Keeping it simple: Picking a diet that’s maintainable

Not knowing what to do. That’s how I felt for so long as my weight climbed up and up, all the way through the 200s and then the 300s. By then I had started to figure things out, but I still had troubles. My weight climbing all the way into the 400s, I knew I had to do something. I spent so much of my life seeking the magical key to losing weight, that one thing that would make everything else that I was doing work, when it seemed rarely to work for long before.
Why couldn’t I stick with it? I wondered. Something wasn’t right. But I couldn’t put my finger on it. I bought books, I watched TV shows, I read articles and I sought out information on the Internet. I also sought the services of nutritionists, counselors and therapists.
I talked to doctors. I didn’t know what to do.
It wasn’t like there wasn’t an abundance of information out there. There was an abundance — almost too much of an abundance for me to handle and somehow I just couldn’t make it work.
It took having gained 94 pounds over the course of only a few months to finally find out what was missing.
Having previously joined a weight loss group that was rooting for me, I felt like I let them down. I felt like I let my family down and I knew I had let myself down.
I knew I had to stage a comeback, but what was it that I needed? I had learned how to lose weight, because before having gained the 94 pounds, I had lost 57 pounds before it. But I hadn’t learned how to stay the course, to finish the race, to overcome my struggles.
It came to me one day, that magical key that I had been looking for.
It was so simple and it was in front of me the whole time but I had failed to see it.
The key is simplicity.
The problem is that up until then I had been complicating the process so much more beyond what it needed to be.
I hate it when people say that losing weight will be difficult, especially now.
I hated it before when people said that, because I agreed with them. I believed them because it seemed so difficult to lose the weight — after all I was struggling for years trying to accomplish that very goal.
I hate it when people say that now because I finally know that just isn’t true — at least not for everyone — and in many cases they don’t even know it.
Aside from those battling weight problems due to medical complications which go far beyond my understanding, I would say there are probably far too many cases of people struggling to lose weight.
It just doesn’t seem fair — fair that anyone would have to struggle like that. I know that struggle and I am so glad that I see things so differently than I used to. It’s changed so much about how I am going about losing weight this time around, and I don’t have nearly as much stress as I go about it this time as I did before.
I don’t obsess about what to eat any more. I used to obsess to the point of ridiculous proportions.
I would walk into a grocery store and almost feel like I was mentally seizing up because I was at a loss about what to put in my grocery cart.
Too much nutritional information was stored in my mind. This thing is good and this thing is not. Food seemed evil sometimes — at least some foods did.
What food would make me gain weight and which ones would help me to actually lose weight? I obsessed over that.
Pineapple has bromelaine in it I would think, and that is supposed to be anti-inflammatory and so therefore it should go in my cart.
Avocado is supposed to be a healthy fat, even though I had no idea what on earth to do with it, so of course, that should go in my cart, I thought.
I chose granola over other cereals because you could actually see the grains, nuts and seeds, as well as the fruit, so it had to be a better choice over other cereals. Into my cart it went.
Red meat was supposed to be bad, but turkey was supposed to be good. Turkey goes in the cart. And chicken breasts were supposed to be good, so chicken would also find it’s way into my cart.
Blueberries were supposed to be high in antioxidants — into the cart they went.
Bananas have potassium, so into the cart they went.
Mushrooms have selenium, so into the cart they went.
Tomatoes are supposed to be good for preventing cancer, so into the cart they would go.
Unsweetened almond milk certainly had to be a better choice than regular milk since it was only 30 or 40 calories depending on the brand. Into the cart it went.
I’ve heard so many singing the praises of the protein in Greek yogurt, so into the cart it went.
I didn’t entirely go organic, but often times I would gravitate toward the organic food.
I would walk by the pizza aisle and tell myself, keep going Gretchen, that’s not for you.
Regular bread, heaven forbid!
I mean after all, you can’t see any grains in it!
Evil bread.
I’d feel guilty buying cheese and ice cream. I could give up milk, but I couldn’t give up cheese or ice cream — that was going way too far.
It was a mix of emotions as I went through the aisle of the grocery store. I would stick mostly to the perimeter of the store, after all, that’s what they tell a person to do now.
So many rules, so much to remember.
Completing my trip, I would feel some relief from this stressful shopping event.
Keeping things simple
Now that I have realized how important it is to keep things simple when trying to lose weight, I don’t worry as much about being the perfect eater, the perfect food consumer.
I never did figure out how to use that avocado. I should never have bought it until I figured that thing out. What a waste.
Oh, what’s that? A rotten cucumber in my fridge? Ew. There goes another good intention into the trash.
What’s a dieter to do? What’s a dieter to eat?
It’s simply this: choosing a lifestyle that can be maintained. Not a lifestyle that is going to stress one out, and that may be different from one person to another.
Trips to the grocery store shouldn’t feel like they’re invoking ulcers.
What do I eat now?
I eat bread. I eat potatoes. I even eat red meat.
I still eat cheese and ice cream. I eat cereal that doesn’t have visible grains. I can see the shell-shocked faces now. Oh the horror!
Nutritional blasphemy!
That potato you have is white? Oh my.
Yes, that potato I have is white.
People have been eating white potatoes for centuries and many of those people had perfectly trim waistlines.
Those foods aren’t all I eat though.
I eat vegetables and even fruit.
I eat nuts sometimes too, maybe a few seeds.
I still make healthy choices, but I don’t stress over it the way I did before.
To maintain a diet, it has to be something that a person can live with for the rest of their life — and that is why.
If I ever decide to give up white potatoes, or bread, I want it to be because I want to do it, and I am ready to do it, not because I feel pushed into it by an over abundance of nutritional information that just ends up making me feel neurotic about the things that I eat.
I feel much more peaceful now and I am losing weight — despite the potatoes and the bread.
Yes, I will eat some bread. I will not eat a whole loaf in one sitting. I have done that before and that is why I ended up at 400 pounds, not because I ate bread, but because I ate the whole loaf.
Bread is not evil. Potatoes are not evil.
Food does not have the power to make a person fat. Food is not evil.
Bad choices, however, can pack on the pounds.
Eating too much is a bad choice and it can lead to weight gain. Eating too little can slow down one’s metabolism.
Moderation. That’s key.
Life does not have to be either feast or famine. Nor does it have to be about perfection.
When I was in Germany, I lost weight eating bread and potatoes. I lost about 50 pounds or so without even trying.
It was the lifestyle. Partly, it was active. Partly, it was what I ate.
Recently I took to the web and started tracking some calories. I Americanized this German culinary lifestyle I once had.
I discovered something about that. I discovered that without trying, while I was in Germany I was getting the recommended amount of macronutrients without even thinking about it.
Who knew?
I can eat right without stressing about it. What a relief!
I could eat bread like I did in Germany and I could eat white potatoes. Holy cow!
Then there is the cheese. I didn’t have to stress over eating cheese. That was a relief.
I can get a good mix of nutrients without getting brain strain. Why? Well, fruit and vegetables of course enter the mix too.
I could eat dessert too — just not everyday like I had become accustomed to.
Except for the moments when I entered someone’s home as a guest while I was in Germany, because that’s when the cheesecakes would come out, I only ate dessert at most twice a week, unless I tried to sneak in a sweet snack or two.
I did do that every now and again, but only occasionally.
I was focused on living life and not on food, so sweets were not nearly as important to me then as they have been since I have come back to this country.
Dessert doesn’t have to happen every day. But it’s not so hard to skip it when you know it will be around twice a week and on special occasions.
I know that this is a lifestyle I can maintain. Enjoyable foods paired with good garden vegetables. An occasional treat, that’s OK too and I will do that.
But these are not the only lessons I have learned about food from my experience of living in Germany. I learned what good portion sizes looked like. I learned that seconds don’t have to be avoided if one is truly hungry, but that life doesn’t revolve around eating, and eating seconds should never be a matter of habit.
Now my disordered appetite is repairing itself.
I listen to my body more. I know what hunger — true hunger — feels like and I’m not afraid of it.
Cravings have subsided. The out-of-control desperation I had for food has gone away.
And all this has happened without swearing off any foods. All this has happened with so-called imperfect eating.
But I have learned that it is perfectly imperfect.
And that is freeing.
I have lived this lifestyle before. It is not new and I am comfortable with it. I can do this.
I have finally found peace with food. We are no longer at battle.
I am free to enjoy life more, to enjoy the people around me more because I am not so busy trying to focus on food so much. It no longer runs my life.
If you want to follow my weight-loss journey, read about it occasionally in my column, “Healthy steps” or you can watch my weight-loss journey unfold and show your support by liking the page on Facebook or following me on Twitter @GretchenGetFit. Contact the writer at
Healthy steps is written by Gretchen Balshuweit, news editor and Health & Wellness page columnist for The Daily Review as she pursues her own journey to health and wellness in hopes of losing a total of 200-250 pounds of excess weight.

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