1. I am genetically thin. I just am. That doesn't mean I've always been healthy. Just thin.
2. I lose weight relatively easily. I also gain weight without much difficulty. There is a fair amount of swing in my weight.
3. I am going to tell you what we're doing and why. These are not medical opinions or judgements against what decisions you are making for your family. Don't feel defensive. If what works for you, works for you, then keep working it.)
Step One: Determine Your Goals and Prioritize.
As we began this
I started very simply with wanting to get rid of processed foods. In my mind, that was an easy concept. I quickly discovered that "processed food" means different things to different people. We can all agree that an Oreo is a processed food. So is a canned green bean. But what about frozen vegetables? How about olive oil? Or baker's chocolate? We can agree that white flour is processed, but is whole-wheat flour that I didn't ground from berries against the rules?
This is one of those times when you have to be willing to say to yourself that it doesn't matter what everyone else chooses. Be okay with your choices. I tried for a few weeks to be vegan. Tony doesn't eat beans. Us being vegan wasn't going to work, but I diligently hid beans in foods and lied to my family about it. That is not a good long-term strategy. After the vegan issues, I finally had enough courage to make some decisions based on one 4-word thought.
Eat Whole, Real Foods.
Step Two: Make Choices Based on Your Goals.
After I decided that I wanted our life to be based on real foods, I did some research on some individual foods. I began to understand that some foods I didn't want part of our diet. (Again- "diet" is the food you consume, not a 12-week program with celebrity endorsements.) Some of these are pretty universally agreed upon. Others are more "controversial."
1. Eliminate as much processed food as possible.
I got rid of all boxed snacks and cookies. No more chips. Canned fruits and veggies are out. Canola and vegetable oils are out. (More on that later.) Juice boxes are out. Soda is no more. Salad dressings are gone.
Allowed "processed" foods include olive oil, peanut butter, organic butter, whole-wheat pasta, raisins, and frozen vegetables.
2. Eliminate Soy.
Soy is a hot topic in the medical/nutrition world. After doing my research, I came to the determination that soy had to go, especially since my oldest two were on soy formula for a year. Once I got rid of the processed foods, the soy mostly went with it. Vegetable oil was the last thing I replaced because it didn't occur to me that vegetable oil is soybean oil. (You think growing up in the fields of soybeans in East Central Illinois I would have known that, huh?)
3. Avoid Dairy.
As I mentioned in the soy paragraph, my older two kids were on soy formula as infants because they reacted to dairy. While I nursed Coralynn, I had to cut all dairy out because of her sensitivities to it. I began to research dairy, lactose, and casein. I am confident that no one in my family has a true dairy allergy, but I did come to the decision that no one needed to be consuming large amounts of dairy products.
The dairy concerns were one that I had to make some decisions.
Milk: Since I knew we weren't going to soy milk, I switched us to almond and coconut milks. (It's not really coconut milk- leche de coco. It's a drink made from coconut. Very different products.) The milk decision was pretty easy, and it is readily available in Panama without breaking the bank.
Butter: I cook with butter. Butter is a real food. (It's counterpart, margarine, is not a real food.) To get rid of butter would mean that I was going to have to buy a non-dairy created substance (made from various oils- sunflower, canola, safflower) that was made to replace butter. Many people make the decision to do that, but that doesn't line up with my goals. Instead, I made the decision to buy organic butter even though it is expensive- $6/lb.
Cheese: I am truly allergic to cheese. It causes migraines for me so I don't eat it or cook with it. It is in the house for lunch quesadillas and pizza toppings. We made the determination that the cheese intake is so minimal (and many of the alternatives are soy-based) that we would allow it to continue as normal.
Yogurt: This was the hardest one for me to decide what to do. Coralynn loves yogurt. She can consume large quantities of it in a day. To keep normal, cow's milk yogurt would negate any efforts to minimize dairy intake. I went to the grocery store hoping to find a good alternative. At the American-style grocery store, I found three possible options. Lactose-free yogurt, organic cow's milk yogurt, and soy yogurt. Soy yougrt was quickly eliminated from the possibility list. The other two options were over $2.00 for a single-serve yogurt. Paying $20/week for Coralynn's yogurt wasn't going to work. Coralynn really likes the drinkable yogurt. In lieu of a better solution, I began to add coconut milk to normal yogurt to create a drinkable yogurt with less dairy in it. That worked for a while, but it wasn't a great option.
We headed to the organic store to see what we could find. I was REALLY hoping they would have coconut-milk yogurt that I've heard is available in the United States. Unfortunately, they didn't have anything like that. They did have goat's milk yogurt. And it was reasonably (still expensive, but doable) priced. I decided to buy a couple of them. Coralynn absolutely loved them! I did a little research on the differences in cows' mik and goats' milk. We determined that goats' milk would work for the time being.
4. Up the Raw Fruits and Vegetables.
Again, this is a non-controversial topic. Everyone agrees that eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is important for optimal health. At the advice of my friend (who is also a frugal guru), I began drinking green smoothies. Laden with leafy greens and fresh fruits, they are a nutritional homerun. Only issue here is the prohibitive cost of berries ($5-6/lb). I tried making tropical-fruit green smoothies, but I just didn't like them very much. I found frozen fruit at the warehouse club ($11/5lb), and decided that was going to be a sacrifice worth making. Chloe, Coralynn, and I try to have a smoothie every day. The others are slower to come around, but I'm confident we will convert them soon!
Step Four: Establish an Eating Routine
This is not to be confused with eat the same foods all the time. Really, this step was just for me. I needed to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at relatively the same time every day. Before we started this plan, I ate nothing until 3:00pm when I would be exhausted and have a raging headache. I would then eat sugar-filled processed snacks until dinner. After dinner I would consume 1000-1500 calories of junk while watching television. It is truly a genetic miracle I wasn't overweight. During my research stage, I began to read about thin overweight people. Or, as my friend calls them, the "skinny fat." The short explanation is that your weight can be healthy, but your health stats can read like someone overweight. I was very concerned about that, and being a good steward of my health became my motivation to keep on the healthy path.
Since weight loss was not the driving force, I wasn't sure if I should count calories. I finally made the decision that my idea of healthy portions was so skewed that I needed to keep track of how much I was eating. I started trying to keep the calorie number under 1200 because I'm sure I read somewhere that was the proper number for weight loss. After an initial drop in weight, it became super clear that I wasn't going to lose more weight at that number, and I wasn't going to be able to maintain such a restricitive amount. (And, quite frankly, there was no reason for me to try to lose weight.)
I upped my number to 1500 to see what happened. I was easily staying within that number, feeling full, and losing weight. An online friend mentioned a website she was using that taught zig-zagging caloric intake to keep the body interested. I did that for a few weeks, and I lost more weight. At about a pound away from my pre-pregnancy weight, I determined it was time to come up with a maintenance action plan. (My mind would very much like me to drop a ton more weight, but I know that is a huge mistake.) I came up with a simple plan based on an idea from WeightWatchers.
With the new WeightWatchers PointPlus plan, all raw fruits and vegetables are "free." You don't count them in your calorie/point count for the day. The idea is to encourage people to eat more of the healthy stuff. I decided I would do the same thing. Now, I still eat 1500-1700 calories, but that 1500 does not include my green smoothies or salads or fresh fruits or fresh vegetables. Recording this way still forces me to make healthy food choices, but it allows a greater amount of food. The perfect plan for lifestyle maintenance!
Step Five: Exercise.
I'm an exercising nightmare. I hate it. Hate it. I'm okay with weight lifting, but I hate anything that would count as "cardio." Hate it. Ugg.
Here's the thing, though. I'm beginning to (10 weeks in) hate the tired feeling more. And I'm beginning to hate the flab more.
Saturday, the kids had WalkAThon- the 2-hour culimnation of a fundraising mission. Carson ran 9 miles. Chloe ran 4 miles. Camilla did almost 3. I tried not to die after 2 miles. Some of my sweet friends were walking with me encouraging me to keep at it. I found out that some of them meet at the park a few days a week and run.
Does that sound like fun? No.
Does it sound like people would hold me accountable? Yes.
Am I going to give it a try? Yes.
Was I overjoyed when I heard that it had been rained out for this morning? Yes!
I'm still working on this part. Still working...
Step Six: Remember Reasonable.
I firmly believe the Lord has numbered my days He knows exactly when I'm going to die. It's all part of the plan. I should be a wise steward of the life He's given me, but I need to remember where my control stops. And, with that in mind, I have to live my life. I will still have a piece of cake at a birthday party. I will go out to dinner with friends and not interrogate the waiters (except about cheese!). I will remember that health is more than just food. It's the whole body- including the mind and soul. God gave Peter permission to let go of his diet (Acts 10) in the name of ministry. My lifestlye should never take over my life.