8 simple steps I took to lose weight and finally keep it off

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Food was everything to me when I was growing up. I can’t remember a birthday without pizza, a holiday without 32 hours worth of binge eating seafood, a hospital appointment without a McDonald’s sausage egg and cheese on a biscuit, or a video game session without sour cream and onion potato chips.

I’m not sure if you know this, but Italians LOVE to eat.

There was a lot of grief and shame around the fact that my family had a tendency to eat too much, but there was also SO much pleasure in it. The flavors, the textures, the smells! The celebrations, the laughter, the discussions!

Food in my house wasn’t something you shoved a fork into, lifted to your face, and swallowed with abandon ... it was an event!

One Christmas, I remember talking to my extremely thin aunt about having eaten too much for dinner.

She said, “That’s why I eat to live, I don’t live to eat.”

“OMG, I could never do that!” I thought.

Practically everything my family adored about life was created in the kitchen.

This is why, at the age of 14, my doctor classified me as obese.

According to him, I needed to lose 30 pounds or else I might become more sick. To be honest, his words weren’t what motivated me to change my eating habits. What changed me were a bunch of mean kids who taunted me about my weight during junior high school.

“Look at her, she’s a Macy’s Day Parade balloon,” one runt of a boy said, while pointing at me in front of group of snickering girls.

This was the day I decided I was sick of being the punchline of other people’s jokes. When you’re 14 and have to buy a pants that are several sizes larger than your mother’s, there’s something wrong somewhere.

One of my main problems was that I had no outlet to express my emotions about all of the chronic hospital care I was receiving. Back in the 80’s, emotions weren’t really discussed. At least, not in my house. So, in order to deal with my anger, sadness, anxiety, and shame … I ate.

I ate Ellio’s pizza for breakfast, ordered ketchup with a side of french fries at restaurants, and ate giant blocks of parmigiano reggiano. I also listened to loud music and played video games as often as I could. All to escape the corners of my mind.

Breaking Painful Patterns

So, how did I finally break my bad eating habits?

I hit a point where I could no longer stand the bullying or my own laziness and fatness. I felt completely disgusted by certain things. Like the way my stomach fat spilled over my jeans as I walked or the way my face broke out in pimples for no good reason.

I recruited my thin, vegan friend to help me eat better. She gave me ideas about portion control and healthier choices. After several months of cutting down my food intake, I began to notice that my body was improving.

Dieting wasn’t as hard or painful as I’d imagined. That’s when I began reading books about exercise and was able to truly get in shape. Sure, I was young, but that didn’t matter. I lost all of the weight and proved to myself that it was possible.

That was fortunate for me, because as I got older, I fell back into bad habits and gained some of the weight back. In my late twenties, I was once again unhappy with the way I looked and felt.

Fortunately the tools I’m about to give you are the ones I always returned to when I needed to set myself straight again.

Finally, as I got older, I realized that “diets” are bogus and lifestyle change is everything.

You have to live each of these tools daily, otherwise you’ll be in a constant battle with weight gain.

So, how does one change their lifestyle to become a fully conscious eater?

Here are the primary changes I made to lose weight and keep it off for good:

  1. I started to read the nutrition content on food labels in order to understand what I was putting into my body. Hint: less is more.

    • Eat meals that contain very few ingredients. Your best bet is to make the food yourself with lots of vegetables, small amounts of oils, and healthier starches like wild rice or sweet potato.

    • When possible, eat foods with fewer, higher quality ingredients. For example, Cava is a better hummus than Sabra because it has higher quality ingredients, less calories and fat, also Sabra has two sources of fat (soybean oil and sesame seeds), while Cava has one (sesame seeds):

      • Ingredients in Sabra hummus include: ★Cooked Chickpeas, ★Tahini (ground sesame), ★Non-GMO Soybean Oil, ★Water, ★Garlic, ★Salt, ★Non-GMO Citric Acid, and ★POTASSIUM SORBATE. Two tablespoons equals 70 calories and 5 grams of fat.

      • Ingredients in Cava hummus include: ★Organic garbanzo beans (chickpeas), ★Tahini (100% stone ground sesame seeds), ★Lemon juice, ★Fresh garlic, ★Citric acid, and ★Kosher salt. Two tablespoons equals 30 calories and 3 grams of fat.

    • Learn about ingredients on labels. The first ingredient on the label is the one the manufacturer used the most and each ingredient thereafter is what was used the least. Obviously with hummus, chickpeas are listed first, because hummus is primarily comprised of chickpeas. The very last ingredient, salt in the Cava hummus and potassium sorbate in Sabra hummus, is the smallest amount of ingredient used in the recipe.

    • Understand fat and calories — if you add 500 calories to your diet each day you’ll gain one extra pound per week. Use a free phone app like My Fitness Pal to track your calories and food consumption.

    • Going keto or carb-free isn’t part of a whole-foods plant based diet. People who do keto diets should always be followed by a medical expert and also use an at-home blood test to measure their blood ketone levels. You don’t want to damage your liver or get fatty liver disease.

  2. I started to think about food as more of an energy source than a source of pleasure or social bonding. There’s nothing wrong eating a bowl of handmade pasta pomodoro. There IS something wrong with eating a bowl of handmade pasta pomodoro, along with a few slices of bread and butter, plus a burrata and tomato “salad,” lychee martini, and cheesecake and cappuccino.

  3. Portion control matters A LOT! As I was losing weight, I allowed myself to eat what I normally ate, but in smaller portions. So, instead of two bowls of pasta with three or four meatballs, I'd eat half of the portion (e.g., one bowl of pasta with two meatballs). Then I went down to half of one bowl of pasta, with one meatball. These days, I'm a vegetarian ... so anything is possible. :)

  4. I allowed myself to eat what I craved in order to not feel like I was depriving myself. However, instead of eating an entire bag of potato chips and an entire can of dip (for example), I took out a few handfuls of chips and scooped out a few tablespoons of dip, then put the rest away. This is really hard to do when you're still fully addicted to food. If it's extremely hard to do, buy a smaller sized portion of whatever it is you crave, so you don't even have the option to eat more.

  5. As I got older and cared more and more about what I was eating, I began reading articles and watching documentaries that explained why vegetables are healthier than fried calamari.

  6. There's a tremendous psychological war that happens when you feel like you're depriving yourself or you think about how delicious a food tastes, but know it’s bad for you. Make peace with yourself and remind yourself that your physical health and psychological happiness is tied to each and everything you put into your mouth. Are you happy with yourself after you binge on greasy or sugary food? Probably not. Get real about your feelings and experiences. You have to make a decision to constantly watch your mind. Make conscious decisions to be different, rather than falling into the same mindless thought pattern that tells you to absently lift fork, place in mouth.

  7. Recognize the emotions you have around eating. There's an enormous amount of pleasure and guilt that people feel when they eat foods that taste good. Get a journal and write down your feelings. Put sticky notes around your home about how you terrible you feel in your clothes, after you eat fatty foods. Remind yourself why you’re on this new mission to change your lifestyle. Everything begins in your mind. You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. Release yourself of the guilt around eating and remember that you’re making these small changes to be better now. Everyone has to start somewhere. Be glad you’ve taken the initiative to begin and remember that every small win leads to more and more progress, which eventually evolves into a completely different life (i.e., the one you want and dream about). Allow yourself to dream good things.

  8. Exercise even the slightest bit whenever you can and speak positive affirmations while you’re moving (e.g., "I can do this," "one more minute means I’m that much closer to my dream body," "I know this is improving my life, etc."). Exercising will eventually cause you to crave healthier foods with higher nutrition. Your metabolism will increase, so you may also feel hungry more often. Make sure you fuel your muscles with extra fruits, nuts, and vegetables throughout the day. Foods with dense nutrition (i.e., avocado slices, hummus, red delicious apples, lentils, a palmful of almonds etc.) will keep you full longer and provide you with greater energy and mental clarity.

Getting started is the toughest part of all of this. You just need to decide that you are ready to change and stand strong in your decision. If other people around you don’t want to eat healthy, stand your ground and reduce your portion sizes, avoid processed foods (i.e., keep it simple with fewer, higher-quality ingredients), and load up on fruits and vegetables.

I know you can do anything you put your mind to. If you have any questions just reach out to me on the “Ask Jo'“ page and I’ll do my best to help.

To your good health,