Tuesday, August 21, 2007

So far, so good

Last night I stepped on the scale to weigh myself since it's been exactly one week since starting my diet, and I have lost five pounds. So I'm right on course in losing the 8-12 pounds I expect to lose by next Monday when I go to Phase 2 of my diet. I was happy to know that my friend Colleen is giving the diet a try too - I hope it works as well for her.

The basic philosophy of the South Beach Diet is based on the power of positive reinforcement. Sure, you can diet any number of ways and lose the weight slowly, maybe a pound a week, and many people consider that healthier. However, by "crash-dieting" in Phase 1, you get fast results that motivates you to stick with the diet. Also, in Phase 1, by restricting almost all carbs, sugars and fats, you not only lose most of your cravings for such things (plus a lot of your appetite), it also makes Phase 2 (where you reintroduce good carbs) seem like indulgence by comparison. Eating bad carbs (white bread, refined sugar, corn syrup) puts your metabolism on a roller coaster of quick energy and carb cravings that's hard to break just by slowly reducing your intake. Let's face it - it's easier to maintain your willpower for two weeks than for two months.

The point is that I've tried traditional "slow and steady" diets and I tend to get frustrated at the slow progress and just give up. I suppose that's in my nature - I'm very results-driven. But in the end at Phase 3, the South Beach is like any successful diet in that it should produce a lifestyle change. In my case, it's about cooking more food at home and eating out less (especially during the work week, which saves money and weight gain), eating treats in moderation and eating more vegetables. A big part of that is learning to cook healthier foods and using healthier ingredients, like olive oil (or as Rachel Ray chirps "EVOO") instead of butter, herbs instead of salt, and hot sauce instead of ketchup.

The first week of my diet I pretty much ate the same thing over and over every day:

Breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs with A-1 sauce
Morning snack: 15-20 dry roasted cashews
Lunch: 1 soy burger patty and stir-fried vegetables
Afternoon snack: Two slices of roasted turkey with low-fat Laughing Cow cheese rolled up
Dinner: 1 soy burger patty with roasted garlic hummus and stir-fried vegetables

Other ingredients included pickles, capers, salsa, Indian garlic relish, and whatever else I could find that fit the criteria. I also had sugar-free Life Savers and other hard candies for desserts. When I went out to eat, I could usually find broiled fish on the menu - I just skipped the rice it came with. I could also have salads with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, but I didn't bother to mess with the fresh ingredients. You'll notice that everything on my list can be prepared in advance and refrigerated, which isn't as healthy as fresh food, but a whole lot more convenient. Also, everything I'm using is available at Costco, which makes shopping even easier. And the thing about Phase 1 is that it only lasts for two weeks, so it's not very long to put up with such restrictions.

I'm also starting to do more experimental cooking with fish and my soy burgers. I got a spice rack from Costco with 20 difference spices on it, and I'm trying different combinations. On Sunday I made a Cajun blackened salmon steak that tasted really good. I used to enjoy cooking, and I hope to continue to make progress on it.

Some of my other lifestyle changes are that I'm trying to exercise two or three times a week now, and I'm taking a daily multivitamin again. Bringing food into the office requires coolers and plastic containers, which I had to acquire, and cooking requires more pots and utensils. All these things I planned for in advance of my diet, and that's what's going to make this effort a success.

Of course, I feel that the reason I did not keep the weight off the last time I was on the diet is the tremendous upheaval in my life immediately following the diet in 2005 and 2006, namely quitting my old job in Houston, leaving my family and moving up to New Jersey and looking for a new job while staying in a hotel for two months. But now that my life has achieved what I feel is a pretty stable equilibrium in all areas, I can focus on improving myself and making lasting changes - not just with the dieting and exercise, but also with the allergy shots, expanding my reading list and having new experiences in general.