Published on August 14, 2015
When it comes to weight loss, and also to weight maintenance, there are 3 things that we are in control of 99% of the time: WHAT, HOW MUCH and WHEN we eat.
During your normal, everyday routines, and barring any extraordinary circumstances of course, you must plan your menus in advance based on your schedule for the next day or two; you have to make sure you have all the food items you planned for; you have to use portion control in your preparation; and then you have to follow through with your plan for those days. Only in this way will you have what you need at home to pack what you need to take with you for your travels throughout the day.
But what about when you’re planning to be away for the weekend or a week’s vacation? Or, day-tripping to visit colleges with your teen, or leaving early in the morning for a day in the city with friends? What do you do? I get asked these questions a lot by clients who are nervous about not having control and ‘falling off’ when they are going to be away from home for an extended period.
As I discuss in the office, I want you to visualize a three-legged wooden stool. I want you to pretend that written on each leg is WHAT to eat, HOW MUCH to eat and WHEN to eat.
Let’s talk about Leg #1: WHAT to eat.
When you are away from home, you are in control of WHAT you eat. Depending on where you are and for how long you’re away from home, and certainly if you’re only out for the day, you most certainly CAN plan for and pack a good part, if not all, of what you need. Having said that, even if you know you’ll be eating in a restaurant, you absolutely can (a) have a say in where you’ll be eating; (b) can do a little homework in advance by visiting that restaurant’s online menu and/or calling that restaurant or other venue; and (c) make the right choice of WHAT you’ll be ordering. It’s not too difficult to find a place where you can get a salad or cooked veggies with grilled chicken or seafood; telling the restaurant you want no added salt or gobs of butter, for example, or doubling up on veggies instead of mashed potatoes in that instance. I could give you many other suggestions, but the point is: You can control Leg #1 of the stool — WHAT kind of food you’ll be putting in your mouth.
Skipping over Leg #2 for a minute . . . Leg #3 of the three-legged stool is WHEN.
It is very important to make sure you not let more than 3 hours go by without eating something. Whether losing weight, stabilizing weight, or someone who has no weight to lose at all, eating every 3 hours (as well as staying properly hydrated with water) is what assures that you’ll always have a log in your stomach . . . something for your body to burn all day. Again, if you visualize throwing a log into your fireplace at home, say, 8am . . . by about 10:30 or 11, that 8am log is almost all burned out and the fire is very low. But, if you throw another log or two into the fireplace before it’s completely out, the fire rises again. Same with your stomach. Therefore, when you’re away from home, and barring an extraordinary circumstance, it is almost never impossible to get something into your mouth at least every 3 hours. Based on your schedule and what time you’re supposed to be where, you can pack a piece of fruit or two in your bag; or a 1 cup serving of mini carrots in a little plastic bag; or 1 or 2 small low-fat cheese sticks or a yogurt, etc. and so forth . . . the point being . . . you can control the second leg of the stool — WHEN you will eat.
Leg #2, the middle leg, HOW MUCH of what to eat, is the only part of the 3-legged equation where you have to give up some control — not all control, just some control — when you’re away from home for an extended period of time.
In your home environment, you can control your portions 100% of the time: you have the tools of measuring cups and spoons and a small food scale to weigh and measure your food. When you’re planning to be out, again depending on where and for how long, you can prepare and pack much (if not all) of what you need, and you should always do it whenever you can. But let’s assume that you can’t. In that situation, you have to strive to do the very best that you can. You cannot throw all caution to the wind, telling yourself for example: “Well, I can’t be exact with my portion control, so I’ll just eat as much as I want and deal with it tomorrow.” . . . and, truthfully, from my experience, when our clients are doing well, losing weight, feeling great and in control, they never want to eat more . . . so, instead, they err on the side of caution, and almost always end up eating less than they should because they were so afraid, they’d eat more!
So, we have 3 legs of a stool, and each leg is the same size . . . at the start. The stool is perfectly balanced, it doesn’t wobble at all.
The first leg — WHAT — you absolutely can control. You can control what you pack and take with you and/or you can control whether you CHOOSE a piece of fish or chicken or a slice of pizza. You can choose whether you snack on an apple or a yogurt or a bag of M&M’s. So, the WHAT leg stays balanced.
The third leg — WHEN — you absolutely can control. No matter where you are, time is time . . . 3 hours in New Jersey is 3 hours in New York is 3 hours in the Bahamas and so forth. Makes no difference. You can control the timing of your meals and snacks. So, the WHEN leg also stays balanced.
The middle leg, the second leg — HOW MUCH — may end up being a little “off” even with your best intentions. This is the only leg of the 3 that may come up a little short.
So, try to visualize the same stool once again. When we started this conversation, each of those legs was the exact same size; the stool was perfectly balanced; there was no wobbling when you sat on it.
Now, try to visualize that one leg — the HOW MUCH leg — just an inch or two shorter, which represents the less-than-perfect portion control.
So, you have a 3-legged stool. 2 legs the exact same size. 1 leg a little shorter.
When you sit on it, do you fall over? Absolutely not . . . which means the stool is still balanced, even if it’s a little wobbly.
Remember, when you’re away from home for an extended time, be it a day, two days, a week . . . whatever you do in terms of what and how much you eat is coming home with you! Therefore, your goal should always be to strive to be as perfect as you can in the areas of WHAT, HOW MUCH and WHEN you eat, just as if you were home and achieving those goals every day. Then, if you are in complete control of two of those three legs — because it is easy to do so more often than not — but you fall a little short in the third leg, you’ll still end up in a very, very good place, both physically and emotionally. And whether you lose weight, stay the same, or even put on a pound, you’ll feel good about having had a goal, having planned to achieve that goal, and then following through. You’ll feel good about having been in control.
I just want to say one more thing as it relates to extended time away from home, and I know many of you will be planning one or more of those kinds of out-of-town trips for the fall and winter holidays, which will soon be upon us.
Remember . . . in those circumstances, the end goal should NOT be to come home with a weight loss . . . but to come home the same weight as you were when you left for vacation. If you focus only on being in control of at least 2 of those 3 legs of the stool that I just spoke about, chances are you will come home without a weight gain, and you’ll pick up right where you left off. If you go away with a “bad fattitude,” throwing caution to the wind because you’re on vacation and you think that’s a license to eat and drink whatever you want and as much as you want, you will absolutely come home with way more than a pound or two . . . and while that food and drink might feel good while you’re at pool side on vacation, you won’t remember it at all when you step on the scale back home and feel like crap. On top of that, instead of picking up where you left off, you’ll first have to spend a couple weeks or more climbing out of a 2-3-4 or more pounds weight gain hole just to get back to where you were before you left for vacation. And I can tell you from all my years’ experience that when clients have been really focused on controlling 2 of those 3 legs I spoke about, they almost always come home with the pleasant surprise of weight loss!