I confess, I'm a Weight Watchers drop out. It's pretty official at this point, given that I deactivated my online account with weightwatchers.com and am no longer attending meetings. Why did I do it? Well, I just had to come to terms with my history. I'm great when it comes to losing weight with Weight Watchers, but I'm a total flop at maintaining the losses as soon as I hit my goal. Like they always say, the program works if you work the program. But what if you try and try and just can't get yourself to work the program anymore? To get an idea of how many people actually have long term success on Weight Watchers, click here.
So I have been asking myself, "Is it possible to maintain a healthy weight without weighing and measuring food, recording what I eat, and keeping some kind of running total?" Because it sure seems to me that if I don't figure out either how to continue to weigh, measure and track for longer than a year OR how to maintain my weight in some other fashion, then I am going to end up on the fat end of that stick.
Sure, there are lots of diets out there that promise to make you thin without having to weigh, measure and track, but those diets seem to me to be patently unhealthy and none have ever worked for me. Can anyone say "high protein diet"? The closest I have come to weight maintenance without counting calories, i.e. Points, is by eating a no-added-fat vegan diet. But even that is failing at keeping me at my low weight that I achieved on Weight Watchers.
But don't get dismayed! I am not giving up without the world's biggest fight! I have been very active recently on PeerTrainer.com and have begun to see the error of my vegan ways--too many healthy whole grains and starchy vegetables replacing what I need to be eating--soups, smoothies, salads and sauteed greens. And this just might be causing my problems. Dr. Fuhrman and Eat to Live here I come!
Anyway, back to my original question. Is it possible to maintain a healthy body weight without counting calories? Here is a very interesting point of view from someone who I have always considered "naturally thin," only now I have come to realize that her healthy weight isn't happening by accident.
Q: Tell me about how you maintain your healthy weight. I don't see you recording what you eat or looking up calorie values for food all of the time, or any of the time for that matter!
A: It wasn't until my early thirties, after the birth of my first child, that I had to think about my weight. I was so health food focused and active that it took care of my weight until that point. After my body changed, a result of a combination of having a baby and getting older, I realized that I needed to "step it up" to maintain the body that I wanted.
I just knew that I couldn't eat too much highly caloric food, period. Ideally, I would eat no high calorie food, but that's not realistic. So when I did eat a high calorie food, I would think, "That's a calorie bomb, can't do that again for a while."
No counting calories.
"A while" was an undetermined amount of time. I have enough of a nutrition knowledge base that subconsciously I could rate my meals and know when it was okay to have another bomb. I have a bit of a computer-like brain that calculates everything all the time. I imagine that most people don't function like this.
I rate everything in my life quietly in my head on a scale of 1-10, including all of my meals.
So if I rate a calorie bomb meal, let's say a grilled cheese sandwich, french fries and a slice of key lime pie for dessert (a meal I would be happy to eat every day) a 1, then I would need at least 2 to 3 days of eating meals that I rated an 8-10. A sample 9 dinner might be an all vegetable salad with a little bit of low cal dressing OR a hearty vegetable soup and some whole grain bread with nothing on it. A sample 9 breakfast might be just a banana and coffee.
I've been doing this for so long that it's always on my mind, but not to the level that it sounds like as I tell you about this. I'm not obsessing about it. It's pretty easy for me and doesn't take a lot of effort at this point.
Q: Tell me what it's like for you to restrict your eating for a few days in order to make up for a calorie bomb meal.
A: It's not really a big deal. I eat healthy anyway, I just need to make some small modifications and avoid any more bombs. I don't have any issues with emotional eating, so it's not hard at all for me to eat really healthy and low calorie food for days if I have to. I don't have an issue with night eating. I generally don't eat when I'm not hungry. It may not be easy to choose healthy food all of the time when I am hungry, but I talk to myself and I say, "I don't want a tire around my waist."
Q: How often do you eat a bomb?
A: I would say small bombs (a piece of a cookie) are every day to two. Big bombs, one to three times a month. Instead of eating a bomb meal that I score a 1, I would rather take a couple of bites of a sandwich or a couple of fries or a couple of bites of key lime pie, and then my compensation is far easier. It might be less nuts on my salad. It's less nut butter on my toast, if I even need to do that.
Q: Give me more examples of bombs.
A: Anything fried, anything very sugary tasting, pretty much all normal desserts, anything with a serving or more of cheese (like pizza or eggplant Parmesan). Anything 500 calories or more per serving.
Q: What do you consider a 5 lunch?
A: I had a big white bagel with peanut butter this morning (I rank that a 4). I had run out of wheat bread, it was there in my kitchen so ate it. I won't eat that again for a long time, probably months. I didn't think about lunch at that time or that where I was going for lunch would likely involved bagels. I was not very hungry for lunch, so I ate half of a whole wheat bagel, 1/3 cup tuna salad, cucumbers, black olives, black coffee. Not a big lunch at all, for me, very light on veggies, so my compensation will not be calorie based, but rather vegetable based. I'm thinking in my head that I am going to have a big, big salad for dinner with nuts if I feel like it. No cheese, no dried fruit, no high calorie dressing.
There is also preparation. There is also this on the front end. So if I know I am going to some big catered event, I might, for 1 to 3 days eat a combination of less food/less highly caloric foods like nuts, knowing that I am going to be eating what I want at the event. This is about once a month for me.
Q: Would you ever eat at home before going to an event where you know that all of the available food would be a bomb, or would you just figure that you would have to make up for the bombs after the event?
A: I base my decision on whether I will like the food or not. If I'm going to like it, I prepare a little in advance and make up for whatever is left after the event. If I'm not going to like the food, for sure I will eat before I go. I do not want to stand there hungry looking at gross food I don't want to eat.
I have put the time, energy and effort into being able to do this in my head. I have studied food and nutrition since college and happened to find it fascinating. Everyone should be doing these calculations, but not necessarily the same way. If you are not able to do it my way, then you've got to use a calorie calculator (I've heard there are many Internet options and smartphone apps and the Weight Watchers Point System). I don't do any hard calculation but I listen to my body more than anything. I weight myself everyday, which is a little bit inaccurate because of water weight, but is generally a good gauge. It helps me know that I am on track.
It might seem like this is really easy for me, but believe me I've put a tremendous amount of time and thought into this. Reading articles, labels, books . . . watching documentaries, videos . . . really anything on the subject.
With my method, I just don't have an issue with weight gain. I'd like to weigh less than I do, but I'm consistent and reasonably comfortable. The work to lose weight is not worth what I would have to do to get there at this point and probably not healthy. Thanks Victoria Secret models!
Now here's a question for all of the readers: Do you have a method for making sure you are not eating beyond your calorie needs? If so, what is that method?