Updated: Oct 25, 2020
My pre-COVID weight was terrible. When I opened the health app on my mobile phone, I hated seeing the word "obese" there; so I stopped using it.
Nice friends might've said that I didn't look overweight, because of my height (169cm). Bless them!!
I got to a point where I knew I had to do something, but I couldn't figure out what. I had removed as much processed food as I possibly could. No bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. I ate salad instead of burgers. I avoided anything with fat in it. And I still weighed in at over 97kg. It was unhealthy.
Because of that number - 97 - I didn't have the confidence to buy and wear nice clothes, and I wasn't really making eye contact with anyone ... I felt fat, unattractive and uncomfortable.
Clothes no longer fit. The ones that did, were tight, and caused chest pains.
It was time to do something. My first stop, was to visit the GP. Firstly, because I wanted desperately to lose the weight, and secondly to investigate the chest pains.
The GP gave me two referrals. One was to have a cardiac stress test (yay, I passed). The other was to see a dietician.
Now, I'm not writing this post as an expert. I'm writing from the point of view of a person who is self-motivated about a lot of things; exercise not being one of them. Sometimes, I'll get out there for a walk; or even a jog. But, I'm more interested in writing, reading and having conversations with other people.
Because I'm no expert, I had no idea what I was doing wrong. Thankfully, the dietician (being the expert in these things) did know what to do.
I was honest with her, in that I like chocolate (and all associated products), and I need a plan that (a) I don't have to think about too much, and (b) doesn't require exercise.
The first thing she said, was that I wasn't eating enough. Then she requalified that and said "You're not eating enough protein". This was a revelation.
I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, but when I visited the dietician, I was eating a mostly plant-based diet. I was scared to introduce steaks, BBQ chickens, and oily fish. As much as I loved nuts, I was terrified to include them in the menu, because my previous experience told me they caused immediate weight gain. And let's not talk about chocolate (just yet).
The dietician encouraged a new motto:
Less CHO, more PRO!
That is, less carbohydrates (because CHO is the biochemical symbol for carbohydrates), and more proteins.
I needed help with this. You see, the carbs would always confuse me. Did carbs include bread, rice, pasta and potatoes? Well, yes. But not just them. There are heaps of carbs. They are important, but should be limited. The Glycemic Index Foundation has some information on carbs. They also have a "Swap It" tool, so that you can make healthier choices but still enjoy the foods you love. For example, if you eat quick oats (thinking that's healthy), you're better off eating rolled oats or steel cut oats (they're whole-grain, so your body burns a little more fuel to break them down and digest them).
The dietician gave me a list of proteins and a list of carbs; and noted which were both. Dairy foods are great because they're proteins, but you need to limit their intake because they contain carbs as well. I needed to get my head around all this!
I was also told to eat protein, preferably, at every meal - including snacks. My mind started racing, because this meant two things. My groceries would become more expensive, and I'd be eating so much I'd burst!
My list of proteins said the best options included beef, fish, lamb, chicken, nuts, tofu/tempeh, eggs and dairy. Some surprises were that I could include popcorn, custard, peanut butter, and soup mix (convenient, as winter was approaching, and I'd be making soups for the next few months). But popcorn, custard and peanut butter??
Let's see. I tend to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I then tend to snack all through the night. I told the dietician this. It's important to be upfront, because the changes you have to make, to lose weight, have to be changes that you're able to make (and sustain over time).
So, we made a few plans. They weren't meal plans, as such. I was instructed:
Carb serves: 1-2 at meals; 0-1 at snacks (a total of about 5 serves per day);
Protein at all meals and snacks;
Night snacks could be a "snack plate" of nuts, berries and cheese. Or yoghurt and fruit. Or a whole bag of popcorn (yep, a whole bag).
I went away and tried it all out, knowing that the dietician would call me in 4 weeks to check in on me. My initial visit was during COVID, just after the home isolation period ended in New South Wales. The call would have been after the Ruby Princess disaster. I mention this, because it was good to know that I still had support during what could have been a difficult time.
What did I eat?
Breakfast: Most of the time, I'd still have my breakfast pots. They're so convenient. And I like them! Sometimes, I'd have homemade seedy psyllium crackers topped with goat's cheese, dry-roasted pecans and a drizzle of local honey. Either way, breakfast contained a little protein, carbohydrate and fibre. Coffee? Yes Please! I'll have a long black, with a dash of milk.
Lunch: I started out with a small tin of lime and pepper tuna, a half-serve of brown rice, and 2 serves of frozen vegetables. This is good, because you can either defrost the veggies and have it as a "tuna salad", or heat up for a warm dish. It's a great option for work (I used to have shelf packs of pre-cooked rice in my desk drawer at work, along with tinned tuna. The veggies would stay in the freezer until I needed them. Too easy!).
The idea is to have half the plate filled with veggies, and the two remaining quarters are the carbs and protein (1/2 and two1/4s). Tuna is one of the great proteins (and those tins are an easy serve, giving you an idea of what a "serve" looks like). The downside, is dealing with packaging (it's recyclable, but I still don't like packaging). During winter, I had homemade soup (chicken or beef, with lots of soup mix in it, as well as veggies), and some psyllium crackers. I wouldn't mind a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top!!
Dinner: My best weight-loss results were when I ate salmon with fresh or frozen veggies for dinner. I'd have the same serving fractions as lunch (1/2 plate of vegies, and the two 1/4s), but there would be two fillets of salmon (at about 115g raw, each). I'd look at all that fish, and think it was too much; but it worked. The reason it worked was because salmon is what's known as an "oily fish".
Daytime snacks: Fresh fruit (mandarins/tangerines were fantastic), with a few nuts, or a piece of cheese. I like soft cheeses, hard cheeses, stinky cheeses, foreign cheeses, Australian cheeses ... (I'm channelling Bubba Blue from Forrest Gump in my head right now!!).
Anyhow, the only thing I would say is watch out for haloumi. I love haloumi, but it's full of fat.
Evening snacks: This is where I used to get caught (and I'd feel so guilty because of it). The dietician, bless her, accommodated my night-time snacking habit, and it all seemed to fit perfectly.... unless I had a whole packet of Tim Tams!!! My new usual evening snack consists of about 200g of unsweetened natural yoghurt with a serve of frozen fruit; then a serve of unsalted nuts. If I need more protein, I mix in some protein powder into my yoghurt. If you're a grown-up and want a drink of alcohol, my favourite is Glayva. I don't know if it's a digestif but it seems to work that way for me. I'd have just about a single serve (no more). I would also ensure at least two nights alcohol-free. If I've been good, and my calorie count can handle it, then I will have two Lindt (lindor) balls. If I have a bag of popcorn, then I don't have anything else (except maybe a glass of milk).
What happened when the dietician called to check on me?
Well, I had started losing weight, but plateaued at 94kg. I stayed there for some time. The dietician suggested increasing my protein intake, and she also said that my calorie intake was low.
I don't know how it works, but doing exactly as instructed by the dietician has helped. I'm not at my target weight but I am getting there. If I were to do one of those "10 best weight loss tips" lists, it would have to be:
Talk to your GP about your concerns - physical, mental, emotional, social and vocational. This way, you GP knows who to send you to. You might need more than just one allied health professional (like a psychologist, a podiatrist, an exercise physiologist ....).
If you have a mobile phone, look for the health app that comes with it for free, and use it to see what your habits are. Use all the features, so you get used to the different components of weight gain and weight loss. It will come in handy when the dietician talks about how much protein you get from a serve of food (for example, a raw 120g fillet of salmon might give about 20g of protein). It will also be useful for counting calories/kilojoules during your weight-loss efforts.
Prepare to talk to a qualified dietician - by listing all the foods you eat, all the drinks you consume (soft drinks and alcohol are very high in calories/kilojoules), and the amount of water you take in. Include exercise and other physical activities (and note how much time you spend in sedentary behaviours like sitting at a computer).
Find out what your "healthy weight" might be, and how far your weight is from that range.
Decide on a goal weight, when you'd like to achieve that by, and how you'd like to celebrate each milestone. Personally, when I beat my last best weight, I danced around the house like a wild thing! And that was this morning!!
Choose to be flexible with your goal weight and achievement date. Things will - WILL - get in the way.
Have an honest conversation with the dietician, be open to their suggestions, and commit to making an effort every day.
Straight after your first consultation with the dietician, think about the small changes you can make. "Swap It" is a great starting point, as is the Australian Dietary Guideline site. Introduce a small change that day, and improve on it, every day thereafter. Cheer yourself on, every time!
If you have a day that has lots of bad choices, go easy on yourself, and get back on the program as soon as you can (e.g., the next day). We're all human!!!
Have another honest conversation with the dietician after 4 weeks, and implement any suggestions they make then. Keep trying, and feel good that you are doing something beautiful for yourself!
One of the things I found, over the past few months, was that I really needed to enjoy the food I was consuming. Flavour is important. I'm a big fan of seasonings like ginger, garlic and chillies. I love truffle salsa, harissa seasoning, and coriander too (though, not all together). I like the creaminess of the yoghurt I make, the crunchiness of the nuts and seeds, and the coolness of the frozen fruit in my dessert! I even have chocolate (but it's expensive and individually wrapped, so I am frugal with it). I made soups and froze half, so I wouldn't get bored. I tried different fish, different cuts of meat, and different types of protein. Instead of store-bought fish fingers, I made my own (I just rolled pieces of white fish in a mix of oat bran and LSA mix).
There are some things I now think of as "super foods". The number 1 food on that list is celery. Especially celery leaves - they are the most nutritious part of the plant (and you can use them instead of parsley). Celery, along with turmeric, can help with aching joints. I used to get dreadfully painful hips, and now I don't. I put that down to turmeric tablets in the morning and celery at at least one meal per day (though turmeric is not for everyone - people with reflux will need to check). Salmon is another super food, along with yoghurt and psyllium husk.
So, I'm no expert. But I've done this now for a few months and started to see the benefits. I know how hard it is to lose weight, especially if you have mobility problems or responsibilities. I understand that setbacks can make you feel like nothing will ever work. But I also know that asking for help can have a massive effect (and you suddenly have a cheer squad behind you).
If you have been struggling with your weight, like I have, then please try out the suggestions above, and let me know how you go.
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