Those calories just snuck up on me. Like ninjas!
The past couple of times I’ve wanted to drop weight, I didn’t really think about my diet. In my early 30s, when I ate vegan, the weight seemed to disappear no matter what I ate. Even in my early 40s, it felt like I didn’t have to worry about measuring out my chicken by the ounce. I just ate “pretty healthy” (lean protein, veggies & fruit, limited bread/pasta, little sugar). And everything just seemed to work. Somehow.
I’m in my late 40s now and it’s a far different story.
Despite exercising copiously, the weight just hasn’t magically melted off like I’ve wanted it to. Even worse, I found myself going to bed every evening with an angry stomach. And the more I ate, the more I felt I wanted to eat. I felt simultaneously bloated and ravenous.
So one day, I took a step back. What if I cut back to a reasonable calorie target — and stuck to it? Could I cap out strictly at 2200 to 2300 calories and a rigorous workout schedule?
At first, I thought I’d end up wanting to eat my arm off by day’s end. So I was shocked when, by the end of the first week, I was feeling full and satisfied! I also felt more energetic than I’ve felt in ages.
Looking back, I realized I had inadvertently been making four mistakes that had trapped me in a cycle of overeating.
Trap 1: I wasn’t measuring anything.
I mean, who wants to count calories? I wanna be like my YouTube musclemen heroes who toss a bunch of crap in a frypan and call it a meal!
Alas, it seems that I’m very adept at lying to myself.
I was convinced that I was eating around 2,200 calories a day. But when I actually counted, it was easily in excess of 3,000.
So I started calculating the calories in every meal. I stuck to the same regimen of protein shakes and chicken for my am meals to keep the morning at a set 400 calories. For lunches, I bought pre-made fresh or frozen meals, which made calorie budgeting simple. And I made sure to measure out what went into my dinners carefully.
The nice thing is that, after doing this for a few weeks, I didn’t need to be obsessive about it. I quickly developed a set number of meals I could throw together that stayed within my counts. But I needed that initial reality check to get me back on track.
Trap 2: I was inhaling food.
It’s well documented that it takes a while for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full.
Which was my second problem. I was sucking in food like someone had set a sand timer next to me.
This has been a harder habit to break and one that I feel is still a work in progress. I do my best to set aside my phone while I’m eating and concentrate on chewing and enjoying each bite. I also try and do a better job of engaging everyone at the dinner table in conversation. While there’s still room to improve, I can tell that taking my time and enjoying my meals has led to an overall decrease in calorie consumption.
Trap 3: I was snacking up until bedtime.
It’s pretty common for my stomach to get a little rumbly at night. According to science, this is likely just hot air. But I took it as a sign that, obviously, I needed more calories! So I’d pack a peanut butter sandwich and Goddess knows what else on top of my evening protein shake. When I totaled it all up, I realized I was easily adding an extra 800 calories a day with this habit.
To remedy this, I made my 8pm protein shake my cut-off point. Rather than “listen to my body,” I got strict with myself.
It turns out the rumbling in my stomach wasn’t that hard to endure. And after my body acclimated to the new normal, I didn’t even find I was waking up hungry. I guess I didn’t need that extra 800 calories after all!
Trap 4: I was consuming waaaay too much booze.
Of all the extraneous calories we can consume, liquid calories are the most insidious.
When it comes to alcohol, it’s easy-peasy to pack on 1000+ calories. Worse yet, you won’t even feel full! On the contrary, I found that my loosened inhibitions (not to mention dehydration from all the booze) led me to engage in some awful episodes of binge eating.
A lot of people can address excess alcohol consumption by limiting the amount they drink. Lindsay at Build a Fit Physique limits herself to drinking twice a week and intersperses each drink with good, hydrating water.
Myself? I quit completely. Why and how I did that is a subject for another time. Suffice it to say that my attempts to put sensible caps on my drinking always came up dry. So I just cut alcohol out completely — and thousands of calories a week along with it.
Correcting harmful habits is never easy. It took me years to notice how I was sabotaging my own nutrition. If you can take away something valuable from my experience, then I’ll be thrilled! Just remember: Be gentle with yourself. Change takes time and patience.
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