Over the past 3 years, I've slowly reduced my weight by about 50 pounds. About 20 of it was in the first year, and after that my weight gradually shifted down to my current (still a ways over-) weight. What's that? Oh thanks, I do look awesome! How'd I do it, you ask?
Basically, I do calorie counting by proxy. Once upon a time I did actual calorie counting, and that helped geatly. It's so easy to underestimate how much you're eating, and counting calories for a month or so can help prevent you from fooling yourself. But unless you eat the same thing everyday, and/or eat mainly pre-packaged meals (bleh), rigorously counting each bit of food is extremely tedious. I'm a cook-it-myself-from-scratch kind of guy, and I generally do not follow any recipe known to man, so trying to figure out the calorie counts for one of my meals is not easy.
I don't believe in low-fat. I don't believe in low-carb. I don't believe in low-meat. I don't believe in low-anything, except maybe low-food. I don't think there are any magic ingredients, which, if included in your diet, will cause you to lose weight. I don't think there are any evil ingredients which are keeping you from losing weight. Despite the small (and usually contradictory) studies that pop up from time to time, calories are still calories, and if you eat 5000 calories a day of junk-food, you'll gain just as much weight as if you eat 5000 calories a day of organic produce. The key is the "5000 calories" part. Conversely, if you eat 1000 calories of junk food, or 1000 calories of good produce, you'll lose weight in a similar manner. The "trick" is eating the right number of calories. No matter what the diet, if weight is being lost, the person is consuming fewer calories than they are expending.
But, as I said, counting calories is a pain to do forever. So, to "count calories", I merely avoid high-calorie foods and ingredients, and include lots of low-calorie foods and ingredients, and include fiber-rich and protein-rich foods which, hopefully, will keep me feeling "full" longer.
Here are the things I do which probably have the most effect:
- A ton of fresh and frozen vegetables. Some raw, some lightly cooked.
- Some good quality meat most meals.
- Avoid/limit simple carbohydrate products (noodles, white bread, corn chips, potato products, sugary things).
- Some good whole fresh fruits (apples, oranges, berries, peaches, etc).
- Lots of walking/jogging and light exercise.
- Most meals homemade.
- Few(ish) liquid calories.
- I skip the chips, french fries, bread, etc that restaurants serve to cheaply make your meal bigger.
Here are a few which might be helping out:
- Reduced dairy products: just some milk with breakfast, and a sprinkle of cheese on food.
- Mostly simple and whole foods (ie few "refined" ingredients).
- Very few pre-prepared foods.
- Mostly "natural" foods (flows from the previous several).
- More oatmeal and less wheat when baking.
Taken together, these help me replace calorie-dense foods with calorie-sparse foods and foods with more fiber, which seems to help me eat fewer calories overall (your mileage will vary of course). It's not perfect, and I do still have to continually prevent myself from eating, well, everything, but it's not been too bad.
This "diet" is not a temporary thing, it's how I plan to eat for the foreseeable future. If I had chosen a "low carb", "gluten free", "low fat", or "raw food" diet, I'd probably have lost weight because of the reduced options to overeat, but I'd have probably given it up rather quickly too.
A typical meal recipe for me would be:
- half a bell pepper, diced.
- half an onion, diced.
- half a medium zucchini, sliced.
- a few ounces of good ground beef, or sliced chicken or pork.
- half a cup of cooked basmati rice.
- a cup or two frozen or fresh vegetables (mixed vegetables or broccoli or whatever).
- a variety of spices.
- a little strong cheese of an appropriate variety (unless it's Chinese flavors: not a good mix).
I cook the rice normally and microwave the vegetables (which actually preserves more vitamins than stovetop cooking, contrary to popular belief), then stir-fry/fream everything in a few teaspoons of canola oil, olive oil, or coconut oil. The cheese is grated and sprinkled on top. Throw in a handful of raw carrots or cucumbers and that's my meal.
This formula can be used to cook a great variety of good, healthy meals. I'm also not above a simple hamburger on a whole wheat bun with a side of vegetables. Occasionally a couple of slices pizza will fill the role of "meal", but I (try to) limit myself to a few slices and pair with raw vegetables. Flexibility and variety is important.
This isn't a new idea (it's basically a flexible and less faddy Mediterranean diet), and I can't say it's for everybody, but it's probably healthier and more sustainable for others like me.