Category Archives: How It Works

Change is Hard

In class last week Brooklyn, my new dietitian, talked about the stages of change.  Although I’ve been through the 16 UAMS classes several times each, I saw this week’s lesson through different eyes.  We discussed the stages of change.

Stages of Change Model by Prochaska & DiClemente

Stages of Change Model by Prochaska & DiClemente

In pre-contemplation, you’re either unaware that there is a problem or you’re in denial about it.  For me, this was the first couple decades of my life.

Next comes contemplation.  You’re aware of the problem, and you’re weighing your options.  “I really need to exercise.  Oh!  Look!  House of Cards!”

I contemplated for a while before joining the UAMS weight loss program in 2011.  I looked at diet pills, fad diets, weight loss surgery, and other options, including “doing nothing.”  I ultimately decided to try UAMS.  This point of decision-making is the determination phase.

In the action phase, you do the things necessary to achieve the change you want.  For me, it was eating a low calorie diet and exercising, which established a calorie deficit and effected weight loss.  In 2011, 2012, and early 2013, I “action’ed” my butt off.  Literally.

I reached my goal in 2013, and transitioned to maintenance.  In this stage, you take the actions necessary to maintain the change.  For me, it was making informed food choices, continuing exercise, and monitoring my weight.  I maintained for about a year.

Relapse.  That’s the killer.  It’s when you slip into your old ways.  We’ll just call that one School Year 2014-2015.  As viewed through the lens of my Discover Card statement, here’s what relapse looks like for me

CC Statement Relapse

The beauty of change, I am told, is that you can jump back into it at any time.  Today, I feel that I’m in the action stage.  I’m reliably eating within my calorie budget, I’m exercising regularly, and I’m determined to reach a weight where I’ll be healthy and happy.

Which stage are you in?

Tell Me, What’s Your Flavor?

The Health One Meal Replacements I eat come in four flavors.  Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, and Potato.  Potato is the most versatile for creating savory things, like corn muffins, potato chips, and pizza.  The chocolate is great for shakes, pudding, and cookies.  The strawberry.  Well, that’s an acquired taste.

Low-calorie add-ins

Low-calorie add-ins

UAMS program participants are allowed to add additional seasonings and low-calorie, flavorful foods to their meal replacements to make meals replacements more interesting.  On my last trip to the grocery store I picked up some Mrs. Dash seasoning, taco seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, sugar-free instant pudding mix, and enough salsa to last me a month.

What do you add to your meal replacements?

Choosing My Own Adventure

When I was a kid, I really wasn’t very interested in reading.  It took more effort than watching a movie or listening to a story.  As well, it required that I concentrate for longer than my hyper-active attention span could muster.  The one exception to that was “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.  In those, you’d read a page or two and then make a decision.  Do you explore the dark cave or go back the way you came to investigate the noise you just heard?


Since starting at my new school, I’ve been faced with an avalanche of decisions.  

  • Do I go home and grade the open-response items I put on the Chapter 1 test so the kids will have feedback before they move on to the next big thing, or do I go to the gym and spend some quality time with the elliptical machine?
  • Do I stay up an extra hour preparing healthy meals for the coming days, or do I go to bed at a reasonable hour so I’ll have the energy and patience needed to make it through a full day of problem-based learning facilitation with 60 9th graders and 60 10th-12th graders?  
  • Do I take the much-needed 3-day weekend retreat that has become a tradition, or do I stay within the confines of civilization where there’s access to the Internet so I can grade online writing assignments (360 of them)?
  • Do I take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime, week-long professional development opportunity out of state requiring me to prepare an entire week of lesson plans and substitute-friendly learning activities, or do I stay here and do things myself?

Most of these decisions are interwoven.  If I go to the gym, I’ll have a higher energy level and a better attitude for the problem-based learning activity.  If I go on the weekend retreat, I’ll be relaxed, but I’ll probably also make poor food choices.  If I prep my meals, it means I’ll have more time to do work at school during my 30 minute lunch break, so I can at least print off the seating charts for the substitute folder for that week I’ll be out.

“Make Good Choices.”

Kristen, the registered dietitian who has been my source of knowledge, inspiration, and, when needed, consolation, has always told me to make good choices.  When I tell her that I’ve taken an action or made a choice that turned out not to be in my favor, she always asks, “what would have been a better choice?”

The difference between “then” and “now” is not that I didn’t want to make good choices “then.”  It’s not that I lacked the analytical capacity to make good choices “then.”  It’s simply that I was nutritionally-illiterate then.  I wasn’t equipped to make good choices about what to eat, what not to eat, and what the role of physical activity (and inactivity) played in weight control.

You haven’t heard much from me in the last month because I’ve been covered up with work and life.  I haven’t been to the gym since September 5th.  I had to log into my gym account to look that up!  My work obligations, for better or worse, often take precedence over my life obligations.  As a professional educator, I cannot bring myself to let the intellectual well-being of 180 young people fall to the wayside because I haven’t done “leg day” this week.

So how am I doing?  Surprisingly well.

My last weigh-in was 193.0 pounds.  The last time I updated you on my progress I weighed 191.8 pounds.  I lost my weight by making good choices.  I’ve kept it off by continuing to make the best choices I can.  In the real world, we have to deal the hand we’re dealt.  Sometimes the best choice is the least-worst choice.  When those days come, I learn from them, taking steps to not get myself in those types of situations going forward.

If you’re trying to control your own weight, make good choices.  Learn how food works.  Learn how to balance your caloric intake with your caloric expenditures.  When I can’t get to the gym, I eat less.  When I’m eating less, I I make sure that the foods I do eat are whole grains, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and the “good fats.”  When I do have time to get to the gym, that gives me a bit more flexibility in my food choices and my “discretionary calories” (Fun-size Twix, I’m talking to you).

A good friend recently told me that he and his wife had decided that they were going to focus on losing weight.  As badly as I know they both want and need to lose weight, success all comes down to how well you play “Choose Your Own Adventure.”  In my previous life, I wanted to lose weight.  In my previous life I needed to lose weight.  The difference between then and now is that I have equipped myself with the knowledge and nutrition literacy resources necessary to make good decisions.  I know how to look things up.  I know who to ask if I can’t make sense of what I find.  I use my brain to decide what I put in my mouth.

What do you need to help you make better choices?


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From “Rules” to “Plans” to “a Framework”

This time two years ago, before I embarked on this weight loss journey, I ate whatever I wanted.  I had as much of it, whenever, wherever, and with whomever.  Often, I took on eating as a challenge.  My friend, Carl, and I once did our best to eat a 30″ pepperoni pizza in an hour, failing catastrophically.  On more than one occasion, I’ve consumed alcohol “to excess” for no reason other than “because.”  One year ago, I was “a changed man,” eating very deliberately.  Two servings of fruit, four servings of non-starchy vegetables, six meal replacements, and a jug or two of water each day were all I consumed.  Turning away anything else was easy:  “That’s not on the list.”

More recently, I transitioned to all conventional foods, planning and preparing my meals to very tight caloric and nutrition tolerances.  I. Measured. Everything.  Every portion, every time.  I played portion control games, trying to guess at 3 ounces of chicken or carrots before verifying them with the digital scale.  Everything I ate was something that had been carefully selected days or weeks ahead of time using the Diabetic Exchange System and my meal planning spreadsheets.

Nowadays, I’ve moved more into what I think of as a framework.  I know, generally, when and what I need to eat to maintain, gain, or lose weight.  I know, nutritionally, what proportion of my foods should come from carbohydrates, fat, and protein.  I can look at a food and know how much of it to eat and how it “counts” in my daily food budget without carrying around a measuring cup or a scale.  I still weigh foods when I’m at home, but I don’t panic when I’m out of the house and need to grab something.  I just make good choices.

I’m working summer camps, and many of our meals are traditional cafeteria fare.  Sometimes, the buffet has foods that I choose to eat.  Last night’s dinner was pork loin roast with steamed vegetables.  It was delicious.  Today’s lunch was hamburgers and fries or spaghetti with meat sauce.  I asked for a double helping of green beans and ate a can of tuna.  You win some, you lose some.  Being prepared helped me navigate that meal.  Tonight, we’re going to Subway.  I’ll be having a chicken salad.

Learning to eat, it seems, is a lot like learning to do many other things — cooking, dancing, playing an instrument — you start by learning “the basics” in a somewhat rigorous way.  Nothing exciting whatsoever.  You play scales.  You do a box waltz.  Then, you practice, practice, practice.  Once things “feel” right and you have enough experience under your belt to go with the flow when things don’t turn out according to plan, you’re ready to step out there and “bust a move.”  I’m not saying that every day of my life is executed as an exemplary eater, but I’m holding my own.

What’s my framework?  It’s essentially the Diabetic Exchange meal plans that I’ve already shared with you in The Resources, but without all the planning ahead.  I have a stock of items with me that I can call on in case of a “bad cafeteria day” — tuna, graham crackers, single serving peanut butter tubs, canned vegetables, and whatnot — and faith that I can spot healthy choices “in the wild,” consume them in reasonable portions, and pass on the foods that I don’t need.


I have no idea what’s going to be on the hot line tomorrow, but I know that I’ll be having 3-4 exchanges of protein, 1-2 exchanges of vegetables, a carbohydrate exchange, and a fat exchange for lunch.  Today’s fat came in the form the oily coating that I found shimmering on the green beans.  In the words of Margaret, one of UAMS’s dietitians, “When you’re eating out, just assume that the fat is there.”

This has been a long time coming, but it’s a place I’m finally comfortable being.


Walmart Nutrition: Graham Crackers

Is it Wal*Mart? Wal-Mart? Walmart? Who knows. It’s the place we go to “save money and live better.” Sometimes, though, saving money doesn’t equal living better when it comes to choosing foods which are nutritious. It’s important to me to live as simply as I can and to avoid over-paying for things that are non-essential.  One example of a food that I try to minimize cost on is the graham cracker.  I have graham crackers with peanut butter as a snack each morning. It provides a carbohydrate bump to keep me energized, a medium-term dose of protein, and the fat from the peanut butter will make sure I have the energy to keep going until lunch. Is “Great Value” the greatest value?

one package graham crackers
Creative Commons License Stacy Spensley via Compfight

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Head-to-Head “Healthy” Chip Comparison

I generally live a very low sodium lifestyle, and I keep my food choices as basic as possible.  For carbohydrates, I frequently eat whole wheat bread and brown rice.  Most evenings, I have a slice of whole wheat toast with a tablespoon of sugar-free preserves as a snack.  Recently, though, I’ve been craving more sodium and savory snacks.  I think it may have something to do with the increase in temperature and the resulting increase in sweat.  When I was in Wal-Mart the other day, I looked at some healthy-looking carbohydrates that would fill that sodium craving.  It came down to two.

Chips Collage

On the left, we see Great Value “Hearty Grains,” a store-brand corn chip available at Wal-Mart.  Its packaging includes the words, “Sea Salt” in giant letters.  Sea Salt is a great source of sodium, but it’s no healthier than plain table salt.  On the right, we see “Chip’ins,” which is a popcorn-based chip, also advertising sea salt.

My first instinct was to flip the bags over and compare the nutrition labels side-by-side. 

  Hearty Grains Chip’Ins
Serving Size 28 g / 1 oz. 28 g / 1 oz.
Calories 140 120
Protein 2 g 2 g
Carbohydrates 19 g 22 g
Fat 6 g 2.5 g
Fiber 2 g 1 g
Sodium 110 mg 210 mg
Servings Per Bag 10 6-7
Cost $2.48 $2.58
First Ingredient Whole Grain Yellow Corn Corn
Second Ingredient Sunflower Oil Sunflower Oil

I was very happy to find that the suggested serving size of both of these products was identical.  This made comparing the other values simpler.  When comparing products with different serving sizes such as Yogurt A, which suggests an 8 oz. serving versus Yogurt B, which suggests a 6 oz. serving, there’s math involved.

Calorically, they’re in the same range.  Since I’m a calorie miser, I’d call the Chip’Ins the better product in this category.  Both products have two grams of protein.  Per ounce, the Chip’ins have slightly more carbohydrates.  According to the diabetic exchange, a “serving” of carbohydrate is 15 grams.  More on that near the end.

The Hearty Grains product has more than twice the fat than the Chip-Ins.  I was surprised to see this, and it explains why it also has a higher calorie count.  Of the 6 grams of fat per ounce, the Hearty Grains have 0.5 g saturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, and 3 g monounsaturated fat.  While unsaturated fats are preferable to saturated fats, I’m looking at this as a carbohydrate choice, so I’ll consider the Chip’Ins a better bet.

In terms of fiber, the Hearty Grains outweigh the Chip’Ins 2 to 1.  Fiber is a great way to add bulk to your diet and make you feel fuller longer.  It’s why eating an orange is preferable to drinking orange juice.  If you’re looking for fiber, Hearty Grains would be the better choice.

Sodium is the foe of many people suffering heart disease and obesity.  Sodium intake promotes water retention, which can be a bummer on weigh-in day.  The typical American consumes far more than the recommended 2400 mg per day of sodium.  For those trying to avoid sodium, the Wal-Mart product is the healthier choice.  Since sodium isn’t a major concern for me, the fact that the Chip’Ins have twice as much sodium isn’t a deal-breaker, although it is something to be mindful of.

Bang for your buck — the Wal-Mart brand contains nearly twice as many servings as the name brand product.  If you’re looking at pennies per calorie, it’s a no brainer.  I’m more concerned about value than cheapness, however.  The only way to tell if a product is worth buying is to test it out.  I bought them both, brought them home, and decided to eat half a portion of each.

The million dollar question — how much is a portion?  The bag says a serving is 1 oz.  To the diabetic exchange guidebook!

Diabetic Exchange Carbs Page

This page, from “Choose Your Foods:  Exchange Lists for Weight Management” explains that a serving of carbohydrate has 15 grams of carbs, 0-3 grams of protein, 0-1 grams of fat, and 80 calories.  Looking back at the nutrition panels, I eyeballed that a portion would be around 2/3 of an ounce, or around 15-20 grams.

I set my scale to zero and weighed out 10 grams of each of the chips, placing them side-by-side on a plate.

Chips side by side.

The Hearty Grains by Great Value had a melt-in-your-mouth texture similar to Baked Lays, although a little less crunchy and a bit more dissolve-y.  They had a nice flavor, but they melted away to nothing too quickly.  The Chip’Ins had a much more crunchy, substantial texture, similar to a tortilla chip.  They tasted of popcorn, but they weren’t brittle or full of air like puffed rice cakes are.  I much preferred the popcorn chips as a vehicle to shovel salsa.

To summarize, Hearty Grains are lower in sodium, cost less, and have double the fiber of the popcorn chip.  Chip’Ins have considerably less fat, a much better mouth feel, and fewer calories per ounce.  The product I’d buy again is the Chip’In, although I might investigate ways to make my own popcorn chips.  I’ve already learned how to make popcorn cookies.  

How hard could it be?

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Pulling Your Own Happiness Wagon

Once upon a time, I attended an amazing instructional technology workshop called the Arkansas Technology Institute.  I picked up a ton of great classroom technology skills and training strategies at this workshop, and I also made some life-long friends and professional bonds.  One bit of lagniappe that I also came away with is the phrase, “Pull Your Own Happiness Wagon.”  It was such a great workshop that I eventually returned to coach future classes through the organization for a couple of years. 


Photo Credit: ep_jhu via Compfight cc

During the “norming process” at the beginning of each workshop, “Pull Your Own Happiness Wagon” was introduced to participants to mean that we are each responsible for taking care of our own needs.  Whether it’s bathroom breaks, snack attacks, or dressing in layered clothing to accommodate for conference rooms of varying temperatures, nobody is going to take the actions necessary to make you happy other than yourself.  That’s not to imply that the hosts of the workshop were in any unaccommodating.  On the contrary, we were taken care of very well, but we had to ask for what we wanted.

I’ve learned that life works very much the same way.  You don’t get what you don’t ask for.  Nobody is going to fix something for me that they don’t know is broken.  I don’t take this phrase to mean, “go it alone.”  Instead, I see it more as, “only you can initiate resolution to problems you identify.”


Much like we have the See It – Own It – Solve It – Do It system at work, pulling one’s own happiness wagon works similarly.  If you’re dissatisfied with something, change it!

What needs changing in your world?

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Planning Lunch to Lose Weight

So much of weight loss success revolves around creating a great meal plan, sticking with the plan, and measuring that plan’s effectiveness for yourself. You don’t need the best diet pills to lose weight.  Fads like the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, and even Weight Watchers or bariatric surgery can leave you poorly nourished.  Choose foods which nourish your body that are low in calories, within your budget, and composed of things you enjoy eating.  Planning lunch to lose weight is very straightforward when structuring your decisions using the diabetic exchange system. The best lunch to lose weight that I have found for me is one serving of starch, one serving of vegetables, and three ounces of lean protein.  These combine to make an excellent weight loss lunch!  Finding the balance of healthy foods to achieve the right caloric intake is unique to each person, so it will take a bit of experimentation.

weight loss lunch

Through the eyes of my previous self, this wouldn’t have looked like a meal at all.  It’s a spoon full of rice, a taste of fish, and a couple of green beans.  While it may not appear to be much food, it provides the essential amino acids, healthy omega-3 fats, whole grains, vitamins, and minerals that I need to power my body from noon until 3PM, when I have a healthy snack.  The portions represented here are what I have come to learn are the amounts my body needs — 3 oz. lean protein, 1/3 c. brown rice (a whole grain), and 1/2 c. non-starchy vegetables.

Weight reduction works by limiting caloric intake.  Whether that’s through physically restricting the amount of food your stomach can hold, as with lap band, restricting the amount of calories that your body can consume once you swallow the food, as with more invasive gastric bypass, chemically convincing your brain that you’re not hungry at all, as with Sensa or other popular appetite suppressants, or simply adjusting your expectations to realistic portions, as I’ve done on my journey.

If your goal is to lose weight, I encourage you to look at the foods you are choosing not only for how you feel while eating them, but for how your body feels after eating them.  The above meal is a very efficient source of protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients that leaves me completely satisfied and not at all a victim to calorie restriction.  I encourage you to check out my other low calorie meal plans that I’ve developed and shared.  They’ve worked to bring my body mass index down nearly 40 points, and I hope they’ll make an excellent starting point for your healthy eating habits.

How do you know if your meal will bring you weight loss success?  Like a scientist, you have to keep good records and conduct periodic evaluations of the data you collect.  Weigh yourself at the same time of day several times per week.  Try to reduce variables by wearing the same thing (or nothing at all) when you weigh yourself.  Eat according to your weight loss meal plan and try not to deviate from it while you’re collecting your data.  After a week or two, look back at your data and see if you achieved weight loss success.  If so, congratulations!  If not, keep tweaking by reducing total calories while seeking out foods which have high nutrition values like whole grains, lean meats, and fresh vegetables.  You don’t need the best diet pills to lose weight — you just need to choose the right foods in moderate portions and consume them on a daily basis.

Healthy lifestyles take some time to develop, but excellent weight loss results will come with commitment to good meal planning.  I wish you the best on your weight loss journey!

The key to my weight loss success is an excellent weight loss lunch!

PS:  Great weight loss lunches also make easy dinner recipes with the addition of an extra serving of vegetables and a fresh fruit for dessert!


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