Advice from Heather

Yesterday I saw a dietician. I mentioned to my doctor at my physical last month that I was having a difficult time maintaining a healthy weight. He suggested seeing a dietician. With obesity rampant in this country, you would think it would be easy to find a dietician. It is not. I have looked in the Yellow Pages before to no avail. He said you find them at hospitals. The only one around where I live with dieticians that saw people on an outpatient basis was Reston Hospital. To see a dietician, I had to schedule my appointment about a month in advance.

Fortunately, I am not obese. However, I am overweight. Like most people, I have tried a couple fad diets, as well as tried upping the exercise and cutting the calories. Each approach worked for a while. Eventually, and sometimes it took a few years, something would happen. It would be easy to say I was getting lazy, or lacked the willpower, but it truly was more than that. This latest weight gain was doubtless exacerbated by my wife’s annual holiday baking cycle. Generally, I have more willpower when junk food is not in the house. When it is constantly in my face, I can easily lose willpower.

I have written about diet and exercise before. Gone are the days where most of us can burn away excess calories through on the job physical activity. If you are like me, you spend your days doing anything but that. Hey, I am a white-collar dude. If I did not walk up the stairs, the most calorie intensive thing I would do at work would be lifting my phone’s receiver. Therefore, I must make time for exercise. I bike to work when weather permits, which is about six months a year. I also hit the gym about three times a week. When I have the time and the weather is nice, I take long bike rides. Yet apparently, I was still eating too much. On the other hand, much of the time I was eating too much of the wrong stuff. These little extra calorie habits, even with regular and vigorous exercise, have a cumulative effect.

So there I was at Reston Hospital registration, getting a band around my wrist as if I were going in for major surgery. Instead, I walked a couple hundred feet down the hall to see Heather. Of course, the dietician is named Heather. I bet there are no dieticians named Gertrude. Naturally, Heather was about five feet three, and weighed about ninety-eight pounds soaking wet. Moreover, she was half my age and stunningly attractive. Considering I had to meet a deductible because the appointment was at the hospital, instead of a co-pay, perhaps I shouldn’t complain about this fringe benefit.

It is all about portion control, Heather told me. Yeah, I knew that I told her. However, I am not the type to sit there and measure 15 grams of carbohydrates at a meal. I am a busy guy. I need to have a plan that will work with me. I need to stick to the same foods during the week, and the foods need to be foods that I will mostly enjoy. Otherwise, after too much deprivation I am going to slip.

She said she would work with me. We also made an appointment for early April so that we could meet again to assess progress and perhaps change the diet. She complemented me on the eight pounds I took off during the last month (not without the usual grumbling) and warned me the weight loss would probably slow.

Yes, success at dieting and maintaining a weight in the end takes hard work and perseverance. Most diets fail, she told me, because we set our expectations too high. Step one is to take off 10% of body weight and maintain it for four to six months. Then, if you want, work at taking off another increment. This is a formula for success. You can get to the summit of the mountain, but you will want to take a couple rest breaks on the way there to make it.

I thought I had read a lot about nutrition. Yet I am still glad that I took the time and considerable expense to consult with a dietician. For I still learned a lot from Heather. I knew about good carbs and bad carbs. However, I did not know about the importance of having protein with every meal. I never gave it a second thought. I usually saved my protein for the evening meal. Protein with any meal will help stave off hunger, Heather told me.

I also thought I was being good by skipping lunch on the weekends. After all, I was not eating until 9 AM or so. Wrong, she said. Eat three meals a day every day. Include proteins and carbohydrates at every meal. You can even enjoy snacks. Just make sure you balance the carbohydrates, protein and fats. Do the usual good things. Avoid high fat foods. Try 1% instead of 2% milk. Make sure your breads have whole grains. And of course limit portions. Needless to say, what you get at most American restaurants do not qualify as normal portions, unless you are a sumo wrestler.

Looking at what was working for me the last month she made some changes. Add food to my breakfast, she told me. A bran cereal is fine; its energy will be absorbed slowly. Using 1% milk is better than 2%. Add those sugar substitutes if you want sweetness. Also, add fruit to the meal if you want. However, make sure you add a serving of low fat meat. This is not a problem; we have plenty of pre-sliced low fat turkey and ham.

If I feel the need for a mid morning snack (I rarely do) try a granola bar (without the fruit filling), or a piece of fruit, or a small box of raisins, or even crackers with peanut butter. Of course, limit yourself to one portion, which might be the size of what you can put your fist.

For lunch, if soup and a salad are working for me now, she recommended keeping at it. Nevertheless, dress the salads up with proteins from sources like beans and nuts. She said to keep eating an apple with lunch as I am doing. It has lots of fiber and no fat. She said I could even add some starchy choices with lunch. A six-pack of crackers works for me but pretzels are even better. If I feel the need for an afternoon snack, the same morning snacks will work for afternoon snacks. Or I could try different types for variety.

During dinner she said I needed to limit myself to four starchy choices, each about 15 grams of carbohydrates each. She said to make sure I got three servings of protein, and lean meat is better. Add as many vegetables as you want, and you can have one fat choice. Of course, a fat choice is not very large. One teaspoon of olive oil is one good fat choice.

This is my diet based on my age and height, so these may not necessarily work for you. Meanwhile, she said not to slack off on the exercise. Do more exercise if I can find the time. It will not hurt, but I should still take off weight regardless. If I can do this I will naturally get the calories I need, and the exercise will help me lose weight.

As for fad diets, Heather said to ignore them. They are all a waste of time because they can only work for a while. That was my experience with the South Beach Diet and the Carbohydrate Addicts Diet. I have seen the same result with others I knew who were on the Atkins diet. Vary your diet, Heather told me. Eat foods that you naturally enjoy, but eat less of them and prefer those lower in calories and fat. Just stay within the portion limits for any given meal.

Perhaps I have finally found a diet that will work for me for life. Time will tell. I know that Heather will be there to help me succeed. She said to make sure to call her if I have questions or am having trouble sticking to the diet. She will help me rework the diet into something I can live with.

My wife scoffed when I told her I was going to see a dietician. “It won’t work for me,” she told me. “There is nothing they can tell me that I do not know.” I knew most of this too going in, but I still was not able to put it altogether. Thanks to Heather, I believe I now have now I have a plan I can live with. And I plan on living well to a very ripe age.

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