The first time I hatched a plan to lose weight was at age 14 when I decided it would be ideal to have the taut and sinewy shape of celebrity, Sarah Jessica Parker. I put myself on a diet that involved filling a cereal bowl with water, heating it up in the microwave, and eating it with a spoon as if it were some delicious soup, while my seven year old sister, Annie, eyed me quizzically. It seemed a rather clever way to shave calories to my teenage self, though the approach didn’t last past that first bowl of lukewarm water.

Over the years I continued to dabble in dieting, trying everything from eating grapefruit three times a day to the Beverly Hills plan, all the rage back then. By my early 20s I gave up on weight loss schemes, deeming them neither fun nor particularly effective. Eventually, I landed at a weight that worked for my frame instead of a bone-thin celebrity “ideal,” and have managed to stay there ever since (the healthy ups and downs of my three pregnancies notwithstanding).

As we move into spring, when every beauty magazine on the newsstand warns of the impending “bikini season” and hawks one particular weight loss plan or another, I’ve been mulling over all this business about diets. I take issue with a one-size-fits-all approach to managing weight, whether it be the “all meat all the time” Atkins philosophy or the veganism espoused by the ladies behind the bestselling book Skinny Bitch. Every one of us is unique, each with a different genetic make-up, history, taste preferences, and relationship to food. Having spoken to many women over the years who manage their weight without a lot of struggle, I’ve concluded that beyond the basics of “eat less, move more,” the specifics of what works for you may be very different for what works for me.

Take my friend Karen, for example, a busy working mom, who dropped the extra pounds that had crept on following the birth of her son. She now happily and comfortably stays at a healthy weight, largely, she says, due to four habits that she swears by. These include making her own breakfast and lunch everyday rather than picking food up on the run; exercising daily by logging 10 to 12 miles of jogging a week, along with yoga and exercise classes; laying off the heavy carbs at dinner by substituting, say, a pile of vegetables for the pasta under a ragu-stye sauce; and weighing herself each morning so she can stay just where she wants to be.

This got me thinking about what my own “four things” might be — the habits in place that have become second nature and help keep the scale from ticking upwards. In truth, there are probably more than four, and most directed towards health and well being in addition to weight, but here goes:

My Four Habits for a Healthy Weight

1) Lay off the liquid calories. I’ve all but given up caloric beverages such as lemonade, heavily sweetened teas, sugary sodas, and milky coffee drinks, which do little to fill me up but can tack on the pounds in a jiffy. I heavy up on black, green, and herb tea, iced tea, and bubbly water, and try to keep out of the wine cabinet beyond weekends and holidays.

2) Watch portions. Paramount here is to pay attention to appetite: eating when I’m hungry, pushing the plate away when I’ve had enough. Portions when dining out usually far exceed what’s appropriate for me, so I do my best to share an entree or take leftovers home. In this way, there’s no denial of good things to eat — the ooziest cheese and the most decadent chocolates are all fair game — as long everything is in reasonable amounts.

4) Close the kitchen after dinner. Once the dinner dishes are washed up, I stay out of the pantry unless it’s to make myself a cup of tea.

4) Exercise. Five days a week at an hour a shot seems to be the magic number for me, both to maintain my weight and manage the chaos in my head. Key in developing this habit has been hitting on what I love: a combination of yoga, dance, and invigorating walks through the hills of my neighborhood. Ask me to go running and I just might cry, invite me on a hike and I’m all over it.

None these are hard and fast rules; some weeks I don’t get in the fifth workout, others I pop open a bottle of wine on a Tuesday. But for the most part, this is my formula — the time-tested habits that work for me. Sure there are days when I think about “bikini season” and consider the appeal of dropping five pounds, but I no longer yearn to be skinny Sarah Jessica Parker, which is a good thing since sinewy isn’t Mr. Mom’s Kitchen’s type anyway.

What are the healthy habits that work for you? I’d love to hear.

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  1. 04.20.2012 at 12:46 PM #

    Great post, Katie! I love your point about weight maintenance/loss being so individual. I have learned this over the years. I feel like, as an RD, I was taught just one approach–and that other approaches (low carb, etc.) weren’t healthy and were viewed with skepticism. But I’ve come to realize that people respond differently to certain foods and whole categories of foods. So I’m much more open to not only trying new things for myself but also recommending different things for different people. I’d say my four healthy habits are: Not drinking my calories (like you), limiting evening snacking (I haven’t eliminated it but I try very hard), not eating out more than 2-3 times a month, and eating lots of fruit throughout the day and a huge salad every night.

  2. Annie
    04.20.2012 at 1:58 PM #

    I seem to recall the hot soup/water had some pepper and spices and you tried to convince me it really was soup but I knew it was a ruse. chicken alphabet extra sodium please!!

    • katiemorford
      04.20.2012 at 2:05 PM #

      Funny that you remember it so well, Annie. Hope observing my early foray into dieting didn’t do irreversible damage.

  3. 04.20.2012 at 2:05 PM #

    Thanks Katie. Sometimes it is easier to listen to someone else reiterating what you already know but need that little reminder. I’ve had years of acute joint problems so the exercise can be difficult, especially post-surgeries, but as I teach nutrition to cancer patients I really have to try and ‘look the part’, which can be difficult without the boost that exercise gives. You are so right about the individual nature of weight. I know plenty of people who do well enough with traditional low-fat/higher complex carb eating, but as for myself I reluctantly admit to needing higher protein/lower total carbs to budge the scales. My main tip is to eat more mindfully, savouring every bite (so it has to be good food, deserving of my respect). My family make fun of how slowly – and respectfully – I eat but I think it does help, also with digestion too. Great post. Great reminder.

    • katiemorford
      04.20.2012 at 2:07 PM #

      Thanks Kellie. Love the notion of “good food, deserving of respect.”

  4. Anne Mullen
    04.20.2012 at 2:49 PM #

    With so many restaurants serving revoltingly huge portions, I make it a practice to take along a box that won’t leak to take home half or more of my meal. There’s sometimes even leftover when John and I share. Why do restaurants do this and seem to take pride in it? Crazy.

    • katiemorford
      04.20.2012 at 5:35 PM #

      I agree Anne…restaurant portions are often absurd. Smart of you to bring your own containers.

  5. 04.21.2012 at 2:30 PM #

    Such great tips!

  6. Layne
    04.22.2012 at 3:11 PM #

    That was such a great post…I had to share the first paragraph with Chris; SO FUNNY!!!

    • katiemorford
      04.22.2012 at 9:01 PM #

      Thanks Layne. Even Annie remembered my bowl of soup.

  7. 04.23.2012 at 9:35 AM #

    Katie, I agree that we need to be our best rather than trying to attain the perfect body. We can then focus on being healthy rather than the constant struggle and failure of trying to reach the ideal that was likely created by Photoshop. I like the idea of having your four healthy habits. This is so important for kids to realize at a young age since children who diet are more likely to be overweight as adults. When I presented nutrition to my son’s 5th grade class and said “every body’s different and that’s ok” the kids laughed. There is such a level of discomfort with accepting ourselves. I recently went to a conference by Joanne Ikeda on Health at Every Size (HAES) and our intern wrote about how to apply it in schools

    • katiemorford
      04.23.2012 at 9:37 AM #

      Thanks for sharing that link, Trina….now I want to know, “what are your four healthy habits?”

  8. 04.23.2012 at 12:24 PM #

    My four healthy habits are:
    1. Eat breakfast every day. I would overeat if I did not start my day with food. Plus I exercise in the morning and research says it’s important to refuel not long afterwards. I love a banana with peanut butter and sometimes a slice of whole-wheat bread and mix coffee with almost half a cup of nonfat milk. That allows me to have multiple cups of coffee without overdoing the caffeine and I get plenty of dairy to start my day. Other than my coffee/milk mixture I don’t have liquid calories mid-day.
    2. Eat as many meals as I can with my family. I want to role model habits to my children so I seat myself at the table and we eat the same foods. We eat mostly at home so that means I plan and prepare dinner at home most nights of the month that include most of the food groups.
    3. No foods are off limits. My boys sometimes feel like they don’t eat the same as other kids and label everything I make as healthy. I remind them that we eat a variety of foods and my husband reminds them that they are lucky that I cook well but the grass is always greener on the other side. I try to mix in enough extra foods so they don’t feel deprived and plus…I love chocolate :)
    4. Lastly, here is a habit I am still perfecting, is eating after dinner. When making our lunches for the next day, I need to have a stronger no-food-for-me rule after dinner. I participated in a really good email project out of Stanford by Dr. BJ Fogg called three tiny habits, He promotes making very small habits by anchoring them to a preceding activity. I did this for a few other habits that were not food related and need to apply it here.

    • katiemorford
      04.23.2012 at 12:39 PM #

      Appreciate you sharing that…an inspiration for other moms.

  9. 04.24.2012 at 5:30 AM #

    Love this article. The clients I have counseled that have kept their weight off or have not regained their weight have done almost the same as your 4 habits. My 4 habits include:
    1. Exercise daily–at least 45 minutes each day and if it is a very busy day, I break it into 3 exercise workouts. It I am not feeling up to a really hard workout, I will at least walk for 30 minutes. I also vary my workouts. Some days, it is a 45 minute swim and another day may be a spinning class.
    2. Allow myself some of my favorite foods, in moderation. I admit, I love chocolate. If you told me to stop eating chocolate, I would obsess over it daily! So, I allow myself small pieces of chocolate throughout the day, without overdoing it. Perfect for me!
    3. Eat a lot of fruits & veggies! I eat an apple or pear every day–if I miss my daily fruit, my day is just not complete.
    4. Half of my plate at my evening meal is veggies! This fills me up and sets a good example for my 4 kids (3 teenages and one pre-teen)!

    Thanks for the great article and inspiration as I restart my blog

    • katiemorford
      04.24.2012 at 8:27 AM #

      Thanks Martha. Those are all GREAT habits. I will definitely have a peek at your blog. Good luck.

  10. 04.24.2012 at 9:11 AM #

    Hey Katie, Love this article–you’re making me think! I guess mine would be: No meal skipping. Exercise 4-5 days/week. Sleep 7-8 hours/night. Avoid liquid calories (except for wine/G and T!)
    My overall goal is to keep my weight relatively the same –no major fluctuations (although i do seem to flux 2-3#)– it’s a goal i have for myself for the next 30 years. I have found over time, i have had to exercise more frequently; make sure i am on time with bedtime (I am an early riser); keep the libations to weekends/holidays like you; and I just know that if I skip a meal I will snack all day to make up for it.
    Lessons learned…

    • katiemorford
      04.24.2012 at 10:23 AM #

      I agree, Jill, the exercise has become non-negotiable for me. Thanks for chiming in.

  11. Zooka
    12.12.2013 at 3:33 AM #

    Hello Katie- from Egypt,

    I liked what you have written over there and I would share it on my page. I would like to ask you are you still following these rules and how is it going now?

    Wish you good luck :)


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