Editor’s note: This is Part two in a series on healthy living. Part 1 can be found here.
Numbers have never been a friend of mine, epically when they are on a scale.
So when my trainer, D’Ann Anderson, said she wanted to record my weight and body composition, I felt my stomach drop and my anxiety rise.
I knew this was coming. You can’t measure progress if you don’t know where you started, where you’re at and where you’re headed.
But that didn’t make me feel any better.
The morning of the “big weigh” I ate just enough breakfast to not feel lightheaded and drank enough water to flush every single cootie or antibody out of my system. My urinary tract has probably never been so spick and span.
I got to the Aims PERC right as trainer D’Ann was coming to meet me in the lobby, tape measure and skinfold caliper in hand.
She led me to the women’s locker room where there in the corner sat my nemesis: the scale. Standing tall with its shiny stainless steel and pristine white case, it taunted me from the door.
I removed my shoes, took a deep breath and stepped onto the scale.
The numbers paused a few seconds and then flashed “214.”
It’s definitely not my best weight, but it certainly isn’t my worst, so that was a positive.
Then trainer D’Ann took measurements of my biceps, thighs, calves, waist and other important areas that should be monitored. She used the skinfold caliper to measure the amount of fat I had in certain areas — while I silently determined that if I were a bear, I would be in good shape for hibernating over the winter.
After she recorded all the numbers, trainer D’Ann plugged everything into a computer app that calculated my waist-to-hip ratio, body fat percentage and other stats.
Once calculated, she sent me the results.
My waist-to-hip ratio is 0.85, which means I am obese and puts me in a high-risk category. The results also said that I have an “apple” shaped body, which means that fat tends to hoard around my middle. Because of this middle fat hoarding, I am at a high risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Now, my body composition is a little skewed since I didn’t have my correct height numbers. Last year when I went for my annual exam, the nurse told me I was 5’ 6 and 3/4”, which was kind of a shock to me because I was taller a few years ago.
She explained that as we age our bodies “settle” and we can shrink. I was 47 years old at the time, so I didn’t really think twice about it.
However, last week when I went to a new doctor for my annual exam, the nurse measured me at 5’ 8 and 3/4”. I had her do it three times to make sure I wasn’t yo-yo growing or shrinking along with my yo-yo dieting.
So, at 5’ 8 and 3/4” tall, that will change my body fat and a few other numbers a bit, and I’ll delve more into that information when trainer D’Ann gets me those numbers.
Beginning an exercise routine isn’t the only part to getting healthy and losing weight.
Diet plays a huge part in this process and that is a big area where I tend to struggle.
While there are tons of different diets out there — Keto, Weight Watchers, the Carnivore Diet, etc. — my doctor suggested I try a modified Paleo diet.
The Mayo Clinic defines the Paleo Diet as “a dietary plan based on foods similar to what have been eaten during the Paleothic era.”
This doesn’t mean chewing on sticks or eating bugs. It does mean eating lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, wild caught fish and other seafood and staying away from dairy like milk, cheese and sour cream, ditching carbohydrates such as those found in bread and pasta, and banning all sugar.
You also cannot eat beans, lentils, peanuts or peas or highly processed foods.
Basically, if it comes in a can, jar, box or bag, it’s a no-no.
The clinic listed a typical day on the Paleo Diet as:
- Breakfast — broiled salmon and cantaloupe
- Lunch — Broiled lean pork loin and salad
- Dinner — Lean beef sirloin tip roast, steamed broccoli, salad and strawberries or dessert.
- Snacks such as an orange, carrot or celery sticks.
The only hesitation I had toward the Paleo Diet was that it stressed grass-fed beef, wild caught fish and seafood, and fresh produce. All these things can be spendy, especially if you have a family or are on a fixed income.
Plus, it can be hard to stock up on fresh produce and not have anything spoil and go to waste.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive food to be nutritious food,” said Jenifer Bowman, a registered dietician for UCHealth. “We can have frozen or canned fruits and vegetables; the nutrients are all still there. It doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly expensive or organic, that doesn’t change the nutrient content.”
Many people that are trying to lose weight tend to focus on the number of calories consumed rather than the type of food they are eating.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that adult males generally need between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day to maintain weight while adult females should be consuming around 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day. These numbers can vary depending on age and activity level, but it gives you a good idea of where your dialing calorie intake should fall.
The problem with the popular 1,200-calorie diet is that you can hit nearly all your calories by lunchtime, leaving nothing for the rest of the day and into the evening.
“If you are only focusing on calories and you pick whatever calorie number, then you start justifying ice cream and cookies are within your calories,” Bowman explained. “So sometimes it’s not always as healthy and balanced as it should be when you just focus only on calories.”
Bowman suggests people focus on the composition of their calories rather than the number associated with that food.
“That’s where the nutrition comes in. We are trying to choose foods with nutrients in them to meet our daily requirements,” she said. “We need to have those nutrients work together to manage health and to meet the health goals you’re looking for. It’s looking at your overall nutrient in take.”
The USDA recently released its Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, which provides lots of information on different food groups, tips on following a healthy diet pattern and more for adults and children of all ages.
“There’s examples of different meal plans and it’s general but pretty detailed,” Bowman said. “I think they’ve done a great job of explaining things.”
For me, meal prepping has been a big help in controlling what I eat and how much.
While it does take some time to cook a bunch of different things, it is so convenient to be able to pull something out of my freezer or fridge and pop it into the microwave.
Meal prepping has also helped me with portion control and making sure I am eating enough vegetables.
For my meal prepping, I purchased glass containers with plastic lids from Amazon that I put my food in. The glass containers allow me to see what’s inside as well as stack nicely in the freezer and fridge.
As far as the food I cooked, I went with a variety of pork, chicken, beef and seafood for my protein and added mashed sweet potatoes and a steamed vegetable like broccoli or green beans, or sautéed spinach, kale and garlic as sides. This way I had two servings of a vegetable with a protein.
I purchased smaller glass containers to prep meals for lunch as well.
For lunch, I have been doing a variety of soups as well as some containers with a protein with one vegetable. Again, this allows me to have a meal ready and not stray toward fast food or food delivery services.
I have found that meal prepping does take some planning and practice, but it is well worth it.
If you’re not into meal prepping, meal kits like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron are good alternatives, Bowman said.
The kits are sent right to your door and include all of the ingredients to make healthy meals that are correctly portioned.
“People get into the routine and habit of preparing meals at home and you don’t have to do the meal planning or grocery shopping,” she said. “And it’s a balanced meal.”
Food journaling is another tool to help monitor and measure what types of food you are eating.
“I recommend it, not everybody likes to do it, but the research really shows that any self monitoring that you do helps you to achieve health goals that you have in mind,” Bowman explained. “My patients often tell me that they know what they are supposed to be doing, they’re just not doing it. So there’s this disconnect between the ‘knowing’ and the ‘doing.’
“The tracking helps kind of bridge that disconnect,” she added.
While there are many different online apps for food journaling or tracking, Bowman suggests manually writing things down.
“I would say more of my patients are more successful with good old fashioned pen and paper tracking,” Bowman said. “Your more mindful and more connected versus just clicking things in the app. It may not be as meaningful or mindful and you can make mistakes.”
There are many tools out there to help with weight loss —diet plans, supplements, exercise programs, etc.— however, you just need a couple that really work for you, trainer D’Ann commented.
“We always want this big tool box with a bunch of stuff in it,” she said. “When really, we just need to be really good at a couple of things.