This story begins in the least likely place: McDonald's. I feel a bit ashamed writing this blog because I love McDonald's, especially their breakfast sandwiches. I teach healthy brain habits; I work with athletes: I'm not supposed to eat fast food. I stopped eating Micky D's breakfast sammies because they (yes, always plural) were the guilty pleasure I enjoyed way too often. Three years ago I weighed 259 pounds; today I weighed 218 and I will reach my fighting weight of 205 sometime next year.
But recently McDonald's introduced the chicken sausage McMuffin with egg. I go once a week. It drops 110 calories per sandwich. That's a lot and when I ordered two of them a few mornings ago, I asked for no butter pat dropping the calories by another 20 per sandwich.
The manager was running the register and he said, "Why no butter? I only eat bread so I can eat the butter." He smiled. He was not a small man. I was a bit earnest.
"I lost forty pounds over the last three years and I don't want to gain it back."
"Really?" He asked. "How?"
"I eat everything I want, just less of it."
"That's it?" He said, a bit stunned.
We talked further about his 32 ounce soda reward on the way home each day. I told him that the smallest adjustments to my portions or ingredients in the foods I love have changed my body and how I feel. As he handed me my tray, he said, "I could start by having 12 ounces of Coke." I said absolutely. He said, "I really appreciate the help."
I wanted to share the story with you because he was really impacted. The food ideas I now live are so simple. They are not big changes. I'm embarrassed at how obvious they are. To him, they really seemed like a revelation.
So many businesses now advertise weight loss solutions, special meals, diet planning, and calorie counting. If they work for you and keep the weight off, wonderful. Our addiction to fast, salty, sweet, cheap food is becoming global and if you find a way to eat less and stay healthier, stick with it. I speak as a fellow food junkie.
What's worked for me, however, has been a few memorable ideas. They require small day-by-day changes rather than deprivation. It produced results for me in months, and maybe it will help you too.
First, eat a little less. I know. You're thinking, 'If I could do that, I wouldn't be struggling with my weight.' I don't mean cut your calories in half. I remember being on the Metro in DC twenty years ago and seeing an advertisement that if you swapped mustard for mayo on your sandwich each day you would lose 10 pounds a year. Makes sense. Mayo is around 100 calories a tablespoon and yellow mustard has no calories. Impactful math: 36,500 calories is a lot of pounds.
It is the sticky mantra, eat less, that guides what I eat at most meals. No butter on a breakfast sandwich, 8 ounces of chicken instead of 10 or 12, lemon juice and a drizzle of really good olive oil instead of salad dressing: a little less becomes a lot pretty quickly. But what if you want the butter, second helping, or blue cheese dressing?
Second, eat what you like. Really. I eat what I like. Here's the problem with the mayo swap principle: I love mayo. I have always loved mayo. I don't want to not eat mayo (I do eat lots of healthy things despite how this is reading so far). But when I eat Mayo, back to rule #1, I eat less sandwich. I put on less meat or skip the cheese. I eat a half sandwich or have an open-face sandwich rather than two. Now I eat less of what I like and I am happy every meal.
Obviously, if you have health issues that won't let you eat certain things, you have to find alternatives. If your weight problems are genetic, maybe these changes aren't enough. And, within the global world of food, there are things you will love eating each day that are as good as the things your body simply can't handle and less of those can become our new normal.
Third, choose. If you have to have fast food, go to your favorite joint for lunch and eat one thing. I used to go to the golden arches and eat a big mac, quarter pounder, 10 nuggets, a small fry, and a diet coke. That's almost two thousand calories. I wasn't choosing and the SMALL fry and DIET coke are hilarious. Now, if I simply can't live without a burger, I have one and club soda with a splash of lemonade. Total calories, six hundred and I make sure I have lots of veg with dinner.
Finally, and this has made the other three guidelines effective: see your future self in a positive light. Losing weight is rarely enough. Funny to say, but for most of us living longer is too distant a future to impact our daily choices. But I see my future self as an athlete. I can't run or play tennis or bike well if I am too heavy. When I see myself as a fast, powerful, strong athlete, I enjoy choosing less of what I want.
Your future self might look better, and more easily attracts or reattracts someone you love. Your future self could be insanely healthy. Your soon-to-be you could be a role model for your kids. There is no perfect reason, only a future self that let's you eat less of what you want one intentionally delicious meal at a time.
If I don't get to 205 by this time next year, I won't beat myself up. I will keep going. I will keep enjoying what I love and being a better athlete. The mantras work because they become natural. Hopefully like my new restaurant manager friend, this is the push that helps you make a few small changes too.