This is part 2 of a three part guest post series by Dr Rhianna Miles, a close friend of mine who has managed to make some dramatic lifestyle changes to lose and maintain some substantial weight loss. Tonight’s post goes into more depth about how she changed her food choices…
Being a doctor, I tried to be clinical about changing my lifestyle. I read around literature on obesity and weight loss. What things work? Depressingly, most things appeared to only have short term success. Inevitably, most people put the weight back on again. I knew anything I did had to be a long term change, and not “just a diet.” I read that keeping track of what you eat is one thing that successful dieters do, so I downloaded “My Fitness Pal” on my phone and decided I’d keep track of everything I ate. I also read a lot about the quality of the food we eat. I knew I had to increase my physical activity. I’d always been fat, but until the last few years, I’d always felt strong. For the first time in my life, I admitted how my obesity was impacting upon my ability to function day to day. I had been avoiding stairs, always mapping out the “path of least resistance” and not engaging in weekend activities that I used to enjoy such as hiking. It was time to stop coming up with excuses and prioritising my own health. The decision to put my own health first was pivotal in enacting meaningful change. So many people, especially women, put others before themselves; their kids, their partners, their work. But ultimately, you’re the only person you have to live with forever, and it’s important you look after yourself, too.
Around this time, I answered a Facebook ad for yet another weight loss/New Year resolution plan that offered a holistic approach to getting fit again. A three week New Year “kickstart” followed by an eight week transformation program starting early in 2015. Not actually on 1st January like a typical “New Year’s Resolution” that would no doubt fail, but shortly after that. Very conveniently, the eleven week program was due to end right before I was going to head overseas to America on a holiday to celebrate my partners 40th birthday. His looming “big birthday” was a reminder to me that mine was not too far behind. I made a decision that I would go “all in” for this eleven weeks to do the best I could before I headed over to America where I would inevitably gorge myself on a whole range of things that were bad for me. That was it. I was locked in for eleven weeks of perfection. In the back of my mind, I wanted to make sure that I could be “Fit By Forty” before I reached my own big birthday.
It was clear that when I paid attention to the quality of the food I ate, it was mostly nutritionally bereft “faster” options (although not necessarily fast food.) When I looked at the spread of nutrients in my diet, it was mostly refined carbohydrates. Packet noodles that are quick to prepare, frozen meals for when I was in a hurry. The constant neglect of my health, in favour of doing well at my work had led to me making poor food choices in every aspect of my life. Often I skipped breakfast, in favour of just a coffee as I ran out the door in the morning. I ate at the bistro at work for lunch because it was quick and easy and required no effort on my part to prepare in advance for my meals. More often than not, it was a creamy pasta, hot chips, roast potatoes and very occasionally a piece of fish. Often at home, I would eat out at evening meal time – whether that was at a fancy restaurant, a local takeaway like Thai, or a burger joint. I really was sorely lacking in cooking skills. My friends and I used to joke about how useless I was in the kitchen. There were only three meals I could make – my family lasagne, beef stroganoff, and “spachooki” an easy meal of roast chicken torn up and thrown in with some pasta and pasta sauce. Deep down I knew that the general skills I used in cooking these things could help me make other meals, but none of them contained vegetables or salad! I decided I’d change and have all my meals homemade from then on.
The New Year program I’d signed up with provided me with information about different macronutrients in my diet. I needed adequate protein and healthy fats, and needed to ensure the carbohydrates I consumed were from vegetables and salad rather than sugars. The meals I’d entered into My Fitness Pal when I initially started my New Year’s “weight loss plan” once again were more than 60% carbohydrates. I felt miserable and hungry all the time, but vindicated that I was “dieting.” No wonder I always failed – I was starving and unfulfilled. I shifted the aims of my diet to increase protein and healthy fats and reduce the refined carbohydrates down. In fact, I kept my carbohydrates to those I got from fruit and veges only, and tried to keep them at less than 30% of my total intake. Not only was I not hungry, but I had to struggle to ensure I got enough food down! I’d never “dieted” where I had to eat MORE than before!
I went to the supermarket and marvelled at how much more cheaply I could feed myself if only I made the effort. I started buying salad vegetables and preparing them for my lunches. All my meals started with a huge pile of vegetables or salad to fill me up. I picked out my favourite lean meat choices to ensure I always had them on hand. BBQ roast chickens became my go to source of lean protein that was so quick and easy to prepare. I commenced the day with a protein heavy meal, whether that was eggs, or greek yoghurt with berries. I never left the house with just a coffee in my belly again! Lunch was always brought from home. In fact, on workdays, I had the same breakfast and lunch every day, so I didn’t have an excuse for not choosing a healthy option during the day. I started paying attention to nutrition panels on foods, and was astounded to find the huge amounts of sugar I was eating with my so called “healthy” food options. I started googling recipes that would use the ingredients I knew were better for me. Low carb substitutes such as zucchini pasta instead of normal pasta, cauliflower alfredo instead of creamy alfredo sauce. I managed to find substitutions for many of my favourite foods pretty easily. The only thing I needed to change was my mindset towards my ability to prepare meals.
Once I started eating food that was more nutritionally appropriate, I no longer felt hungry, miserable and deprived on my diet! This was life changing. I cut out alcohol completely for the first month. Although I never felt I drank an unhealthy amount of alcohol, it certainly added a lot of “empty calories” to my day. Instead of a glass of red most evenings, I was filling up on huge piles of vegetables I’d cooked. I’d literally never purchased a zucchini before, now I was sautéing them, spiralising them and dicing them into a variety of dishes. My fridge had never looked greener. Every single thing I ate was logged into My Fitness Pal to ensure I was eating enough protein and healthy fats, and limiting carbohydrates. This was a revelation! In fact, not only was I never hungry, but I was struggling to get down what I knew was a healthy amount of calories to eat in the day. Who knew if you ate your calories instead of drinking them that you could feel so satisfied? Of course I had cooking disasters! I didn’t go from someone who was essentially a kitchen novice into a gourmet chef in a matter of weeks, but I was willing to give things a try. I made so many messes and mistakes, but ultimately, things were edible and provided me the nutrition I was after.
Stay tuned for next week where Rhianna talks about how she made her exercise program stick…