Eating light and thinking heavy? (long)

I’m overweight and recently I’ve been gaining weight at a rate that is far too high for my tastes. (3 kilos in as many months!)

I’ve had a problem with my weight ever since puberty, and I’ve only managed to lose weight three times, each under very differing circumstances:

  1. During high school, when I began teaching dance classes 3 days a week, taking dance classes twice a week, attending dance events on the weekends, and working out for 1 hour a day four days a week, I dropped from 180lbs to 117lbs and kept it off. However, I was consuming an extremely large number of calories, in a rather unhealthy way - a Mountain Dew and a large triple-chocolate muffin for breakfast, no lunch, McDonald’s for dinner nearly every night, plus a large bag of chips (e.g. Doritos) while I did my homework at 2 a.m.

  2. While working in a brainless and motionless sort of job, I was able to reduce my caloric intake to around 1300 calories per day, eating very small portions six times daily. Very little exercise, although I would occasionally stop by a gym and do a half-hour of walking on the treadmill. I went from 160lbs to 145lbs this way, and kept it off until I took on a second job at a Pizzeria Uno. I found I was unable to maintain the energy level required to perform the duties of both jobs unless I had about 600 more calories.

  3. I briefly trialled the Atkins’ style diet and went from 73 kilos to 65 kilos in two months, but then had to give up this diet as my partner and I found it very hard to adhere to when socialising with friends and family who were belligerent and refused to accomodate our “lifestyle choice”.

At this point I really want to lose weight again as I am back up to about 80 kilos and very uncomfortable. I get winded walking from the bus stop up to my uni (about a 5-minute walk uphill).

Because of a hectic schedule I’m not sure I can work a lot of exercise into my life. Also, I have a hard time motivating myself to exercise alone, and my partner and I have very different interests when it comes to physical activity. I love aerobics classes, etc., while he doesn’t even like to walk somewhere we could catch a bus to! I’m trying to find aerobics class partners, but finding the requisite hour where gyms are open, bus service is reliable, and I don’t have a class to take or teach, is another, serious, limiting factor.

So, I’d like to come up with an eating plan that includes a reduced caloric intake and, of course, more veggies and fruits. The problem is that I do a LOT of activities that require concentration - between my studies, my teaching, my additional studies, writing lab manuals and other learning materials, and my involvement in three research projects, I use up a lot of brain power. And when I don’t eat very much, I find it extremely difficult to concentrate on my assignments and other tasks. I can hardly read a journal article without developing a headache and overwhelming fatigue!

My questions to you all are, what kind of foods can I eat that are healthy, low-calorie, but will keep my brain working? (Unfortunately, fish is a rare treat for me, as my partner is allergic to it.) How can I reduce my caloric intake without sacrificing my cognitive skills? Have any of you Dopers had any success in eating light while thinking heavy?

You may want to try making 1/2 of what’s on your plate veggies or fruits at every meal; 1/4 carbohydrate and 1/4 meat or fish Any refills of the plate should only be the veggies or fruits, unless it is a special occasion etc. This distribution of intake tends to reduce total calorie intake while still helping one feel full .

I am a Glycemic Index (GI) convert, and suggest that your problem with being able to think on a low calorie diet can probably be helped by switching to predominantly low GI foods, where the fuel in the bloodstream (glucose) keeps on being delivered over a long period of time, instead of a quick spike. So whole grain foods. foods that are less processed, foods with more fiber and/or protein content all tend to help with this. Nuts or nut butters are a godsend for me personally.

Notice that your best weight loss (over 1/3 - well done!) was when you were exercising, despite eating badly? There’s a reason for that. You HAVE to exercise, there is no substitute.

Like you I tried several forms such as gym and swimming but they bored me to tears. Luckily I now live reasonably close to where I work so for about the last year I’ve walked to and from work most days. It’s about 40 minutes each way, and I walk hard and fast. Driving or taking the train takes about 30 minutes all up anyway, so the extra time out of my day is hardly anything, and I dropped from 96kg to 88kg without altering my diet at all. If I get boring observing the world and people around me I read the paper, do a crossword, or turn on my iPod shuffle. Furthermore it’s free and requires no changes of clothes!

For your brain work you do need fish oil and phosphorus. I’m not going to pretend to be able to design a whole diet plan for you, but whatever you do you’ll need to include oily fish, or at least fish oil capsules, and something like a banana. You’ll also find doing heart-pumping exercise in the morning will help get your brain going for the day.

1300 calories seems like a pretty severe restriction to me. It’s not surprising that you have a hard time focusing. Maybe you should consider a more moderate limit?

As for brain food, my suggestion is brown rice and beans. It takes a while to cook but doesn’t require a lot of attention, so I make a big batch (totally plain, just rice+beans+water) and divide it into single servings in tupperware. I reheat it for lunch at work, and add oil (extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, walnut oil, pumpkin seed oil) and other flavorings for taste and variety (fresh herbs, tobasco sauce, soy sauce, basalmic vinegar, flavored vinegar). Note: to preserve the beneficial fats, those oils should not be heated, so add them after you microwave it. I usually bring the condiments along in a smaller tupperware container. You get yer protein, yer healthy fats, and yer fiber to moderate yer blood sugar—everything you need to get you through a long afternoon of mental exercise. Add a piece of fruit for “dessert” and you have a very satisfying lunch.

And you should exercise. I mean it. Even when you’re not trying to lose weight, you should exercise. ESPECIALLY when you’re busy and stressed and really challenged with work, you should exercise! It’s an annoying fact of life that when you have the least amount of time to exercise, that’s when you need it most and you will feel the greatest benefits from it. Exercise will relieve st

When your schedule is packed, you need to schedule in exercise. It doesn’t have to be all in one block; if you can take three 10-minute walks each day, that’s almost as good as 30 minutes on the treadmill. That doesn’t work for me, 'cause it’s just 10 minutes and I find it too easy to talk myself into skipping it, but do what works for you and your schedule.

What works for me is to just make it part of my routine. It’s just something I do, like brushing my teeth or marching down to the classroom to teach. Non-negotiable. Rain or shine. It’s not something I can skip if something comes up or I get rushed for time. No. Uh-huh. It’s on my schedule, in ink. Even rescheduling for another time gets dangerous, because it breaks the routine. During the year, I went to the faculty gym at 4:30 every day, and it has been month and a half since classes ended, and I still get the urge to jump up at 4:15 and dash for the gym. :slight_smile:

Darn it, walkled away mid-edit and so of course I forgot something . . .

The third paragraph should end with:

Excercise will relieve stress, help you sleep better, and improve your mood, energy level, and mental alertness. The time you take out of your busy schedule to exercise will be more than paid back in productivity and, darn it, just feeling better.

Thanks for the replies!

As for the exercise, I know it’s necessary and I want to do it, I’m just having troubles with the logistics of it all. I would kill for a faculty gym that ran an aerobics class! But no, none of the three universities I attend every day run aerobics classes :frowning: I just hate the mindless tedium of the treadmill, and I know what happens when I use stationary bikes (which I don’t mind, 'cause I can read, so I often accidentally do twice as much as I meant to!) - my legs get hugely muscular and my tummy flab remains :slight_smile:

Luckily this is one thing I learned well from my experimentation with the Atkins’ style diet - I looooove wholegrain anything! Nut butters, though, I hadn’t considered. My local grocer has almond butter and I’ve been eyeing it for some time, perhaps I’ll finally give in and give it a try.

What kind of fish is oily? Do tuna and salmon suffice? I’d be happy to work in canned tuna or salmon in my lunches every day, since I generally don’t share lunch with my allergic partner.

I don’t think I ever want to go back to 1300 calories! It only worked when my job was sitting in a chair for 10 hours typing whatever I saw on the screen in front of me - i.e., no brainpower or moving required :wink: I was thinking more around 1600-1800, ideally, because I think that would be easy to maintain even if I have a “snack” every few hours (like a box of raisins or something).

Thanks for the article! Brown rice and beans + stuff sounds okay, and I could easily do that any time I’m going to be having lunch at the Uni where I have access to a microwave. When I’m at the other two, I have to have stuff that doesn’t need to be heated. Maybe I could try to find a recipe for a rice & bean salad or something…

I pretty much do that already now - I’ve started a habit of “get off the bus two stops early, walk more” wherever possible. I’d take up Askance’s habit of walking-to-work, but according to it would take me … 8 hours! :eek: Once I get my teaching schedule finalised, I’ll try to schedule in SOMETHING at the faculty gym. After all, what’s the point of working at a uni if I can’t use it?

Pretty much anything non-white - “Oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, herring, kipper, eel and whitebait. These fish count as oily fish when they’re canned, fresh or frozen”. So tinned salmon is OK, but not tinned tuna, fresh only. If you can’t get fresh oily fish into your diet at least once a week, try fish oil capsules, any chemist will have them.

Well, what’s the point of going there if you don’t like it, don’t feel like doing it, and have to pay them for the privilege?

Of course you don’t have to walk the whole way to work, but two bus stops ain’t going to cut it (I didn’t think any two points in Canberra were 8 hours’ walk apart …!). An uninterrupted thirty minutes fast walking is what you need, at least once a day - morning is best to set you up for the rest of the day. So just try walking along your bus route and see how far 30 minutes’ walking gets you; once you get fitter you can see if you can get to the next stop in the same time, etc.

Just popping in to agree about the benefits of the GI diet - I’ve lost half a stone (7 pounds) in the first three weeks, and unlike Atkins it’s much easier to incorporate into everyday life, including eating out. And you don’t really feel hungry, as low GI foods keep you fuller for longer. Another benefit I’ve noticed it’s that I no longer feel sleepy mid-afternoon, because my blood-sugars aren’t crashing post-lunch.