Last weight post. I promise! For a little while, anyway. This post is going to cover some ground covered in my previous post about Inulin. This one was written first and Inulin became a hot news topic before this went up.

I wrote twice before about how people that have never really, truly struggled with their weight (losing 10 pounds to look good for your high school reunion doesn’t count) don’t understand how complex the process of losing weight is. At least from a psychological perspective. Another factor is that people lose weight in different ways. What works for one person does not mean that it will work for another. For instance, if you have one guy that loves cheese and pork and doesn’t have any real use for bread and crackers and put him on the Adkins diet, he’s much more likely to succeed than a bread-lover with a fondness for pastries. Even though they may have will-power, self-control, and discipline in equal measure, the results won’t be equal.

I have personally found that a couple of minor tweaks made all of the difference. What matters most for me is simplicity. Anything that requires me spending a whole lot of time counting points is likely to lose me. I’ll lose track of how many points I have for the day, get frustrated, and put the diet off for another day. Likewise, anything that requires of me to not eat cheese isn’t going to happen. Or a diet that says that if I drink a coke, I’m screwed for the day. I need room for a little bit of sin, lest I end up settling for a lot of sin.

I decided after moving up here to make one and only one major, written in stone change: I will eat my daily allotment of fiber at least five days a week. My initial thought was that I would try to do this, see if it did any good, and then if not I would find some other simple rule. I figured that by then I would have the habit of eating fiber and therefore taking the next step (whatever it might be) might be easier. Turned out that the fiber created a cascading effect of virtue.

Partially, I think, because of how I chose to get those calories: High-fiber cereal. Really high fiber serial. I eat 80-90% (or more) of my daily allotment for breakfast. That has the benefit of getting breakfast into my system at the beginning of the day. As everyone knows, it’s better to eat more meals of smaller quantity than fewer meals of greater quantity. I always knew that, but could never manage to do it. But breakfast set the stage for that. And it prevented me from going out and getting breakfast of a much worse sort. I did have to strike out a compromise and created a compromise: I get to eat breakfast at McDonald’s on Wednesdays. I gave in on this so that I would always have McDonald’s to look forward to without eating it on too regular a basis. To say that I’m never going to eat there is to set myself up for failure. Knowing which day I will be eating there helps solidify the thing to look forward to.

In addition to preventing greater dietary sin, the cereal keeps me full until lunch. For lunch I really lucked out. Another example of how an external circumstance can make all of the difference in the world. Mindstorm, my employer, has a great employee cafeteria. A wide selection of food at reasonable prices. But the biggest thing is that it’s a very short walk away. That’s how I learned something about myself: One of the problems in the past is that I have a psychological fixation on the notion that if I invest time and energy to go some place for lunch, I am going to do some serious eating while I am there. Since going across the street to the cafeteria is no great inconvenience, it’s incredibly easy to just get a quick, relatively small thing.

Sometimes I do get hungry later in the day, so I try to keep a box of cereal at work that I use for snack food. I did this after I realized that I was starting to go to the vending machine to satiate that end-of-day hunger. Plus, Mindstorm has free milk. So that works out. But the important part of this is not what I eat, it’s that by having fewer dietary problems (now I’m eating a good breakfast, eating a smaller lunch) I am better able to identify what the problems are and come up with solutions. It’s not so overwhelming anymore. The more changes you have to make and urges you have to fight off at once, the exponentially harder it gets to make them. I know someone that quit smoking this way, by-the-by. He just got rid of one cig a day per week (the third after lunch, the second in the morning, etc) until it wasn’t worth bothering anymore.

Dinner varies pretty wildly. When Clancy’s not on a horrendous rotation, she cooks and she makes enough for two. Otherwise I usually open something canned or in some cases just have a snack at night. The canned foods are generally not very healthy. But they’re not ridiculously unhealthy either, unless you count sodium. If I’m really hungry it’ll be some sort of pasta like Beefaroni or maybe spaghetti. Chili and/or a burrito is also an option. If I’m less hungry, I’m more likely to eat soup or just get a snack. The snacks are usually not of the healthy sort. They often include Spam.

I’ve recently expanded my attempt to include a morning workout. The workout is actually not entirely for weight. It’s partially an issue of general health and partially in anticipation for my next chore. One thing I don’t mention above is that I still drink three cokes a day and that’s not good. So I’m going to try to make a change there, too. But I know that I have to actually be ready for it in more ways than I currently am.

So for all of you I don’t know how many of these tricks might work for you. I think that it is really important to recognize that overweight people generally have bad habits in different ways. I really don’t think that there is any diet out there that is right for anyone. I think that boosters of one diet over the other (say low carb vs low fat) often mistakenly give people the impression that the way that they lose weight is the only way to do so. According to low carb people, I should be ballooning up about now when in fact it’s my low-fat diets that have historically proven to be more successful. When my wife diets, she has to go all-in. Whenever I go all-in, I burn out and fail.

Of course, what works for me may not work for anyone else. Indeed, what worked for me in the past stopped working five years ago. It used to be that I lost weight by going all-in, spending a couple days eating scratch and then slowly working my way from there. When I lost 70 pounds at the end of high school, that was how I did it (albeit not completely with intent).

Last week I ran across an MSN list about weight loss with a mathematical oddity. In the process of trying to track it down, I read just about every diet-related thing that they have. What struck me as I was reading was how many of their “tips” just didn’t apply to me. It warned against monotony, for instance, but for me monotony is a powerful thing. Creating “defaults” so that if I’m not in a particular mood for something else, I’ll eat the same thing every day. For the author of the article, though, it was a recipe for failure.

Ten years ago little changes were hard for me. Now they’re the only way that I can make changes. Ten years ago eating a little bit of cheese meant that I would go hog-wild. That’s not the case anymore. Ten years ago I could completely steer clear of cheese and sweets. I can’t anymore. Some people need carbs and others need fats and asking them to go without is completely counterproductive.

It seems to me that the best way to go is with an eye towards knowing what your limitations are and what your strengths are. My strength (and weakness) is that I am a creature of habit. I don’t get tired of foods. There are also some ubiquitous foods that I can almost completely eliminate from my diet such as french fries. There are others that I can’t. My wife’s diet includes sacrifices I could never make. Sacrifices I’ve made without little effort are things that would require the world of her.

For me, right now, the path to success is replacing one bad habit at a time.

Category: Hospital, Kitchen

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16 Responses to How I Changed My Diet

  1. Peter says:

    With one or two exceptions, mostly related to bread products, I’ve been able to lose 50 pounds in the past few years without giving up any foods in their entirety. What I’ve done is eat less of certain items. It’s not always easy, but on balance it’s my belief that it makes dieting easier. It doesn’t feel as if I’m depriving myself. Of course, it might not work this way for everyone.

    The other aspect to my weight loss is being very diligent about exercise. I run a minimum of six miles on the treadmill every week without fail. It’s very important that I stick to this plan week after week, as I fear that if I let myself slack off just once or twice it would start a downward spiral and I’d hardly run at all. I’ll occasionally substitute ellipting for running, though that’s time-consuming because I treat one minute of running as the equivalent of three minutes of ellipting.

  2. Abel says:

    Congrats on the weight loss!

    …the cereal keeps me full until lunch.

    Every time I have cereal for breakast — no matter what kind it is — I’m hungry 90 minutes later. I have to have eggs or something with it or I’m snacking all day.

  3. trumwill says:


    Cereal doesn’t generally fill me up, either. Have you ever tried FiberOne? Seriously, it’s a cereal like no other. If you get the heavy duty stuff (I can’t remember the precise name, but it claims 57% of your daily alotment) and it leaves you hungry 90 minutes after, I will be mightily impressed.

  4. Sheila Tone says:

    Will, congratulations on your weight loss. I know how difficult it is to change eating habits.

    If you’re looking for constructive criticism, I can’t help but notice there’s no mention of any fruits or vegetables in your post. 🙂

    A few things I’ve noticed about anyone I knew who faced major weight challenges (meaning health, not just vanity):

    — They tend to not like vegetables (the vegetarians will dislike many popular vegetables). They rarely snack on fresh fruit. The non-vegetarians often want meat (not fish) with every meal, and even a very caloric vegetable dish will have to be a “side” to meat.

    — They eat either: A lot of fried foods; and/or a lot of processed, ready-to-eat foods, either snacks or restaurants. I never knew anyone who was substantially overweight who got most of his calories from home cooking. I know one lady who is a great cook — but she *also* eats unhealthy snacks all the time, like packaged cookies and, yes, those Sausage McMuffins.

    Staying actually *slim* rather than just not-overweight requires another whole level of discipline and activity, one I haven’t been up to for the past few years.

    But forgive me for bragging, I do have great cholesterol levels at 180, with 81 HDL (the good stuff). My drinking might play a role in both that and the 15 pounds to which my set-point seems to have gone up. But the fruits and veggies probably help.

  5. Sheila Tone says:

    P.S. By 180, I meant my overall cholesterol level, not my weight.

  6. trumwill says:

    Believe me, I hear about my aversion to vegetables all the time from Clancy. I’ve told her that when we grow up and have kids that I will make a point of eating veggies with everyone else. I do eat the veggies that she cooks. Sadly, even the vegetables that I like tend to be the less healthy variety. Same with fruits. If ever I say “Hey! That’s a veggie I like!” I am dutifully informed that it doesn’t count.

    The points about processed foods also describe me pretty well. Clancy and I have a deal where if she cooks, I’ll clean. Most of the stuff I “cook” involves using processed foods as ingredients.

    The good news is that there are things that trap a lot of people that I avoid and areas where I feel I can improve without tremendous struggle. I will eventually bring the soft drinks to a screeching halt. I don’t eat french fries. I can cut back on the cheese that I put on everything. Not all processed food is created equal and I tend to get stuff that’s not as bad as other stuff.

    My snacks consist mostly of crackers and cheese. I don’t need need meat with every meal, but since I don’t like vegetables that puts me in a bit of a pickle. I don’t have that strong a preference for beef over veggie burgers, interestingly enough.

    I know, I know, those veggies don’t count.

  7. Sheila Tone says:

    *Which* veggies don’t count? I think they should all count, except maybe potatoes.

    People fall into the trap of thinking of vegetables as a plain side dish. As in, you have a main course, then stick some steamed vegetables alongside it. Well of course that’s boring. But there are many great recipes that incorporate vegetables into the main dish.

    For instance, tonight we’re having quesadillas. The filling is mashed black beans, goat cheese, red onions, diced tomatoes, and corn. With fresh guacamole. So what if avocados are a high fat fruit? Better than something fried in lard. Plus they’re loaded with HDL cholesterol, which may be how I achieved my enviable 81. Stews and casseroles are other great ways to incorporate vegetables into the main course, either with or without meat.

    Sorry to evangelize, but I think a lot of people’s weight and health problems are caused by lack of variety in their diet. People fall into ruts with the easy but unhealthy food. They develop specific cravings that are hard to shake. This makes them dull to eat with.

  8. trumwill says:

    I’m hip to onions, celery, iceburg lettuce, cabbage, radishes, and asparagus. In small quantities. As a side or as an ingredient or a small snack. But I mention I like celery and I’m told that I should be eating carrots instead. Iceburg lettuce is a poor substitute for green lettuce. Seems like anything I concede to liking I’m told that I need to eat a lot of it to get out of or I get a pained “Well that’s okay… but these things you hate are a lot better. If you could just get yourself to like them…” but I can’t.

    My frustration at this sort of thing is one of the reasons for my Inulin tantrum from before.

    The good news is that there are a fair number of veggies that if you put them in front of me I’ll eat them. The list of foods that I just won’t eat isn’t terribly, terribly long. Unfortunately, it’s just enough to make a lot of heavy-vegetable dishes unpalatable. Carrots and green peas seem to be the ones that go in just about everything. Obviously, if we’re making for ourselves we can exclude those things. But while I tolerate and can even appreciate other vegetables, I don’t generally get excited enough about them to want to cook them.

    You’re really right about unhealthy ruts. They warp your taste buds. Personally, I am a dull eater. No two ways about it. Clancy says that the vast majority of the population eats a rotation of only about twelve meals or so. Excluding the different specials at work, I’d be surprised if I ate six. I prize predictability over variety.

  9. Sheila Tone says:

    I agree with you: It’s not about what’s the *ideal* food. It’s about ways to replace bad stuff with better stuff. The more celery you eat, the fewer crackers you’ll have room for.

    You can pack a lot of celery and onions into tuna fish salad. Or dice some bell pepper.

    I can’t think of any dishes that involve green peas. A lot of stews and soups involve cooked carrots, though. You don’t even like them cooked in broth? Liking onions is a big advantage, they go in many recipes cooked and raw and make everything taste great. I think they are one of the healthier vegetables.

    You should look for recipes that disguise vegetables, rather than confronting you with them whole. For instance, I make a pesto dish with spaghetti pasta — and spaghetti squash. It’s stringy like the pasta, with a little crunch. You might not even recognize it once it’s coated with the cheesy green pesto sauce. Ditto for my butternut squash casserole. I also have several easy recipes involving tomatoes, garlic, and seafood. When it’s in a sauce or a mash, it’s often a very different taste. And you’ll gradually appreciate the taste of more and more plant food.

    It’s not the absolute healthiest, but as you said it’s about incremental improvements for those of us who can’t live on carrot sticks, steamed broccoli and broiled skinless chicken breasts.

  10. trumwill says:

    I have a post on green peas coming up, interestingly enough.

    I have never had squash, so I don’t know if I like it or not. I don’t like avocados and only like guac in small quantities. Sadly, I probably spend more time picking tomatoes out of food than anything. I forgot to mention that one. It’s not on the same level as carrots or green peas, but it’s so much more prolific. Sometimes I give up and eat the stuff. For some people tomatoes help them take other foods down. Unfortunately, for me it doesn’t work that way. Onions are still good for that. I also like garlic, which is good at masking the taste of stuff I’m not enthusiastic about.

    I object less to carrots less when boiled than raw, but I object to them in any form more substantial than strained on a salad.

    Artichokes are something else that goes on the list of things that I can eat in limited quantities.

    I liked skinless chicken breast okay, provided that I can spike it up. It’s a good ingredient in things. There isn’t any kind of dead animal that I don’t like. Even dead fake-animal like tofu and veggieburgers are okay.

    (I’m enjoying this conversation. I’ll have to file some of this away for future ideas.)

  11. Sheila Tone says:

    How can you have lived in the U.S. your whole life and NEVER EATEN SQUASH? Not ANY squash? You must have at least eaten pumpkin. Come on — you’ve had butternut squash bisque. It’s popular. And you’ve had those little yellow banana squash people like to split and grill on skewers.

    Tofu counts as a vegetable. It’s best when marinated first and then stir-fried with a good sauce. Do you like bell peppers? It’s good with those, and onions. You at least like tomato *sauce* (with pasta), right? Ketchup?

  12. Sheila Tone says:

    Oh, and zucchini is squash. Surely you’ve had zucchini.

  13. Clancy says:

    Hmm, he’s had zucchini, I know I’ve fed him that. And pumpkin. Maybe butternut squash at my folks’ house. I don’t think I’ve inflicted yellow squash on him yet, since that’s not one of my favorites. 🙂 I’m trying over here! 😀 (Yes, dear, I am talking about you in front of your face. . .)

  14. trumwill says:

    I’ve had zucchini once or twice. I don’t have recollection of eating pumpkin since I was a kid, but if Clancy says I ate it then I ate it. Sometimes she shoves food in front of me and we both agree that it’s best for everybody involved if I don’t ask any questions.

  15. Sheila Tone says:

    I bet Will would like edamame (soybeans). They’re easy to steam in the microwave. Shake a bunch of salt over them and they’re good to go. Don’t be fooled by their round greenness, they’re nothing like peas. They have a nutty, rich, oily flavor.

    If you like all dead animals you like sushi, right? Sushi is a great way to replace excess greasy cooked meat and still get a filling protein meal.

    Will, you seem to eat much lower-class than your background would indicate. Perhaps in a post some time you’ll reveal why. 😉

  16. trumwill says:

    I do like sushi, in fact. Unfortunately, Clancy does not. Fish is one of those pretty healthy foods that I really do like. I even like tuna! I’m quite serious that there’s no meat that I don’t have some appreciation for.

    The only exception to that is not so much the meat but the preparation. I hate pot roast.

    I don’t like pouring salt on things, actually, but I do like spices with salt in them so I’m sure I could work something out.

    As for the class of my diet, I may be the son of a formerly high-ranking engineering auditor, but I am the grandson of a barber and a workshop foreman. My upper-crest class heritage is incomplete, I’m afraid.

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