It was around the time of their second wedding anniversary that Julie Lloyd and Graydon Forrer decided to seek professional nutrition advice. They had gained about 90 pounds between them since the day they started dating three years earlier. They both loved to eat. Together, they began dining out with abandon, traveling and indulging many nights a week in Washington, D.C.-area restaurants.
“We were living in a dream world,” says Julie, a 45-year-old writer who had struggled with her weight before and now found she couldn’t fit into any of the clothes she loved.
For Grady, a 46-year-old lawyer, the consequences were more ominous. He was diagnosed with high cholesterol and triglycerides, and his family background included a father who suffered from a debilitating stroke and a mother whose life was now spent caring for an invalid. This gave Grady a full suite of heart-disease risk factors with his excess weight, his ample waist circumference and his sedentary lifestyle.
Julie was petrified thinking the same fate that had befallen Grady’s parents was on the horizon for them if they didn’t get their act together.
“Seeing his parents and knowing what a terrible strain Grady’s father’s health is for his mother… I don’t want that for my future,” says Julie.
So they called me, after searching on the Internet for a local nutrition professional. While many commercial diets have questionable success rates, getting face-to-face, personalized counseling with a dietitian has a track record of working for many people. During the past 20 years as a weight-loss counselor, I’ve witnessed the joy, surprise and relief of diet-wary (and often weary) clients as they learn that losing weight can be a simple and positive experience.
To get started, I asked Julie and Grady to record everything they ate. A food diary is an essential tool for self-examination of our eating habits. Most of us literally don’t know what we are eating—or how all the things we unconsciously eat are adding up. An honest diary, while challenging to keep (it takes guts to face the realities it reveals), is worth the results.
When Julie and Grady came back the next week with their completed diaries, their eyes were opened. Julie remembers discovering she was “hooked on sugar.” In fact, she was eating between 800 and 1,000 calories of sweets per day, starting with a Starbucks Frappuccino at breakfast, a Snickers bar (or two) in the afternoon and ice cream every night. Otherwise, her diet was fairly healthy, containing plenty of fruits and vegetables. Grady, admittedly “in the dark” nutritionally, had a fast-food habit and high-fat diet with very few fruits and vegetables, which he said he disliked.
Over the next several weeks, Julie and Grady initiated simple changes they could live with, but which produced dramatic results over time. They each lost about 30 pounds in the first six months, then continued to lose weight slowly for a year. Between them, they have taken off a total of 90 pounds and kept it off for more than a year.
Here are the changes they made:
Eating a better breakfast. Julie and Grady discovered that eating a bigger breakfast, at least one-third of their calories for the day, including more protein and fat, helped allay their hunger and cravings. It prevented Julie’s Snickers attack in the afternoon (she switched to fruit) and helped Grady stick with a healthier lunch.
“I now always make and eat a good breakfast,” says Grady. “It definitely makes it easier to get through the day. I never used to eat a breakfast—save for a bagel or a sweet roll on the fly.”
Packing a lunch. Most days, Grady takes a delicious packed lunch with him to the office. It could be a sandwich or sometimes leftovers from the night before. “In the past, I always ate out at fast-food places or just grabbed a sandwich. Portion and calorie control is critical; taking your own lunch helps.”
Setting priorities. Julie realized she would be just as happy with regular coffee and was able to cut out the Frappuccino. She doesn’t feel deprived. “Remember,” Julie says, “I am a girl who has a glass of wine every night with dinner and eats low-fat ice cream for dessert.”
Self-monitoring. Keeping a food record increased their awareness of what they were eating, but it also helped them make better decisions throughout the day. Julie still keeps her record. “It grounds me,” she says. “I would be a rich woman if I had the secret to motivation. For me, it is a question of mindfulness and vigilance.”
Grady no longer feels the need to keep a food journal, but he is now conscious of how calories can add up. “I take smaller portions of things like meat,” he says. “I don’t really need more than three ounces.”
Trying new recipes. Julie and Grady are cooking more and always experimenting. They still love going out to restaurants, but find themselves more frequently preparing their own meals.
Says Julie: “We’re always trying new recipes and new foods, especially new fish and veggies—I love all those colors and textures.”
“I have always cooked,” says Grady, “but now I really enjoy it and do a lot more of it. I try new, healthier recipes and look for interesting things and ways to fit them into my daily food consumption. It is hands-on preparation, and it makes me think about what I am eating. I find I am willing to try far more things than when I wasn’t concerned with my eating habits—new types of fish, for example, or different vegetables. Julie recently started serving me Brussels sprouts, which I loathed as a kid…they’re not so bad.”
Shopping smarter. “I do a lot of the food shopping—and try never to go to the market when I’m hungry,” says Grady. “I actually look at ingredients and calorie counts and portion sizes now. I am far more judicious and selective than I once was.”
Eating regularly. Both Grady and Julie eat snacks when needed during the day. Grady says eating a yogurt and fruit in the afternoon helps him not be so ravenous in the evenings.
Getting regular exercise. Julie and Grady have both made physical activity a part of their daily routines. “While we are very good about exercising during the week, we tended to slack off on the weekends,” says Julie. “So we now walk two miles as soon as we get up on Saturdays and Sundays, while the coffee is brewing. Knowing the coffee is waiting for us gets us home fast!”
While they would both like to lose a few more pounds, Julie and Grady are loving life and are thrilled with their progress: “I feel great!,” Julie says. “I feel good inside my skin, comfortable in my clothes and energetic!”
While the thought of losing weight can be a scary proposition for many people, making small easy changes that produce dramatic results over time is a proven approach. As Julie and Grady illustrate, it can be done without sacrificing a love of food or totally abandoning a comfortable lifestyle.
—By Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D.