Ask Belle: Some Tips on Losing Weight

Dec 26, 2013

Dear Belle,

A few months ago, you mentioned you lost a lot of weight. I was just wondering if you could share what worked for you? Making time to eat healthy and work out were never a problem for me until I started working long hours at a high-pressure job.

Thank you so much, L

When I first started on the Hill, I gained around 30lbs.  I’ve taken off most of that weight, but keeping it off is not easy.  And since I know a lot of you will be thinking about working out, eating healthier and losing weight in the New Year, I thought I’d share a few things that work for me.

Use Smaller Plates and Bowls.  People talk a lot about portion size, but one of the biggest culprits for overeating is the size of your dinnerware.  I discovered this by accident while using a half-cup scoop instead of a ladle to pour chili into a bowl.  I’d dumped almost a-cup-and-a-half of chili into one of my soup bowls and it was barely half-full.  So just eating off of smaller plates and buying smaller bowls can help.  This website explains it better.

Pre-Shower Mini-Workout.  I hate to get out of bed in the morning.  So working out at dawn is not for me.  However, I do sneak in a mini-workout before my shower.  I do 50 sit-ups, 30 jumping jacks, 20 leg lifts (each side), 20 squats and 10-15 push ups.

It’s not a lot, but it’s a workout that I can do in 10-minutes before I get ready for the day.  If I get home in time for an evening workout, awesome.  If not, I still did something.

Buy a Juicer.  I don’t eat enough vegetables.  So to squeeze as much nutrition into my day as I can, I bought a Breville juicer.  My favorite juice is lots of spinach, some cucumber, some cilantro, some kale and some pineapple.  The pineapple has such a strong flavor that you don’t taste any of the greens, except a bit of tang from the cilantro, making it very drinkable.

I find drinking juice a filling way to eat a late dinner or a light lunch.  I also think it helps my mental clarity if I drink juice a few days per week.

Move Every Hour.  Sitting is bad.  And while I can’t fully eliminate it from my day, I can get up and move around more.  I set an alarm on my computer so every hour it would beep to tell me to get up.  I’d walk to the water cooler, stretch, run an errand, etc.  Just something to get out of my chair and get the blood flowing.

Get a Pedometer.  Last year, I bought a Fitbit Flex.  It tracks the number of steps that I take each day.  The goal is 10,000 (five miles), so if it’s 1:00PM, and I’m only at 3,000, I’ll try to add some steps with a bit of creativity.

When it’s not freezing outside, I will often ride the train one stop past my stop and walk the extra couple of blocks.  Or I’ll schedule a long list of errands to run in the neighborhood on foot.  Sometimes, if I have a meeting with a staffer that I know well, I’ll ask them if they want to ‘walk and talk’ and we’ll walk the halls of the House or Senate office buildings instead of sitting in a conference room.

It doesn’t seem like much, but just wearing the Fitbit and checking my progress keeps me in touch with how active I have been.  And just being aware of how much your moving can do a lot for your motivation.

I’m sure that some other readers have thoughts they can share on losing weight, eating healthy or getting in shape, so leave them in the comments.

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  1. Another L says:

    I used to work in a restaurant, and holy cow do they use a lot of butter/oil!!! I make ~80% of my meals at home and use the free MyFitnessPal app to track what I eat so I know what’s going into my food and whether what I eat will help me reach my goals.

    It’s kind of boring, but to save time, I eat the same thing every workday for breakfast (oatmeal with raisins, almonds, and a little brown sugar) and lunch (huge salad with kale, avocado, cashews, cucumber, carrots, baked tempeh, hummus, and a little olive oil).

    This helps because it’s healthy, it’s delicious, I always know what I need to get from the grocery store, and I can do most of the prep work for the entire week on Sunday nights. And if I bring food to work, I’m not tempted to go out to eat (there are very few options near my office anyway) or get snacks from the kitchen.

    I do work out a fair amount, but I think what I eat is more important. I used to eat 5-minute microwave brownies on the regular, but there was no way I was going to outrun that 640+ calorie snack multiple times per week! MyFitnessPal is really a godsend… it helps me put down the snacks when I realize I’ll have to enter them into the app later when the pleasure from eating has worn off.

    • Kay says:

      “I used to work in a restaurant, and holy cow do they use a lot of butter/oil!!! I make ~80% of my meals at home”

      This is SO IMPORTANT. I changed my diet a year ago for GI reasons, and started making virtually all of my own food. What I discovered is that even “bad” foods like cupcakes and pasta aren’t as bad for you when you make them yourself, because you’re controlling the butter, the oil, the fats, not to mention leaving out preservatives and who knows what else. Frankly, I bet someone could stay on their same preferred diet (egg muffin for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, meat and veggies for dinner, or whatever it is) and still lose weight if they made it all themselves from scratch, Granted, it’s now a time and perhaps money sacrifice, but as you note, once you put together a consistent menu, you can buy and cook in bulk.

    • Caroline says:

      I’ll add that homemade soups are wonderful, especially this time of year. Almost any homemade soup will be under 300 calories for a huge bowl, and it’s very filling and warming. Per serving homemade soup costs practically nothing, and it’s very portable and usually freezes well. And it’s a great way to get a variety of vegetables into your diet.

  2. CSJ says:

    The only thing that’s ever really worked for me is MyFitnessPal for tracking diet and exercise. At the end of every day, it tells you that “If every day were like today, you’ll weigh XXX in two weeks.” It also helps you track your progress over the day, the week, and the month. The app is really good – there’s a surprising number of foods already existing in the database, so tracking calories is very easy.

  3. Rachel says:

    I’ll second the My Fitness Pal recommendation; I’ve had great success with it. It actually also synchs to your FitBit if you have one, and can be linked to various running and biking apps which you can use to track your distance/time, etc.

  4. Jenn says:

    the Android app is nice (I assume the iOS app works the same way) – if you’re eating packaged food (often times boo, but let’s be real here) it has a barcode scanner and can detect most products simply by that. You then just confirm how much of it you ate and are good!

  5. Grace says:

    These are great tips and veggie juice is great, but it’s not a substitute for eating fruits and vegetables. You need to eat the fruit whole to get the fiber, which helps you lose weight. A lot of the good part of the fruits and veggies have to do with the fiber – fruit without it is just extra sugar.

    • Grace says:

      Here’s an interesting link that talks about it – (https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/benefits-eating-fiber):

      “Fiber is a very important component in weight control as well. Foods that contain fiber are typically low in fat, and one recent study showed that fiber may also block some of the digestion of fat and protein. In this study, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers fed a certain number of calories to all participants, but altered the fiber content of the meals. The results? Fewer calories were absorbed with increased fiber intake. When a man increased his fiber intake from 18 to 36 grams per day, he absorbed 130 fewer calories daily. When a woman increased her fiber intake from 12 to 24 grams per day, she absorbed 90 fewer calories daily. Over a year’s time, this could add up to nine to ten pounds”

  6. H says:

    Buy a kitchen scale and weigh commonly eaten foods! I originally got one for baking — it’s SO much easier to bake by weight — but it’s been great to really give me a sense of how many calories I’m consuming when I snack on a hunk of cheese versus a bowl of fruit. Nutritional labels list weights, and calories per weight quantity for common foods can be easily found online. You can get a good basic scale on Amazon for about $25.

  7. RR says:

    Workout. I didn’t want to (serious lack of time) but have recently been working out at a Core Power style studio 3 – 4 days per week (usually one weekday night and both Sat and Sun mornings). I do Barre, Yoga Sculpt and Buti classes and I’m down a jean size over the year. I also highly recommend a calorie tracker. I use LoseIt on my iPhone but I’m sure there are many options. I think it’s hard to realize how much things add up. It doesn’t always change my daily intake but sometimes it does. For example, my favorite blueberry scone at Starbucks is 450 calories. Whoa. I eat that less now.

  8. HMS says:

    I started running and to keep me going I signed up for a halfmarathon. I didn’t really work out prior but training for a race keeps me going. I’ve told people in all aspects of my life ( family, friends, work colleagues) so they keep me from flaking out. Up to 6 nonstop miles in 3 months! You don’t have to be fast you just have to try!

  9. Strin012 says:

    I despise working out, and even though my building has a small gym, can find a million excuses to avoid it. Also, I hate being sweaty and smelly and gross.

    But! Eighteen months ago, I was having serious back problems. My doctor told me that a significant contributor to my problem was that I was sitting all day at work, than going home and sitting on the couch (truth).

    So I did a little creative engineering at the office and created a standing desk for myself. My back problems aren’t problems anymore AND I lost 15 lbs, which I’ve kept off. Standing has made me drink more water and makes me much more likely to move around. By now, about half of my coworkers have started standing and they’ve seen results, too.

    I also second the MyFitness Pal app. I actually only used it for a couple of weeks, but it made me more aware of foods’ calorie counts and (more importantly) portion sizes.

  10. S says:

    Great tips. I would also say that getting enough water helps me too. I’m talking like at least 7 cups a day. I drink a 16 oz glass of water first thing in the morning to get it out of the way.

  11. Julia S. says:

    When I turned 40, I found that my past tips didn’t work anymore – every time my weight would inch up, I’d add in an extra yoga or pilates workout for a few weeks, and I’d drop the extra few pounds. That year I was swamped with work and kids and taking care of elderly relatives and I couldn’t workout even once a week consistently, so the weight piled on. I joined Weight Watchers Online and downloaded the app for my phone, giving myself 60 days to see what I could do.

    In the beginning it was slow and painful but once I got into the habit of easy, healthy, low-point foods I could eat, I didn’t have to think about it much. I dropped the extra 10 I wanted, and decided to keep going. Eventually I dropped 31 pounds, though I’m back up about 4-5 now (2 years later). I went from 5’8″ 159 pounds (size 10 barely fitting with Spanx) to 128 pounds and a size 0/2. I also tracked my measurements using the app. Overall, it took me about six months and I still follow WW but I don’t track regularly.

    I eat a ton of fruits and vegetables, avoid salad dressing and most carbs, and stick to whole grains and lean protein. Breakfast is an egg-white spinach omelet with low-fat cheese and at least a banana (often a second piece of fruit). Snack is fruit. Lunch varies – leftovers, Dr. Praeger’s Veggie Burger on a sandwich thin with low fat mayo and a piece of low fat cheese. Dinner is with my family but I usually dose up on veggies and salad big time, and choose very small portions for starches and protein. A favorite snack is a mini whole wheat bagel with whipped cream cheese, or Eggo Nutrigrain waffle with butter mixed with canola oil.

    Once the holidays are done, I’ll track for a few weeks to lose these extra 4 pounds and get back to 128. My natural weight is probably 130 because that’s where I hover, but I like the way my clothes fit at 128.

    • Belle says:

      I find myself having to find new things as I get older too. Which is why this year, I’m committed to developing a consistent routine, since it will only get more difficult from here.

  12. Laura says:

    I work really long hours and finding time to work out sometimes is really hard. But what has worked well for me to quickly lose the 5-10 pounds I had gained in my first year of work was to adopt a diet that has been easy for me to follow wherever I am. One rule — anything with sugar added to it (e.g. sweetened yogurt) or that is a refined carb (e.g. white rice, yellow pasta) is eaten very rarely. I have one of these sugary food items every couple days. My sugar cravings have mostly gone away, and when I do crave sugar, I almost always have a piece of fruit. It sounds hard, and it was hard the first week, but I have felt great since then!

  13. Sarah says:

    This may be a little unpopular but one of the reasons I don’t like myfitnesspal is bc it limits you to way too little calories. Surviving on 1300 calories a day can do bad things to you body, especially I you also exercise. You’ll lose weight of course, but at a cost. I liked Weight Watchers for the bonus points and what I saw as more flexibility. The only real answer is to eat real good and work out. Being strong and healthy is more important than being thin. Running may be the worst hut you may love barre. Or cycling. Or yoga. Or boxing. Just do something and eat smart, using real food, moderation and common sense.

    • Caroline says:

      But you “earn” more calories if you log exercise, and if you’re bigger or more active it will give you more than 1300 calories a day. I’ve found, as a petite woman, that 1200 is a good place to start, but I’ll gain an extra 200 just from walking to and from work. Some days I’ll do a “real” workout as well, which allows me even more calories to consume. I’ve been doing this for a couple years now and it hasn’t harmed my body in any way.

  14. Sarah says:

    Sorry about the typos. Typing that on my phone was harder than I thought.

  15. RMR says:

    I’ll add that I really try not to drink any calories (unless alcoholic). My skim latte in the morning is an exception but otherwise it is straight water for me and plenty of it (around 2 liters per day). I carry my 1 liter Nalgene nearly everywhere. No diet soda, no juice, etc. That has really helped in multiple ways. I think that sometimes thirst can be confused for hunger.

  16. Addison says:

    I think by now everyone knows that eating breakfast is important for your metabolism. But I am not a morning person. Like most people, I used to skip breakfast because there just wasn’t time in the morning. But now I make food on the weekends that can be heated up in the morning. Steel cut oats don’t get gluey like regular oatmeal when they’re microwaved and they’re much higher in fiber. Pancakes also do just fine in the microwave. And while I’m not a cold cereal fan, I do like apple cinnamon cheerios so I keep those on hand for mornings when I seriously oversleep. I figure it’s still better than skipping breakfast altogether. In addition to doing something good for my body, I’m in a much better mood in the mornings now that I get to sit and eat breakfast and watch Good Morning America for a half an hour every morning instead of running around like a crazy person. And I still don’t have to get up super early thanks to the prep work on the weekends

  17. GingerR says:

    I’m a dedicated brown-bagger. Portions in America are OUT OF CONTROL so bringing lunch and snacks to work helps me stick to portions that are diet-friendly. It’s also easy on the budget.

    I think exercise is important, you feel better and of course you are away from the kitchen while you exercise, but one candy bar can erase the calories burned. Do it to get some fresh air, a change of scene, something to think about besides work/food – but don’t use exercise as an excuse to splurge on calories.

  18. Caroline says:

    I’ll echo the others– logging calories is definitely the way to go. Exercise has many benefits, but it doesn’t burn that many calories. If you simply stick to a calorie limit and log your meals and activity accurately there’s no reason why the weight shouldn’t come off. The only hard part is eating out at non-chain restaurants where you have to wildly guess at the ingredients and quantities going into the meal.

  19. […] at Capitol Hill Style offers some tips on how to maintain weight loss. Meanwhile, SheFinds rounds up celebrities whose […]

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