HOW I LOST WEIGHT BY EATING GREAT FOOD
There it was again, the familiar growl deep inside my stomach. A quick glance at the clock told me it wasn't time yet. It seemed like I had just finished what I thought was a healthy breakfast of cereal and skim milk, a banana and orange juice, hoping it would last me awhile. But I was hungry already! How could I wait another hour to eat my late morning snack? It just didn't seem right to start eating cookies so early. "Oh well," I thought. "I'll get everything ready and mix some of the ingredients, so that by the time the cookies are out of the oven it will be closer to a respectable hour." I pulled out the mixing bowl, the margarine, flour, sugar and chocolate chips. Didn't I just finish a batch of these two days ago? But I had to make them again, because, well, what else was I going to eat all day? I told myself I would exercise later in the day to work it off, and eat something healthy, like carrot sticks.
This scenario was happening all too often as I got older, especially after hitting my forties. Ironically, as a teenager I stuffed myself trying to gain weight and always got mad when people called me skinny. At 5'2", I weighed 93 pounds as a college freshman. Shortly after getting married in 1979, at age 22, I was thrilled to put on ten pounds. During my twenties I had two babies, gaining 35 pounds with each, but the weight came off effortlessly. At one point I was up to 130, which I thought was huge, but always returned to 120 or so without even trying. At my checkup at about age 31, I think I weighed 111 and my cholesterol was 169. I was the picture of health.
But then, over one winter, at approximately age 32, I started putting on weight. There were bumps on my thighs that weren't there before. The scale was climbing past 130. Throughout the rest of my 30s and up to age 44, the more I tried to lose weight, the more I gained. My first step to battle the bulge was using skim milk rather than whole. This would have been unheard of in the past. But with all the milk I drank with my cookies, brownies, cake and other goodies, I thought cutting out the fat in the milk would make a huge difference. It didn't.
The next step was buying fat-free or reduced-fat products such as salad dressings, cheese, cookies and chocolate cake. This was a big deal, buying a fat-free cake. It just HAD to make the pounds drop off. But I kept getting bigger. I used margarine instead of butter. In place of ice cream I often ate chocolate frozen yogurt. Sometimes as a bedtime snack I ate sugary cereal, which I thought was okay because it was fat-free. I tried a new recipe for brownies in which you replaced the oil with fat-free yogurt. I stepped up the exercise. My weight would go up and down, and exercise helped me tone up, but I still was nowhere near what I wanted to be. I believed my body chemistry had changed due to getting older, and that it was impossible ever to be anywhere near 130 again. I even threw out our scale, finding it too depressing to stand on.
Plus, the more I ate low-fat or fat-free food, the more I craved my sweets. I would be "good" for awhile, but it could only last so long before I was making a big batch of cookies. I continued doing intense aerobics to a workout video, the only thing that stopped my cravings for any length of time. Afterwards, I would go as long as possible without eating. I had to take advantage of this one time of day I wasn't hungry. When my appetite returned, I would eat something healthy, like an apple. But soon after, I was starving. So I'd have some low-fat cereal and skim milk. Then I'd be even hungrier. Here I was trying to eat healthy, but how could I ever lose weight when I was starving all the time? I used to eat whenever I wanted. I didn't eat low-fat foods. I ate cookies, making them whenever I had a craving. But now it was getting so that I didn't know when I wanted cookies (or brownies or cake). It was like I had lost my "regulating mechanism". I wanted them all the time! Exercise was just masking the problem, only keeping me from eating cookies for a couple of hours, not curing my addiction. But at least it was something. I would get so upset when anything interfered with my workout routine, like if I hadn't had enough sleep, or had something else to do. Then I knew I would be a slave to the cookies and sweets. Sure, it was great eating sweets. I kept telling myself I always ate cookies before, and never gained weight. So I could still do it, couldn't I? Well, maybe not. Just this one last time, and then I'll stop, or at least cut down. But I couldn't.
In the fall of 2000 I was sick with a virus and fever for quite a long time, and couldn't work out. But I could still eat! I was weighed at the doctor's office but asked the nurse to not tell me what the scale read. I also got my cholesterol checked about this time. The nurse called back with the results, saying it was borderline high and that the doctor wanted me to treat it by eating fruits and vegetables. Great. The more someone tells me to eat healthier, the more I crave the cookies. I tried to eat healthy, but didn't get very far.
In the spring of 2001, after getting back to working out, I was feeling a little thinner. I knew I was nowhere near what I used to be in my younger days, but figured I was somewhere in the 140s. In March I went back to the doctor for something else, and happened to see the number on the scale. It was 158. I could not believe it. I had weighed 155 back in my 20s, but gave birth shortly after! And if I weighed this much now, how much had I weighed a few months ago when I put on all that weight when I was sick? I told the doctor that I was pretty upset that I just kept getting bigger and bigger. He looked at my chart and said I was down a couple pounds from my last visit. I guess that meant I had been hovering around 160. He asked if I watched my saturated fat, calories, etc. I said yes. I mean, I really was trying! (I thought it was a big deal to drink skim milk, not put margarine on my white rice, and go an hour without a cookie!) I added that I worked out almost every day. "I don't know what else I can do, other than cutting out cookies completely," I said. "I don't expect you to cut out cookies completely," he replied. (Ha--that's like telling an alcoholic they can still drink.) He seemed puzzled, saying that it didn't make sense that I would keep getting bigger and bigger while watching what I ate. "You could have your thyroid tested," he said. "That's a common problem in women your age." I agreed to his suggestion, planning to undergo this test at my next cholesterol check.
"Maybe that was the cause for my weight gain after all," I thought later at home as I sprawled on the couch nibbling strawberry licorice sticks. "Maybe all it would take was some medication, and I would be back down to normal." Then I went to get some skim milk and cookies, followed by potato chips. But inside, I knew I didn't have a thyroid problem. So I decided to cut back even more. I ate salads with fat-free cheese (which tasted more like cardboard) and fat-free dressing. I ate fruit and boring, plain vegetables. I exercised more. This only lasted so long until I couldn't stand it anymore and made another batch of chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmm, cookies.
I started noticing that I was getting thick around the middle. I mean really thick. I had no waistline! I thought about stepping up the aerobics even more, but then realized I couldn't do them 24 hours a day. I was feeling hopeless and depressed. At one point I cleaned out my closet and donated 90 percent of my clothes to charity, keeping a few favorites as souvenirs of how I used to be. My feet were so sore when I got out of bed in the morning, I'd hobble to the bathroom like an old woman. I was using antacids more and more. I kept remembering how I much I weighed a few months ago at the doctor's office. I checked the Internet and found some charts which said that 160 is almost obese for my height. Yes, the girl that everyone made fun of because she was too skinny was now considered almost obese.
One day I was watching Suzanne Somers on the Home Shopping Network. I knew she had written three best-selling books on her eating plan, called Somersizing. Ironically, several years ago I had skimmed through her first book at the library, and remembered that Somersizing is basically a well-balanced, fairly low-carb plan, with no portion control, no counting fat grams or calories. Somersizing also focuses on food-combining, keeping carbohydrates separate from protein and fat, with low-starch vegetables eaten anytime and fruits on an empty stomach. She had learned of this eating method years ago while visiting friends in France, wondering how Europeans eat such rich food and still stay thin. It made sense, how proteins and carbs digest at different rates. When they are eaten together, Suzanne explains, the enzymes cancel each other out, creating a halt in your digestion and causing the meal to be potentially stored as fat. Her plan called for the elimination of sugar, refined foods and foods high in starch (which your body accepts as sugar) like potatoes, white rice and white bread. I remembered having read Suzanne's sample menu of what she eats in a day. While it was filled with lots of good, healthy food, I thought, "Where are the cookies?" Giving them up then just was not an option. About all I followed with any regularity was eating fruit on an empty stomach.
On TV, Suzanne mentioned that she had a website and a chat room. Soon afterwards, I checked it out. The people seemed like such a fun, dedicated group. Most all of them had great success with the program. But I still wasn't ready to start myself. There was just no way I could give up my cookies. And eat a hamburger or hotdog without a bun? Forget it. But I kept visiting. It was so interesting, even though I thought that some people were a bit fanatical. I mean, I once mentioned that I was eating up some Flintstones chewable vitamins that I had bought for my son when he couldn't yet swallow pills, and was surprised when someone warned me about the sugar. The amount in that vitamin was miniscule compared to what I ate every day! But these people were not eating any sugar, and losing lots of weight. I was soon getting it into my head that we shouldn't eat anything to raise our insulin level. As Suzanne says in her books, many doctors now are beginning to understand that unbalanced hormones cause weight gain, not fat and calories. Insulin must be present for fat to be stored. The USDA Food Pyramid has way too many unneeded carbohydrates. We must eat protein and fat (real fat, like butter and olive oil, not margarine) to regulate the constant rebuilding that takes place in our bodies. As Suzanne says, fat is our friend, and sugar is the body's greatest enemy.
Slowly but surely I was coming around. I knew this wasn't a fad, it wasn't a gimmick. Suzanne did not invent this way of eating, but she presented it in a clear, understandable manner, and she wanted to share the message because it had worked so well for her. This was the way humans are supposed to eat, enjoying wholesome, nutritious, real food. Not packaged foods loaded with chemicals and preservatives. But could I give up my cookies? I honestly didn't know. I kept looking at the "decadent chocolate cake" recipe in one of her books, a "Level Two" dish made with a small amount of real sugar that you could have after you'd lost all you wanted. I knew that Somersizing wouldn't mean I'd never be able to have a cookie again. I just had stay on Level One and get all the sugar out of my cells and repair my metabolism first. Then I could incorporate some sweets and see how it went. Could I live that long without them, though? I had to give it a try. And so, at the beginning of June 2001, I became an official Somersizer.
I started out by making the "deep dish pizza" recipe submitted by a Somersizer on Suzanne's site. Traditional pizza combines a carb crust with protein toppings, but this dish was legal because it had a crust like a quiche, made with eggs, cheese and cream. I also made a cauliflower dish, using full-fat sour cream. Both were delicious, and I ate much more cauliflower this way than I would have had it been plain. From there, I learned more new recipes, a whole new way of cooking and eating. I started noticing a difference in myself right away. At first I just felt "lighter". Then my rings were getting loose. My double chin disappeared. I had to keep readjusting the little attached belt on the skirt I wore to church every week. Soon that skirt was too big, and I was wearing many of those old clothes I had kept as souvenirs. Even my shoes were looser. I still did not have a scale, so I never knew how much I actually lost. But I knew the program was working.
What's more, I didn't crave cookies. How could anyone want cookies when there is so much other good food to eat? I was enjoying meats, vegetables with butter, delicious salads with full-fat dressing, cheese, eggs, fruit, whole-grain toast and cereal (all in the proper combinations, of course). And I was getting thinner all the time. I waited six weeks before making any desserts, just to prove to myself that I could live without them. Then I started making "legal" desserts such as fudge, no-crust cheesecake, and chocolate mousse, all made with only proteins, fats and natural sweetener that does not raise your insulin level. The desserts were great, but they were no longer what I lived for. I was satisfied and having too much fun eating everything else.
Suzanne lists "funky foods" to avoid because they are bad combinations of protein and carbohydrate, or carbohydrate and fat, etc. Other foods, like corn, popcorn and bananas, are funky because they are very starchy and high on the glycemic index. Alcohol and caffeine, which raise insulin levels, also are to be avoided. Throughout the summer I learned more new recipes, organizing my kitchen and getting rid of the junk and funky food--anything with sugar or that was a bad combination, even including things like canned soup, seasonings and salad dressings. Somersizing almost became a full-time job for me. I was running to the store every few days, stocking up on fresh food. I spent time reading labels to make sure to buy only brands with no added sugar. It is everywhere, disguised as different names. I made my own salad dressing. I chopped more vegetables in a week than I had in my entire life. Our refrigerator was always so full, it became a challenge trying to wedge things in. Meanwhile, our large pantry was collecting cobwebs.
I learned that preparation was the key. I always tried to have legal food on hand so I didn't even have to think of what to eat. I would bring along a small cooler whenever I was out for any length of time so that I wouldn't find myself succumbing to French fries. My husband and I even skipped going to our favorite restaurant we always went to on our anniversary, because their specialty is freshly baked white bread with cheese spread that they bring you first thing. I continued to exercise most days, and drank lots of water. But I no longer was exercising just to keep myself from pigging out. My weight loss was due to what I was eating, not how much I was moving. I also visited Suzanne's chat room almost daily, sometimes for hours at a time. It became such a support group. There were the regulars as well as "newbies" who came in for help. I made many new online friends, one whose doctor put her on the plan, saying that if she didn't lose weight she wouldn't be around to see her kids grow up. She is quite a way from reaching her goal, but lost 92 pounds in her first six months.
Needless to say, I never needed my thyroid tested. I found the answer to my weight problem through Somersizing. I have come to find out that a thick waistline is a sign of insulin resistance. It means every cell in your body is about as full of sugar as it's going to get, and from then on everything you eat will be stored as fat--even a carrot, which is very high in carbohydrate, or natural sugar. I can eat a piece of full-fat cheese and it completely wipes away my desire for sweets. What I used to eat just set me up for craving carbs and sugar even more. Fat-free and reduced-fat products replace the fat with sugars, starches and chemicals. No wonder I ended up gaining weight rather than losing! Most of us on this eating plan have a carbohydrate addiction. We're hungry soon after eating carbs, even natural ones like fruit. After my carb breakfast, it's all I can do to hold out until lunchtime. But as soon as I can switch to proteins, I'm fine. I feel so much healthier and my digestion is fantastic.
Suzanne recommends we eat only one carb meal per day, and preferably in the morning, when we have more time to work it off throughout the day. So I eat fruit on an empty stomach, wait at least 20 minutes and then have whole grain cereal like oatmeal. For lunch I often have a "Somersized" taco salad: shredded chicken in a tomato and onion sauce, served on a bed of romaine lettuce, topped with shredded cheese, onions, tomatoes, sour cream and lots of sugar-free salsa. Dinner might be pork roast smothered in sauted onions, and lots of vegetables with butter or olive oil. I snack on things like celery and cheese, deviled eggs, and "legal" desserts. I think part of my problem before was that I just didn't know what to eat. We hear that everything is bad for us, that meat and eggs are high in cholesterol, that fat will make us fat. So when I tried to eat what is considered healthy, it just made me crave cookies all the more. But now, thanks to Suzanne's books and website, I have so many recipes it is hard to find time to try a fraction of them.
As I mentioned, there are two levels to Somersizing. You stay on Level One until you are satisfied with your weight, when all the sugar has been released from your cells and your metabolism has been reprogrammed. Then you can go to Level Two, where you are allowed occasional "cheats." But once you gain a pound or two, you just go back to Level One. That's what is so great about this plan is that it's something you stay on for the rest of your life. On a low-fat diet, you are actually losing more muscle and bone mass than fat, and your body will go into "survival mode" and slow down your metabolism. Once you go off a diet, you gain all the weight back and then some. With Somersizing, it's a healthy loss with no "gaunt" look, because you're getting everything your body needs for it to melt into its natural shape.
Also, your cholesterol should go down. Raised insulin levels, not fat, cause high cholesterol. Fat alone does not cause an insulin response. But combine it with a carb, as in cookies or donuts, and the pounds will pack on. Suzanne's books contain medical validation from leading endocrinologist Diana Schwarzbein, M.D., who warns that almost entirely eliminating foods containing cholesterol and fat from your diet can accelerate metabolic aging. If you don't eat enough cholesterol, your body will produce it. The less fat you eat, the higher the rate of cholesterol production in the liver.
Many doctors like to recommend programs that restrict calories and involve portion control. All I know is that I would starve. Counting points is no way to live. You also are allowed treats on these kinds of programs, so that you won't feel deprived. Well, my ideal treat would be a chocolate chip cookie. But who can stop at just one? I would make a batch and gorge for two days. Eating foods like that just sets you up for cravings. I also have heard recommendations for weight-loss shakes and drinks. But how can doctors advocate replacing a meal with a can of sugar? I'll eat real food any day.
On October 26, 2001, the big weigh-in arrived. I went out and bought three new pairs of pants (size 6!) AND bought a scale. I was nervous just thinking about stepping on it. I felt and looked so much thinner. Even my wedding rings, which I had had enlarged twice since my marriage, fell off when I shook my hand. Still, I was prepared to be somewhere in my 130s, what I used to consider "huge". Maybe I really was destined to never be what I was back in my 20s or early 30s. But I was wrong. The scale read 122! I was thrilled!
On November 21, 2001 I finally reached the teens! I was 119.5 pounds! And to think last year at this time I was 160. It would be nice to lose a few more pounds, but not to go below 110. And I expect the weight loss to go more slowly as I get closer to goal. But that's okay, because I'm certainly not suffering eating this way! I am so thankful for Somersizing. I know it is something I can stay on for life. As Suzanne says, Somersizing is a lifestyle, not a diet. You stabilize your blood sugar levels and train you body to use your fat reserves as an energy source. "Above all," she says, "YOU are in control of what you eat...there are no calories to count, so you can eat abundant portions of food and still lose weight." And it's so true! I finally do feel in control!
[By the end of September 2002 I had reached goal weight of 110 pounds]
[To read my Somersize Ten-Year Anniversary story, check out my blog from December 2011!]