figured I should, too. Back then, the low-fat diet was all the rage. I thought if low was good, then super low must be better.

I spent a year or two eating nothing but vegetables, fruit, bagels and frozen yogurt. Ok, I ate a few other things occasionally, but not much. I thought this was the perfect diet. I couldn't understand why I wasn't super skinny, and I was more than a little disturbed when I realized I'd actually gained five pounds.

I went off to college and the experience of being away from home distracted me from dieting for a while. I had fun. I gained 10 more pounds.

I went home after my first summer at school and resolved to lose the weight. I went back to my super low fat ways with a vengeance. I started exercising a lot and I waited for the weight loss to come. I went back to school a few pounds lighter, with a strong resolve to stay on my diet.

This is over twenty years ago, so I don't remember everything, but I do remember this: I spent the next three years completely obsessed with what I was and was not eating. I spent a lot of time being mad at myself. I constantly told myself I needed to be "better" with my diet. I cut my fat grams further. I ate even less: less than 1000 calories a day. I was depressed. I was tired. My skin was terrible. My menstrual cycle disappeared.

I was hungry all the time and started binging at night. I started exercising 1-2 hours a day to compensate for the binging.

In my head, I knew I was in trouble and during my senior year, I decided to swear off dieting. I made attempts to eat normally but unfortunately kept returning to this vicious cycle of binging and dieting.

Thank goodness for my mom. She saw how miserable I was and convinced me to see a holistic MD so I could straighten out my eating and health issues. After a whole bunch of tests, my doctor pointed out that this diet I'd been on was far from healthy. It was severely imbalanced and had led to many nutritional deficiencies. She also suspected I had a large number of food sensitivities.

I remember getting the phone call from my doctor that the results of my food allergy blood tests had come back. She had never seen one person react to so many foods. She told me I could no longer eat wheat, yeast, sugar, or dairy. She gave me a list of all the foods I could eat and reassured me that if I stuck to my program, I might just be amazed at what happened to my body.

What about my bagels? What about my frozen yogurt? I was afraid to give up the foods I had loved and craved for so long, but I intuitively knew I needed to trust that she was right.

Over the next few months, I ate the foods recommended by my doctor. I discovered healthy grains that were alternatives to wheat and I experimented with nuts milks instead of dairy. I learned about the importance of eatinghigh quality proteins such as fish. I limited sugar and found that my sweet cravings were truly satisfied by fruit. I introduced healthy fats, like avocadoes, flax and olive oil, back into my life. I was eating more calories than I had in years and yet I was losing weight. I dropped about 20 pounds.

The weight loss was exciting, but even more so was the fact that I felt at peace with food for the first time in a long, long while. I rarely thought about food when I wasn’t hungry. The urge to binge completely disappeared, as did the "need" to exercise excessively. My energy and my menstrual cycle returned.

My experience healing with a whole foods diet made me want to learn more about the connection between diet and health, so off to naturopathic medical school I went.  I studied holistic nutrition and learned about all sorts of eating philosophies over the next few years. I experimented with vegetarianism, veganism, the Atkins diet, raw name a diet and I probably tried it.  Here's what I learned, though: following any dietary philosophy that hinges on excluding certain foods just does not work for me. Why?

Because I love food and everything about it!

I love cooking. I love eating. I love learning about traditional foods and foods in a cultural context. I don't want to exclude foods. I spent too many years doing that and I have no interest in doing it any more.

So I eat a nutrient-dense whole foods diet that includes tons of vegetables (prepared in all different ways: raw, cooked, cultured), and I make sure to balance it out with protein such as wild fish, pastured eggs and chicken, and grass-fed beef. I eat lots of healthy fats (including organic butter and extra virgin coconut oil). I eat as organically/seasonally/locally as my wallet will allow and I grow many of my own vegetables in the summer. I bake my own treats with organic ingredients and natural sweeteners and I only eat small amounts of these.

Because I have had issues with wheat, sugar, yeast, and dairy in the past, I am somewhat careful about these foods.  Overeating anything with these ingredients leaves me unsatisfied and wanting more, yet sapped of energy. Small amounts work fine for me, though. I seem to do alright with dairy, especially if I stick to organic/grass-fed/raw varieties. The one thing I can say I never eat is packaged processed foods: it's not food to me.

As for my other strategies? I find that the upside of having a healthy recipes blog is that I eat almost all of my meals at home so I have full control over what goes into my body. I try to eat small meals and I never eat to the point of "fullness", just until I'm satisfied.  I almost always have lots of leftovers in the refrigerator for when I don't have time to cook. I try to get daily exercise, but I'm not a gym person. I exercise outside when it's nice and take karate classes a few times per week.

Please know that I am not perfect, though! I have two kids with busy schedules and if we're out in the evening and we're hungry, sometimes it's just easiest to head to the pizza place. So I'll have a slice with a salad and not worry about it.

It's what works for me..."

Winnie Abramson, ND

Visit my recipe blog: Healthy Green Kitchen

Visit my website: Healthy Green Lifestyle


Kerry said...

Such a great idea for a series! Found you through Winnie's feed. I will keep checking back. This was sooo interesting!

Wendy said...

Kerry, I agree! I could read Winnie's story over and over and each time learn something new. I am definately going to pursue this as a feature of the blog. It is hard to get most people to do it, but I think I just have to stick to them like glue!

I just want to say "Thank you" to Winnie for sharing her journey with us. I miss you!!!

Karen Hilsberg said...

this is such a great and inspirational sharing. it actually sounds a lot like many things i have gone through in my weight loss journey....thanks so much!

Blogging tips