Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nine Months -- Tuscany on 500 Calories a Day

Last week we returned to dance lessons after six months away.  Our instructor commented on my slimmed down appearance, likening me to some Hollywood personality.  She wanted to know if my brother was “available”.  I thought to myself, “I think I’m going to like slim and craggy.”

Yes, I made it.  A few weeks before Christmas, I hit my final weight-loss target.  After averaging almost a pound a week over the previous nine months, I gave birth to the new skinnier me.

It wasn’t a straight-line graph from start to finish!  In the early months, the pounds dropped off quickly.  But just as my rate of descent slowed, I was hit by a barrage of criticism from well-meaning friends and relatives.  They told me that the low-calorie days would slow down my metabolism and make it impossible to lose more weight.  They also told me that weighing less than the average was unhealthy.

I checked out some more research on the health benefits of staying thin and came to the conclusion that even my ambitious final goal remained 15 to 20 pounds above anorexic.  And once you factor out the people who weigh less because they smoke, or because they are already sick, being of below-average weight does appear healthier overall.  Confidence bolstered, I pressed on.

With the up-down rhythm firmly established, my attention moved to other things.  My diet blog fell silent.  Pounds continued to slink away.  Then, one day – just as I began to visualize the scale displaying that final magic number – tragedy struck.  It came in the form of a plane ticket for two to Italy.

Snacking in Italy
For a single skinny second, I considered continuing the regime in Italy.  I imagined writing this next instalment as “Eat – then don’t, Pray – then don’t, Love – then don’t.”  I don’t much care for pasta, I thought, so it ought to be easy, right?  Then, I remembered the gelato.  Passing by the gelato vendor every second day would be like missing every other opportunity for love.  My insanity passed.  I took a stand.  When in Florence – and Ravenna, Venice, Tuscany, the Riviera – do as the Italians do.  So we lingered over antipasto, red wine, pasta, and creamy gelato every day for three weeks.  Which allowed me to discover that, unlike any pasta I’d ever tried at home, Italian pasta is “molto squisito”!  Despite biking half way from Venice to Florence, scaling the foothills of the Alps overlooking Lake Como, and climbing to countless hilltop basilicas, I returned home four pounds heavier than I’d left.

The next three weeks seemed as hard as the first three of the diet had been.  I thought of food a lot – especially pasta and gelato.  But five weeks later, I’d lost it all again and then some, and was back on track.  A month later I reached my final goal:  a calculated BMI of 21.0, or about 13.5% body fat.  Despite the little “Italian Alps” towards the end, my weight chart showed I’d slid from “obese” to “athlete” in about 250 days.

The criticism died away.  I started hearing from some of my friends who’d been inspired by the effectiveness of this diet.  “I lost 20 pounds and it was easy!  I made my goal already!  My wife’s decided to join in.”  Critics notwithstanding, this diet works!
What I'm no longer carrying around.
Are there drawbacks?  Sure.  I had to toss out most of my belts and pants and buy new ones.  Some of them still had wear left in them!  I guess they’ll get picked up at Value Village by someone who hasn’t discovered the benefits of intermittent fasting.  I’ve discovered I have bones in my butt – rowing benches and bicycle seats are hard!  I look for the softer chairs during long meetings.  But not walking around hoisting the equivalent of a four-foot long game-fish makes up for it!

After the challenges of Italy, Christmas came and went with barely a ripple in the charts.  How great to have a New Year’s Resolution that starts out in the black!  I’m feeling good and want to stay that way.  What’s next?

For 2011, I’ve switched into maintenance mode and will check to make sure my weight stays in a narrow range.  If it goes over a threshold, I’ll revive my post-Italian renaissance for a few weeks.  For now, my “down days” supply about 120% more calories than the extremes of last year, and my “up days” require me only to chew thoughtfully and eschew overeating.  My research tells me that I will still find health advantages in this regime, even if I’m no longer losing weight.

My next challenge?  Two weeks in an Italian Inn on a Caribbean beach!  Perhaps mistaken for that Hollywood personality.  I’m up for it.

Dr. Johnson's UpDayDownDay Diet

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