by Don Pelles
How do you control your weight? Or do you control it?
I'm sure there are people out there who keep the same weight without ever consciously thinking about it; they automatically turn their metabolism and appetite up and down as needed, so their body mass remains the same without them ever having to think about it, week after week, year after year.
I am not one of these people. For about forty years I have maintained a healthy weight, even lowering it about twenty pounds over the last twenty years, but for me the process has always been conscious – I have to work at it. As a hypnotherapist I use hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to help people reduce and control their weight, but right now I am speaking from experience that is personal as well as professional.
What I want to do here is to tell you how I do it – I call it self-calibration. I am hoping that what works for me will work for you too. Some people count calories. I would not discourage you from that and actually, I recommend it to my clients; it's a good way to get started. You use a formula to determine how many calories you want to consume per day, based on your gender, your current weight, and how much you exercise. You learn (or carry around a table to tell you) how many calories different food types and serving sizes contain, and you strive to keep your total under your daily limit. This works, and it works well, if you are consistent and persistent.
But face it: counting calories is cumbersome! You have to carry around your sheet and refer to it whenever you eat, or else have a very good memory; you have to do the arithmetic and either write it down or keep it in your head. And a lot of the time, you must make wild guesses – how many calories are in that gumbo concoction or that Cobb salad?
Another complication: how people respond to calorie intakes is highly individual. So if the chart tells you that a six foot, 200 pound, 55-year-old man will maintain his weight by eating 2600 calories per day, realize that this is a statistical average. Just because some other six-foot, 200 pound, 55-year-old man loses weight at 2300 calories per day does not mean you will – you may need to stay below 2000 or maybe you'll still reduce at 2700 (mazeltov!). You must adjust the scale up or down for yourself as an individual – that is, calibrate yourself.
Like I said, I would not discourage anyone from counting calories, especially when you are getting started. And it is always helpful – and sometimes a real eye-opener – to read the labels: I was amazed to find that a small cup of Legal Seafood's clam chowder (they call that a serving?) is 350 calories worth! But are you going to do this faithfully for the next fifty years? Granted, controlling your weight means life-long changes for many of us. But I wonder how many people actually persist in counting calories all of the time, over the months and years. I can tell you, not me.
So here's how I self-calibrate:
1. Weigh yourself every day, always at the same time, on the same scale.
It doesn't matter when, but be consistent. Your weight will vary two or three pounds over the course of a day, depending on when you eat, when you drink, when you exercise, and when you have bowel movements. It will go down a pound or two from when you go to bed at night to after you first urinate in the morning. So if you weigh before breakfast or before you have a glass of water in the morning, do that always.
2. Establish an intake baseline.
Get a sense of what and how much you eat in order to maintain your current weight. You can establish your baseline by counting calories and/or by trial-and-error. You may want to keep a food journal for a few weeks, writing down everything you eat with amounts, and recording your weight each day. This will be your norm, from which you judge variations up or down. For instance, I have learned that my weight will remain the same if I eat:
• a moderate breakfast of muesli cereal with skim milk and a banana;
• a mid-morning snack of an ounce of jack cheese and half-an-apple;
• a lunch of an ounce of jack cheese, an apple (I like apples), and a third of a pound of chicken salad or four chicken wing pieces;
• a mid-afternoon snack of an ounce of jack cheese and half-an-apple;
• a moderate dinner: a third of a pound of meat or fish, a serving of steamed vegetables, a little rice or potatoes, and a small roll;
• a glass of wine later in the evening, Or "the equivalent". I have learned from trial-and-error, from experience what that means. For instance:
• Two fried eggs are more or less equivalent to the cereal, maybe a little better.
• I can have a different kind of cheese or another fruit for snacks, just so I don't overdo it.
• A moderate serving of spaghetti with meat sauce can substitute for the meat and rice.
For you it might be more or less than this, and your choices of what to eat may be different. (Note that as your weight changes, your intake baseline will change with it – the amounts and choices that maintained your weight at 180 will gain when you are 170.)
3. Learn what will happen if you vary this, up or down.
• If I eat a cookie or half of a dark-chocolate bar (in addition to my baseline) I will most likely gain half a pound. Two cookies or the whole bar mean a pound. (I don't eat sweets if I am over my target weight.)
• A larger dinner will cost me between a half-pound and a pound.
• Chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant will probably mean an extra pound. (It helps to break the chips into smaller pieces and eat mainly salsa. But I'll still gain weight, especially if the chips are salted.)
• Cut out the rice and the wine and I will lose a half-pound, especially if I work out that day.
• If I eat a smaller portion of cereal and only half of a banana I will lose a half-pound.
• I can trade: if I really want that cookie I can cut out the rice and wine and hope to stay even. Over time you will learn about yourself and how your body reacts to different variations. You will find yourself making associations between what and how much you eat and your how your weight changes. These things are not exact and often play out over several days time – you may or may not see the weight gain or loss the very next day. There are several reasons for this:
• Sometimes it takes more than a day for the effects of a big meal or cutting back to show.
• If you don't have a bowel movement for a day, your weight is likely to increase a little – it's not "real" but you have to count it. If you have two large bowel movements in one day, you will probably lose a pound.
• Similarly with water: if you drink several glasses just before bed, your body may not have passed it all through by the time you weigh yourself the next morning. You can temporarily "lose" weight by dehydrating, but that's not "real" and it's not good for you, either.
• A strenuous workout will predispose you to lose, say, a half-pound. (But it may also make you hungrier than usual, so watch out!)
• A minor illness (a cold or stomach virus) may cause you to lose a few pounds, but there will be a tendency to gain it back as you recover.
• Weigh fluctuates all by itself for no apparent reasons. Even if you eat your baseline diet every day for a week, your weight will vary day-by-day by, say, a pound either way.
Self-calibration is a learning process, taking place on both the conscious and unconscious levels. In effect you are developing your own personal mental units, tailored to your metabolism, your tastes, how your body works – yourself as an individual – and keeping account of these. Self-calibration gives you the control, a natural, organic kind of control. You can go up; you can go down; you can stay the same – whatever you wish and desire, whenever you want.
You have assimilated the charts, the units, the limits, and the counts, into the ways you perceive your body and its (your) needs. And so you are much more likely to do it, to incorporate it into your thinking and your life and persist in it – for the long haul.