“How did you lose weight!? Let me guess, you stopped eating rice?”

I’m always amazed at how nearly everyone who noticed my weight loss made the same statement the first time they saw me since I started dropping the pounds and losing the chubby cheeks. It was mostly uttered by colleagues who had not seen me in many months (since they were in different departments), but as soon as they did, they gushed over how fit and good I looked and wondered if my reclaimed slimness had anything to do with the non-taking of the white grains. They begged me for my trade secrets and when I shared with them my experience, I am often met with looks of dismay and hopelessness. Their reactions did not strike me as surprising; most people who are looking to lose weight want an easy way to do it, and including exercise is the less preferred method. Understandably so – exercise actually requires commitment and effort.

But back to the topic of rice. Poor white rice. Always getting blamed for weight gain, always earning a bad reputation amongst people who were trying to lose weight by swearing it off, claiming that they’re overweight because they ate it. Diet books do no better either by condemning white rice to being less nutritious as they were simple carbohydrates that contained less fiber than say brown rice, supported by the high Glycemic Index value it contains (are you still with me?). Why are simple carbs so bad? Because they make you feel hungrier faster. Which triggers you to eat more within a shorter span of time. Or so the experts say.

I am not one to insult the food of my ancestors, so rather than caution curious people not to eat white rice, anything made from white flour or the like, I instead tell them how I managed the intake of food that I consumed during the course of my weight loss journey.

To be quite honest, I kept it all pretty simple. First, I made some common sense and painless decisions that anybody who works a daily hectic schedule can surely appreciate: 
I decided to eliminate unnecessary sugar wherever I could. For example I used to like ordering iced lime tea with my lunches but then I went cold turkey and instead took just water. In fact I drank a lot of water everyday and made sure my bottle at work is always filled with water. Water is actually one secret weapon to weight loss as it helps to flush out waste and toxins from your body; also, letting your body become dehydrated actually dampens your fat-burning process. Enough cannot be said about the sufficient consumption of water, if you are lazy to do anything else, just minus all your sugary drinks and just take aqua, neat!

Next I always made sure breakfast was taken. Mine would typically be toasted wholemeal bread with peanut butter and some fruits, or cereal or oatmeal with milk, or whatever breakfast food I had handy around the kitchen. I’m a sucker for American cereals so every other week or so I’m always checking out the cereal aisle for the latest imports and I especially started taking an affinity towards Kellog’s Special K cereals because of its low caloric value per serving. Also if you’re on a health mission, Cheerios is another cereal brand that is worth looking into. Breakfast is especially important because it is the first meal of the day after a long night’s sleep and fasting, so you need the energy boost to get your day to start out right.

My next ninja move was to literally halve the portion of my meals, especially rice intake during lunch (see I didn’t eliminate it, I reduced it), and made sure I maintained a suitable ratio of protein (chicken, fish, etc) and vegetables. At night for dinner, I ate only home cooked meals. My first few months of controlled dinners came in the shape of homemade chicken soup in which I’d dump all kinds of colorful vegetables (capsicum, beans, carrots, cabbage), accompanied by rice or toasted buttered bread. I never got bored of it, in fact I lived for it. If soup nights got unbearable (very rarely, I must say), homemade pasta or salad with tuna or smoked salmon and feta cheese did the trick.

I also readily stocked my fridge with lots of fruits like apples, oranges, grapes, guava and any other ripe thing that was of my fancy for the week. So if I needed a healthy snack or need to satisfy a sweet craving, there would always be something natural to nibble on. At times I would cut a piece of fruit, say a pear or apples (at one point I went absolutely bananas for green apples and ate that almost every day, until one day I couldn’t even bear to whiff ‘em anymore because I ate it so consistently), pack it up in my tupperware and bring it to work for a late morning or late afternoon snack.

Another trick that helped me with sweet cravings is to always have sugar free gum on me, whether in my handbag or on my desk at work. Chewing gum not only freshens your breath and fights that craving to have something in your mouth, it also helps you burn calories, as much as 11 calories per hour! There used to be a Wrigley gum ad on Malaysian TV in the ’80s which I remembered watching as a kid. It showed a guy and a girl going out for a jog, who then ended it by coolly popping gum into their mouths, while the narrator declares, “Wrigley’s gum is exercise for your face!” (senaman muka in the Malay version, haha!). Guess what – they weren’t kidding!

The next enemy I tackled was the fast food fodder and processed food. No more junk like that! If you start to read how much preservative, fat and sodium that are used to make your beef patties for your favorite burger joint, it’s enough to make anyone drop their burger in despair. The only fast food I allowed myself to have regularly was Subway sandwiches, which I think it is a much healthier alternative to the other types of fast food. Plus, the cookies and any other processed food that was packaged or boxed (except for my cereals and milk) made less frequent appearances in my grocery shopping cart.

Around the time I started my weight loss journey, I had started to read a book called Controlling High Blood Pressure The Natural Way by David L. Carroll and Wahida Karmally. I didn’t have high blood pressure or anything, but I just happened to chance upon the book in my dad’s library and thought it would make good reading. And was it ever. I learned that one should really consider the foods they ate in order to control their blood pressure, and that’s where the whole topic of sodium intake and its effect on the human body came to light. I learned that the more one consumes high sodium-laden food, the more water the body retains hence increasing your weight and also your blood pressure (this is when your heart has to work harder to pump and transport blood across your body).

Weight reduction and control is also a topic covered extensively in the book, which is proven to alleviate high blood pressure. It also talked about different types of exercises and which ones were beneficial for the human body. It’s definitely a reading I’d highly recommend to anyone interested in improving their health and increasing general knowledge.

When you read up on losing weight, one of the first few things they tell you is to never starve yourself or skip a meal. Many people think they can lose weight easier if they missed out on breakfast, lunch, dinner or all of the above, which they probably could and would. But doing this would be counter productive. Going on a diet is like doing business: you need money to make money, right? Hence in the weight losing process, you need calories in order to burn calories. Skipping a meal is like telling your body that you’re starving, so it tends to slow down the metabolism and thinks you’re supposed to be in survival mode.

After I got my rough draft pretty much in place when it came to eating, I decided to refine my knowledge in the dietary department. An important equation became the mantra of my eating pattern. To lose weight I needed to burn more calories than have consumed. And to lose 1 pound (around 453g) a week, I needed to eat 500 calories less a day to see that much drop in my body weight.

But before I started shaving off calories from my diet, I needed to figure out how many calories would it take to maintain my current weight at the basal metabolic rate (a person’s resting metabolism rate). Let’s say for a sedentary or mildly active woman of my height and weight then, I needed 1700 calories in order to maintain the weight. So in order to lose 1 pound a week, I had to reduce 500 calories from the total amount of food taken daily, which is around 1200-1300 calories.

So when I finally figured out the number of calories I needed to eat in order to lose weight, I began consciously summing up roughly the calorie content of each meal. 1200 divided by 3 main meals is roughly around 400-450 calories, so I tried to eat well within the range per meal. This is what my typical meal plan would look like:

Breakfast

2 slices of toast with peanut butter + chocolate milk / Cereal
(est. 250-350 calories)

Lunch


Rice with chicken/fish/beef + vegetables
Fruit for dessert
(est. 350-500 calories)

Tea time
 (ocassionally)
A hot Milo and some crackers / Sliced fruits
(est. 100-250 calories)

Dinner
Chicken Soup with toast or rice / Home cooked pasta / Salad with tuna/smoked salmon + feta cheese
More fruits
(est. 400-500 calories)

For foods that are uniquely Malaysian, I used a Malaysian website called cekodok.com to help me figure out the calorie content. For everything else, I typically used Calorie Count. But I didn’t keep a diligent food log or anything (I was too lazy), I just basically took the task a day at a time and eyeballed each portion to be about the same small size everyday.

Well, OK perhaps on some days I didn’t precisely meet the calories which I had so carefully pre-calculated, but it seemed to make some difference. By combining my exercise routine and downsized and relatively cleaner diets, I finally found a successful mix that worked well for my weight loss goal. I was burning more calories than consuming, so the deficit was helping me reach my weight goal in a realistic and non-exaggerated time frame. Plus I was getting real conscious of the makeup of food and was particular in choosing what I ate and how much of it, something which I wasn’t doing in the past that led me to gain weight.

So essentially, food is good, but too much of it isn’t. I didn’t skimp it entirely just because I was trying to lose weight because slowing down my metabolism will not help. I found a good portion that I could live by that I won’t get too full on neither starve out on, and I was mindful of its calorie content. I focused on eating foods that were in their natural states (e.g. fruits) and made from scratch. Most importantly I limited, if not totally eliminated, my intake of processed foods. And I certainly didn’t fall for those expensive meal-replacement powder crap that they’re selling on the market, targeting gullible and hopeful weight watchers wanting to lose the pounds fast. Believe me – your body deserves much more than that, save your money and feed it real food!