How I Stay Thin
An Attempt to Answer the Question, "How Do I Stay Thin?"
This isn't one of those articles about some weight loss product or recommended diet. I am not a physician or nutritionist. It's merely an article written by a person who has been asked repeatedly, "How do you stay thin?"
I hesitate to write this because I don't confuse what it means to be healthy and whether or not it has to do with being thin. But I do feel that at some point too much weight, just like not enough weight, is not healthy. But the right weight varies based on an individual's build.
However, I decided that it might be useful to think about my life and habits which may influence my ability to stay thin, and then put them in writing for anyone who is interested. Hopefully, I haven't missed anything too critical.
A Few Key Points About Me
First off, I should say something about my size. I am a 59-year-old female. I'm not a young person so that's proof that all of those dire warnings I got years ago, telling me that I would get fat when I got older, were untrue. As of this week, when I was at the doctor's office, I am 5'5" and weigh 118–120 pounds with a small to medium size body frame. Whether this is good or bad, it is what it is, and my doctor seems pleased with it.
It seems to me that my relative thinness is not due to heredity. While it's true that my mother was quite thin, I don't appear to share many physical characteristics with her. My build seems to be more like that of my father's side of the family. Perhaps some a DNA test or something could say for sure, but that's the way it appears. In addition, most of my other relatives are not thin. In fact, I would say obesity is very common in my family in general.
Because I'm not aware of other differences between myself and my relatives who tend to carry more weight, it seems to me that perhaps my eating habits and lifestyle are contributors to my ability to maintain a healthy weight.
1. Stay Active
I do not consider myself an athletic person, but I have always been active. By this, I simply mean that pretty much every single day of my life I get an hour or more of physical activity.
Focus on Activities You Enjoy
Most of my exercise focuses on activities I enjoy rather than a planned out workout. I walk at lunchtime and again in the evening with my husband. Sometimes we bicycle instead. We even walk in the winter when temperatures are freezing, provided we dress appropriately.
Swimming, playing tennis, hiking, ice skating, cross-country skiing, and other activities are things we do occasionally. These types of things are the focus of our leisure time. We don't watch much TV.
I sometimes workout with a treadmill or stair master, but I would say over the course of my lifetime, the general activities above, done without the idea of working out, are my mainstay. I enjoy them. Therefore I have no problem sticking to it.
As I get older, I focus on keeping muscle. Since my mid-40's, I have added a bit of light weight training since we tend to lose a great deal of muscle mass as we age. Loss of muscle may result in lower metabolism and increases the likelihood of weight gain. I use free weights between 6–10 lbs, body weight exercises, and weight machines.
Stay Active All Day
Much of my activity is spread throughout the day versus focusing on a single one-hour workout. I rarely sit watching TV or staring at my computer for more than an hour without getting up and doing something more physical for a while. That activity may simply be vacuuming, doing laundry or something similar, or it may be an hour long walk or bicycle ride, or a 20-minute workout.
I tend to move even when sitting. I also tend to have more movement in general than many of my co-workers and family. I fidget at my desk, wiggling my leg or feet while they're content to sit still.
Take Advantage of Routine Tasks
I squeeze in extra activity during routine tasks. I drive to the far end of a parking lot to find a spot extending my walk into the store. I don't wait for another car closer to the store to leave so that I don't have to walk. I take the stairs rather than the elevator. Waiting is more painful to me that walking or exerting myself. I tend to move quickly in general. Even when cleaning the house, I'm moving pretty briskly. I mow my own lawn, trim my own shrubbery, and don't avoid manual labor as I like the satisfaction of accomplishing it and the energy it burns off.
2. Avoid Certain Foods
I avoid drinking my calories; I would prefer to eat them. Probably 90% of what I drink is water. I occasionally have an orange juice, but I reserve soda for when I eat pizza. I don't drink beer and very rarely wine.
Diet or Low-Calorie Foods
In general, I avoid what I will call "diet foods." They rarely taste good and seldom satisfy me. Sometimes I will have something low-calorie, but it's definitely not the norm. I would prefer to eat less and enjoy it more. Furthermore, I don't like consuming artificial ingredients, like sugar substitutes, that are used to give diet and low-calorie foods more flavor.
Grocery Shopping Tips
I practice restraint at the grocery because I know once an item is in my house, I will eat it. I rarely buy junk food such as chips and cookies at the grocery. (I said rarely, not never.) If they aren't in the house, I can't eat them. I try to snack on nuts, fresh fruit, or perhaps a piece of cheese in moderation. I try to avoid grocery shopping when I'm particularly hungry because then it's easier for me to avoid purchasing junk food.
I have to work to avoid sugar. Unfortunately, I have a raging sweet tooth. Fortunately, I find the more I restrain from sweets, the less I crave them. It's something I have to be aware of. I am usually able to eat a small portion of dark chocolate or a chocolate mint after my main meal and avoid other sweets the rest of the day.
3. I Eat More Early in the Day
It became evident to me as a young adult that I could eat just about anything, if I ate early. At one point I was driving to people's homes to provide care and was on the road all day from 7:00 a.m. until after 9:00 p.m. My diet was horrible. I would get a huge fast food breakfast then a huge fast food lunch, and then a candy bar or chips around 2:00-3:00 p.m. between visits. After that nothing, but I was consuming around 3,000 calories per day and had trouble keeping on weight.
I certainly haven't eaten like that in over 35 years, but I do tend to eat 70–75% of my calories before 2:00 p.m., as supper is almost never my largest meal. I think not snacking after supper is also key. I snack earlier in the day. It's a pattern my body has become used to, and I'm seldom hungry after dinner.
The one thing I never do is eat at night. If I wake up and feel hungry, I just refuse to get up and eat. I wait until breakfast. If I put it off for 10–15 minutes, the drive to eat goes away. I don't know if this contributes to being thin, but it works for me.
4. Eat Less Meat
I eat meat, I'm not a vegetarian, but I have noticed that I tend to eat less meat than many people I know. I'm definitely estimating, but on average, I probably eat 3–4 ounces of meat per day, as I don't eat meat every day. I certainly don't know if this helps me to be thin, but it's what I do. Most of the meat I eat is chicken, with occasional salmon, tuna, or turkey. I'm sure I get plenty of protein since I frequently consume eggs, cottage cheese, milk, broccoli, and other high protein foods.
5. Things I Don't Do
- I don't skip meals, ever.
- I don't avoid food groups. I don't care what anyone says; I won't eliminate an entire food group from my diet. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are supposed to be part of the diet in my opinion. Of course, they should be properly balanced, but I don't feel any of them should be completely eliminated.
- I don't refuse to enjoy a "luxury" now and then. Yes, I enjoy a good dessert or a big, juicy burger once in a while, but I enjoy those things infrequently.
6. I Eat At Home
I eat most of my meals at home. It can be tempting when leaving work to stop and get something fast, but I know I'll eat better at home. Fewer calories and more healthy options are in my own kitchen. We do go out to eat weekly, and really enjoy it, but it's not a daily routine. I also learned to pack my own lunch so that I would eat the right things at work as well. Even if I am traveling in my car, I will take along a packed lunch rather than stopping for a meal.
7. I Don't Eat Everything I Want
There may be a very few, rare individuals who can literally eat anything, and in large quantities without gaining weight. I'm not one of them.
I Prefer Small Changes
If I put on 3 or 4 pounds as evidenced by a tight waistband, then I start skipping dessert or cutting down my portions. I deal with it right away. I would think it's a lot less painful to skip a few bites of food at each meal than to make huge changes when you have 30 or more pounds to lose. I'm not a slave to a scale; I just monitor it by how my clothes feel on me. In fact, I never owned a scale until I was in my mid-50's.
I Watch My Portions
At home, I make sure I don't go back for seconds. I'm not good about going around hungry, but I've found I can make adjustments in my portions that don't leave me hungry, yet help cut down on calories. Therefore, I just make it a point to leave a couple of bites of food on my plate at the end of each meal if I feel I need to cut back.
Eating at Restaurants
Portion control has been especially necessary when eating at restaurants. When they have lunch size or half size portions that's what I get. If I get a huge plate of something, then I simply draw a line in the middle, eat half and have them box up the other half for later. Of course, my husband and I have also been known to split a meal which works well, too. It seems that when I eat a bit less over time, I gradually begin wanting less. It works best if I do this in a small way, versus making a drastic cut.
8. Things I Consume Often
As I said above, I tend to drink water most of the time, rather than other things. It has no artificial ingredients or sugar, it's filling, and it's what your body naturally craves. It adds no calories to my daily intake.
Home Cooked Meals
The other thing that I tend to do is make my own meals more or less from scratch. I almost never buy prepackaged meals or those that you just add an ingredient or two to complete them. I have no idea if this has a positive influence weight-wise, but it's what I do.
Use Spices for Richer Food
In more recent years I have also grown to love spicier foods. I use a lot of different spices which enhance flavor, but I have also become much more tolerant of "hotter" spices. When trying new recipes which are spicier, I find it is easier to get more flavor without having all of the extra fat and calories that I previously would have associated with flavorful (rich) foods.
My Diet Preferences
I'm not sure I can accurately describe my diet preferences as a younger person, but now as an older woman I can say my diet leans heavily toward lean meats, fish, fresh vegetables, salads, soups, eggs, dairy (I need my calcium and protein), nuts (often but not in large quantities), and fruits to a lesser extent. Sandwiches, pasta, and hearty casseroles are seldom on my menu these days.
9. I Eat Slowly
When eating with friends and family, I find I tend to be the last one to finish my meal. I've heard it said that eating slowly allows a person to feel when they are full and avoid overeating. I don't know for sure that this is the case, but it does seem to be my tendency to eat more slowly.
On a related note, it seems that compared to many people I take smaller bites of food, and this may be why I finish slower.
10. I Focus on My Food
I find that I seldom eat my meals in front of a TV, while working on my laptop, while reading, writing, or anything else. I tend to enjoy having my focus on my food. I don't eat "mindlessly." For me, it's not an activity I multi-task. I'm focused on the pleasure of the food. I think that is part of the reason why I eat especially slow when dining with others. I want to listen and have conversations, but I also want to experience my food. So I have to slow down and alternate between eating and conversing.
© 2009 Christine Mulberry