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By Betsy Hicks

My mother had put me on so many diets that by the time I was 18 I was compelled to pause and evaluate every bite of food I took. I had been led to believe that all food fell into two categories; good and guilt. Before I learned how to cook, good equaled tasteless boredom and guilt was everything else.

Flash forward fifteen years to a series of health issues intensified by raising three small children (one with severe autism), divorce, and relocation: I managed to stay thin for over a decade without once thinking or caring about what I ate. The terrible stress of my life was doing a wonderful job of keeping my weight manageable.

But then, damn it, I got happy.

Despite my nutritional training and the advice of my new husband, a doctor, the combination of a comfortable marriage, relaxation, better health, and living in beautiful Wisconsin brought my weight right back up to a, “Mom would not approve” level. And then, in 2013, we moved to the vegetable abundant, San Francisco Bay Area equipped with a range of year-round outdoor activities allowing for healthy weight management even through my pre-menopausal years.

After my husband’s death, I began a relationship with an athlete and learned a whole new side to loving and honoring my body. I am currently a wise 53-year-old woman who has walked the walk and talked the talk and now has a great deal to say about the topic of weight loss and maintenance.  Here it is. 

  1. Know nutrition. There is extremely bad advice on what we should and shouldn’t eat because weight loss methods sell, doctors are not properly educated about nutrition, and food is like religion in the way we recruit others to our beliefs. Everyone’s path is going to be different. Accept that it all comes down to the body’s nutrient needs. If we don’t nourish the body, it’s hungry and wants to eat more. Before you eat something, consider, “Can my body use this?” If not, it will add weight as it lodges into the body’s fat storage closets that eventually force you to move into a larger house (or pant size).
  2. Stop comparing. Your kids and husband are enjoying their ice cream cones while you munch on a carrot. “It’s not fair!” is the battle cry I hear.  I agree that it totally sucks, but it will compound the problem if you monitor your calories on someone else’s metabolism. Avoid habits of, “I just want a little nibble,” because those are often the people who don’t understand why they gain weight. All snacking is not bad, but somehow we tend to think the bit of pie crust left on the dish, the cookie that fell apart, or the sip of your child’s soda doesn’t count. Add them up and they equal the caloric equivalent of a meal without any satisfaction or nutritional value.
  3. Drink water! I’m talking to YOU…don’t you pass over this with a blah blah blah attitude. This matters beyond what you may think. We often mistake thirst for hunger, but it goes beyond that. If you want your poor food choices to ease their way out of the fat storage closets, you need to get them a facilitated exit down the intestinal waterslide. Water allows for better elimination and healthy organ function. Coffee, juice, carbonated water of any kind, tea, and especially alcohol will dehydrate. Fill your large liter bottle up twice daily and sip throughout the day. Think of when it rains; the moisture absorbs better with constant light rain than with downpours.
  4. Artificial food will cause weight gain ESPECIALLY artificial sweeteners. Stop your diet sodas as they are doing you no favors. Studies show that artificial sweeteners are actually stimulating your appetite and creating fat. Avoid the term “fat-free”. Fat and protein belong together in a beautiful marriage of support and balance. There are good natural and bad manufactured fats. Don’t look towards manufacturers to force whole food into un-natural categories. Food sources have been evolving for 4 billion years and in the last 80, we’ve managed to create a manufactured sense of flavor that is deeply disruptive to our digestion.
  5. Good fat, bad fat. The basic rule of thumb is that fat heated to high temperatures to be extracted is bad. Fats that are natural forming or pressed and extracted are good. Canola, vegetable or soy oils are not healthy.
  6. Fermented foods are vital, but everyone needs to chill out of their Kombucha addiction. I have had well-made kombucha that barely has any sweetness and even this should be limited. Most commercial kombucha is so high in sugar and yeast that it will feed candida causing rapid weight gain, gas, digestive issues, yeast infections, and sugar cravings. If candida haunts you, additionally stay away from vinegar products. Eat a couple of servings (1/4 cup) of lacto-fermented cultured vegetables made with salt or probiotic starter instead, and when you have sugar cravings, take a bite of the veggies before you indulge and you will crave less.
  7. What does exercise mean to you? My fiancé lives for his next work out. I’m a fair-weather cyclist, a fresh air seeking hiker, a barefoot in the sand beach walker, and a yoga enthusiast. I always get my 10,000 steps in because I live in a city where walking is faster than driving, but I hate gyms. Find your exercise passion but be realistic about how many calories you are actually burning because for the average person the workout does not balance with the food “reward”. Being exhausted at the end of the day does not mean you had a workout. It usually means you need a work out because daily functions of cooking, cleaning, attending meetings, and driving your kids around town does not build the needed endurance or muscle. Daily stretching, aerobic movement, and muscle conditioning will help you glide through your day.  Find the way of exercising you like and do it regularly.
  8. Slow down or stop your alcohol consumption. Alcohol has loads of calories and it stresses your detoxification system. If it’s the ritual you love, switch to soda water and bitters for a refreshing low-calorie alternative. If you need to chill and legally can in your state, consider cannabis. Read more about my thoughts on Marijuana.
  9. Preparation is the key to great food choices. “Hangry” doesn’t begin to describe my ravenous nature when I need to eat. I take no shame in being the first to stand in line at any buffet and the first one to dig into the appetizers. My fiancé needs to treat me like a child if we are going out, “Did you pack yourself a snack?” He assures me the preventative action is relationship self-preservation. Always have healthy food snack options readily available.
  10. Stop making excuses that you can’t cook. No one is born knowing how to cook. It’s a talent that comes after making a million mistakes (just ask my poor Guinea pig children). Start with easy recipes. My favorite recipe blog is Minimalist Baker. The food is vegetarian, but even for omnivores like me, you can use the recipes as an accompaniment. Want to learn how to cook? Go to America’s Test Kitchen. They have great online step by step classes that will teach you the basics. Take note that it is almost impossible to get the nutrition you need from eating out.
  11. Be kind to yourself. No one should be trapped for eternity in the bite-for-bite judgment of food choices. You should enjoy what you eat and love yourself for who you are at this moment. Appreciate your food, chew slowly and savor the flavor. Love your body, and treat it with the respect it deserves for taking you so far.  And keep in mind what my yoga teacher tells me when taking on a new endeavor; just start where you are, and see where you go.

Author, public speaker, culinary teacher, and life enthusiast, Betsy Hicks lives in San Francisco, CA with her fiancé and her adult son with autism.

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