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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Stupid Diet Tricks

By Jenna Ness

At the hospital the day I had my baby, I weighed (can’t believe I’m going to say this out loud) 201 pounds.

In the last ten months, I’ve lost 55 pounds. I’m now a pound lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight.

How? Easy. I didn’t do anything drastic. On the contrary, I do as little as I possibly can. I eat candy and cookies all the time. I walk a little, but that’s it. So how has all my post-baby weight melted away? The answer: stupid diet tricks.

I consider myself something of a diet connoisseur. I started dieting when I was twelve. You’re probably familiar with the cabbage soup diet and Atkins– every woman has tried those at some point – but I’ve also done Diet Center (my mom took me there when I was a borderline obese teenager), the air-popped-popcorn starvation diet (when I was a miserably chunky scholarship student at an ultrarich boarding school), and Weight Watchers (several times). And they worked … for awhile. Then I would binge myself sick and gain it all back plus more.

Of course I did. Who wants to live off air-popped popcorn for the rest of her life? Nobody. Who wants to count points until the day she dies? Not me. It’s been a hard-earned lesson: the only diet that will work is one that you’re willing to live with for the rest of your life.

So when I was 21, I made a vow – no more diets. I decided to eat whatever I wanted, as long as I was hungry. That was my very first diet trick. If I had half a piece of cake, and wasn’t hungry any more, I had to save the other half until later. Thirty pounds disappeared almost without effort.

If you’re using the right diet tricks, a little willpower goes a long way.

But when I was pregnant, all bets were off. I ate around the clock, hungry or not. I’d eat mac n’ cheese for nausea. I’d eat a big bowl of ice cream every night, calling it “calcium for the baby.”

Clara and me, 4 days after she was born.
Clara and me, 4 days after she was born.
Leaving the hospital with my sweet seven-pound baby in my arms, I had to face a cold hard truth – a big fat me.

I felt so terrified and desperate that I might have gone back to Weight Watchers if I’d had the time or energy. Since I had neither, I had to force myself to be patient and have faith. And slowly add back better habits, a.k.a. diet tricks.

Here’s what I did.

Figure out some small change in your life you can live with forever. When you plateau, figure out some additional small thing and start doing that, too.

10 months later.
10 months later.
Over the last ten months:

1. First, I switched from Sprite and sparkling juice back to diet soda.

I’d cut out my beloved diet colas during pregnancy to avoid caffeine and NutraSweet. But the instant I was done with labor, I ordered a Diet Coke. I probably cut 300-400 calories out of my diet per day with this one change, and it was a change I was very happy to make.

2. I started getting more sleep.

Clara helped with that when she was about 3-4 months old and started sleeping through the night. That enabled me to cut back on the pastries, many of which I was eating simply out of exhaustion. I started taking her out in the stroller here and there.

3. I only eat when I can sit down and enjoy it.

That means no eating in front of the fridge, no snacking over the sink, no swiping chips while racing through the kitchen. I started this after I hit a plateau in July. It’s worked astonishingly well. As a busy mom, always rushing around the house (you know how it is) I often find that sitting down to eat something is more trouble than it’s worth.

But I still eat whatever I want. Some days it’s broccoli, some days it’s a banana split, and always it’s chocolate. Where’s the punishment or self-deprivation in that?

I lost 10 pounds over three months, but in November I once again started to plateau. For three weeks, I didn’t lose anything. So I added two new things.

4. I started drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day – non-negotiable.

5. I started walking 20 minutes on the treadmill while Clara takes her afternoon nap – negotiable, but I probably do it 4-5 times a week.

Over the holiday season, I lost 5 more pounds, and I’m still losing. When I inevitably start to plateau, I’ll add some other new habit. Maybe I’ll do stretches for five minutes, or stop eating after 8 p.m., or switch to non-fat salad dressing, or all three. But whatever I do, I’ll make it as easy on myself as I can.

So how can you make it easier on yourself? If you work in an office, the “only eat sitting down” trick might not work for you. But I bet you can figure out some stupid diet tricks of your own. What are some things in your life that you could change and not really miss? What are some new habits that you could easily start?

And before you say, “I don’t have the patience to lose weight that way” and rush yourself back to Cabbage Soup Hell, let me point out that research is on my side. Many experts now say that small changes are the only effective approach.

“Big changes simply don’t work,” asserts nationally syndicated exercise physiologist Bryant Stamford. “Forget about pledging to do superhuman things over the next 12 months … Instead, make choices that are comfortable and doable and that are more likely to be sustained.”

So maybe just eat a little more broccoli on your cheesy potato, instead of trying to erase both cheese and potatoes from your diet entirely. And you don’t need to start living at the gym to make a healthy difference in your life, either.

“The biggest health benefits come from just a small increase in activity,” notes health journalist Tara Parker-Pope in The Wall Street Journal. “Five hours of housework a week, a nine-minute walk a day or four hours of weekend golf all translate into dramatic reductions in risk for heart attacks and other health problems.” And even more astonishing, in a 1999 study in Kings County, Wash. of more than 800 residents, people who walked or gardened for just one hour a week had about a 70% lower risk of dying from a heart attack. A single hour a week!

All right, so maybe I’ll never be as glamorous-thin as star authors Jane Porter or Lisa Kleypas, but you know what? That’s okay. I choose the pleasure of having my cake and eating it too. (And having bread. And imported chocolate. And hot salted fries. And chicken vindaloo with naan. And… well, you get the idea.)

So let’s make our New Year’s Resolution for 2006: No more punishing diets. Make your stupid diet tricks gentle, make them kind. Be good to yourself or else. It’s the best way to become the healthy, food-enjoying, life-loving girls we all deserve to be.


At 12:37 AM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

This is a great post, Jenna. It makes so much sense. And by the way, you and Baby Noodle are looking great!

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Colleen Gleason said...

Jenna, you are one of the slim, svelte authors! You look fabulous, and I love your approach!

This is a lifestyle I could live with!

At 8:20 AM, Blogger MaryF said...

I agree with Colleen, you're quite the slim gorgeous one! And it makes soooo much sense.

BTW, I was also 200 pounds when I went to have my baby - 14 and a half years ago. Sigh.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Wow, you look great, Jenna! I need to keep this in mind while I try to shed the 15 pounds I've gained since October! Great tips. And baby Clara is a doll.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Tori Scott said...

Jenna!! You look gorgeous, and baby Clara is adorable. I'm going to print out your post for help on this ongoing weight battle.

At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Bonnie Dodge said...

Great post and congratulations on losing the weight. I'm going to give it a try.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Jennie Lucas said...

Mary, I think reaching that 200 number should be like a badge of honor or something! *grin* I confess I have a hard time relating to people who've never had a weight problem, since it's been such a big factor in my life. Thanks for all the nice comments you guys, especially about Clara (who is the cutest, sweetest baby in the world)! *smile*

I think that as women, we tend to get down on ourselves and try too hard to please -- to be perfect. That just doesn't work! We need to nurture ourselves, not punish! That's just plain old self-respect, in dieting or anything else in life.

I'm trying to translate this into writing now. Instead of thinking "I've gotta write 10 pages every day for the next month or I'm a failure," to just try and write a little bit every day. Like Anne Mallory said in a previous blog, to just show up at my laptop. Even though the goal is smaller, chances are I'll actually end up accomplishing more! (I hope!)

At 10:17 PM, Blogger Diane Perkins said...

Great advice, Jenna. And you make a terrific poster child for it! You ought to try to sell this to a magazine.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger bridget said...

Jenna, this is fantastic! It's all about lifestyle changes, isn't it? Good for you and it's wonderful that you've shared your good ideas with others. You go, diet-free-girl!

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Kiki, aka Esri said...

Jenna, you look FABULOUS! Big congratulations!


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