Shedding Pounds Without (Much) Pain
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed July 23, 2001. For more information go to www.wineloverspage.com.
Like most people who really like fine wine and good food, I find it challenging to enjoy these passions and still have any hope of staying in shape. Eating and drinking professionally, as I like to tell my friends, is a hard job, but SOMEONE has to do it.
As I noted in an article about wine, calories and carbohydrates earlier this summer, it's certainly possible to include wine in a moderate lifestyle of sensible eating and exercise; but for most of us - especially as we face the realities of middle age - we have to sacrifice something to keep the numbers from creeping up on the bathroom scale.
Over the 20 years that I've been writing about food and wine, I've gone through an up-and-down pattern that some of you may recognize: My clothing starts getting uncomfortably tight. I take the pledge, exercise a little, spend an unpleasant month of deprivation, and lose a little weight. A few years later, the cycle repeats itself, perhaps maxing out a few pounds and a belt-notch or two more than the last time.
Is there a way to break the cycle and make weight loss "stick," without having to give up the pleasures of the table and the glass? That's my current quest, and I'm pleased to report that I've shed about 15 pounds since early May, without giving up wine or the occasional evening of pleasant excess.
I'm planning a more detailed presentation on this kind of lifestyle plan, including specific how-to-do-it information, recipes and wine-and-food matching advice to fit a healthy diet, and would like to have your suggestions on that (see below). For today, though, begging your pardon for stretching our "30-second" concept a bit to squeeze in as many details as I can, here are some basic tips:
COUNT CALORIES: Without sitting in judgement on the low-carbohydrate approaches that seek to alter your metabolism and "burn" fat, it still comes down to this: If you consume more calories than your body can use, you will gain weight. Reduce your calorie intake, and you will lose weight. End of story.
Sure, it's harder to pay attention to nutritional analysis than it is to simply drop entire food categories from your diet ("no bread! no pasta!") But if you're smart enough to memorize the better recent vintages of Bordeaux or the top vineyards of Burgundy or Napa, you can use a kitchen scale and a notebook to count your calories. Or your kilojoules, if you live outside the US.
BE REASONABLE: Set a daily goal that will work for you - for me, about 2,000 calories a day seems to be right to lose weight gradually - and stick to it most of the time. But don't feel guilty if an evening out or a special event justifies a splurge; an occasional steak dinner won't kill you. Don't deny yourself the things you like, but play the calorie numbers game and fit them into your diet. A pat of butter (100 calories per 15-gram tablespoon) or a tablespoon of olive oil (120 calories) doesn't have to put you over your quota, but measure them and count them.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DAILY RHYTHMS: I find that I'm rarely hungry during the day and can easily get by with a tiny breakfast and lunch, allowing me larger rations during the evening, when I'm ravenous. My wife is hungry at noon, and reserves her calorie "fix" for lunch, eating sparingly during the evening when she's not as hungry.
EXERCISE: Let's be frank: Unless you're an athlete or simply love to run, you can't exercise away all you want to eat. A brisk mile walk is invigorating, but it probably won't offset more than two slices of dry toast or one glass of wine. But it's good for your heart and gets you up and away from your desk, so add a little discreet exercise to your lifestyle plan. It can't hurt.
TAKE YOUR TIME: Don't try to dump 25 pounds in a month. Even if you can manage it, this is not a diet plan you can live with over the long term. If a diet is so unpleasant that you are glad it's over, you'll quickly rebound to your old weight once you've quit. It's easy to lose three or four pounds a month without much deprivation; and you can keep it up over the long haul, enjoying gradual, steady progress. Once you've reached your goal, keep on counting calories at a level that will maintain your "new" weight, and you won't backslide.
Here's the key: Eat what you like, but keep track of what you eat. And most important, don't think of it as a short-term, sacrificial penance, but a conscious change to a moderate lifestyle plan that you can live with for a long time.
A large number of you sent me E-mail suggestions after my June 25 article on calories and carbohydrates, and I'm looking for more. If you've succeeded at losing weight and keeping it off, particularly if you managed to find room in the process for wine and interesting food, I would like to hear about it. Please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.