How I Lost 32 Pounds in 16 Weeks—You Can, Too! (And It Was EASY!)

A version of this article appeared in the University of South Carolina Times, October 2007, articles/2007-10/washington.html.

Like many overweight or obese people, I secretly did not believe that I could really lose weight and keep it off, as if it was some mysterious process that worked for some people but not for me.

But an elevated sugar count led my nurse practitioner to recommend a major lifestyle change. She recommended I try the 1,200-calorie-a-day diet plus about 30 minutes of exercise five to seven days a week. That exercise was walking for me; it could be going to the gym or a sport for you.

I must stress that this plan was not a diet; it was a major, permanent lifestyle change recommended and supervised by a health care professional. My resolve was strengthened by motivation (an elevated blood sugar count and the fear of developing diabetes) and commitment (to eat no more than 1,200 calories per day for six months with a goal of losing 12 pounds).  As you can see from the title, it worked faster than I had any idea it would.

In working out the process to do this, I decided I would have to count out 400 calories for each meal, and, in order to keep count, I would have to write down the caloric value of everything I ate. To this end, I began to read the nutritional labels on foods at the grocery store and bought a calorie-counter for foods in general and for several restaurants. Using these, I determined the number of calories in the kinds of foods I knew I needed to eat for good health: protein, dairy, wheat products, vegetables and fruits. By the time I finished a day’s menus, I realized there were just no calories left for things like regular mayonnaise, salad dressings, sour cream, whipped cream, whole milk, coffee creamer, cheese, ice cream and desserts. (You know all of this already!)

I followed this plan from December 4, 2006 to April 30, 2007, and lost the aforementioned 32 pounds, about two pounds a week. During this time, I learned to measure foods and determine their calorie count. At restaurants, I would estimate the calories in an entree, salad and soup, and concluded that most restaurant meals have about twice as many calories as I should have. Because of this I developed the habit of dividing my restaurant meal in half as soon as it came to the table. When half was gone, I was done. (Most restaurants are happy to give you a box to take the other half home and, guess what? You save some money, too!) The interesting thing was, that as I was eating a smaller volume of food, my stomach began to shrink so that at the exact moment that I ate the last bite of my one-half meal, I felt satisfied and, usually, full.

However, even if I did not feel full, I was certainly no longer hungry. Thus it was not hard to tell myself I could have the other half for supper, which was no more than four hours away. I also found it a good idea to drink a lot of water or tea (sweetened with Splenda) during the meal and a cup of coffee afterwards, especially if others were having dessert.

There were a couple of occasions during the four months (Christmas parties) when I gave in to the urge to eat a dessert (one was an English trifle and the other was a chocolate mouse), but I ate only about two bites of each and went away feeling satisfied and smug at the same time.

In addition to writing down what I ate everyday, I also sent an email every day or so to a friend recapping the foods I ate, how much exercise I took and how much I had lost. I told her in the beginning that I wanted to do this, but she did not really have to read the emails if she didn’t want to because the value to me was complete when I hit SEND. Of course, being the good friend that she is, she read them and congratulated me for every milestone, so I recommend this as a way to share your commitment (you don’t want to look foolish by failing to do what you said you would) and to re-enforce it in your own mind every day.

Between April 30 and September 18, I ate about 1,500 calories a day and continued my walking routine. In spite of trips to Spain and New York (where I ate pretty much whatever I wanted with an emphasis on healthy foods, but also walked a lot more than usual) I managed to lose an additional 16 pounds.

I continue to divide restaurant meals in half, or, when possible, order half a sandwich or a small salad instead of a large one. I still eat the same 370-calorie breakfast every day; drink iced coffee with Splenda, but no cream; and use fat-free cheese, low-fat salad dressings and 1% milk. I often look at the calorie count of foods in the grocery store and conclude that they just have no place in my kitchen or my life.

While I was on the 1,200-calorie routine, I weighed myself every day or so. I continue to do this now because I don’t want those pesky pounds to creep back when I’m not looking!

What I have concluded is that every person’s body (at their present age, size and level of activity) needs an exact amount of nutrition (i.e., calories) to maintain itself. Eat more, you gain weight. Eat less, you lose. It is a simple mathematical equation. You do not know the magic number of calories that you need to maintain, lose or gain weight, but your body does, and it will respond appropriately every time. You can increase the number of calories your body needs by increasing your amount of physical activity, which as you know full well is a good thing to do.

If you (and your health care provider) decide to follow this major life style change, I wish you every success. And, hey, it’s fun to buy all new clothes!

Nancy Washington is Director of Publications at University Libraries.

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