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.