Five Years Plus

{April 3, 2010}   Losing weight is a beach

Who doesn’t love to go on vacation? Well me, sometimes. I have always been particular about what I eat and drink, even more so since facing cancer. Eating healthy (i.e. the right foods in appropriate quantities at the right times) is even more challenging when away from home. Growing up in my family, special foods were associated with being on holiday. As a child, I delighted in having multicolored Fruit Loops for breakfast and stuffing roasted marshmallows into sandwiches of graham crackers and chocolate[1] while sitting around the campfire.  Perhaps these childhood memories feed the idea that being on vacation means taking a vacation from healthy eating and drinking. Who hasn’t gotten into “vacation mode” and wound up overeating on unwise foods only to feel lousy and come home depressed, bloated and having gained two, three or more pounds? So this is the challenge: “Is it possible to go on vacation, have a fabulous time and still lose weight?”

This week was my annual girls’ trip to Hilton Head with ten other women who have at least one thing in common: love of tennis. This trip has been happening for about 25 years, though I was first invited to join shortly after my cancer diagnosis five years ago. Chuck bought me the air ticket as a Valentine’s Day present to give me something to look forward to after my surgery. I’ve been going every year since to celebrate with friends the beginning of spring and outdoor play.

My doubles’ partner Anne Marie and I conceived and participated in this year’s eating challenge. While we don’t always choose the same foods, we have similar goals and the ability to develop strategies and analyze what is working and what isn’t. We decided on three basic principles for losing weight on this trip:

  • Eat regularly to keep blood sugar stable
  • Avoid bread and other high-carb items like crackers, chips and desserts
  • Be physically active

It’s easy to be active and prepare most of our own meals, as we stay in condos that back onto the Har-Tru courts where we all play doubles each morning. We spend the afternoons in smaller groups biking on the beach, watching tennis on TV, reading by the pool, golfing (not me) or shopping (that’s me and Anne Marie).

The first few days of the trip I am extremely tired. Perhaps it is being outside all day for the first time in months. I accept the tiredness, give myself time to rest and stay with my eating plan which begins with Special Breakfast at least an hour (ideally more) before tennis. During the second hour on the court I usually drink a low-sugar sports drink that contains some whey. Sometimes I nibble on a few nuts. After tennis I make a low-carb lunch of salad and hard-boiled eggs, perhaps with avocado and once with left-over steak – yum. We also eat some of Anne Marie’s blended veggie soup which provides additional vegetables and hydration.

The second half of the day is trickier, as part of the tradition is to eat together at home or a carefully chosen restaurant, usually around 7:30pm. With six or seven hours between lunch and dinner, there is a risk of getting overly hungry and overeating. I employ the tactic of conscious snacking mid-way through the afternoon; perhaps I eat an apple or half of banana with almond butter. Now here is the key: before going out to dinner I snack on veggies prepared at lunch – cucumber, radish, carrots, celery and red pepper – dipping them in salsa or hummus. This helps me to avoid the very tempting crackers and high fat dips. Since I am not starving when I get to the restaurant it is more likely I will be able to resist the bread. One evening I helped myself to a little bread because I wanted to taste the interesting looking bean dip. “Hmm,” I said to Anne Marie, “once I start its hard to stop.” Without saying a word she discreetly slid the black candle holder between the bread and my eyes. It worked – out of sight, out of mind.

Ordering at a restaurant takes awareness and a little luck. Usually a salad followed by a small plate or shared entrée is about right for me. If my entrée is going to be rich, I avoid a salad with cheese and nuts. Otherwise I choose whatever salad I want. I might ask the server to substitute the starch in my main course for extra veggies while other times I want to try the dish as conceived by the chef. If there is a lot of starch on my plate, I aim to leave some of it, though having grown up with parents in the Clean Plate Club generation, this is difficult.

Drinking alcohol or not is a very individual choice. I like to drink, especially good wine. The downsides include the additional calories of the drinks themselves (20 for each ounce of wine) and the fact that drinking increases the likelihood that I will overeat, leading to a good chance of disturbed sleep and feeling lousy the next day. I decided to limit myself to one drink before dinner because when I am eating cleanly, I am much more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.

I had an absolutely fabulous time on this vacation, enhanced by the fact that I didn’t feel the guilt or physical symptoms of overeating or being over-served. On the third afternoon, I felt inspired to do some yoga on the beach. This practice was a turning point and I had a lot of energy for the remainder of the trip. Another high point occurred the second to last day on court when I experienced a renewed sense of strength and flow throughout my body. During the week I stayed healthy and slept well without any pharmaceutical or herbal support. For the record, I did not lose weight. Anne Marie did though, and I didn’t gain any! Regardless of the outcome, I’m reminded that it is the journey that is important, not the destination. Setting goals gave us direction and I enjoyed the trip much more as a result of not overeating.

[1] Isn’t is interesting that S’mores embeds in its name their inherently addictive quality?


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