Editors’ note: With better eating in mind for the new year, five Washington Post staffers each embark on a month-long effort to change their daily habits. Watch for weekly updates at washingtonpost.com/food.
As a sports writer when I work and as an avid follower of sports when I’m not working, I live a lifestyle conducive to gaining weight. Over the years, with help from a different kind of competition, I’ve learned how to counteract it.
For five years starting in 2010, I served as The Post’s Washington Nationals beat reporter, a job packed with travel and long nights — two of the staunchest enemies of healthful eating. Once the regular season ended, I suddenly had plenty of free time to have a beer with dinner, and, upon realizing it tasted pretty good, a couple more after. Fall meant football, and for games I wasn’t writing about, it meant greasy food like wings, fries and nachos. And more beer. The holidays, of course, brought more reason to consume unholy caloric sums.
In the past four years, though, I’ve managed to break that cycle. A few friends and I have teamed up for a weight-loss challenge — a contest to see who can lose the most between Jan. 1 (after the holidays) and April 1 (right around baseball’s Opening Day). The camaraderie and competition help keep us all in check.
When it began, I clocked in at a shade over 240 pounds. I would drop about 30 pounds in those few months, then spend the remainder of the year slowly putting back some but, crucially, not all of them. With this year’s competition about to start, I’m at 225. I could use less yo-yoing, perhaps, but overall the trend is headed in the right direction.
I have no exact system, beyond eating right and exercising more. Shocking, eh? It’s not novel, but I’ve come to believe anything more complex doesn’t help. I don’t even like to use the term “diet,” because that implies a plan. For me, it’s easier to think of it like this: Do stuff that will help you lose weight today, and then do it again tomorrow.
I eat with a mixture of discipline and mild deprivation. There are certain foods I avoid, except for special occasions: fried food, cheese, white bread, white rice, dessert. (I never eat beef and pork, anyway, for reasons pertaining to family health history.) I try to eradicate processed foods in general and limit sugar in all forms. I try to eat more vegetables than fruit. I don’t worry much about fat, so long as it comes from a whole, natural source. I try to think in terms of nutritious food I want to eat, like avocados, spinach, chicken thighs.
I drink almost nothing but black coffee and water; I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to eliminate soda, even in the periods I’m packing on pounds. I drink alcohol less often. A lot less. In general, my rule is not to imbibe during the week unless there’s a really good reason.
Being on the road and up late frequently make it hard to maintain weight loss, but not impossible. For flights, I pack two large bottles of water and a bag of almonds. It requires willpower to pass up a late-night snack or a couple beers to take the edge off after making deadline. One guideline that helps: I try to leave 12 hours between the last thing I eat at night and the first thing I eat in the morning.
Eat healthfully, be active, don’t cheat. That’s what I shoot for. I know I’ll feel hungry and a little cranky for the first couple weeks, and then it will pass. It’s amazing how your palate and your body adjust, to both good and bad habits. By this point, I know it’ll work.
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