tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Losing a little weight can make a big difference

I have lost 28 pounds since the last day of January. That’s about two and a half pounds a week. When I lose two more pounds, I will have achieved my goal and I hope to keep that weight off for the rest of my life.

In mid January, I was visiting my parents. When my dad opened the front door to let me in his house, his first comment was, “Tom, man you’re big!” I ignored the comment at the time, but it bugged me for days. I could accept the fact that I was a little over-weight but I didn’t think it was so noticeable that it should be the first thing a person thinks of when they see me.

At 5 feet 10 inches, I was 206 pounds. That was about 40 pounds more than I weighed when I graduated from high school –- and my height has not changed since then. I spent a lot of time thinking about that. You always hear about guys suffering heart attacks and dying in their 40s and 50s. Plus, I had had some back problems that I am sure related to excess weight.

I’ve got so much to live for, I thought. My wife and I have four small children; I want to see them all grow up, and perhaps marry. I want to be around to see my grandkids grow up. Maybe I should do something about this extra weight, I thought.

Finally, driving home from church on Sunday morning, January 30, I declared to my wife, in front of all the kids, “Tomorrow I’m joining Weight Watchers.”

So the next day I signed up. There’s a Weight Watchers office less than a mile from my house. They weighed me and gave me a computerized scorecard where I could track my progress. A perky, skinning woman led a half-hour meeting for me and about 30 women suffering from various degrees of excess weight. She explained the program to me, and I stuck to it. I lost 16 pounds in the first 26 days. I have continued to lose weight, although at not so dramatic a pace.

I give Weight Watchers a lot of credit. They have a system where food is assigned a points value based on its combination of calories, dietary fiber, and fat grams. You want dietary fiber, and you don’t want calories and fat. So food that is high in fat and calories generally has a high points value, and food with a lot of fiber generally has a low points value. Initially, I was allowed to eat 26 points per day, plus 35 “flex” points per week divided any way I wanted. I could take all 35 points in one day, so I would theoretically be able to eat 61 points in one day, or I could spread those 35 points out to 5 per day.

As I ate, I recorded my food on a little note pad they gave me. It became obvious to me fairly quickly that I needed to change my eating habits. I used to eat a couple of Pop Tarts in the morning. One Pop Tart is 5 points, and it still leaves you hungry after you eat it. Two Pop Tarts is about a third of the food I would be allowed to eat all day. So I dropped the Pop Tarts. Instead, I switched to one bowl of Wheaties with a cup of skim milk – a filling breakfast for 4 points. Lunches became peanut butter on toast, which is about 6 points. This left me plenty of points for a descent dinner. Sticking with this formula, the pounds melted off.

There are a few things I did to accelerate the process. I committed to the program without the flex points. That means I limited myself to 26 points a day and didn’t bother with the additional 35 points per week. Next, I basically stopped eating between meals. I found that if I paid attention to what I was eating during meals, I was less hungry between meals. And third, I simply eliminated most desert-type sugar –- cookies, cake, brownies, M&Ms, you get the idea.

Perhaps the most important thing Weight Watchers taught me was to pay attention to what I’m eating. It sounds so obvious, but I have to say that my first response to stress or boredom for years has been to eat something. If you actually take time to think about what you are eating, what’s in the food you prepare, anyone can eat smarter. At a result, you feel better and you are less often hungry. They also taught me to think a little about portion size. Most restaurants serve portions that are way too big for the average person. Once I started limiting myself to eating only standard portions, I was well on my way to losing weight.

Weight Watchers also taught me that I don’t have to take a little of everything when I eat at a buffet or at someone else’s house. I used to take a little of everything, almost automatically, but now I limit myself to no more than three things – usually meat, bread and vegetables.

Weight Watchers offers a number of good tips that anyone can benefit from, such as:

Always eat breakfast. Too many people who skip breakfast get hungry mid-morning and end up eating more than they would have had they eaten soon after they got out of bed.

Drink lots of water. Often, people mistaken thirst for hunger and eat when a glass of water was all they needed.

Don’t ever drink regular pop. A can of pop is just 150 empty calories. Get the same thirst-quenching benefit from a can of diet pop, or better yet, drink water.

Never eat after dinner. While you sleep, your body should be burning fat, not your late-night snack.

Don’t put butter on anything. It is amazing how many useless calories you add to your diet by buttering your sandwiches, rolls, waffles, pancakes, etc. Most of the time, the food tastes just as good without the butter.

I learned all of these things while attending Weight Watcher’s weekly meeting. I am always the only man at the meetings, and I don’t really like that, but I live with it. Where are all the guys? Maybe they are at a different meeting, but I suspect they have a harder time acknowledging the need for help with weight loss.

At the meetings, people talk about the past week -– what worked for losing weight and what didn’t. Often, I am struck by how lame some people sound in the face of temptation. “I didn’t lose any weight this week because I couldn’t walk past the candy dish at work,” or, “I went on a cruise where the food was all-you-can-eat,” or “It was Valentine’s Day and there were a lot of chocolates around.” People in the meeting always nod in understanding, but I am always thinking “Do you want to lose the weight or don’t you?” These meetings are teaching me what a big temptation food is for some people.

One time the meeting leader asked people to share suggestions for resisting temptation. People talked about going to bed early instead of staying up late and eating, or bringing your lunch to work instead of going to McDonalds. I know for me the answer is making the goal part of a larger goal. Losing weight, by itself, isn’t much of a goal. Sacrifice, after all, is giving up something good for something better. For me, the goal is to live a healthy life so I can be there for my children and wife into old age. Weight loss is one way I plan to work toward that goal. I am giving up something good (brownies and M&Ms) for something better (a chance to see my grandkids). I would be a hypocrite if I said I wanted to be there for my kids but ate 4,000 calories in junk food every day.

God willing, I have a lot of life ahead of me; the least I can do is get in shape to make the most of it.


Jay said...

I did Weight Watchers once for Lent and it sure worked. I lost 10 pounds in the first two days.

I found though that I was focused on losing weight for vanity's sake. Then a friend, who said we probably will never fully get rid of this intention, said we could at least add a supernatural intention to the mix by offering up the sacrifice of each meal for a specific person.

I do that now, and am grateful for this friend.

kim said...

Tom, this was very helpful and inspiring. It is good to know that I am not off base in have a 'moment' when I had to change and then seeing it through for the long term. I too, walk by that candy dish and say, being healthy is more important and that candy will still be there later, after I have met my goals, if I want it then.

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