What I Do Not To Be Fat

I have a palpable fear of being fat that began when I gained the “Freshman 15” at Vanderbilt. None of my clothes fit when I came home from school that Christmas. My parents could not contain their shock, and I felt mortified.

“Mortify” meaning I was so upset that I felt disgust in my body, felt wounded, felt that my body perhaps died, like the French word, mort. Ugh. It’s really hard for me to think about that time, but I decided to share what happened because my story ends on a positive note and because I know there are lots of freshman getting ready to head home this holiday season with the Freshman 15.

That Christmas, when I was just eighteen and none of my jeans fit, I decided to hide my mortified body in khakis and polo shirts, since the preppie look was all the rage at Vandy. I bought a couple pairs of khakis and some shirts at the Army/Navy Surplus Store downtown, Chattanooga’s source of preppy fashion. I ended up wearing those khakis for a year before I lost most of the weight.

Thankfully, somehow, I did not develop a lifelong eating disorder, even though I briefly flirted with one. I attribute this blessing to the strategies I list below.

My Guidelines Not to Be Fat

Here’s what I’ve done to keep the Freshman 15 from coming back and what I do when I feel I’ve gained five pounds. I’m five-foot-eight and aim to weigh 129 pounds. (I have a small frame with small bones for my height, or that number would be higher.)

1. I do not weigh myself every day.

I almost never weigh myself. I’ve never personally owned a scale. If I weigh myself, it’s at someone else’s house or at the doctor’s office, if forced.

In the past when I got on a scale and saw that I’d lost weight, I felt that a part of myself was lost, a part that I just ended up eating back.

At age eighteen, after the Freshman 15, I weighed myself constantly, which led to a small-scale, eating disorder disaster. I put a stop to it by getting off the scale, for one thing.

2. I study food.

I learned how many calories foods I eat have. I keep count every day of the number of calories I eat.

This has become automatic, and I haven’t had to write it down for years. Although to begin with, I wrote everything down. Today, I keep track in my head.

3. I cut back by 100 calories a day to lose weight.

No more. 100 calories is all I can eliminate from my diet without my body taking revenge and compelling me, as if I’m starving, to overeat. I decide on a few tiny things to cut out of my diet for six months to a year that add up to 100 calories, and I cut those out. That’s all.

This past year in order to lose five pounds, I cut out the butter on my breakfast toast, downsized my daily Starbucks coffee from a grande to a tall, and switched to a granola bar with thirty fewer calories for my afternoon snack. That’s all.

4. I do not starve myself.

In the past I’ve gained back all the weight starving myself lost me and then some. I learned to cut back 100 calories a day and no more through trial and error. That’s all I can do and maintain a weight loss for a significant period of time. Luckily, I’ve never been more than five to eight pounds overweight since the Freshman Fifteen except when I was pregnant.

5. ONE pound a month is all I can loose and not yo-yo and not fail.Overeating by 3500 calories results in a one-pound weight gain. I can only cut back by 100 calories, so about one pound a month is all I can comfortably lose without feeling deprivation.

6. I exercise for an hour and a half 5 days a week. I know that sounds like a lot, but that’s what it takes not to gain weight if I eat so I don’t feel as if I’m depriving myself and so that I’m never hungry except at meal and snack time. You’ll see below that I actually eat quite a bit.

7. I give myself six months to a year to meet a weight-loss goal.

What I Eat

Following is what I eat on a typical day.

Breakfast (200 calories)

  • 2 pieces of whole wheat toast (the 60-calorie-a-slice variety), spread with a teaspoon of butter, sprinkled with a teaspoon of sugar and sometimes cinnamon

(In the past year I gained five pounds after a move, so I cut out the butter on my toast.)

  • 2 cups of coffee with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 oz. of skim milk each
  • 2 8-oz. glasses of water

Lunch (345 calories)

  • Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with 3 cherry tomatoes (and/or avocado, but only occasionally), 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • Smoothie with 1 whole banana, 2 strawberries or 3 raspberries, 4 oz. unsweetened soy milk
  • 2 8-oz. glasses of water
  • Thermos of hot, decaf black tea with 2 teaspoons sugar to sip on the rest of the afternoon

Afternoon Snack (420 calories)

  • 1 whole apple or handful of blueberries or strawberries in season
  • 1 150-calorie, oat-based granola bar

(I cut down here from a 180-calorie granola bar to a 150-calorie one this past year to help lose those 5 pounds I gained that I mentioned above.)

  • And a 140-calorie chocolate-based granola bar (basically a candy bar that has 100 fewer calories). I need chocolate every day. That’s my basic human need, so I don’t deprive myself.
  • 1 tall Americano from Starbucks with 3 packets (teaspoons) of sugar and a splash of non-fat milk (50 calories total)
  • 3 8-oz. glasses of water

Dinner (590)

  • 1 piece of broiled or grilled chicken, steak, pork chop, or fish
  • tossed salad (assortment of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, red cabbage, radishes, cucumber, etc.) with 2 tablespoons of Ranch, 1000 Island, or oil and vinegar
  • a side vegetable roasted in olive oil with salt, pepper, herbs (potatoes, broccoli, beets, carrots, tomatoes, etc.)
  • 2 8-oz. glasses of water
  • 1 beer
  • OR, a pasta dish with a protein and veggies plus the tossed salad

Snack before bed (140–300 calories)

  • 1 beer
  • 1 8-oz. glass of water
  • Small bowl of cereal or 3–4 crackers or a 140-calorie granola bar. I might have one of these items two or three times a week, but not every night. Only if I’m hungry.

Average Daily Calories: 1720

On Eating Out

If I go out to eat on the weekend, I cut out the thermos of black tea and one of the granola bars in the afternoon to balance out a more caloric restaurant meal.

What Works for Me

1. I never go hungry. Never.

2. As you can see, I like sugar quite a lot, but am not that into bread, salty snacks, or fats. So I have sugar every day, somewhat in moderation. I’ve found that denying myself things I love only leads to binge eating them down the road.


Am I a nutritionist? No!

Am I an expert? No!

I’m a person who was traumatized into having an overwhelming fear of being fat.

I’ve learned to keep a steady weight over the years by figuring out a way to allow myself to eat the foods I crave the most on a daily basis — sugar and chocolate.

I throw in lots of fruits and veggies by disguising them in smoothies and salads and as preludes to sugar and chocolate.

I exercise a lot.

I eat almost the same thing for a good part of every day, day after day, but stuff I love, even though I know I should eat a wider variety of things.

I hope in some way, that my story may be of help to anyone struggling to maintain a healthy weight in a healthy way without developing an eating disorder. And, to any woman feeling low about the Freshman 15, it is a learning experience, sister, and I feel your pain. But, you will live through it. You will figure it out!

* * *

This post originally appeared on Medium.

For more by me, check out my new book, MURDER MASTERPIECE: A Boston Publishing House Mystery, on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Or, visit me at LisaShanahanBooks.

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