The Free Motion Quilting Project: Losing Weight During the Holidays

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Losing Weight During the Holidays

Reading the title of this post, you're probably thinking "Is this spam? Get REAL! Who wants to lose weight during the holidays??? Isn't eating delicious, carbolicious, fatty food what this season is all about?"

To which I have to respond with an adamant YES! This time of year is all about eating delicious food and entertaining family and friends, but that doesn't mean that you can't maintain some control over your weight during this month as well.

Now I know this is a contentious, sensitive subject for many people. I certainly don't want to fill you with feelings of remorse at the turkey feast you just ate or feelings of guild at the meals soon to come.

What instead I want to share with you is the story of how Josh and I have not only gained control over our weight, we've actively worked to regain our ideal body weight together.

Back in October we traveled to Pensacola, FL to see Josh's grandmother. During that eight hour car trip, Josh and I talked a lot about things we'd like to work on in the remainder of 2011 and in 2012. One of the biggest issues we both mentioned was our weight.

Keep in mind that Josh and I are not overweight, but we are both short people with metabolisms that will slow drastically over the next few years as we get into our 30s, and we live a very sedentary lifestyle.

Our typical day revolves around the computer for Josh or the sewing machine for me. Unless we make a point of it, I doubt we walk more than 1000 steps on the days we don't leave the house, which can be more than 4 days out of the week.

If you log your daily exercise for a month, it can be surprising just how little we move around physically every day. It's easy to ignore this fact until you actually write it down, journal it, and then take notice. It's very easy to forget or simply ignore how important movement is to our daily life.

Now let's talk about diet. I'm a naturally skinny person, and I always have been, but this summer I felt overwhelmingly dissatisfied with my body. I was about 15 pounds over my "sexy" weight where I feel like I look pretty good, so I wasn't very comfortable in my swim suit this year. But I was also totally incapable of doing anything about my figure.

For one thing, I hate dieting. Every time I diet, I find one set of foods for each meal like this: I'm going to eat THIS cereal for breakfast, THIS set of foods for lunch, and THIS set of foods for dinner. Period.

And by the third day of the same food, I'm so sick of eating those same flavors that I'd rather go munch on a rock. Simply put: I need more variety. I end up dropping the diet simply because I collapse to the craving of a bag of chips and a Jack and coke by the pool.

I also stop eating well when I'm working hard, and this past summer I was busy writing From Feathers to Flames, so I didn't have much time to care what was going into my mouth. I just wanted it to be FOOD that would stop me from feeling HUNGRY for at least the next few hours.

Healthy? No. Sustainable? Absolutely not.

Josh admits his great vice is beer, so five excess pounds shows up a lot more on his belly than on mine. Since Josh is over 30, he's already noticed a dramatic drop in his metabolism since college, and like me, he was extremely unsatisfied with his body this summer.

Also like me, Josh hates to diet. Spending some of his childhood and teenage years as a vegan, any idea of food limitation now is anathema to him. Exercise is also a contentious subject we might as well just not go into.

But the fact is we both want to lose weight. How best to go about this?

Based on our previous history with dieting and exercise, I had to finally come to terms with a few facts:

1. We simply don't exercise - it's wonderful when we can fit a two or three mile walk into our day, but most of the time we can't. We work in our own home which means we walk up and down stairs a few times a day and that's about it. And we live in an area with no leash laws and some very mean dogs, so walking in our neighborhood is out of the question.

2. We eat what we want - If you put me on a limited diet, you'll find yourself missing a few fingers by the end of the week. If you put Josh on a limited diet, well, I'd feel sorry for whoever tries it.

3. We drink what we want - Yes, we drink alcohol. Moderately, and it's something neither of us is ready to give up for the sake of losing a few pounds.

So how do two people with this impossible seeming list of requirements figure out a way to lose over 20 pounds together in 1 1/2 months?

The simple answer is we've finally learned HOW MUCH food we should be eating.

Using a program called Diet Power, Josh and I learned how to eat the correct amount of food depending on how fast we wanted to lose weight and how much we exercised.

Put it this way - if we sit on our butt all day, working on the computer or on the sewing machine, it's unlikely that we're burning even 2000 calories a day.

Before I started this program, I was typically eating well over 2500 calories a day, blasting my sodium and sugar amounts off the scale, and usually feeling run down and exhausted by the end of the day.

When we started the program the first week I limited myself to around 1600 calories a day. I could eat anything I wanted, so long as it all added up to less than 1600 calories.

That first week was really tough. I was in a transition period and just for lunch I was used to eating a full sandwich (2 slices of bread, 4 slices of bacon, tomato, mayo, lettuce, etc) plus chips and a cola. That meal right there was well over 600 calories all on its own!

But by the second week, this new portion size not only felt right, I felt right eating it! No longer would I have that heavy, overly full feeling after eating a meal. I was finally comfortable eating the right portion for my size and my exercise amount.

Keep in mind - I'm not going hungry. I never stop myself from eating a snack if I'm hungry between meals. Instead I've looked for healthier snacks that don't pack on the pounds.

One of my favorite snacks is 16 wheat thin crackers with 1 oz of smoked salmon and 1 tablespoon of cream cheese. It's enough to make me feel full and satisfied for several hours, but at only around 200 calories, it also not nearly as calorie costly as other snack foods I was used to eating.

This insight has spread into eating at restaurants as well. What I've found after eating at many places is that the entree size portions are actually 4 to 5 times bigger than they should be.

Recently I went to Olive Garden and had to request a Nutrition Menu in order to know what I was ordering. I almost choked on my 150 calorie breadstick! Turns out, not only are the entrees over the top with calories, they also contain on average more than 3 times your daily allowance of salt!

This means after eating at one of these chain style restaurants, you're definitely going to see the numbers on the scale rise simply because all that salt forces your body to retain more water, and thus more weight.

All told, had I finished my entire bowl of soup, 3 bread sticks served to me, and entire entree, I would have been topping 2000 calories in that single meal. That's ridiculous. What's even more excessive is I would have also consumed over 5000 mg of salt. Would you like kidney failure as a side dish or dessert?

Many people would respond to this statement that you're not meant to eat the entire meal at a restaurant like this. You're not intended to clean your plate, otherwise the portions wouldn't be so big or so expensive.

My response is simply this: why would a restaurant serve food to you if they didn't intend for you to eat it? Are chain restaurants so rich they can actually afford to waste food in such massive quantities that it doesn't matter if more than half of every portion gets thrown away?

I don't have an easy answer for this other than to say there really needs to be a total overhaul in the chain food industry, specifically regulations on the amount of salt allowed in food. My kidneys hurt for two days after that dinner and I don't want to think how I would have felt if I'd cleaned my plate.

And this brings up another lesson I've learned while on this diet: leaving food on your plate is not a sin.

Oh, but it hurts to leave a plate more than half full!

Growing up, I was never really taught to clean my plate, but I was taught to not be wasteful. We rarely ate out, so I actually got more experience eating out with my friend's parents than my own. Over time I began to see a general pattern in the women that pressured me to eat more or to finish what was set in front of me: they were all, universally, overweight.

In my teenage years, my various boyfriend's mothers were the worse. I began getting used to veiled insults like "Oh, she eats like a bird." or "No idea why we bring her, she never finishes anything." and "Are you going to finish that? I don't want to get a box."

I knew I had a winner when I met Josh's mom, a teensy tiny woman who encouraged me to order the most expensive thing on the menu the first time we went to dinner (it really was the best thing at that restaurant), then told me it was perfectly fine if I didn't finish half of it - she never did!

But leaving a plate half full literally hurts. It hits all those guilt buttons about wasting and excess that make us feel really bad.

Even asking for a box can feel awkward if it's too early in the meal. Servers can misinterpret that as a meal gone wrong, which is extremely unfortunate. Personally I'd rather divide my portion early and get the remainder in a box so that way I'm not tempted to keep eating, just because the food is in front of me.

I'm also occasionally tempted by the disgusting depravity that is fast food. It's fast, it's easy, it's cheap. All reasons why it ends up in our house a lot more than it should.

But after we started using Diet Power, Josh and I suddenly realized just WHAT we were eating when we chowed down on a Big Mac, large fry, and medium coke. More than 1000 calories for one thing, which is more than half of what we're now eating ALL DAY. We quickly realized there are a lot better ways to eat cheaply and easily without that kind of calorie (or sodium or sugar) cost.

But even if wanted to eat fast food, we still can using this program! Diet Power has thousands of foods logged into its library which you can easily search through and add to your log of foods eaten for the day. It's no longer a question of what you can or can't eat or restrictions on a million foods, but simply what your daily log looks like and what you have budgeted for.

Case in point was Thanksgiving dinner. You'd expect to blow your whole day in this mega blast meal of turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, etc. The truth is, it's very easy to blast your whole day, but by controlling the portions of each item (1/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup) you could easily eat that meal without destroying your diet, or missing dessert.

This program also forces you out of any healthy eating delusions you might have. You get literally graded on your vitamin intake for the day based on the foods you log which means if you're drastically low on any particular vitamin you need, you could easily score a D or F, and no one likes to make a bad grade!

It's actually hard to describe what I've learned in a logical way that makes sense because I'm still trying to fully understand just HOW MUCH learning caloric information has helped us.
  • I've learned to eat less overall, but more often throughout the day.
  • I've learned to take vitamins regularly.
  • I've learned to drink more water daily.
  • I've learned that I really don't have to exercise to lose weight, but that walking 2 miles a day is not only possible, it also makes me feel great.
  • I've learned to cut my portions in restaurants in half or in quarters, and I've learned how to say "no" to eating the rest without feeling guilty.
And the most important thing is I've lost 10 pounds. Most of my back pudge has naturally melted away and my thighs and stomach have noticeably shrunk.

I still have 10 pounds to go, then I plan to maintain my body weight for the rest of my life between 115 - 120 pounds.

Many people that have seen me in person might say I don't have 10 pounds to lose. I respond with "You haven't seen me in a swim suit." and regardless, it's my body and it's my emotional health. If I'm not happy, who is the one that should do something about it? Me.

Just as if you're not happy with your body, the only person who has any potential of changing the situation is...YOU.

So here's the deal: you can try Diet Power yourself for 15 day for free. It's an unlimited download which means the program is fully functional when you download it, it's just limited to only 15 days.

If you're anything like me, the first 7 days will be getting used to using the program, and getting used to your calorie budget. By the second week, you should be getting comfortable with the program and already losing weight.

If you decide that you like the program and want to use it forever, you can get $5 off by mentioning you heard it from me. Yep, I do make money from this, and I'm not sorry to admit it. Here's why:

I've found something that works, that I can use daily to feel empowered and in control over my weight, something that previously only felt mysterious and out of my control. I know this program works and that I've seen real results from using it, plus I've learned loads about food, my diet, and my health from using it.

Why not share this with everyone I know?

Now enough about food, let's go quilt!

Leah Day


  1. I have found that counting calories is a lot of work. I don't "diet" per say, but I do read labels. Simply put, if I cant figure out how to grow something in the ingredient list, I dont bring it in my home. Im not perfect!!! We eat out maybe 4 times a year and those are my splurges. Ive also learned simple tricks to cut the calories and increase the heakthfulness of foods. You mentioned you liked creamcheese....try using a rubber band to suspend a coffee filter in a glass then fill the coffee filter with some Fat free or lowfat PLAIN yougart. Let it sit in the frig for four or five gets thick and rich and creamy just like cream cheese...mix it with Salmon and a little dill and it is amazing on anything. You can also make a sweet version with crushed drained pineapple and honey (press teh pineapple between towels to keep it dry. You can also use butter beans, blened with an immersion blender to make a rich creamy sauce for ?pasta?fish?rice?chicken? Mix up the bean, thicken it with MOZZARELLA Veggie cheese (I swear it is good stuff--I'll send you your money back if you don't like it) and any seasonings that match your taste and it makes and awesome sauce to spread over something. I use this sauce mixed in with Greens to make a greens cassarole. Great on whole wheat pasta too. Making chicken salad, tuna salad or egg salad for sandwhiches? try using half mayo and half that drained yogart. While you are at it, why not add in a diced red pepper or shredded carrots? the shredded carrots actually have the texture of the meat so it keeps meaty consistancy....adn adds much needed veggie to daily meals. Broccoli works well too and really just about any veggie.
    I commend you for the discipline you have to lose ten pounds so quickly without much exercise. I run 7 miles a day with my dogs and quilt STANDING UP at a 4foot by 8foot ttable I made myself. sometimes, you have to remeber, its not just about losing weight, but maintaining health too!

  2. Leah, darling, this nutrition schema will work. For some time... :-)
    If you are feeling the "weight" of 30's, in 10 years you'll have a huge problem if you don't start exercising.
    Exercising create muscles, that consume calories even when you're not exercising... This is the "big secret".
    Look for the book Abs Diet of David Zinczenko, he explain it in a simple, practical way. And I'm telling you 'cause I'm trying hard to lose weight for the last 10 years or so.

    During the past 2 years, I changed many bad habits, which allowed me to be free of something like 12 kgs (6 pounds?). But without exercise, simply it will not go further. And I need to 'loose' another 20 kgs.

    Well, that's it... Good luck for you!! :-)

  3. There are lots of good ways to do this. I used a free smartphone app called myfitnesspal to log my food, measure calories and exercise - NOT dieting. That,(logging food and exercise) and learning about portion size helped me to drop my body fat from 30% to 21% in 12 weeks. Sometimes changing nutritional habits can be difficult, but stick with it and you may be amazed.

  4. I've never heard of this program, but it is interesting. I've lost 63 pounds with portion control method that I figured out for myself. I had to convince myself I don't need to have 4 pieces of pizza! or that bag of chips and dip. I still want pizza and I still have it, just less!! I've found if I give myself permission to have some chips and dip I don't WANT the whole bag and just enjoy the little bit I dole out. My hubby hasn't done as good with my method, so I will have him look at this. I don't exercise either, but I did buy some hand weights that I keep in the car and I pump them on my long drives while working to keep my arms from getting too flabby. I park further away and figure that will have to do! I'm not looking for perfection...just healthier. Sandi

  5. Glad to hear that you're finding success with a rational approach of portion control and energy balance. Those are changes that will last a lifetime.

  6. Another option to paying for such a program is They have nutrition trackers, simple to complex exercises, and all kinds of healty tips. It's free. They also have support groups you can join (message boards too), if you have a specific issue such as diabetes, arthritis, etc. Check them out. There is a group for everyone. Or feel free to not join a group at all. I joined to read my sisters blog (which is also free). She writes the most wonderful stories from her life, past and present. Her stories create pictures in my mind in such an amazing way. One of her funniest was about no one noticing she had lost weight, but her underwear noticed...look her up if you get there...100lbslighter I think is her member name.
    I don't have the typical weight gain issues that most people do. My sisters say it's my metabalism, but really it's my eating style (habits). I have not eaten a donut in about 13 years, don't drink soda, omit simple carbs from my diet, and prefer to eat protien. Low fat protein (30 calories per oz) burns more calories to digest than it adds. That is an easy way to burn calories. As to the exercise, I think there comes a point in our lives where most of us realize that we should have moved more when we were younger (you're still there Leah) because it is nearly impossible to build muscle after a certain age if we didn't have a certain amount before. The body just ceases to produce those cells. Sorry for the "letter". Enjoy your healtier eating habits!

  7. A huge thing that you didn't mention is to keep Rubbermaid (or Tupperware) containers in the car and take them in when you go to one of these restaurants. You can divide your portion right at the beginning without insulting anyone. Also, you saving the trash or recycling of the box they would send with you. I also like that all the scraps that are left that I can box up for my puppies.

  8. So many great ideas! I'm definitely going to work with Josh to get a more regular routine with walking. A 2 mile walk every morning not only feels great, we enjoy the time together too.

    Thanks a bunch everyone!


  9. At first I was surprised to see a weight loss topic on a quilting blog, but now I want to thank you for your post. I too have DietPower, and it is a fantastic piece of software that I had forgotten about!!! I eat Paleo most of the time (meats and veggies - nothing processed) and that works best for me. (Anyone with an auto immune disease should really give it a try.) Just for fun, I will start tracking my foods in DP as I'm interested in the nutritional values. Thanks again!

  10. Congratulations on your weight loss! The metabolism slow down is a real pain, isn't it? Good luck in reaching your goal weight :)

  11. I'm 54 years old and weigh 120 lbs, about 6 lbs. more than I did way (way!) back in high school. I don't eat sugar in any form, even hidden sugar in breads or things like ketchup, and I never eat fast food and rarely eat at restaurants (maybe twice a year). I'm not too physically active, I sit at a desk for 8 hours a day, which is more tiring than hard exercise. Too many Americans think we have to get fat as we get older, or have children, but it's just not true. It's more being aware of the worthless calories you might be consuming with fast food & junk food, and making better choices.


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