Go Retro's Guide To Staying Slim and Fit

Saturday, April 09, 2016

"How do you stay so skinny?"

It's a question I hear often. The last person to ask it was an older gentleman that's a business associate of my boss. He was in the office this week to drop something off, and I was in the middle of eating leftover Bertucci's pizza for lunch. So, actually, his full question was, "How do you stay so skinny eating that pizza?"

Had our conversation been taking place 30-40 years ago, I'm sure his question never would have crossed his mind. That's because -- as if it weren't obvious to everyone by now -- slender people were the norm, and you didn't see many overweight people. Today, sadly, the opposite is rapidly becoming true. A study that was published last week says that for the first time, overweight people now outnumber underweight people worldwide. And it predicts that by the year 2025, nearly 18% of men and 21% of women on earth will be obese.

It seems every day is one day closer to that depressing future world predicted in WALL-E, where humans are immobile blobs of fat that suck subsistence from giant cups of sugary garbage all day long while being transported around in their personal mobile units, glued to a screen in front of their faces.

Where did we go wrong?

The answers would fill several blog posts. I could go on and on shunning our terrible eating habits that have developed through the decades, particularly here in the U.S. where more than two-thirds (!) of adults are overweight or obese. I was shocked to recently learn that Massachusetts, where I live, is a state that has supposedly the fourth lowest obesity rate in the nation. The kicker? Massachusetts' obesity rate is now 23.3% (almost a quarter of the population) which is up from 15.3% in 2000.

Those contradicting facts make me sad, indeed.

I don't want to turn this post into a fat-shaming one, but let me say this: I'm proud of my body and what it looks like. I couldn't imagine trying to navigate through my day carrying an extra 20, 50, 100 pounds or more. Some may consider me lucky, and I am to an extent. I'm not on any medication that could cause me to gain weight, and I don't have any medical conditions. I also pretty much inherited my father's genes, as he was tall and thin. However, those facts still don't give me a free pass to mow down on those Ritz cracker sandwiches stuffed with artificial cheese (my downfall, which happen to be stocked and free for the taking in our office kitchen) and Chinese food on a daily basis. So I'm going to try to answer this man's question as to how I do stay skinny.

The simplest answer is I enjoy living a healthy lifestyle. Really, that's about it. I make it a priority, too. But now I'll go into a bit more detail into my lifestyle choices...and I admit, I don't know how "retro" this post really is. Some of these tips may be ones people from past generations followed, and some may not be. If I wanted to be funny, I could say the true retro guide to staying thin is to drink TAB and smoke cigarettes...two things that are not healthy for us, but did work for a lot of people in the 1970s. However, I'm more inclined to think  that my lifestyle would get two thumbs up by Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers, as it's really just based around common sense.

So here goes...a list of things that I do that keep me slim, that may or may not be retro.

1. I Limit Sugar In My Diet
There was a time when sugar was thought to be good for you -- as you can see from the ads above, that advocated eating sugar to actually assist you with losing weight. And as a kid growing up in the '70s and '80s, I was no stranger to sugary cereals, soda, and candy -- which I'm sure are responsible for some of the fillings in my mouth. But even at a young age, I realized that I didn't like the way my body felt after eating something sugary, especially for breakfast, and soon I was asking my mother to buy Cheerios and Kix for me instead of Count Chocula and Apple Jacks. Today, I only occasionally have pancakes or French toast for breakfast and when I do, I use very little maple syrup -- maybe a teaspoon at the most. I also limit the sugar in my coffee to one teaspoon or less.

I also very rarely drink soda (that includes the diet stuff, which in my opinion is even worse for you) and rarely eat candy, except for gummy bears on occasion. If I do need to indulge, I'll have a square of two of really good quality dark chocolate (ALDI sells a few German brands that are delicious.)

I do, however, agree with one thing regarding the ads above: I don't completely deprive myself of a bit of sugar. I have dessert on most days after dinner. A brownie, a slice of pie, some ice cream, or a couple of cookies, and always with milk. I just don't pig out on them or take humongous portions unless I'm really treating myself and know that I'll negate it with a really great workout.

More and more, I've been reading articles about how sugar calories are a different kind of calorie. Sugar contributes greatly to fat collecting around your belly and can cause all kinds of health problems from diabetes to high blood pressure. It's also hidden in a lot of foods like ketchup, sweetened yogurts and granola bars (I prefer to mostly buy plain yogurt and add my own mix-ins to it) so read your food labels. I just try to limit it in my diet the best I can.

And by the way, there's a new diet I've recently learned about called The Wild Diet. The creator of it eats everything -- butter, cream, cheese, red meat, dark chocolate, etc. The two things the diet does limit are refined sugar and processed foods. He lost a ton of weight with his new lifestyle and looks fit and fantastic.
2. I Eat A Healthy Breakfast
Speaking of breakfast, I always eat one and I try to make it a filling one, with enough protein and a serving of fruit. I love eggs and eat one pretty much every day. The whole egg, too, not just egg whites. All of the nutrition and flavor is in the yolk, and eggs are not the bad guys of breakfast like many people make them out to be. I eat bacon, too -- but only half of one long slice if it's the regular kind; a whole slice if it's turkey bacon. Organic cereal or a slice of When Pigs Fly bread with cream cheese or butter (yep, I eat that, too), fruit, water, and my morning cup of coffee round it out.

If I didn't have a protein and fiber-filled breakfast in the morning, I'd be ready to go back to bed by 10 AM. Not only that, but it keeps you full until lunchtime.

3. I Like to Cook and Prepare My Own Meals
I think this one is important, because when you make your own meals you're more conscientious of what's going into them. My favorite thing to make is soup, because you can pair it with a sandwich instead of chips or you can make a meal out of a bowl of it if you make the right one that has enough protein. My favorite soup recipes are a carrot and ginger soup made with coconut milk, and an Italian wedding soup made with pork/beef meatballs and kale that's a meal in itself when you have it with crusty bread and fruit.

(By the way, I don't dress like Agnetha Fältskog of ABBA is in the above photo when cooking, but she does look cute there.)

4. I Like to Exercise and Stay Active
Olivia Newton-John said it best: let's get physical. I don't think there's any way around the E word...although your diet determines an awful lot what your body looks like, you still need to exercise, too. But here's the thing: I never kill myself when I work out. I'm not into Crossfit, boot camps, or any of that hardcore stuff; I just want to look toned. So I do a mix of aerobics, lifting light weights, and floor/ab exercises three times a week. In the meantime, I also walk during lunchtime during the week with a coworker of mine -- if the weather outside is cold and/or lousy, we walk the staircase and various floors of our building. I walk the three floors up the staircase to my company instead of taking the elevator. I ride a bike during the warmer months of the year, and I also got into running a few years ago. I like going for easy hikes and swimming at the beach, and during the winter I try to go cross country skiing a few times (although our winter was so warm and devoid of snow this past season that it didn't happen.)

I feel like society in the '50s and '60s did a lot more walking and bike riding. Kids were also playing outside a lot more before video games came into vogue.

I think if more people did more physical and recreational activities that they enjoy doing, they might be better off. Also, I wouldn't discount housework and yard work -- I know from experience that raking, gardening, and cleaning up the yard burns calories. And yes, dancing burns calories, so why not put on that disco album and shake your booty? There's a reason why those Soul Train dancers always looked so good...

5. I Eat A Lot of Quality Protein
Beef: it's what for dinner. Back in the day, steak was a favorite meal, and openly enjoyed. Today it seems it's all about a vegan or vegetarian diet, namely because of the horrific way animals are treated at most U.S. farms, and the antibiotics and other crap that get fed to them.

Now that I'm working for an organic meat company, I get to take home the company's beef products for cost, and I actually find myself craving it. It's all grass-fed, so it's coming from cattle that are not just treated extremely well under strict animal welfare guidelines, but it's also naturally lower in fat and calories and has an amazing taste. But of course, I just don't eat red meat -- I eat chicken, turkey, seafood, legumes, and nuts. All are what I consider low-fat, quality protein. And protein helps fill you up and keeps you that way for hours.

Roasted chickpeas are one of my favorite snacks to make and great to curb that 3 PM snack attack; I toss rinsed and dried chickpeas with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried rosemary and bake at 400 degrees until they've started to brown just a bit.

Of course, I also eat fruit and veggies.

6. I Eat When I'm Hungry, And I Stop When I'm Full
It sounds so simple, right? Yet, I think a lot of people don't listen to that internal signal in their stomach when it starts to get full -- they keep eating. When I've had enough, I stop. (Gotta save some space for dessert, right?) I'm also not ashamed to ask for leftovers to be wrapped up when I eat out (remember when they used to be called doggie bags?)

George Burns was once asked how he stayed so thin when he ate out all of the time. He said he only half of what was on his plate, and took the rest home. Considering how much larger restaurant portions are today compared to decades ago, it isn't a bad plan to emulate.

I'm also not an emotional eater, a problem that seems to plague a lot of people today. I only eat when I'm hungry.

7. I Get Enough Sleep
You wouldn't think sleeping has anything to do with staying slim, right? But you'd be wrong -- studies have indicated that when we're sleep deprived, we eat extra calories because it's our body trying to compensate for not getting enough ZZZZZZZs. I've experienced this myself, so I try to get at least seven and a half hours of sleep each night. The bonus from sleeping enough is that you also have enough energy the next day to get some exercise.

8. I Limit Processed Foods
Michael Pollan, the author of several notable books about the food industry, has famously said that if your grandparents wouldn't recognize the food you're eating, then you shouldn't eat it. Maybe that's a little too strict, but it is true that things like processed cookies and other snacks aren't that great for us. I love crackers, especially with cheese, and I do eat potato chips on occasion. But I stay away from most of what Nabisco makes (except for those damn Ritz crackers with cheese, but I really limit treating myself with those.) The more "natural" your overall diet, the better you are in my honest opinion.

I know some people ban foods made with white flour, such as pasta and bread, from their diet. I don't. I usually choose a whole-grain or other bread that would be considered more nutritional than regular white bread, but I really don't make any food completely off limits. I just watch what I eat.

9. I Drink Very Little
Here is where I differ drastically from the alcohol swiggers of the Mad Men era; I save mixed drinks for the occasional event (such as going out to dinner with my Meetup group) and have a glass of wine at home maybe once or twice a month. Same goes for beer. A lot of those mixed cocktails are sugary calorie bombs, and I don't really get the social media craze of sharing what you're drinking on Facebook. Truth be told, it kind of makes you look like an alcoholic.

Was there supposed to be one more tip to make this an even ten? Well, I think nine pretty much sums it up. I drink a lot of water, move my body, and overall choose quality food. The other thing I think is important to know is that being a healthy weight requires not dieting, but a lifestyle choice. There are no quick fixes, folks. A diet is temporary; a lifestyle is a way of living. You can't change bad habits into good ones for a month, lose some weight, and then return to them thinking you won't gain it all back.

It remains to be seen if something is going to happen to society to stop the worldwide gluttony. But I say it's high time a lot of us returned to a more retro, natural lifestyle with our eating and activity habits.


  1. A recent health scare has convinced me to change my eating habits, and in the process, I'm rediscovering the value of cooking. I'm taking baby steps, but I find I like the challenge of trying to make food for a change. It feels very satisfying.

    1. Hi Rich -- that's great; good for you! It is indeed a lot of fun to cook and opens up your world of discovering new foods and ways of enjoying them that you may not have thought of before.

  2. Pam, you are spot on here. Well except for no 9. And even there I've given up the beer and sugary cocktails. The key is to make it s lifestyle choice. It requires one to be independent in one's choices, don't go along with the crowd. One thing I'd add is to stay away from high fructose corn sryup and MSG

    1. Thanks, Mapster. I don't think a lot of people realize the calories of some alcoholic beverages, especially if they drink a few in one night. Agreed about corn syrup; that fits in with controlling sugar intake.


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