Well, it’s swimsuit season again — a yearly ritual that brings dread to many a woman’s heart, including mine. With swimsuits comes worry over one’s weight, and since nearly two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, this is becoming a very big deal, no pun intended.
I have had my own struggles with my weight over the years. Besides dealing with an eating disorder for many years, for a time in my 20s, I carried 20 more pounds on my not-quite-5-foot-4 frame. We short people can’t hide extra weight like our much-envied more statuesque friends can.
Back when I worked full time in offices, I often had a tough time saying no to the constant parade of morning donuts, coffee cakes, cookies and other treats people brought in. And after both my pregnancies, I had a tough time losing the baby weight.
These days, I am no longer at war with the scale and though I don’t always love the way I look (who does?), I’ve come a long way from the young woman who was at war with her body and food. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers about nutrition and health but I’ve done a lot of reading on these topics and can offer some things that have worked for me.
One that I swear by is eating breakfast. Breakfast-eaters used to be touted as much healthier than those who can barely down a cup of coffee before 10 a.m. Now the research is backing off on this claim a bit, though eating breakfast is still highly encouraged.
I’ve found that on those rare days when I skip breakfast, I feel headachy and weak and ravenous by lunchtime. Those are the days when my dog’s bowl of kibble starts to look appetizing. Another tip: Try to eat something containing both carbohydrates and protein every three to four hours. In other words, don’t let your tank get too low.
Some tasty snack options I like include an apple with a little peanut butter or piece of cheese, a cup of low-fat yogurt with some cereal sprinkled in it, carrots dipped in hummus. And when it comes to beverages, their calories count just as much as anything else. Sadly, this applies to grande frappuccino slathered with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Sometimes when I think I’m hungry, I’m really thirsty so it doesn’t hurt to drink a glass of water when the munchies strike.
When it comes to eating out, it’s all about moderation and making good choices. I love going to restaurants, for the food, the social aspect, and simply because someone else is doing the cooking and cleaning up. However, for me personally, there is a direct correlation between how often I eat out and how tight my jeans are. This despite trying to stick with healthier choices—many restaurants now feature “light” versions of their popular dishes and I’ve found them to be pretty tasty, for the most part.
Preparing healthy meals at home can be challenging but the good news is that grocery stores are making it ridiculously easy for us these days. For example, you can pick up pre-cut and washed veggies in the produce department, then grab a microwavable packet of whole-grain rice or quinoa, and some seasoned chicken breasts and you’ve got a well-rounded and tasty meal practically made for you. Those roasted chickens almost all major food stores offer are also a quick and easy choice, and the leftovers can go toward another meal of soup or chicken salad.
As for exercise, back in the day, I used to believe that a brisk three-mile run could erase any of my nutritional sins or caloric excesses — for a brief period in my youth, this was actually true. I have since learned that though exercise is very important, it cannot undo poor eating (unless you’re a hard-core athlete with the metabolism of a hummingbird).
I am a firm believer in not dieting, per se, but slowly making healthier choices over a period of time. Such as choosing two percent milk over whole and then gradually giving skim milk a try. Or switching from white to whole wheat pasta. I don’t like the idea of anything being off-limits, be it pizza, ice cream or whatever else makes you salivate just thinking about.
When I was bulimic, I saw food that way, as either “good” or “bad,” which further reinforced the dangerous cycle of binging and purging. Now I get that I can have a cookie or two and I put the rest away for another time—a no-brainer for many people but a revelation for those of us who’ve ever had eating disorders. In a nutshell, food is a wonderful and pleasurable part of life and it should be enjoyed.
And when going swimsuit shopping, I suggest bringing along a dear friend, your sense of humor and a tasty snack or two.