Thursday, August 18, 2011

Learning to savor

Until I hit my 30's, I was one of those super-skinny people who could eat anything she wanted and never gain an ounce. At 5'7", I weighed about 115 lbs. on average. My low weight came with its drawbacks: I almost always felt too cold, except on the warmest of days; despite what the media tell us, most men aren't attracted to women with "boyish" figures; and I got sick frequently, with sickness taking a horrible toll on my body since I had no stores of fat or extra nutrients to protect me.

I knew even then that my thinness wouldn't last. Throughout my childhood, I witnessed my mom and aunts, almost all of whom had been very thin as young women, struggle with dieting and weight. I knew that one day, too, I would start to gain. I didn't want to end up in that same cycle, so in my 20's, I decided that I needed to eat better.

At that age, eating better meant giving up red meat and fried foods (unless I was being served such foods as someone's guest). Nevertheless, I still started gaining weight when I hit my 30's, and the first 20 to 30 additional pounds were very welcome. I finally had a womanly figure, I wasn't constantly freezing, and I definitely became less sickly.

Over time, I have continued to improve my eating habits. Since I started my green journey when my now 6-year-old was a baby, I eat more vegetarian and vegan meals, more whole and organic foods, and more fruits and vegetables.

But of course, I had given birth, with all its changes to a woman's body. And then I turned 40, with all its changes to a woman's metabolism. So I was still gaining weight.

At my last physical in April I weighed 160 lbs, which is right over the edge into "overweight" BMI. I've never officially dieted, but I know that I now have to do something to manage my weight.

I decided that I need to do two things: 1) manage the amounts of food I am eating. What I am eating (for the most part) is not a problem, it's how much; and 2) manage my sweet tooth.

With the former, I am using the "smaller plate" method of managing portion sizes, and writing down everything I eat. Writing it all down is a great tool, because it makes me very aware of what I'm putting into my mouth. No more mindless grazing, or going back for seconds without thinking about it.

The sweet tooth is the bigger challenge. I love sweets, especially chocolate. I have often had days in which I eat, say, oatmeal and OJ for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and salmon, broccoli and brown rice for dinner. And that same day, throughout the day, I would polish off an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies. Most of my weight gain is probably the result of my sweet tooth.

I couldn't imagine giving up sweets or chocolate altogether, so this is how I've decided to deal with it: I am learning to savor. For example, Safeway sells bags of "Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Cups," a transfat-free candy about the size of a mini Reese's cup. A serving is 3 pieces, but after lunch I am eating one. One piece contains about 63 calories, 3 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat. I take a tiny bite and let it sit on my tongue until it melts, moving it around so I can fully taste it. Then I wait a while and do it again. I can make one piece last an hour, and I'm working on extending that time.

After dinner, I am doing the same with, for example, about 2 ounces of homemade tofu chocolate mousse (made from silken tofu, melted semi-sweet chocolate chips, a little mint or almond extract, and enough almond or rice milk to make it smooth, blended in a blender and chilled). I take a small spoonful and savor it.

In this way I'm getting the same joyful thrill I always get from eating chocolate, without all the calories I used to consume because I couldn't stop eating more and more.

I'm seeing a secondary benefit: perhaps because I am consuming less sugar, fruit is becoming more satisfying to my sweet tooth. I've always like fruit, but given a choice between fruit or cookies, I would almost always go for cookies. But now I'm starting to choose fruit, knowing it can give me a thrill, too.

So far, my "diet" plan is working. I'm down to 155, and my goal is 145.

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