Deb: If you had told me three years ago that today I would be more than 70 pounds thinner, down to one medication from five, have more energy, and feel great, I would have been skeptical. If you had also told me that I wouldn’t recognize a lot of the contents of our pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and that I would be spending more time in the kitchen cooking and preparing food, well, I would have questioned your sanity. True, I was tired of getting older and feeling punk. No energy. No strength. Waking up in the morning feeling as blah as I did when I went to bed. I wasn’t getting any exercise. My diet was no prize either. Plenty of caffeine, sugar, pop, fried food, fast food, lots of white carbs, little fiber. And a husband, Jim, who loves to cook and is really good at it. Little did I know it then, but Jim’s love of cooking turned out to be my ace in the hole!
Although Jim accuses me of deception by asking him to make changes to our diet for only a few weeks, it honestly was my original intention. I had to get him on board since he was the cook. I found the diet we had used several times during our marriage. On this diet, you lose weight, but more important to me at the time, you can’t have any sugar, fried food, fast food, etc. You eat only what they tell you to eat and really, you feel great. Okay, maybe the first few days you’re miserable, but then you feel great!
Jim: I hate dieting. I had made my mid-life lifestyle change years earlier, including exercising religiously three times a week at the gym and making adjustments to my diet, like eating brats and Italian sausages made with turkey. I was pretty content with the status quo. When Deb told me she wanted to go on our old two-week diet, I was not thrilled. However, I knew I could handle it for two weeks. In spite of the changes I had already made, I knew I could stand to lose a few pounds.
Deb: Nearing the end of the two weeks, I was feeling better but getting anxious. I’d been here before. You feel great, you lose weight, you eat a little better for a while, and then BAM! You’re right back where you started. How could I make this permanent? I figured there were two choices: eat less of the unhealthy food we had been eating or eat differently. Forever. I realized we needed to start from scratch and change everything. Jim was not happy when I broke the news.
Jim: This was not what I signed up for. But she said she would rather cook her own meals than go back to the way we had been eating. She has a lot of skills, but cooking wasn’t one of them. I was the one with the interest in cooking and had done most of it for years. So I knew she was serious. Cooking for people and sharing meals is one of my loves, and I didn’t want to give that up. Still, I knew she was right. Without some real effort, it wouldn’t take long to slip back into the same old routine. Offering something she knew I couldn’t resist, she said she would be willing to try lots of new foods. I signed up.
Deb: So, I started reading everything about diet, healthy eating and nutrition. I knew Jim and I were not ready to make drastic changes. That eliminated vegetarian diets, raw food diets, and diets with lots of tofu. I couldn’t see counting every day, and I knew Jim wouldn’t have the patience for that, either. What we needed was something simple that we could live with forever. Finally, we settled on a diet of small portions of lean protein (with less red meat and more fish), moderate portions of whole grains, lots of vegetables and fruits, a little low fat dairy, and a small amount of healthy fat.
Jim: I did my share of reading, too. Cookbooks. I went shopping. New staples replaced the old: brown rice for white, whole-wheat pasta for white pasta, and lean ground turkey for beef. I started bringing home vegetables we had never or rarely eaten before like kale, squash, and eggplant. I was searching the grocery shelves for things like flax seed and whole-wheat flour. I learned to read nutrition labels. Along with experimenting with new recipes, I began adapting our old favorites with new ingredients. Turkey meatballs, frittatas with egg substitute, marinara sauce with kale. Not every recipe was a success, but we were eating tasty, healthy meals and losing weight, too. Best of all, Deb was spending more time in the kitchen with me.
Deb: We muddled along, Jim trying new recipes, me being a more adventurous eater. Who knew kale was so good? Indeed, there was fine-tuning and trial and error, but we quickly and steadily lost weight. In less than a year we had collectively lost about 100 pounds. As an added bonus, my doctor took me off one medication after another as all my medical tests improved.
After I lost weight, I had enough energy to begin an exercise program. Much like dieting, I knew from the past that it was easy to go overboard and start a routine you couldn’t continue. Using Jim as my example, I spent a lot of time finding something that worked for me that I felt I could do consistently, for a long time. Whenever we had time, we also took long walks together.
Jim: Three years later, we are not only healthier, but have kept off the weight we initially lost. We have developed some great recipes. Combined with regular exercise, we stay pretty fit, too. I was kind of dragging my feet when we started all this, but now I can’t imagine going back to the way we used to eat. We are eating a much wider variety of foods than we did three years ago, and our old “favorites” have been replaced with many new ones.
Deb: Recently, I read that the odds of keeping off any weight you lose on a diet are not good. In fact, they’re dismal. So far, we have beaten those odds by not going on a diet, but making lifelong changes in our eating habits. Changing habits for a lifetime really is a journey that takes time, and certainly more time than a two-week diet. By taking this journey together and playing to our different strengths, we learned that it does not have to mean a lifetime of boring and bland food. So believe me when I tell you that you, too, can be thinner, healthier, have more energy and feel great. I should know. I’ve been there.
Written by: Jim and Deb V