Sane eating and dieting rules
July 28, 2013 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Since I was a teenager(so 20 years now) I've struggled with eating and I've to yo-yo'd from skinny (nearly anorexic) to 30lbs overweight. I have tried everything (starving myself as a teenager, weight watchers, Atkins, calorie counting, high fiber, one plate, cross fit, seeing a nutritionist) none of it has done what I want: a sane eating lifestyle that I can live with for the rest of my life and maintain a healthy weight. So I've decided to try and come up with rules of the road for eating and exercising that I can live with forever.

Keep in mind that I eat out a lot, so that won't change.

Here's what I got:
1680 calories a day (enough for a female at 5'6 to lose a half pound a week)
No sugar (e.g. Soda dessert etc.) except for Saturday nights and major holidays (Christmas etc.)
No fried anything
Exercise 5 x a week for 1 hour a day (currently p90x possibly a private trainer, but that's $$$)
Don't eat anything that looks like a person on a healthy diet wouldn't touch (so pass on the macaroni and cheese with bacon for example)

Those are the rules I came up with. I think I can live within them. But let me know if there's a way to refine them or anything I should add.i really want something I can live with for the rest of my life, that allows me to live and eat like a normal person.
posted by bananafish to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
But calorie counting is completely unsustainable. It can help in terms of getting your appetite under control (aka getting used to eating less) but in the long run is more stressful than it is worth. It also sounds like another type of disordered eating, considering your history.

In terms of what you are looking for--rules to eat by--the book Mindless Eating may be useful. It gets into the psychology of eating, but also provides some useful hacks. Really, best purchase regarding eating habits that I've ever made.
posted by tooloudinhere at 9:19 AM on July 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

I know it's hard to deal with weight and diet in our crazy society, and it's great that you're trying to come up with something long-term, but what you're describing here seems pretty miserable and unsustainable and like it includes calorie counting, restricting types of food and quite a lot of exercise that won't be interesting or fun. It seems guaranteed to keep you constantly thinking about food and your weight...which is a miserable way to live and, as you have experienced, it isn't sustainable over the long term.

Serious question: have you simply considered not dieting for a few months? Are you able to do that? If not, it might be time to talk to a professional about your relationship with food and your weight.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:21 AM on July 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Eat more vegetables than anything else. Potatoes and corn are not, for this purpose vegetables. That's it.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 9:29 AM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

When you say you've tried everything, you don't say what you've done in the way of seeking medical advice about eating disorders. If you haven't done that, I'd start with that.
posted by tel3path at 9:35 AM on July 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I want: a sane eating lifestyle that I can live with for the rest of my life and maintain a healthy weight.

As someone with a history of seriously disordered eating, I will tell you that your best bet is to connect with a registered dietician (not a nutritionist) with a background in working with people who have eating disorders. I'm not saying that you have an eating disorder, just that RDs with that particular background are really good at real-world applications of eating plans and are very attuned to the potential emotional pitfalls of food and to destructive patterns in eating habits.

The problem with asking people with a non-clinical background in food, is that you will often get completely conflicting, and sometimes deeply scolding, advice on diet. Everyone is an expert in their own eating habits, but one person's eating habits don't necessarily apply to another. A dietician will help you be able to sort out what you need and how to get it, from specific guidelines, to recipes, to help with grocery shopping. It helps that their background is in science rather than anecdata.

Twenty years is a really long time to struggle with anything. You should not have to be miserable.
posted by corey flood at 9:37 AM on July 28, 2013 [12 favorites]

Unless you like counting calories (I am a nitpicky bean counter and I enjoy this, most people do not) I'd suggest something a little more lax. I'd also rethink this a little. I pay attention to my nutrition/weight with MyFitnessPal and one of the things that's important there is that if you've set yourself a calorie limit, that you also make sure you're eating enough to balance out calorie loss through exercise. So you want net calories (so if you should eat 1680 cal/day and you do 400 cal worth of exercise per day you actually eat 2080 cal/day on days you exercise). Here are my thoughts on your setup

- no sugar is going to be very difficult unless you always eat at home. Maybe that's your plan which is great, but it's a difficult standard and not all sugar is bad, just eating anything to excess is bad
- no fried foods seems more attainable
- "what would a healthy person touch?" I am a healthy person and mac/cheese is okay with me because it's part of a balanced diet that isn't all mac/cheese. Everything you eat becomes part of your nutrition ecosystem and so while on balance you want to be eating healthy and being mindful of calories and nutrition generally you don't need to make foods off limits, you just need to make sure you are having them in moderation. Put another way, this is not scientific and allows disordered food thinking to creep in and I'd avoid it

For a lot of people, part of weight loss/stability is getting on the scale once a week and seeing if things are basically on track or not on track. This is complicated with people with a history of eating disorders and it really might be a good idea to get the advice of a medical professional if you haven't already. For me what worked was having a set list of healthy meals that I liked that I could pick and choose among and staying on top of occasional off-the-list meals and eating out. It's easier for some people than for others, obviously, but your list sounds restrictive and unfun and I'd try to find a way to enjoy what you eat at the same time as you are trying to make sensible food choices.
posted by jessamyn at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

If you want something to sustain for your life that allows you to live and eat like a normal person? Um, stop dieting. The extreme focus on calorie counting, size, weight, shape, etc? It's unhealthy and leads to obsessions and ultimately eating disorders.

Listen to your body. Eat when hungry, stop when full. You are not your body & you will be happier when you free yourself from the thought that your body somehow defines you as a person.
posted by fireandthud at 9:42 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who's struggled with weight and eating and self-esteem issues and is now at a relatively healthy and stable place, my number one rule forever and ever is don't impose strict rules on yourself. It's unsustainable and reinforces obsessive, disordered thinking. It's a great idea to avoid sugar and grease and empty calories, but you don't have to be so strict as to limit them to, say, a three-hour window once a week. It feels so much better to decide not to eat a sugary snack than to tell yourself that it's forbidden. And exercise? At some point in the future, you'll be on an extended trip, or ill or injured, and you won't be able to exercise for a while. You'll have to adjust for that.

You already know what's healthy and what isn't. Trust yourself to make healthy decisions, allow yourself some wiggle room, and believe in your ability to bounce back when your eating habits get a little too mac-and-cheesy. Find the intrinsic value of eating well and exercising - i.e. do it because it feels good and gives you energy - and leave the numbers out of it. That is sustainable and healthy.

And as others have said, talk to a professional who specializes in eating disorders, even if you don't have one. It helps a ton.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:43 AM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Instead of worrying about calories and carbs and what-was-cooked-in-what, think about eating as a ritual rather than just a consumption of food. Eat only at meals, eat your meals in courses, eat only at a proper table (not the couch, your desk, etc), get into cooking from scratch, seek out new ways of interacting with people through food (take a cooking class, join a dinner club). When eating is more about who you're eating with and how you're engaging in the act of eating rather than what you're eating, it is much easier to avoid mindless snacking and over-indulging. So it's not "I can't have fried food because it's the third Tuesday after a full moon" you think "why would I eat these mozzarella sticks in my car by myself, this isn't "eating"; eating is something I do with my friends and family over a nice wine and good conversation."

"Diets" aren't sustainable. Habits and culture are.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:45 AM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

By way of encouragement, I think the eating part of your plan is sane. There's nothing extreme or untenable about it. The calorie count gives you enough flexibility, and having the Saturday night treat will keep you from denying yourself foods you love. And, your goal of losing .5/pound a week reflects a sensible, longterm view of weightloss.

I myself have felt happiest and sanest when I have some metric for measuring my food intake -- I loved the WW points system back in the day; and I've been very healthy and happy basing my food choices on ketogenic ratios for over two years. So, I'm not sure I agree with others that calorie counting is inherently miserable -- it's just another way to know, each day, when you've eaten enough to fill your food needs. My approach is to treat food like fuel/medicine, and to divest it of emotion/reward/punishment. Using fat/protein/carb ratios does that for me (but I'm kind of a data wonk).

Anyway...the area of your plan I'd urge more flexibility is in the exercise component. Exercise is good for you for many reasons, but as a pure calories-out weightloss mechanism, it's not necessarily efficient. What I'm driving at is, perhaps think of ways to integrate more movement into your lifestyle in ways that give you pleasure, vs. purely maximizing caloric loss. That will be more sustainable, and will add to your quality of life.
posted by nacho fries at 9:46 AM on July 28, 2013

Not even going to touch the dieting part of this. Have you tried weightlifting? I lift heavy (no tiny dumbbells!) three days a week and it's done more for me than any cardio + dieting regimen. Not just physically; it's completely changed my relationship with my body. I feel strong and awesome, and want to eat well so I can lift more.
posted by baby beluga at 9:50 AM on July 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: 1680 calories a day (enough for a female at 5'6 to lose a half pound a week)
No sugar (e.g. Soda dessert etc.) except for Saturday nights and major holidays (Christmas etc.)
No fried anything
Exercise 5 x a week for 1 hour a day (currently p90x possibly a private trainer, but that's $$$)
Don't eat anything that looks like a person on a healthy diet wouldn't touch (so pass on the macaroni and cheese with bacon for example)

You've got some kind of redundant ideas going on here that may end up making things more stressful for you without adding any benefit. Diets with rules that tell you to avoid eating this or that are just ways to control calorie intake without making you have to think about counting calories.

There's no need to be so absolutist about "no sugar" and "no fried anything." If 1680 calories is a weight-loss intake for you, that will be true whether or not some of those calories come from sugar or fried foods. Now, if you start getting a large portion of your calories from "junk foods," it's going to be difficult to get the necessary nutrition you need and to stay satisfied within your given calorie allotment, which is why a common guideline is to keep your "discretionary calories" to 10-20% of your daily intake.

Check out this article, "The Dirt on Clean Eating." I'll quote some of the most relevant bits:
In 1997, a general physician named Steven Bratman coined the term orthorexia nervosa [21], which he defines as, “an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food.” It reminds me of the counterproductive dietary perfectionism I’ve seen among many athletes, trainers, and coaches. One of the fundamental pitfalls of dichotomizing foods as good or bad, or clean or dirty, is that it can form a destructive relationship with food. This isn’t just an empty claim; it’s been seen in research. Smith and colleagues found that flexible dieting was associated with the absence of overeating, lower bodyweight, and the absence of depression and anxiety [22]. They also found that a strict all-or-nothing approach to dieting was associated with overeating and increased bodyweight. Similarly, Stewart and colleagues found that rigid dieting was associated with symptoms of an eating disorder, mood disturbances, and anxiety [23]. Flexible dieting was not highly correlated with these qualities.


The 10-20% guideline isn’t only something I’ve used successfully with clients; it’s also within the bounds of research. Aside from field observations, there are three lines of evidence that happen to concur with this guideline. I’ll start with the most liberal one and work my way down. The current Dietary Reference Intakes report by Food & Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine lists the upper limit of added sugars as 25% of total calories [24]. Similarly, an exhaustive literature review by Gibson and colleagues found that 20% of total calories from added sugars is roughly the maximum amount that won’t adversely dilute the diet’s concentration of essential micronutrition [25]. Keep in mind that both of these figures are in reference to refined, extrinsic sugars, not naturally occurring sugars within whole foods like fruit or milk. Finally, the USDA has attempted to teach moderation with their concept of the discretionary calorie allotment, defined as follows [26]:

“…the difference between total energy requirements and the energy consumed to meet recommended nutrient intakes.”

Basically, discretionary calories comprise the margin of leftover calories that can be used flexibly once essential nutrient needs are met. Coincidentally, the USDA’s discretionary calorie allotment averages at approximately 10-20% of total calories [27].
posted by ludwig_van at 9:57 AM on July 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think you'd be fine with just your last item (which would mean no sugar), and allowing yourself a cheat day once a week to keep yourself sane.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:57 AM on July 28, 2013

Skip calorie counting and cut back to working out only 3 times a week, with one fun active outing once a week.

Eat off of smaller plates and drink plenty of water. Eat what you crave.

You have spent a lifetime of denying your body what you need. Take some time to listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry. Eat what you are craving. Potatoes covered in butter in small portions will not make you fat, if you eat only when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

It is okay to have fried food once in awhile. My rule for fried food is that it cannot be in my house. I will not fry. So, to have something fried, I have to leave my house in search of it. My rule for desserts is that chocolate keeps me from going on a killing spree so I can have as much as I need; baked desserts are only okay if I bake them from scratch and share most of them. My rule for most of my food is that if it could never be grown in someone's yard then it should not be eaten. Meat, fish, bread, everything is fine but no twinkies or processed foods. I am hooked on coke but I limit myself to no more than 4oz in a day's time. I drink as much unsweetened hot tea as I like.

You may put on a little weight at the beginning of this lifestyle change, that is okay. It is okay to not be a perfect size 4. Eventually your weight will settle into a comfortable place.
posted by myselfasme at 9:58 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm somewhat like you. For most of my adult life, I've been 30-40lbs overweight (on a short frame). As a teenager, I starved myself and over-exercised. This year, I've really tried to find a sustainable way of losing weight and feeling better, and I feel like I'm finally doing that.

I can't find the comment (I swear it was on Metafilter), that suggested to "just do one." Meaning, starting out, just add exercise or just work on your food. Don't even try to do both - but just do one. For a lot of people like myself, doing both is draining and difficult, and makes me more prone to quitting like 2 weeks in. So I just added exercise, and ate exactly the same. I started out doing 30 minutes at the gym, 3x a week. Too much would have burned me out in the beginning. Gradually upped my gym time, and now I feel like I'm at my sweet spot with 5x a week for an hour.

Over time, I naturally just wanted to eat out less, and make some better substitutions. After exercising for 2 months or so, making some better food choices just felt better to ease into - it wasn't a conscious or difficult decision. I wasn't exactly eating very strict then (or now), but a couple of small, gradual adjustments or cutting back here and there.

I started at the end of January, and am down about 20-25 lbs (though I honestly don't really weigh myself often). I don't count calories at all. I don't eat a diet. I eat dessert pretty much every single day - I'm not talking sugar free jello or some crap, but a (reasonable) sized slice of cake (real cake). Or small ice cream sandwich (made with real ice cream). Or whatever I feel like, in reasonable portion sizes.

I do a lot of cooking at home though - I make most of my meals and don't eat out often, so I think that helps keep the "crap" to a relative low, minus my dessert. Lots of veggies. Some fruit. Opt for the least processed stuff you can get. Lots of water. This is the longest I've gone with regular exercise, and I feel like both my diet and exercise are very sustainable.

What an average day looks like for me at present:
- cup of coffee with real, full fat half and half (no sugar)
- Gym in the morning. 20 minutes doing hard intervals on the elliptical. 30 minutes Couch to 5k (on week 5 right now). 5 minutes rowing. 5-10 minutes of various crunches, stretches, whatever. I know the calorie counters on machines are not usually accurate, but cumulatively, they tell me I burn 500-600 during each gym visit
- smoothie (2% greek yogurt, mixed berries, a small handful of spinach thrown in for kicks)
- half whole wheat pita with some hummus
- large bowl of brown rice with homemade "kung pao vegetables" (a buttload of veggies stir fried with low-sodium soy sauce, rice vinegar, some olive oil, a little bit of brown sugar, crushed red peppers and unsalted peanuts)
- some home-toasted unsalted walnuts or cup or so of fresh berries
- another half whole wheat pita with hummus
- a bigass salad (mixed greens, cucumbers, carrots, chickpeas, little bit of chevre goat cheese, red wine & olive oil dressing)
- dessert (yesterday was a chocolate lava cake from trader joe's)
- lots of water

I have no ideas how many calories that is, but I try and keep my foods as close to looking like what they're made/grown as. That's really my only food goal - real food (except my near-daily dessert splurge). Not low carb. Definitely not low fat. I eat some sugar. No calorie counting. I feel satisfied. I just try to eat (mostly) real, honest to goodness food. I keep a few mostly-natural, mostly vegetarian, healthy-brand frozen dinners on hand in the freezer in case I'm lazy or tired and don't feel like cooking - Kashi, Evol, Amy's, etc. I eat out once a week or so. Sustainable will vary on person to person, but this is the longest I've been on any health path. YMMV, but this feels like I can do it in the long term, which is the most important thing. I don't feel run down or burnt out after 6 months of doing this thing (by far the longest "trend" I've continued this sort of thing).
posted by raztaj at 10:02 AM on July 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

I totally get where you are coming from. I am in recovery from an eating disorder, and my weight has bounced around from underweight to overweight (several times) over the past few years. It's really fucking hard to figure out how to eat, especially once you've struggled with it so much.

BUT - I don't think your plan is sustainable - it's too strict, especially for someone with a history of disordered eating. You said that you've seen a nutritionist, but have you seen someone who specializes in eating disorders? Have you ever seen a therapist who specializes in eating disorders? That's my recommendation - to see both a nutritionist and a therapist, and to make sure that both have experience working with eating disorders (it does not matter if you currently, or have ever, met the technical criteria for an eating disorder; the idea is that they have experience helping people develop a better relationship with food).

If you (or anyone else!) is in the LA area and would like recommendations for eating disorder specialists, please memail me.
posted by puppetshow at 10:03 AM on July 28, 2013

Here's what mostly works for me:

No sugary drinks. No soda, no sweetened tea. Drink water or unsweetened iced tea; you won't miss the soda at all.

Smaller, higher-quality sweets. Instead of a huge vanilla milkshake at McDonalds, get a few small pieces of good chocolate to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Don't keep unhealthy snacky things in the house. If I have a bag of chips available to me, I will munch and snack and cheat until I've eaten the whole thing. If I'm actually needing a snack (instead of just bored-eating), I can eat things like baby carrots or roasted almonds or a string cheese.

Shop the outside of the grocery store. Look at most layouts, and you can see a pattern around the outside; vegetables, dairy, eggs, meat, breads. 90% of the time, I don't need the other stuff (frozen meals, canned soups, cereal). The other 10%, it's staples like flour or cooking oil or garbage bags. Avoid the inside aisles and your shopping will be a lot less stressful too.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:05 AM on July 28, 2013

Came here to say this: (see above): "Eat off of smaller plates and drink plenty of water. Eat what you crave."

Also: if you have a snacking habit, and also snack on crap food (store-bought cookies, chips, etc), KEEP THEM OUT OF THE HOUSE. Don't let your health be a test of your willpower to avoid opening that box of ice cream. It's easier to eliminate temptation than to avoid it.

If you want cookies, make them yourself from scratch. It's super easy, it'll teach you a new skill (or enable you to refine your existing skills) and it is an activity that makes the snacking more intentional. Plus then yo uget to bring cookies to work and everyone else will love you.

Go easy on yourself, this is a gradual process. I've lost 30 pounds in the last couple of years more by making small changes and adjusting habits than by doing anything extreme like what you've proposed.
posted by softlord at 10:08 AM on July 28, 2013

What you've described here isn't a maintenance regimen, or a lifetime set of rules-- it's a weight loss regimen. It's obviously designed for slow, healthy, weight loss, but it's not a regimen that you want to maintain for the rest of your life, both for health reasons and for reasons of pleasure.

Like a lot of other commenters, I have struggled with eating disorders in the past, and the strictness of this plan concerns me. It reminds me of modes of thought that come along with disordered eating, and it seems like a plan that could easily trigger a slide back into more serious and potentially damaging kinds of restriction. Obviously every person's recovery is different, but what has worked the best for me is to focus not on what I can't eat, but on what I should eat-- rather than not allowing myself fried foods or sugars, I try to cram as many veggies as I can into every meal, so that I'm focused on that goal, which isn't a triggering one. Then I'm so full of veggies that I have less room for dessert or mac and cheese or whatever, but I still get to eat some.
posted by dizziest at 10:10 AM on July 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

objectively this sounds like a doable plan, but i would only advice it for someone who has a healthy relationship to food and eating. Based on your description of your history with weight, food and eating, I would very concerned about recommending this plan for you in the first place.

'eating when you're hungry; stop when you're full' - it's been repeated a few times already, but this is actually your true challenge. you may need to find a therapist and/or nutritionist with experience in handling disordered eating. to even get to that stage you need examine your relationship with food, your body and your eating habits. there's still too much implicit moral judgment in your Ask that I'm not comfortable with your plan (for you).

I'm saying this because the plan or any variations thereof will only work and be sustainable once you've attained a healthy relationship with food. This gets more urgent especially if you're thinking of hiring a trainer on your fitness component - like it or not, too many trainers I find have their messed-up folk traditions regarding diet that unless you're already equipped with the information or good sense, you'll fall into their bad advice, which is something you definitely don't need at this point.

tl;dr - you need to fix your psychological issue regarding food, health and your body first before embarking on this plan.
posted by cendawanita at 10:27 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need to address the underlying causes of your disordered eating first before you develop an eating plan that will first help you get to your happy weight and then help you maintain it in the most healthy, satisfying way possible. You're going about this the wrong way if you think just fixing the diet portion of things is the magic bullet.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:31 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd strongly encourage you talk to an expert before putting yourself on any type of eating plan, however sustainable you feel it is. I suggest that you find a professional (probably a therapist or R.D.) who can help you reorient your approach to eating and exercise so that it is not about imposing changes on your body, but rather about nourishing and nurturing it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:50 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

i really want something I can live with for the rest of my life, that allows me to live and eat like a normal person.

I am not trying to be mean, but a "normal person" - defined in this context as someone who does not have disordered eating troubles - does not live by the kinds of rules you've set out. I say this as someone who doesn't have an eating disorder, and who has only used "rules" of eating when I wanted to lose weight. Now that I don't need to lose weight anymore, I don't count anything, and no kind of food is off-limits. So, mac and cheese with bacon? Why yes, please.

But that's not what or how I eat all the time. The most useful thing for me about finding a way to lose weight and keep it off that worked is that it's sustainable and I don't have to count anything. I just eat differently now than I used to. And I don't keep junk food in the house. I'm pretty sure I'm going to want a donut today, so in a little while I'm going to go out to our local hipster donut place and buy a donut. Not a box of donuts. Just one. (Okay, probably two.)

So, yes, nthing the advice that you seek remedy for the underlying cause first, because all the Rules you set up will only set you up to fail unless you figure out *why* you have this relationship with food, and how to fix that.
posted by rtha at 10:52 AM on July 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Up your water, eat protein and veggies at all meals, move to healthy fats (avocados, grass fed butter, olive oil, etc). Bacon, egg and spinach omelettes are fantastic - hold off on the cheese.
Rather than starve the engine, increase its efficiency. Smaller portions more frequent meals. Insufficiently feeding your body makes your body slow your metabolism to make sure that it has food stores.

Meats: shoot for local grass-fed first, next tier is just grass-fed, next tier is no antibiotics, after that its look for lean, lastly there's everything else.
Fish: you want omega-3s that means wild caught salmon. I also take a salmon oil supplement.
Vegetables: Vegetables every meal - green ones. Kale, spinach, chard, broccoli, brussell sprouts. Carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash are good additional vegetables, though go easy on the tomatoes to start. Squash i your friend.
Carbs: learn to carb-cycle - it addresses cravings and helps you shake up a plateau in either training or diet. My wife works them in like every third week or so.
Sugar and sugar replacements: The idea isn't to ban sugar, it is to improve the quality that goes in you. The highest quality is in the food that you eat - not processed and added. When you crave sugar - eat fruit or use raw sugar, agave, or maple syrup - avoid fake sugars it will fail to satisfy the cravings - even Splenda.
I make our dressings. We pick our vinegars based on not saying sugar. Sugar is out, grape mist is in. When we go to the grocery store I'm checking the labels on the mustard - if its got sugar in it - it isn't coming home. There are plenty that don't have it in them (generally stone ground mustard). Tomato sauce? We use Bove's it has a ring of grease - which is not bad - but has no sugar (do not spill it on your clothes). Generally we use spaghetti squash as a pasta replacement...
Nuts: nuts are good things.

Ben & Jerry's visit about once a month with no guilt. I have a couple beers across the month. Actually, there is nothing off diet. If I feel like a big mac, I have a big mac - I just have a big mac and I don't go back for a month. My wife believes in occasionally having cheat meals. I don't label anything a cheat - cheating indicates that you are breaking the rules. Changing your lifestyle means changing your perspective to actively not want something that you would cheat for - hence I eat the big mac.

As for workouts: cardio is effective at decreasing muscle as well as fat. It is non discriminatory. P90X is a very good introductory workout since they don't push the cardio - though after 90 days, you'll need to actually follow their advice and change that workout for other things. Actually, I'd challenge the duration of P90X workouts. You can accomplish many of the same things with a trainer that knows their stuff with a lot less time - plus you get someone to make sure your form is correct (bad form = injury. Injury = no working out). My wife is able to get most of her clients squared with 2 days working with her for an hour (including cool downs) and 2 days working on their own.

You'll notice - no talk of calories. My wife has increased people's caloric intake to get them to lose weight faster (I said WTF!?!?!). If you want to talk about what to eat: 6 meals a day, 3 oz of protein each meal. 6 oz veggies, a couple tablespoons of fat each meal (meaning salad dressing and avocado slices if the rest of the meal is really lean). Drink a cup of green tea a few times a day with your meals. Eat within 30 minutes of working out....
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:55 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just agreeing with what is above. 20 years is a long time. You've tried a lot in that time, and nothing seems to have worked. Figure out the psychological issues beneath this problem.
posted by sunrisecoffee at 10:56 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Regardless of what you end up doing, I'd like to suggest joining the MeFi team over at Health Month (previously). I just joined a few weeks ago and think you will find the game and the Mefites it to be very motivating, especially since at least some of the rules/behaviors you will be adding or omitting you will be probably be doing reluctantly.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:15 AM on July 28, 2013

Be careful about locking yourself into prohibitive rules (no soda, no desserts). For me, when I break one of these rules, I quickly spiral out of control. Instead, I have some proactive strategies that help me to stay on track without feeling deprived.
- I carry water with me all the time - to work, to the movies, out to dinner, out shopping - this way I'm less likely to buy a soda just because I'm thirsty or want something to drink. I used to have a soda every single day - now it's a rare occurence and I truly don't miss it.
- I make a pot of coffee every morning and take a thermos to work with me. In the past I would stop for coffee or grab a cup in the cafeteria at work - where I would get a sweetened latte or mocha version and be tempted by (and frequently succumb to) muffins or a breakfast burrito.
- I try to eat a fruit or veggie with every meal - this may sound like a no-brainer, but I actually have to make plans for it. I carry a couple clementines in my purse, I keep containers of blueberries and baby carrots in the fridge at work, and I have a salad with dinner every night.
- Like you, I also eat out a lot and track calories (along with fat, carbs, sodium and sugar using My Fitness Pal). Restaurant servings, even for seemingly healthy meals like salads, sometimes make up 3/4 of my daily allotment, so I ask for a "to go" box right away, and when the food is served, I pack up half. This way I keep my intake under control AND get to enjoy the food twice.
- Like Sally, I order my salad dressing on the side and find that I use only a fraction of the serving.

I also recommend reading Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth. For me, reading her book was kind of a turning point in understanding and coping with some of my destructive eating behaviors.
posted by kbar1 at 11:30 AM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm only gonna really address the dietary side, as that's what I know best. As someone without an actual "eating disorder" per se, but with general OCD tendencies that have manifested in some definite unhealthy levels of obsessiveness over health and weight/fitness at various points in my life... I echo what dizziest said... you really don't need to be counting calories, giving yourself "cheat days" (god I hate that term) or restricting entire food groups altogether. Rather, the most sustainable/healthy/non-obsessive approach for me has been focusing on getting more of the "good" stuff, not less of the "bad." It can be fun, almost a game. I think about my body as a machine and nutrient-rich veggies, proteins, etc as energy units; and with that in mind, as often as possible I choose snacks and meals I both enjoy and which include lots of good energy. So I stuff myself as much as I want with "fuel" on a regular basis and then as long as my fuel needs are taken care of, I do whatever I really feel like the rest of the time. So in practice - I keep tons of whole grains, veggies, lean meats, cheese etc around the house, and make sure I get in a good aolid breakfast, say; and then if I'm out and want a donut I eat the donut, or if a friend made the mac and cheese I eat the mac and cheese. Probably a couple servings of it. I don't restrict myself on quantity at all, rather focusing on getting more quality stuff into the mix as often as possible.

The problem I see with people counting calories is they will decide to eat the donut and then SKIP the big solid lunch because they already used their calorie quotient on the donut. That's crazy to me. If I eat a donut, and lunch is something solid and nutritious, heck yes I will eat the lunch too. That donut didn't give me protein, or calcium or vitamin A or whatever the heck else my body needs - so just because I had "enough" calories doesn't mean I have enough fuel. Think about different types of fuel, not calories alone.
posted by celtalitha at 12:37 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is obviously from the male perspective, but I've been struggling with eating disorders for the past 30 years (I'm 35btw).

What I've seen from these responses is some of the best advice you can get - find a therapist and a registered dietician that specialize in eating disorders before undergoing any kind of self-imposed or self-designed plan. You seem like you've got a really good grip on something most people here in the US fail to grasp - you're going to have to do something that's successful but repeatable for the rest of your life. Having said that, some of the things you outlined are just not going to work for any lomg period of time. For example:

No Sugar

This reminds of people that go "no fat" or "no carb". Terrible idea. Sugar has some very beneficial uses if you eat the right things. For example, I do a lot of cycling and one of the issues that I had was "bonking" (I.e. running of fuel) on long rides. Now I eat energy cubes every 10 miles I ride and I haven't had a bonk yet. If you meant to say "processed sugar in shit food" (think candy) no problem. Also, sodas with real sugar, while empty calories, are, on the whole, better than the chemical diet drinks everyone switches over to in an attempt to do this.

[Full disclosure: I drink 40-60oz of diet soda daily]

No fried food

Be real. You're going to, at some point between now and your last drawn breath, want to eat fried food. Setting this as a rule is just not a good move. Weight loss and weight maintenance is all about moderation and keeping the body fueled.

Exercise five times a week/P-90X

Are you really going to be doing P90X when you're 65 or when you're pregnant? P90X is great if you plan on sticking to an insane level of effort for a long period of time with any downtime and are already in really good cardiovascular shape with a strong core and no injuries or motion issues. Exercising five times a week is great as long as you find that you can channel your energies in to something that's enjoyable and repeatable for the rest of your life. That could be anything from cycling to cardio (jogging/running/elliptical) to weightlifting to triathlons. I don't think systems like P90X or Insanity are what the road to health and fitness are paved with.

Don't eat anything that looks like a person on a healthy diet wouldn't touch (so pass on the macaroni and cheese with bacon for example)

Two servings with a 20oz milkshake and garlic fries no, but there are plenty of folks that endulge in foods like this and don't fall of the health and fitness train. When you start saying "person X wouldn't eat this" you're setting yourself up for failure. Again, it's all about moderation and listening to your body.

I didn't see any mention to increasing your water intake or increasing the amount of rest you get. Two things that are seriously important that so many people don't put enough effort into is drinking enough water (I drink 6+ liters on non long ride days and 10+ liters on riding days) and rest. Just improving those two can do wonders for your health and weight loss success.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 1:02 PM on July 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I can't suggest strongly enough that you see an eating disorder specialist. Please don't start taking advice from people on the Internet before you do that.

(Yes, I see the irony in what I just said. I'm posting from my phone, but MeMail me if you want; I have a very similar background to you.)
posted by Salamander at 1:11 PM on July 28, 2013

Agree with most everything that's been said.
No sugar (e.g. Soda dessert etc.) except for Saturday nights and major holidays (Christmas etc.)
Treating sugar like it's a "treat" to be saved for special occasions (Saturday nights and major holidays) is putting it on a pedestal that it doesn't deserve. If you can start to change your habits and break the diet cycle, you can start to look at "treats" as the things that make you feel good. It's your birthday -- do you want to eat cake and have a blood sugar spike, and maybe a mood swing, and maybe a triggering thought? Perhaps. I like cake, too. But make it a goal to get to a healthy mental and physical state, where you'd choose to feel good first and foremost. It's your birthday -- Treat yourself by going for a bike ride, getting some endorphins, maybe getting some fresh-squeezed orange juice, having a nice salad. That's how you "treat" yourself. And then have a piece of cake if you want it. Have the bacon. Just remember what's special here. (It ain't the cake or the bacon.)
No sugar ... No fried anything ... Don't eat anything
As others have said, make sure you're focusing on the things you can have. It's okay to establish some general rules, but instead of building walls for yourself ("Those are the rules I came up with. I think I can live within them.") build walls around the things you don't want. You're not in the box -- the sugar and fried foods are in the box. You have the open air, the plethora of nutrients and flavors, the veritable feast of healthy options to explore. And over to the side are some other less-healthy options that you sometimes visit, but for the most part keep tucked away. Make sense?
Exercise 5 x a week for 1 hour a day
Just exercise. It doesn't need to be exactly 5x a week or 1hr each time. Just get out and get moving. Build strength and endurance. Feel good TODAY, not because you scheduled it in, but because it's a part of your life.

To be fair, you may need to schedule this type of exercise for now (while you're establishing good habits). But maybe you can start smaller. Try for a MWF workout, and go from there. Make it a part of your life, and you won't have to schedule it in. Everything else gets scheduled in. ;)

Listen, it's nice to be in control of things and feel like we have power and can force change. But you've restricted before, you've yo-yo'd before, and it looks like you're now recognizing that what you really need is a lifestyle change. So enough with the "no this, no that, do this hardcore thing, YOU MUST GET IT TOGETHER." Take a look at this moment, today, and decide to be happy today. Feel good now. No more looking at a diet as a "means to an end." No more focusing on a future number on the scale that will take X weeks at -1.5lbs per week. Look at today, right now, and decide to be healthy in this moment. You deserve to feel good, and strong, and fit, and happy, right now, not because you restricted yourself, but because you got out and did it.

I would also suggest picking up a copy of Michael Pollan's "Food Rules." And maybe check in with a counselor or therapist and/or nutritionist to learn what healthy habits actually look and feel like!
posted by ariela at 1:18 PM on July 28, 2013

Minimize beige and white foods, emphasize foods of color (green, red, etc.).

Before you go to a new restaurant, read the menu (online), when you are not feeling hungry, and plan what you will eat. Figure out which are the healthiest restaurants for you (the ones with foods that you like which are also healthy), and invite your friends to go _there_ with you.
posted by amtho at 2:03 PM on July 28, 2013

Some foods are so taste filled that they end our hunger almost immediately*. My list is sharp cheddar, parmigiano reggiano, garlic (rarely of course, but raw is so good!), pesto, balsamic vinegar, pistachios, figs, and buttered bread. For your meals, focus on fruits and veggies, be sure you get enough protein, and then use the foods from your list to end your hunger as early as possible. Experimentation will let you know when is too early or late based on energy levels post meals, and this is what keeps things healthy.

For snacks try that list or a tea. I had to use green tea to get me to the point where I could do this, but it's second nature now... and driving everyone else in my life nuts because they all "overeat" in their minds now. "Doctor's orders" only go so far, so I try eat really slowly to minimize discomfort, unless someone else like me is there. The only other thing I do is try to keep an idea in my head if I've eaten "rich" or "lean" every day and choose my next meal based on that.

* Worst news ever was hearing that food companies avoid making things this good because we eat less product then!
posted by jwells at 3:01 PM on July 28, 2013

Long-time in recovery eating disorder person here.

Your use of words like "rules" tells me you're not really there yet in terms of your recovery. It looks like you're starting from the food and trying to move on in, but I'd recommend the exact opposite approach: Start with your insides—your psychology, your emotions, your inner self—and work out. That way your recovery will be doable, sustainable, and authentic...not a quick fix that allows you to control your environment and lose weight but acts as a flimsy Band-Aid on the deeper issues that are at play here.

I wish you peace and progress along this (long) road. You're not alone.
posted by mynameisluka at 3:12 PM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

In addition to rules for eating and exercise, which you seem to have under control given the range of responses above, how about a rule for tracking your weight? That might help you spot any problems and adjust quickly if something's amiss.

My rule, for instance, is that I must weigh myself on Mondays and Thursdays before I get in the shower. If the number on the scale is outside of my acceptable range (in either direction), I make a point of thinking about what I'm eating and doing over the following few days. I ignore the scale's presence in my bathroom on all other days of the week.
posted by cranberry_nut at 5:45 PM on July 28, 2013

Read French Women Don't Get Fat. It's a great book about changing your entire lifestyle and the way you approach food/eating.
posted by fromageball at 6:54 PM on July 28, 2013

I think what works for some people might not work for others and you have to experiment at little bit. For me, that mean what's been sustainable is tracking my foods via MyFitnessPal, looking to a "70% Paleo" diet (but I still eat milk and yogurt because I love them and they're an easy source of protein), which means that all "unplanned eating" consists of raw vegetables and fruit and most meals are lean meat and vegetables. If I'm training a lot (which is most of the them), I include some whole grains (brown rice, quinoa or barley) because I find I have more energy for my workouts when I do. By a rough estimate, 70% of what I ate by volume is 'paleo' and the other 30% is mostly clean, but I do allow for a bit a treat every so often. I don't believe any of the hype about 'paleo diets' and evolution (even an introductory survey course of anthropology should make you skeptical), but I have found that it's an easy to remember framework for eating. The main reason I even track my foods anymore is because when I do decide to have a treat, the app gives a good idea of how many calories that treat is likely to be.

I'm really cautious about intermittant fasting for women, however. This blog post sums up some of the studies around it. Apparently, it messes up women's hormones far more, and most the research on "people" has had male-only study groups.
posted by Kurichina at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2013

Stop counting calories and try the Paleo diet. 100% stick to it for 30 days. You will see results, I promise.
posted by corn_bread at 10:33 AM on July 29, 2013

If you have calorie counted and combined that with studying what is healthy to eat then you already know how much you can eat and not gain weight.

Doing P90X sounds extreme and crazy but that's just me. I like to go for an easy jog or hike and that keeps me healthy and relaxed and burns off a few thousands calories a week if done 4-5 times a week.
posted by tarvuz at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2013

keep it simple. i have been where you are. simplicity & your happiness with the new routine are key.

i crossfit most days. i follow this food pyramid and do not count calories.

once a week or so, i'll eat a whole pizza, a pint of ice cream, or a 6-pack. or all three at once. i'm happy. i'm athletic. and i never have to think or stress about this stuff anymore. wishing you so much luck!
posted by crawfo at 11:38 AM on July 29, 2013

The diet you've laid out sounds pretty normal to me, for what it's worth.

I just wanted to comment, if you are really going to work out five times a week, and you are keeping track of your body health by weight, you should keep in mind that you may well gain weight as you become more fit. I gained about 20 or 25 pounds over a period of five years due to muscle mass. When I stopped working out as regularly, my weight started dropping pretty quickly. I don't think I looked that different except for muscle definition in certain places.

And personally, I think the best way to decide what to eat is how it makes you feel later. If I eat deep fried food, I tend to feel heavy and grody later, so I just avoid it. Food sauteed in olive oil doesn't do that to me. Listen to your digestive system. Don't cut things because they are generally considered bad, but absolutely cut them if they actually don't sit right with you. You'll feel better, and your tastes will readjust.

If you eat out a lot, always go for high quality, low quantity. Portions in general are oversized. Get a smaller dish at a nicer place - fresh ingredients, simple sauces.

Good luck!
posted by mdn at 12:41 PM on July 29, 2013

Plenty of people have commented on your diet choices, but I wanted to say something about the exercise piece of it. The people I know who consistently exercise for 20, 30 or 50 years are the ones that have integrated it into the rest of their lives in meaningful ways so that it is not a goal oriented pursuit. They pick a form of exercise that they enjoy doing and they do it for social and mental health reasons. I play frisbee because it's fun and because my friends are doing it. My mom rows and my dad played basketball because they enjoys it and it makes them feel like part of a community. Some people run because it gives them time to think, dance because it feels joyful and it connects them to others, or do yoga because it gives them a sense of calm.

I'm doing the Insanity program now and while I think the workout is great, the focus on results and the rigidity of the schedule isn't sustainable for me. If I want to go swimming or go climbing with a friend instead of doing a video, I find myself thinking that I've somehow failed the program, which I don't like. It seems to treat exercise as an all or nothing activity.

You can ignore this if you find your current routine fulfilling, but the way you phrased your question makes me think that you see exercise as something that you should do rather than something that you enjoy doing. People sometimes use exercise as a way to discipline their body and exert control, which strikes me as perpetuating an unhealthy war against yourself. If that is the case (and of course, I don't know if it is), my advice would be to find a form of movement that you love and do it as often as it makes you happy. If you have an activity that you are into, you might find yourself making healthier choices to support that activity, like doing sprint workouts so you can be better at soccer or core workouts so you can do more yoga poses or eating better so you have more energy for your activity. To me, that is the kind of mindset that you can sustain for 50 years, not a rule about how much per week to do.
posted by oryelle at 7:40 PM on July 29, 2013

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