I am writing this post nearly a year into the process of losing weight. I feel that there should be one page that readers can go to to see my methods clearly laid out.
Over the past year, things have changed. My short-term goals have changed, my situations have changed, and therefore my methods have changed. All in all, it all comes down to reducing calories, but I will take you through the various stages.
PHASE ONE - beginning the diet
For some people, the most important phase that they're thinking about is this first phase - when you first make changes in your system. For me, I was 285 pounds according to my scale at home, but I had been for a while. My body was changing even at that weight. My legs were bloating with retained water, and my belly became very unshapely and unwieldy, making wearing pants and clothes unpleasant, uncomortable and unattractive. And my face was getting to where I couldn't stand to post photographs of myself online anymore.
It was the pants that mostly took me to the breaking point. I couldn't find any to fit me and hated putting them on every day. And then one evening I was trying to take a decent picture of myself for Facebook and just hated what I saw. I don't remember exactly my frame of mind when I came home, signed up for ediets again, and printed out a grocery list and meal plan. I just know I was determined to eat exactly what ediets told me to eat - no more, no less. I made them responsible for my success.
You see, I've been fat my whole life. Without going into details on this page, I had done plenty of dieting and exercise and still I was fat. If it was possible for me to lose weight through dieting, I didn't know how, but I did not want to be this fat anymore, even if I just lost 20 pounds it would be better!
Actually I had been pretty healthy at a standard of about 240 pounds for much of my twenties, occasionally striving down toward 230. Therefore, for my first short-term goal I set to reduce to 220. I figured once I got to 220, I'd see how I felt. At 285, it was just a number.
Following the ediets plan was like this. Once a week, you weigh in at the website. Then, based on your gain or loss, it resets your calorie level and creates a menu plan for you, complete with a grocery list. Eventually I realized that I had to edit my meal plan so that I wasn't wasting a bunch of food every week and for the sake of my grocery bill. The first few weeks on ediets, my grocery bill was maybe close to $200 per week as I got my fridge stocked with new kinds of foods. Eventually I learned how to keep it down to something more like $130 per week.
There are several different kinds of diet plans at ediets - I went on the one that the ediets program recommended for me (because I was putting ediets in charge) - the Glycemic Impact diet. The five evenly-spaced meals were comprised of foods that kept your blood glucose level moderated so that you would not have uncontrollable cravings for carbs throughout the day.
I had gone off chocolate for a couple weeks already as part of a month-long vow, and was used to walking past chocolate with an "I can't eat that" attitude, and was storing my favorite Easter candy in a bag under my bed that I would eat when the ban on chocolate was over.
So during these first weeks and months, I stuck religiously to the ediets meal plan. Every week I'd weigh in. Every week I'd go make a new plan and go grocery shopping. Every day I'd prepare my food for the day, or for the next day. I'd pack it in tupperware and carry it to work. I'd eat according to the prescribed schedule. Adherence to the diet was more important than anything else - I was willing to pay for it, and I put preparation for it ahead of work and family and socializing.
When meal time came, at first, my body was so grateful for the food. The food was just enough to tide me over until next time. I would think about the foods I missed most and I would plan cheat days.
Cheat Days usually were once a week, usually right after a weigh-in. In the beginning, Cheat Days were major. Anything that I'd missed or craved during the week, I'd have. A restaurant meal, fast food, candy or cakes. Usually I'd lost weight that week by being good to the diet, so this was my reward. I'd learned about Cheat Days doing Body For Life - usually I lost weight after a Cheat Day - it's incredible - I believe in them!
I will also say that after several weeks, Cheat Days became less essential, to the point that I wasn't sure how to work them in anymore. (These days, I rarely think in terms of Cheat Days anymore. I'm in a different phase now.)
It was a shock to my system and I started to lose hair after about 3-4 months. This is common in people who radically change their caloric intake. I have a thick head of hair but it was falling out all over the place and my ponytail thinned to about 1/4 its normal thickness. Fortunately for me it doesn't affect my appearance very much. Also, it is not permanent, after 3-4 more months, it begins to grow back in. (Mine has begun to grow back in now.)
Exercise was not something I did. I had done a lot of exercising in my twenties, which improved my health but did not make me thin. This time, I wanted to lose fat, and my focus was 100% on food. I lost lots of weight.
So, to recap: PHASE ONE meant:
-weekly meal plan, weekly grocery store
-strict adherence to the diet, but with weekly or bi-weekly Cheat Days
-maintaining a glycemic balance by practically cutting out refined sugars and flour, and alcohol
-no exercise program
PHASE TWO - maintenance, learning, experimentation
Fall presented some obstacles to me - working out of town for 2 weeks in October, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I got down to my goal weight.
My main concern was that I didn't know how to do it without ediets. I had been eating ediets food, though, for 6 months, so I had seen what the new foods were. Fruits, whole grains, soy milk, low-fat cheese, avocado, tomatoes, olives, nuts, meat... For me the next step was to learn how to break away from ediets so I could continue to lose weight and eventually maintain on my own.
My other concern was loose skin. I wasn't showing any really, but I didn't want to either. I could feel and see that my body was less "full" than it had been. I decided to survive the challenges of the fall by focusing less on weight loss, and more on maintenance, learning about how to create my own meal plans, and exercising. During this time I hoped to give my body a chance to "get used" to being at this new weight, to let my skin "catch up"/shrink as it would so I could eventually lose more weight, to get an idea of what would be involved in maintenance, and to boost my stamina and energy level and strength.
So for me, this new phase was
1) stick to the ediets meal plan, but try to create my own meal plans too
2) exercise at least 3 times per week, at least 30 minutes per session
I stayed on this phase into the New Year
After the holiday season, I was ready to start losing weight again. I felt like I'd been around 220 forever and my new goal was to get into Onederland! I identified a start weight of 218 and a goal weight of 198 which I hoped to achieve by 3/28, my one-year anniversary. It would be 20 pounds in 3 months.
Basically this is the phase I'm in now. There is now a lot less adherence on the ediets meal plan. I do create a new one every week, and I do stick to it! But I also track my calories at sparkpeople.net and often create my own meals, making sure to aim for 1500-1700 calories per day, to include good foods. But I confess many days I stand a 50-50 chance of allowing myself a nibble of this or that treat. As I look at my chart I see that for 7 of the past 10 days I've been under 1700 calories. Using sparkpeople to help me track calories, and what I have learned by eating on the ediets plan for almost a year, I have really learned how to create balanced meals for myself at home using the right kinds of foods. I try to keep the building blocks of good eating in my kitchen now. Something I can carry with me if I'm pressed for time, like Amy's frozen vegetable korma, or a soup-at-hand of tomato soup and a quick sandwich, frozen veggie burgers, frozen whole grain waffles, cheese, nuts... I honestly don't know if I'd have been able to make the transition straight to phase 3 without having gone through the restrictive and shocking Phase 1 first.
I have also exercised 9 of the past 10 days - mostly yoga, walking, run-walks, or elliptical training. And I have been doing ab work over the past couple weeks, too - I hated trying to do crunches when my belly was loaded down with fat, but now I really need it and I think I must be getting results because it's getting a little easier each time. After the first workout my abdominals were very sore for a few days - I must have actually built up a little muscle which could be helping me lose more fat right now.
So, to recap - PHASE 3 is
1) still printing up a new ediets menu every week, but allowing a lot more leeway to create my own healthy meals using what I've learned from ediets and the nutrition tracker at sparkpeople
2) trying to get in some exercise!