Editor’s Note: Reader Mike Moran was one of many people we heard from in the days following the start of Robert Rivard’s articles on his efforts to regain his level of fitness and balance in life and lose the weight he has gained since launching the Rivard Report two and a half years ago. It comes as no surprise that many others in San Antonio are making the same effort, or want to make the same effort but have struggled to get on or stay on the right path.
Friday we published an article by freelance journalist Sarah Gibbens about her visit to the H-E-B on SW Military Drive to attend a demonstration cooking class on how to prepare affordable healthy meals: Eating Well on a Stretched Budget. Saturday we published Hugh Donagher’s update on his efforts to shed 100 pounds and adopt a more active life style: Weight Loss Redux. We will continue to share other reader contributions in the coming months.
Bob, I admire your commitment to exercise, weight loss, and good health. Thanks so much for detailing your efforts. Your journey has inspired me to reflect on why I, and so many of us, have trouble shedding the pounds and keeping if off. The issue is complex and touches on income, class, culture, society, education, media, and corporate manipulation of gullible consumers.
I’ll try to make it simple here: After talking with my sister, Mary, who is a physical trainer in Austin, she offered me one suggestion that I hope works for me and maybe for other readers. I will follow her advice for one month and report back on what happens.
I am 55, and I have struggled with losing the unwanted 25 pounds for some time now. I go to the gym three times a week, ride a bicycle to the end of the Mission Trail and back on the weekends, and walk the course (not ride a cart) when I play golf. I am health-conscious when I buy food, and I have stopped drinking alcohol. None of this really matters when it comes to losing weight, however. The scale has stayed at around 200 pounds, no matter how hard I exercise.
Years ago, Mary saw photos of herself, a mother attending her child’s soccer games, and she did not recognize that person. She looked bloated and puffy, she says, and knew she had to make a change. She lost 40 pounds, became a trainer, and now has others coming to her for advice.
When clients come to see Mary, they typically say they want a trainer in order to establish a workout routine and to hold them accountable.
“I can help you learn how to exercise, but I can’t help you lose weight,” she tells them. “You have to enroll in another class I offer for that.”
There are trainers, Mary included, who do have comprehensive classes that teach the client about both exercise and diet, but many of her clients think that vigorous workouts alone, like the ones we see led by chiseled drill sergeants or smiling dancers on TV commercials, will get us into shape fast and furious. They overlook the food part.
She also says using words like “diet,” “lifestyle,” “moderation,” and “obese” are not helpful either, since most people have no clear definition of what these words mean anymore. A lot of her very smart clients are judicious and sensible in their professional lives, but make very dumb or self-deluding decisions when it comes to food and drink.
What works, according to Mary, is to “plan your food out for the week: every meal.” It is easy enough to do an Internet search and to create a varied, nutritious, and balanced meal plan, keeping in mind the caloric count of the food for each day. At first, you don’t need to keep complicated flow charts on fat content, sodium, sugar, and carbs. “Just be sensible,” she says, and make sure the food is not processed.
Having a family is not an excuse for eating poorly. Mary chops vegetables and fruit, chicken breast, and fish, and cooks meals for herself (separately) and also different food for her two teenage children and husband. She eats what she has prepared and doesn’t have to think about food choices for that week. She stores single-serving sizes in Tupperware containers in the refrigerator and freezer.
By following this weekly plan, she does not make impulse takeout buys at Taco Cabana or Chipotle. That is why Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem work for many people at first, but people can save money doing their own food preparations and learn life-long skills in the process.
It is amazing to see old photos of what people in this city used to look like. On the wall of my townhome is a long, rectangular black-and-white photo of San Antonio during Fiesta in the 1890s. Men walk in a circle in the plaza outside the Alamo, women, many holding umbrellas, watch from the periphery, and children run around playing. Hundreds of people and not one person is overweight. Flash forward to San Antonio today, and you are hard pressed to find one person at a Fiesta event nowadays that is not “double extra-large.”
100 years from now, what will locals think when they look back at all the fat, drunk people in Fiesta pictures from 2014?
Suffice to say, our great-great grandparents rode horses or walked to get somewhere, jobs required manual labor, everyday living tasks were strenuous, and meals were cooked from scratch. Even in the 1970s, when I was a teenager, you didn’t see that many overweight people even though our diets were bad: meat loaf streaked with red, sugary sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, white bread, and apple sauce. What is different now, Mary says, is how much people snack and graze, mindlessly tearing open packages and tossing plastic bags into the microwave.
In San Antonio, those who are educated and middle-class may shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, like I sometimes do, and believe that food items they purchase there shows off their virtuous, healthy eating. We’re just kidding ourselves. A cup of steamed Jasmine rice, a slab of Atlantic farm-raised salmon, sautéed porcini mushrooms, and a whole-grain, petite roll without butter contain more calories than a Big Mac and small fries, according to caloriecount.com. Oh, yes, it is good fat versus bad fat, I know, but calories are calories.
I can eat the Trader Joe’s meal in a box, but I must be intentional about the single serving size, and I must actually read the labels on the containers. Think cup instead of bowl for cereal. One palm full of almonds instead of reaching constantly into the paper bin bag. If I want to lose weight, I must reduce my overall calorie count.
Mary also does not believe low-income people are overweight because they lack access to good food. You can find fresh produce at any H.E.B. at affordable prices in any part of San Antonio. However, many people tend to think “more” food equals a price bargain. Witness the full parking lot at any IHOP, or the crowds that mill around the all-you-can eat buffet at pizza places or the Golden Corral. Even if they could afford it and the restaurant were located nearby, many of my students, say, at St. Philip’s College would not even attempt to eat the delicious, nutritious fare provided at One Lucky Duck. This way of thinking must change. People plan their vacations, they plan their work and school schedules, and they plan their childcare; they need to plan what they eat each week.
Fasting, taking over-the-counter speed pills, drinking Ensure, liposuction, going on exotic diets, exercising like an Olympic athlete — none of these things work in the long run. To lose weight is a gradual process: a pound or two each week. I was keeping a food journal, but I realize now I was doing it all wrong. I need to write down what I will eat, not what I already ate. In time, eating well, and in small portions, will become second nature.
*Featured/top image: A display of foods considered healthy. Image Courtesy the National Cancer Institute.