When I was a kid I ate a lot of junk food and had a noticeable pot belly. I got so used to sucking in my stomach in public that it almost became an automatic reflex.
I think many adults can relate. And as adults we tend to get even chubbier as the years go by. The metabolism slows down, and so do we. I don’t know all the latest theories about weight gain and loss. But I do know what actually works if I want to slim down.
I’m not huge on food. Some folks invest a lot time and energy on the ephemeral pleasure of eating. It baffles me. Master chefs might want to stop here. These diet tips probably won’t work for you. Nor will they speak to those happy with their weight and body shape.
If you are satisfied with your weight, then skip this article. But if you’d like to shed a few pounds, read on.
The first big clue about weight loss came when I lived in India. I was there for two years. And shortly after arriving, I began to lose weight, quite dramatically. Everyone noticed. Teachers, students, even Indian office workers would say that I’d “reduced,” which was a sort of cute way of putting it.
The foods that I mostly cut out were
- fats and cooking oil
- ice cream
The cow is sacred in India, so it’s not commonly eaten. And grease, well, there’s plenty of that but I steered clear. I’d heard stories about Indian restaurants and street vendors reusing their oil, which taints it with all sorts of nasty micro-organisms that can wreak havoc your digestive system. As for ice cream, I had no freezer. Problem solved.
My food was prepared by a local cook. He delivered a tiffin three times a day. The tiffin included a tiny piece of fish, lots of flat bread, rice, dal (chickpea sauce), veggies and misti (an Indian sweet). Looking back, I was probably malnourished. I was young and didn’t know any better. And the weather was hot for most months, so I didn’t have much of an appetite. For a little treat I nibbled on a chocolate bar every day. And maybe some Maggi instant noodles or processed butter on bread. And still I was thin as a rake.
Coming home to North America I remember a friend being startled when embracing my skinny bag of bones. I’d lost fat and muscle. It felt good in a way. But it couldn’t last. Not in the overindulgent West.
Later, while writing my doctorate in Ottawa, I was on a strict student budget, so ate simply. Modifying my old Indian fare, I had coffee, cereal and milk in the morning. Noodles, tuna, veggies, all mixed in a single pot for dinner. And the occasional serving of Häagen-Dazs for those dull days. And yes, I did stay thin. But it was a good thin.
After graduating I moved in with my folks. It was nice to live in a house again, but what a tremendous diet change! Suddenly food was everywhere. All types, all quantities. And guess what? I began to gain weight again. Fast. A friend came to dinner and said I was “quite portly,” and he was right.
So here’s what I do when I want to lose weight:
- Coffee (as much as I like) with a tsp. of sugar or honey
- Cereal (any sugar-slathered corn duds I like) with 2% milk
- The occasional eggs on toast, without bacon
- I always skip lunch at noon because my cereal is taken mid-to-late morning
- Late lunch/dinner of a tuna sandwich around 5 p.m. Add a bit of margarine OR a bit of mayonnaise. Not both. Calories are calories. And we have to make sacrifices somewhere. I do, however, gobble up the extra tuna that I don’t use in the sandwich.
- Another favorite meal is brown beans, fleshed out with a bean medley on toast. Maybe add a bit of ketchup. It’s not glamorous but it’s cheap and definitely low cal.
- Some nights I eat instant noodles mixed with tuna (or egg) and lots of veggies. Add cheese powder or seasoning and maybe a slice of processed cheese. Sprinkle with a quality soya like KIKKOMAN.
- I also eat the occasional frozen dinner. Mostly noodles of some sort. But they’re not very satisfying.
- Once in a while I’ll have some fresh chicken and veggies pie, the unfrozen kind without preservatives.
- Once in a while, salad. I should probably eat more of this but I find the preparation is too much hassle. And I’m not wild about bagged salads. Sometimes I add tomatoes and other goodies to bagged salad, but still, I don’t enjoy food preparation too much, so this is not my norm.
Obviously I eat more than the above. I honestly can’t remember everything I eat, and it changes through the seasons. But here goes:
- Through the day I snack on fruit. I like bananas best. But any fruit will do. Carrots and celery are also great snacks. After dinner I might have a few shrimp. Maybe a small amount of cheese. Or possibly just some chick peas. I may also eat toast with a bit of margarine if my stomach is grumbling.
- When invited for dinner, I choose to eat whatever is served. Meats, fancy deserts, etc. That doesn’t happen too often throughout the year. But I do gain a bit during holidays like Christmas!
- I love late night food. It’s a quiet time and things literally taste better. This is my danger zone. If I’m going to fall off my diet, it’s at the midnight hour. So I have to recognize that. I suggest we all recognize our danger zones, and change our habits accordingly.
- One thing I find helpful is to microwave a bowl of frozen veggies instead of diving into the ice cream or flavored yogurt. And if I still want to eat, I drink something like a meal replacement powder (with lots of vitamins) in milk. Or fill up with a mug of Ovaltine (made with water, and a bit of milk as a creamer). I may also eat simple bread with margarine. But that’s probably not the best.
The other night I got bored and fell off my diet, big time. I thoroughly enjoyed two cups of ice cream with lots of sundae topping. But I didn’t beat myself up over it. Whenever I falter like that, I think, Well, you probably needed it. Tomorrow is another day. And when tomorrow comes, I try harder not to fall into that pattern again.
We can choose. It just takes conscious awareness. Try thinking like this:
If I eat this food, later on I will feel this way…
Sometimes I wonder if overeating is, in part, a spiritual issue. When I spend time with over-eaters, later I often sense in myself a compulsion toward unrestrained eating. Let me theorize for a moment. Or do some theology. Whatever. It almost seems like a spiritual presence that compels others to overeat comes to me. Please understand that this is not intended to insult anyone in any way. It simply has been my way of reflecting on my experience.
You don’t have to agree with the idea that there might be a link between negative spirituality and overeating. Many would argue that my experience comes from learned behavior, mimicking, or some other social dynamic. And many would add that my interpretation of that experience comes from my analytical bent.
However, I see human beings as partly spiritual creatures. And I believe it’s incomplete to reduce everything to biochemistry, psychology and social learning, as do so many medical doctors and health gurus.
In Catholic theology the compulsion to eat more after being with over-eaters could be partly explained in terms of spiritual attack or spiritual obsession. And in Hinduism, as karma transfer. I realize this is beyond the ken of most people. Industrial culture is, one could say, immersed in a kind of techno-materialism. I just put these ideas out as food for thought. Thinking about overeating as a biological, psychological, social and spiritual issue might help some to discern previously unrecognized factors contributing to their unwanted behavior.
The other half of losing weight is keeping fit. I don’t go to health clubs. They’re not my scene. I wouldn’t like rubbing up against machines that complete strangers have been sweating on. And I imagine the vibes at those places are pretty thick.
So I fit my exercise into my daily routine. I do a lot of household chores. I mow the lawn with a manual push mower and clippers. I rake the leaves. I don’t hire someone to shovel out the driveway in winter. Every few days I walk about 30 minutes, or ride my bike to Mass. I often park the car around the corner from busy parking lots and walk a minute or two to my destination. It’s amazing how even this can help.
I hope my story helps you to find your own healthy diet. Remember, everyone is different and these are just suggestions. So be sure to get all the essential nutrients you need. But I suggest minimizing things like excessively greasy food, chips and ice cream. I’ve been both skinny and chubby, and can honestly say that I feel better, all around, when I’m not carrying those extra, unwanted pounds.
Copyright © Michael Clark. All rights reserved.