Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seeking the Balance

Over time, I have slowly, so slowly, transformed what I eat away from the complicated and towards the simple and whole. I have many days that I believe are near ideal for my own health. Those days, though, are interspersed with days on the opposite end of the spectrum: days where I have a protein shake for breakfast, ham and cheese on a bagel for lunch, a sugar free latte for a snack, and 2 slices of delivered pizza for dinner. It is *just enough* to slow and sometimes stall weight loss... one day a week like that reverses the losses. It's *not* just about calories for me. It's about my body's reaction to food. And it is not enough that I know what I believe I should be eating; the stress and fatigue build over days and it just seems easier to eat the processed stuff, eat what everyone else around me is eating, eat the comforting stuff.

So when is it enough? I ask myself that a lot. What I mean is, what percentage of the time must I eat well and healthfully in order to reach my goals for health and weight loss? Obviously 80% does not work for me; eating at 80% has historically caused me to gain weight. At 90%, I stall or lose super slowly. And at 100%, I start getting a little crazy for the 'restricted' foods.

Lots of people go by a rule of eating well 90% of the time, either on a daily or weekly or monthly basis. A little wiggle room to have that 10% for special treats or meals out seems to be a sane place to be. But I don't lose weight at 90%. I am still working on this actively, every day: trying to find the balance between overly (compulsively) strict and not strict enough. It's kind of a fine line. What works for you?


Diandra said...

By th way, what are cooking/eating arrangements like in your home? At our place it is simple - whatever I cook, the BF has got to eat it (or make himself a sandwich, which he hardly ever does). And we discuss what kind of snacks etc. we bring home, hence I have rather good grip on the temptations.

Kristi said...

I do 20/21 meals on target. One meal a week I splurge on something that I have been craving. So that's 95.238% for me to keep my loses steady. And a splurge for me is an extra 500-1000 calories in that meal, going from 500 cal to 1000 or even 1500.

LHA said...

Such a very difficult question to answer!!! Finding the right balance of eating/foods to lose weight is a struggle. You are so right it is not just about the food but about your body's reaction to the food, and I think we are all different in that way.

What works for me is to stay away from sugar almost entirely...I would say 99% of the time. It is a special, very seldom eaten thing. Birthday cake a few times a year and a few sweets on Christmas Day. Other carbs that I limit daily are white flour, potatoes, rice, bread and pasta. Those I eat in moderation maybe 5% of the time at most. As for the rest, I try to keep it healthy with lots of vegetables, lean protein and some fruits.

What this means in my daily life is if I go to a party and the menu is pizza, salad and birthday cake I eat one piece of pizza, as much salad as I feel hungry for, and a small slice of cake. This works for me because I don't feel deprived and I know that when the opportunity arises again I will be free to eat these things again like any normal person. What DIDN'T work for me was years of obsessing over eating a slice of pizza or a piece of cake,or maybe sitting eating nothing at a party because I felt I couldn't trust myself not to overeat and then stuffing myself on candy or something the next day because I felt so deprived.

I have learned the hard way that too much deprivation is a sure road to weight gain eventually for me. I will look forward to reading all the interesting responses to this question and I know I will learn something from each of them.

Anonymous said...

I think what works for me is eating whole foods, exercising regularly and not binging. I know that if I eat 90 % of the time normally but I binge large amounts, even once and a while, it ruins all my weight goals. So balanced diet (no strict rules, everything is allowed) with regular exercising is what makes me happy and what works for me.

Jessi said...

I have to give it 100%. It's why I chose Medifast this time, to try to knock off the weight. I was using WW, but the points system just allowed me too much freedom, I found myself buying ice creams and skinny cow caramel crunches because they were only a few points. Problem was, I'd eat junk all day, use up all my points, and then say forget it and eat more anyways. I have to have structure. I need someone to hold my hand and say "this is it. This is all you are getting". I'm struggling, and it's only day 3 of Medifast for me. But I HAVE to make it work. I have to.

Anonymous said...

90/10 doesn't work for me at all. I have lost at least 50 pounds more than ten times in my life and always gained it back. Now that I am older I can't lose at all unless I am 100% on.
The worst is that I can spend 6 weeks (which I have just done) losing 6 pounds and then blow it in less than a week. It's an endless cycle for me and I can't get off because I know that if I ate "instinctively" I would end up weighing over 300 pounds. 240 is bad enough, thanks!
So, I agree with you. Some of us for whatever reason, cannot handle slips because we slide right down to the bottom and have to start all over. It sucks.

Jac said...

I was trying to find a happy 85/15 balance after finishing a Whole30. I *loved* the way I felt eating that way, but I wanted to be able to enjoy a glass of wine, some dark chocolate, or a special family dinner. Sadly, even having one or two treats opened the floodgates of emotional eating all over again. I recently developed alopecia and am losing all my hair. Seeing my head look so gross drains all my desire to do anything good for my body, so I've been eating garbage and not exercising much. I'll be shaving the rest of my hair off tomorrow, and I'm hoping that once I get over the shock of it all, I can start to overhaul my lifestyle - AGAIN.

Becca said...

Since good "health" is an equation of nutrition and exercise, if you are doing both, you should be fine and losing at 90%. How has your exercise been lately? 30 minutes of vigorous exercise is needed daily for maintained health, so if you are trying to lose weight, you need more than that per day. I have read your blog for a while, and I've seen too many excuses why you avoid it (I have plantars too...there is plenty you can do to not upset it and if you'll commit to doing the stretches every night and morning and after workouts you'll be fine.) Life would be miserable if there was no wiggle room, so get some real exercise!

Tanya said...

I use calorie cycling -- 2 days at the low end of my calorie range (1200-1350) then 1 day at the high end (1500-1700) -- 30 minutes of exercise per day/6 days per week (gazelle or stationary bike), 80 oz of water per day. If I leave any one of those elements out, I stall; if I leave two out, I gain.

E. Jane said...

I also don't lose weight at 90%. And I can't control my cravings if I'm having some chocolate candy here and a piece of cake there. There may be room for some of those things when the weight is lost and I'm maintaining, but somehow I really doubt that is the case for me. Adding those kind of food after weight loss has always spelled disaster and regain for me. But everyone is different. For those who can have the sweets and treats in moderation--I'm happy for them! This weight loss thing is not easy, and finding the balance is tricky at best.

Karen said...

What works for me for loss is very much different than what works for maintenance.

Weight loss
in my 30's Weight Watchers worked but not in my 40's

in my early 40's tracking my food intake and only eating planned meals worked for 5-10 pounds,very limited

in my mid 40's Take Shape for Life (Medifast) worked great. * see notes below.

For my maintenance "template" I eat Primal/Paleo about 90%. The 10% off plan are Medifast Products. KEY to my success- any off Primal/Paleo eating must not trigger me. If it does, it's simply not an option for me to eat. I found when I take out wheat, I succeed. And processed sugar, although there is some processed sugar in MF products, they do not trigger me. I don't have cheat days where I go back to wheat or sweets. Not an option for me. That is the tough, not moderate.

* Notes:

Medifast was my time for my mental transformation. Had I not stayed on plan, I would not have learned to love the lean and green and basic spices. This prepared me for eating Primal/Paleo. Once I got to my maintenance weight, then switching to Paleo was pretty easy. The fresh foods and spices taste great. Fresh, whole foods, lots of farmers market items. No wheat, rare use of honey in some recipes, and I steer clear of the almond flours, too. Best advice I got was don't bring your Standard American Diet (SAD) to your Primal/Paleo plan in the form of pancakes, muffins, using replacement flours. I can tolerate 85% chocolate, so I have 2 tiny squares if I need something chocolaty. Also I do use a designer whey protein chocolate shake for some meal replacements (Primal, see Primal Blueprint)

This time around during weight loss, I approached the whole process differently. 20 pounds before goal (I've lost 72 pounds) I started studying long time weight maintainers via books, research, and blogs. I studied so I could take what I knew worked for me and a few new things to try, knowing I would not stop trying until I found what worked for maintenance.

I woke up one day, and said- my obesity days were "then" and this was now, and I was going to do this. Other maintainers had figured it out, so I could, too. No excuses, no whining, no giving up.

Reading and working the Refuse to Regain book by Barbara Berkeley, MD was key. Had I not been in that mindset, it's likely I would have regained my weight again. Now 3 months out on maintenance and eating Primal/Paelo is a lot of work cooking wise, but I feel great and am likely healthier than I was in my 20's.

Best of luck and if you change your mental game, the weight loss will follow. It's a total transformation, so you and only you can decide how to loose weight and how to maintain.

Once you decide and cross that bridge, that's when the change takes place. Good luck, safe travels. What worked for me might not work for others. Important to find what works for you and to remove, go around, or hop over any barriers that are holding you back. Karen P.

16 blessings'mom said...

Lyn, I could have written this post. I have to be like 95% spot on, or I gain. It just ain't fair! I have been doing this "new lifestyle" (diet) for a year now...I have lost about 55 pounds. I had my gallbladder removed in February and I swear my metabolism slowed to a crawl. (I also lost a baby last summer at 8 weeks pregnant or so, that set me back..I had a hard time not eating ice cream just to feel better)Now, I have to be so very careful! Sometimes I am tempted to wish I had never started this whole ordeal, and could just eat what I wanted without the guilt and calculations. But I know this is better for me, I feel better and am healthier. And honestly, blogs like yours help me so much! This is NOT easy. I like potato chips way better than mini-peppers, but. I still have 50-ish pounds to go, and I am not giving up. Each day is a new beginning, right? Anyway, in answer to your question, I can seem to get by semi-cheating like one day a week, or if I am really super careful, I can eat a bunch of popcorn once in a while and it doesn't kill me. If I cheat too much the weight goes on immediately, and takes days to get back where I was. Gaining and losing the same few pounds is maddening, so I try not to cheat...which is way easier said than done.


Sarah said...

I don't know what works for me other than 100%. I'd say I've tried 90% too and, like you, get basically no weight loss.

I don't know if the solution is to find somewhere in the upper 90%s? 98% perhaps... or to just accept that "I'm not like everyone else." I cant eat that stuff, it makes me fat, its just not an option for me. If I need comfort, I have to find a different route. With the idea that, as I get to my goal weight, I can afford to try some of those things knowing that I'll have to actively go to weight loss mode after.

I just don't know.

Again, great post. I'll be excited to see how many comments or opinion this post generates. ;)

lindalou said...

Oprah's trainer Bob Greene....said once that women , in particular, have to be "nearly perfect" on their diet to lose weight. I believe that is true. one bad day can undo an entire good week. Not much wiggle room.

timothy said...

how about 95%? not being sarcastic totally serious one of the "tools" atkins teaches is the planned "binge" i'd do it once a month twice at most! you have one hour to eat any and everything you want then go back into STRICT mode immediately. i used it as a last resort to keep from totally blowing my weight loss. somethging for you to consider anyway. whatever you do just dont give up you've come to far! xoxoxoxo

Anonymous said...

No amount of healthful eating only will lead to weight loss. You need to combine it with regular vigorous cardio + weight training exercise in order to burn the fat, raise the metabolism, and build muscle for long-term weight loss.

Anonymous said...

At my highest weight, I was 225. I spent two years working to lose and got down to 140. It was hard work, I will never say otherwise since that would be a bold-faced lie! LOL!

When I am actively trying to lose weight, nothing less than 100% works for me. When I've reached the weight I want to maintain, 75-80% is fine.

If I go back to eating like I ate... I'll go back to looking like I looked.

Maintaining is far more difficult than I ever expected and soooooo much harder than my active weight-loss phase.

Anonymous said...

When I was first losing, I had to stay at around 1200-1400 calories a day, but I ate what I wanted within that calorie range. I'd have a huge binge on my birthday, but that was the only major slip-up.

At maintenance (where I am now), I probably average six good days and one bad day per week. Average calories comes out to about 1500 with four days of exercise--30 min cardio and 20 minutes of weights.

It'd be a lie to say that it's always easy, even at maintenance.

Margaret said...

I guess the harsh reality is what you did to get there, you have to do to stay there. And, to echo what someone said above, the body learns the tricks we every ride up the scale is more difficult to get down. For example, Medifast no longer works for me. My body just shuts down my metabolism and starts storing every calorie. So, if you're not willing for something to be gone forever, don't cut it. Because your body will learn that trick and that's one less thing you can reach for when the weight comes back.

I feel like all of us are hating the same thing, but the other alternative is worse, right?

Lyn said...


I do almost all of the cooking and about 75% of the grocery shopping, and I always told my kids "I am not a short order cook" so they eat what is on the table for dinner, or they can have bread and butter with milk later. I do have a variety of nutritional needs in my home, including medical ones, so I need to serve things with higher calories, healthy carbs, and more fat than I personally would eat, but I get by. I generally have a carby side dish that I don't partake in. But this does mean my pantry contains things that are not helpful to my weight loss, like full fat cheeses, white potatoes, whole grain crackers (gosh it is hard to resist Triscuits!) and the like.

Unknown said...

What works for me is to eat on point each and every day. I have lost 60 pounds and have maintained the 60 pound weight loss for 4 years. I weight 120 give or take a pound every day. I work out 6 days a week for 45 minutes to 90 minutes. No slacking! I never want to gain it back. Eating out is a challenge, but I make it work. I don't have a cheat day or even a cheat meal. Boring I know, but I don't want to junk my body up with the fat and junky calories. I worked too hard to go backwards. I get asked how do you do it? When I tell them that it is by diet and exercise their eyes glaze over and you can tell they didn't really want to hear what it actually takes to do lose and maintain. I can never go back to eating the way I had been, and I understand that and am at peace with it. I do have to say that while I was losing weight it seemed hard, but the hardest part I realize now is maintaining, but it's something that I am good with. I hope that you find your stride or your mojo and stay with it. I know you can do it!

Anonymous said...

What works for me, both in terms of promoting a healthy body and minimizing my obsession with food:

-- Avoiding sugar 100%. Any time I let a little sugar in, it both feels physically bad and begins to trigger me to eat more--not because I am emotionally damaged or crazy, but because of the physical reactions within my body to sugar. (That is to say, I am not "broken" in any way. Rather, sugar is poison.)
-- Getting 8 hours of solid sleep per night. I strongly believe that quality and quantity sleep are not optional, for optimal mental/emotional and physical health.
-- Mostly avoiding grains (and avoiding refined grains 99%). I don't need them, nor does anyone in my family (including the kids and the dog). I indulge in a piece of homemade whole wheat toast as a treat food once or twice a week.
-- Exercising 30 minutes every day, in some form. (Maybe a bike ride or strength training, maybe just walking the dog.) I commit to doing this for myself, because it helps to manage my insulin resistance, it's good for my emotional health, and it supports the rest of my healthy behaviors.
-- Other than these things, I mostly eat in a Primal manner. Lots of healthy fats, which I find delightful.
-- Lately I've also cut down on my meal frequencies, eating just 3 regular meals rather than trying to do the incessant snacking thing. I feel so much more free from food than I did when I was trying to eat 6 small meals a day. Occasionally I will do a brief fast as well, especially on the weekends when I often eat a big breakfast, then don't eat again until dinner. I love not having to think about food at all during those hours!

Doing all of the above, but not counting calories nor recording my food, I think I am losing weight very slowly right now. (Like a couple pounds a month.) That is OK with me, because I have way too much other stuff in my life that I want to work on at the moment, and don't feel like full-on concentrating on weight loss.

Hope you find what works for you, Lyn. We are all pulling for you.

Sarah aka WarMaiden

Anonymous said...

I've lost over 100 lbs and have been maintaining for several years now. Unfortunately I had to be on plan 100% of the time to lose. I noticed very early on in my weight loss if I had a treat or went off plan it would erase any progress I had made that week.

As a maintainer I still have to be on plan about 95% of the time but it's totally worth it.

There really is no one size fits all. You can only do what works for you.

PaulaMP said...

I do best with three meals, largest at lunch time, and no snacking. I think the eating every two hours is the biggest crock they ever came out with, we are not infants. I have zero interest in sugar, it has never "called" to me however I can seriously mess up with anything like chips, anything salty/crunchy. If I open up a bag I will finish it in two days. I try to exercise for at least 90 minutes every other day. After menopause the whole process became so much harder. Even though I've been heavy a long time I never had that "pooch" under the belly button and now I can't seem to get rid of it.

Colleen said...

I need to eat at what most people would consider "diet level" to maintain my weight, what most people would consider "starvation levels" to lose, and eating a "normal" amount I gain.

Numerically speaking:
1000-1300 calories a day = weight loss
1300-1700 calories a day = weight maintainence
1700-2300 calories a day + vigorous exercise = also weight maintanence
1700+calories a day w/o exercise = weight gain

If I add a carb heavy diet to any of the above I will gain 2-3 lbs. of water regardless and look puffy and feel sluggish.

I have to stick to the above parameters about 95% of the time for the listed results to apply. If I am dieting for 3 weeks and eat 2000 calories of mostly pizza one day, I can put on 3-4 lbs. that take a week to get off, for example.

Anonymous said...

I think you aren't being strict enough maybe on your "good" days. By strict I mean staying low enough in calories and snacking too much. Just little nibbles here and there that add up. I find that if I exercise regularly and eat low calorie and healthfully most everyday, then I can have a handful of splurge days per month where I eat pizza, etc, and just don't worry. You have to really stick to your guns the whole rest of the month for it to work. I only do this now in maintaining a 50 lbweight loss, and it works for me. It also works inachieving minor weight loss if you lower the number of "fun" days and up the exercise. However, when I was in the midst of losing A LOT of weight, I stayed strict everyday. No "off" days. I only started this many years into maintaining. I guess my point is, to actively lose a lot takes really hard work. Maintaining is hard work too but offers a little more wiggle room once youreally figure things out and learn more about your body. It took years of maintaing for me to figure out how to incorporate things like birthdays and holidays into my (eating) life. You have to get through the really hard part first...and that's losing actively. That's where I personally found little to no room for "off plan" eating. Sorry this is so rambly.

Anonymous said...

In weight loss phase, my goal is to have a net loss 5 days out of 7 and have the other 2 days be even. In order to get the net loss, I usually need to eat a decent protein-vegetable combo, exercise 45-90 minutes, and limit junk/ snacks to 200 calories. It also helps to be happy and get plenty of sleep. Exercise is the difference between us, I think, both of the intentional sort and the unplanned activity sort (walking instead of taking a shuttle bus); it provides a calorie buffer for snacks and off days.

Anonymous said...

Also wanted to add: without exercise you really have to be 100% perfect with your eating at all times and eat even less. It just isn't the way to go for many reasons, as others have mentioned. I just had surgery on my back (laminectomy discectomy) in February, was barely able to walk for a bit there and very weak. Im already back to almost my normal exercise routine, using the treadmill and taking long walks outside. Exercise is necessary ALWAYS.

LHA said...

Reading the comments was great! It also reminded me of a couple of things that are musts for me to lose weight. First, I have to drink a ton of water...almost a gallon a day or my weight loss stalls. I have no idea why on this but it is true. Sometimes it is a real pain to get it all in. Second, I have to eat my smallest meal in the evening and only eat when hungry. If that means that one day I only eat once, then that is the only time I was hungry that day. Eating anything substantial after around 3 pm will derail me every time.

Thanks to everyone for all the great tips. I see several I am going to try.

Taryl said...

This may or may not help. I aim for 100% adherence on a daily basis. And yes, it means tracking and such. Even if it drives me nuts, it is what I have to do. My friend's little boy hates his glasses and nasal cannula and fights like crazy to get them off, but it is what he needs to function and she knows better.

Similarly, I may dislike the measures needed to keep my healthup and weight controlled, but this is the physical malady I have been handed - a body with dysfunction relating to adipocytes hyperplasia and hypertrophia. I have lots of fat cells and they want to grow, metabolically that is my issue from being obese and now being reduce. And so I must manage it daily.

I can whine, or I can just do it and instead of feeling sorry for myself (which I do on occasion!) I can choose to be grateful I am so healthy now, that this is the ONLY health complication I have, instead of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, etc.

So my goal I that my daily eating, my default schedule is 100% adherence to what I have decided to do and what maintains or improves my health and losses. Then when the rare occasion like a birthday or anniversary comes up I CAN have whatever I want, satisfy the mental itch, and move on. If I have treats beyond my normal chocolate or coffee with any frequency it becomes a battle of wills and health. When I have them less, though it means I am forever maintaining and work at my food, I actually have less mental anguish about it. This is just 'what I do', what is required of me to stay healthy. Why fight it and wish I were more normal? I can work a little and have the appearance of normal metabolic health, which is more than I had when I was 260-ish pounds! That is enough for me.

Anonymous said...

Hungry Girl here. Blah! I do intermittent fasting and feel so much better when on track than not. I posted about how one bad day can lead to a bad week and month and year. I have had trouble since Easter and then a family baby shower that I hosted, and then have a lot of bad white smooshy sweet food in the house that I am very addicted to. It has taken me several weeks now since Easter to get back on track and finally the last two days I have and feel so much better already. Today I did fresh berries and vanilla yogurt mid afternoon and tonight we had meatloaf, asparagus and mushrooms and mashed potatoes. I feel great, logged 1200 calories which will be a small weight loss. 1500 keeps me where I am, more than that and I can start to gain.

No bread today, just a very small amount of sugar in the yogurt (Dannon vanilla) and potatoes, but I tolerate them quite well when eaten with protein.

Now Mother's Day coming up also at my house. I already started food prep as work is very busy, I must be strong and remember how horrible my body feels and how bad my emotions and depression are when I stray, as once I start it can take me weeks to get back and I feel horrible, but can't seem to stop eating the white smooshy stuff! Once I get a day or two under my belt and feel better overall, I can stick with it.

Anonymous said...

You know, as I read this, I had a tug on the edge of my brain that it sounded familiar. I realized what it was... chuckle. It was a conversation I had with teenagers once. They wanted to know how far was too far to go with a boy. Was French kissing okay--or would that give the wrong message? How about letting them touch your breasts?

The thing is, teenagers aside, I'm pretty sure asking "How much wrong can I get away with before it costs me?" is probably the wrong question. I'm thinking the right question may be, "What do I need to do to fully commit to healthy eating?"

I know that's the question I've been asking myself. sigh.


Mama Stacey said...

We [my fiance and I] have been having luck by juicing and eating meals that are 75% or more vegetables. We are vegetarian, so it was easy, but for those who feel they can't survive without meat, I think this is still a hugely doable thing.

We couple this with exercise, but nothing outstanding. We talk around the neighborhood or play about an hour of Wii Fit each. Sometimes I'll do 30 minutes on an exercise bike.

I lost 11lbs in the first week. I plateaued for about a week, and then I started dropping again. I should say that the same week I stalled I didn't work out [finals week!] and think it was due to that.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering as I reread your post, if you think about fat loss versus weight loss. I'm not on a low-carb diet, but I still see water fluctuations based on TOM and sodium. I wonder if when you say you lose weight slowly or stall, what you mean is that you gain water weight and can't see fat loss. Do you know what I mean? I have a range of water weights I could be on a given day which could change my scale weight by 8-10 pounds, maybe even more during PMS. Plus another 3-4 pounds difference from morning to evening based on the food in my digestive system.

The other thing I wonder, is what is "slow" weight loss? I'm pretty happy if I see a scale drop once a week to 10 days. If I didn't log my calories, I could easily get frustrated by the "stall" in between. But now I've gotten used to the way my body will cycle up before it cycles down.

Anonymous said...

Lynn, as someone who's been where you are, maybe the solution is to just buckle down for a while. Give yourself a limited amount of time. Say two months, and for those two months, no cheating, all good food, extra hard work on the exercise. 100%. Maybe that will get the ball rolling, get the weight off, and motivate you. I find ironically that the lower weight I am, the easier it is to stay on plan. So maybe you just need to focus and go hard for a while, until you break through.

Jes said...

After years of yo-yoing on strict diets, I just joined Weight Watchers, which is the only thing that has ever worked for me. 10 years ago I lost 30 lbs and kept it off until I had children. I have waaaaay more to lose now, and I want the support and structure of WW. Will let you know how it goes!