5 things I learned about crash dieting

A lot has changed since I last posted on the site. This photo, for one, is from our new neighborhood in Seattle, where spring has decided to make an early arrival. Our cross-country move is one excuse I have for not having written for quite some time. My apologies! But I return with a bit of wisdom I am excited to impart on you.

You see, I ended last year about a dozen pounds heavier than I started it. The tipping point came when I took my son for a doctor’s visit, and, since he fell asleep, the doc suggested he weigh me by myself and then with my son to subtract out my son’s weight. I don’t know what’s up with the scales in doctor’s offices, but, boy, was it an eye opened. I weighed way more than I thought, so much so that I felt sick.

I’ve never really dieted in my life, at least not in earnest, but I knew drastic measures were necessary to get myself back in range. I did a bit of research and realized that weight loss is really just as simple as this no-brainer formula:

Calories in – Calories out = Some negative number

I decided to be dramatic and run a 1,000-calorie deficit, no easy feat, but one that would help me lose about two pounds a week if I stuck to it. I’m writing to you 6 weeks into the regimen, and I have lost 10 pounds. Riding this latest weight loss success, I decided to share what I learned with all of you:

1. Exercise. Sure, you can just lie in bed all day and eat 500 calories and run a calorie deficit. You will lose weight. But you will also feel incredibly weak, and you won’t last on the diet long before your body demands food. Instead, exercise. Each calorie burned is an additional calorie you can eat. Sure, exercise will make you hungry, but it will also give you energy and make you feel strong — which is key to making a diet work!

Also, choose a form of exercise you like. If you hate going to the gym (like I do), then don’t go to the gym! We’ve been very lucky to have a pretty dry winter in Seattle, and I have been running or taking long walks daily. I also try to incorporate my exercise into my day, running to the preschool when I have to pick my son up, or running to the grocery store to run errands before walking home. This helps me tremendously with time management!

2. Cook. I don’t think you can successfully lose weight if you always eat out. Sure, it’s possible, I suppose. But, highly unlikely. That’s because restaurant food is, on the whole, insanely caloric. And most places don’t present you with healthy options. I just returned from a cafe where my choices for breakfast were 10 kinds of white-flour baked goods doused in sugar. At home, breakfast can be a fruit-and-vegetable smoothie, or a piece of toast with sliced avocado and egg — the sort of healthy, vitamin-rich calories that keep me filled until lunch.

3. Eat fat. Running a calorie deficit will very naturally mean that you feel hungry. One way to feel more full from reduced calories is to eat higher fat food. Not fried food or anything that would blow your calorie limit for the day, of course. But that toast with avocado I mentioned? Half an avocado has 15 grams of fat but just 150 calories. You better bet that’s going to keep you more full than 150 calories of cereal.

4. Snack. Winter is prime citrus season, so I stocked my kitchen with grapefruit and cute tangerines from California. When I felt hungry, I reached for one of these for a quick rush of sugar that doesn’t have many calories at all. Snacking is important to keeping your body full of energy, but be sure to make smart choices!

5. Cheat. I went over my calorie limit some days, usually on weekends. But tracking it still helped me compensate by running a little extra the next day, or making smarter choices to make amends. In the end, I succeeded in losing weight. It’s okay to cut yourself a little slack and keep the end goal in mind.

By the way, there is no reason to run such a high calorie deficit as I did. You could run a 100-calorie deficit and lose weight too. It would just take a bit longer. It’s also far more sustainable and will ensure that you can still be a non-zombie, productive member of society.

I’m actually looking forward to ending my calorie counting this month, once I’ve dropped the last couple pounds. Dieting is really not for me. I hate the self-restraint and the obsessiveness with what I put in my mouth. But, I plan to keep these principles and a controlled diet in my repertoire so that, hopefully, I won’t be writing about weight gain again come next year!

3 thoughts on “5 things I learned about crash dieting

  1. I cam across your posts after I googled gulabi chai. I have enjoyed reading your posts on cooking and dieting. Ramadan is only a few days away and I am hoping that this year I can get rid of some of my belly fat. Bearing in mind that here in the UK our fasts will be 19 hours long and the hours of eating will be between 9.30pm and 2.30am, are there any foods that you could suggest that could help burn fat? I will try and avoid our usual Pakistani diet of curries, with rice or chapattis if that helps?

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I think haleem is a perfect food that fills you up and gives you the protein and fat needed to make it through such a lengthy fast. Freeze a batch in small quantities for an easy and filling meal for sehri. Also, chapattis aren’t necessarily bad, if they are made with whole wheat, and neither is rice, if brown. But white carbs will just give you a quick sugar high and melt out of your system quickly, so think of long-lasting energizing foods — daals, greens, red meats — to go with your carbs. Good luck!

  2. Ambreen, thank you for your suggestions – I will ask my wife to knock up some haleem for sehri. The first week of Ramadan has passed like the blinking of an eye, and although the fasts are long it has not been too bad so far and our faith in Allah (SWT) always gets us through the month. All the best and keep posting! Allah hafiz.

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