Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Me Minus 10 -- down three, seven more to go

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Here's the thing about committing to slow and steady weight loss.

It's slow.

Two months into my Me Minus 10 campaign to lose 10 pounds before I turn 50 in December, I've lost about three pounds, down from 147. I've been generally following a Mindless Eating approach, under the guidance of Brian Wansink of Cornell University and his associate Laura Smith.

With their help, I learned to make small changes, such as curbing after-dinner snacking by chewing minty gum, adding jumping jacks and squats to my treadmill routine, and managing my cheese habit by choosing small portions of excellent cheese, not big chunks of boring stuff. The first two, happily, have become habit. As for cheese, I realized I don't actually need to snack on hunks of cheese. Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard to give up.

My attempt to keep a food diary made me focus on what I was putting in my mouth, but not in a good way. Writing everything down made me obsess about food, and I kind of lost my bearings. But Wansink reminded me of another journaling option: keeping track of all the small changes I've successfully made. Every day that I do squats and jumping jacks between treadmill stints, I check that off. It's like giving myself a daily pat on the back.

Wansink and Smith recently recommended including my family in my efforts. After analyzing a photo of the inside of my fridge, for instance, they suggested filling the eye-level shelf with healthful snacks such as cut vegetables in baggies so those goodies are the first things we all see when we open the door.

He also suggested I remove a quarter of whatever I'm serving for dinner and put it away in the refrigerator before offering the meal to my family. The less food they're offered, the less they're likely to take. I'll let you know how that goes.

I appreciate Wansink's help more than I can tell you. But he's not the only one giving me advice. Last week I had a long talk with Pamela Peeke, who's made a career of helping women get fit and healthy through her private practice and books such as "Fight Fat After Forty" and "Fit to Live."

Peeke had me invest in a scale that measures body fat (mine came from Target and cost about $40); she was less concerned about my weight and body mass index than my body-fat percentage and the circumference of my waist. (Fat that accumulates around your middle is more dangerous to your health than fat that gathers on your hips and thighs.)

Peeke called my body-fat percentage of 28.6 percent average, but she wants me to get it below 25 percent. She also calculated that I carry 105 pounds of muscle and bone, a number she deemed "Awesome!" She said it showed I'd been working out a while and that my genes probably bode well for more muscle development. (I also got high marks for my waist size of 31.5 inches, measured at belly-button level; Peeke likes to see that number stay under 35 inches.)

Peeke spelled out four options for achieving that 25 percent body-fat goal, each involving dropping either 10 or five pounds and building more muscle mass to shift the ratio. According to Peeke, I could meet my ultimate goal by losing just five pounds of fat and increasing my muscle and bone content by two pounds.

But how? Peeke would like me to start weight training to build muscle and bone. To that end, she suggests I work out with rubber resistance tubing (such as products made by SPRI). Of course, I still need to keep up with my cardio work. Both Peeke and Wansink want me to mix up my routine, riding my bike or jumping rope some days instead of jogging on the treadmill.

Beyond that, Peeke wants me to get real about my eating, which she calls "chaotic." She suggests I cut calories to 1,200 to 1,400 per day without skipping meals, focusing on lean proteins, fiber and fresh fruit and vegetables, plus some healthy fat. As for carbs, she says I should consume fewer than 150 grams a day. She'd like me to make dinner small -- "Jennifer size," not the size my kids eat -- and to stop eating by 8 p.m.

Most of all, she wants me to get my mind right. She suggests I pit my Lumpy self against my Lean self and help Lean me win all the food fights that come up during the day. She promises that this gets easier with practice.

Both Wansink's and Peeke's approaches appeal to me, though I'm not sure about consuming just 1,200 calories a day. While Mindless Eating is more in keeping with my goal of losing weight without going on a diet, I like Peeke's focus on shifting my fat-to-muscle ratio. I need to sort out how compatible the two plans are; now that my weight's on a downward trajectory, I'm eager to keep it moving. Because I am awfully tired of Lumpy me.

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