How a Food Critic Lost Weight

On the morning of August 8, I stepped on the scale and cringed: 175.

I can say it now, from the safety of more than 25 pounds away, but it was unspeakable in August when I started this journey. I can’t be proud of what I’ve accomplished if I don’t own up to where I began.

Two New Twists to Weight Loss

I took a three-pronged approach to the problem; whereas diet alone worked well enough in my 30s, it was clear that weight loss at age 50 presented a different set of issues. So I revisited what had worked for me in the past—my own version of the “Sugar Busters” diet—and combined it with some modern twists: the Lose It! app on my iPhone to keep track of my daily calorie “budget” and a Fitbit to monitor my activity.

I thought I would hate tracking my calories so closely, but instead, I found it incredibly motivating. You’ve got to get past the feeling that it’s necessary to lie about what you eat. Lose It has no response for you (“Put that candy away, fatty!”), and you’d only be lying to yourself. So get over it.

It’s the same with Fitbit. You put on the little clip, and it tracks how active you are during the day (steps taken, stair flights climbed, calories burned) and then uploads the info to your computer, and syncs with Lose It, so you’re all one big happy family!

Workout Routine

Of course, I had to amp up my workout routine (calories in, calories out!), and so I try to exercise five times a week, but I like to mix it up. So a day’s activity might be a 3-mile walk with friends, 40 minutes on the elliptical, a Zumba class (6,500 steps!), or Pilates. I just try to keep moving so that I can get in my goal of 10,000 steps per day.

The Diet Solution

As for my “Sugar Busters” diet, it’s pretty much as advertised; you significantly reduce your sugar intake, which in turn increases your energy level (no more late afternoon naps for me!) and decreases your desire to snack. Once the sugar is out of your system, you really don’t miss it. I swear!

So here’s what I did. I ate fruit, but not in combination with other foods. Eat a piece of fruit a half hour before or an hour after other foods. Just avoid bananas, pineapple and watermelon, which are super sugary. But that’s the only weird proscription…the rest is pretty straightforward.

You can eat dairy products, but I recommend skim milk, low-fat cottage cheese, non-fat plain Greek yogurt, and low-fat sour cream. Cheeses are fine in moderation, but goat, mozzarella and hard cheeses (like Parmesan) are your best options. Vegetables are basically carte blanche, but you will want to skip beets, corn (and corn products; think corn syrup!) and white potatoes. Sweet potatoes are fine, as they’re loaded with vitamins and anti-oxidants and aren’t just empty calories. Speaking of which, skip the diet soda. It leads to cravings.

Proteins are all okay, but of course you want to stay with leaner choices like fish and poultry. I eat red meat, but keep to a 5-ounce portion size to keep the calories in check. And I just flat-out gave up fried foods; that’s not ending well for anyone.

Carbs? I love ‘em. But I’m not eating white food anymore. So no white pasta, rice, bread or flour. Instead, I’m filling in with whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, oats, bulgur, etc. Check your labels—if a 100% whole grain bread or cereal has 2 grams of sugar or less per serving—it’s a winner.

And fear not! There are a few perks. I allowed myself a glass of red wine and a square of super-dark chocolate each day, and still lost the weight.

On days when I have a review scheduled, I might eat a bit lighter at lunch to conserve calories. Once at the restaurant, I determine what everyone will order from the menu, and make sure that my entree is one that meshes with my diet. I taste everything on the table once and then eat my own food. It’s actually a lot easier than you might think.

Typical Diet Day

Breakfast: Nutri-Grain waffle with 1 tablespoon almond or peanut butter and 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt; coffee or tea with skim milk.

Lunch: Vegetable soup, Nicoise salad (skip the potatoes).

Snack: apple or pear

Dinner: 5-ounce filet, baked sweet potato with a little goat cheese and fresh herbs, arugula salad, glass of red wine

Late Snack: dark chocolate

Doable, right? Look, if I can make it work with all the restaurant reviews, so can you! Get out of your own way and just commit to it. And you might as well start right now.