Reasons for Regain #1: I stopped cooking

Regain boat

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve regained weight since I was at my slimmest several years ago. The weight started to come back after I got a headache that still hasn’t gone away and I started eating my way through the pain. Chocolate-covered pretzels. Mint chocolate chip ice cream. Krispy Kreme donuts. You kept me sane and I thank you, but you also made me fat again. However, I do not regret what I ate during that first year or two of the headache because it was all that kept me from going nuts. I went for chocolate-covered nuts instead. Eating felt good at a time when I never felt good.

However, I’ve been managing my headache better lately and it’s nowhere near as agonizing as it used to be. So when I look back on the past few years I have to admit that I’ve gotten lazy. I’ve stopped doing the work necessary to keep me healthy and thin. (I realize thin and healthy don’t always coincide, but for me at that time of my life they did.) Sugar may have kept me sane when I was in pain, but it also opened the gateway to bad habits that I’d hope to rid myself of forever. I’m reminded of this every year when the National Weight Control Registry sends me their annual survey asking me if I’m eating low-fat cheeses and how big are my portions and am I exercising regularly and OH MY GOD, National Weight Control Registry, stop nagging me already!! As annoying as it is, their survey does basically serve as a checklist of everything I’m doing wrong, wrong, oh, so wrong.

This year I thought I’d take a look at the different bad habits I’ve adopted since I was at my healthiest and then try to correct them. That way you can learn from my horrible mistakes, and perhaps that’ll give my screw-ups a little bit of meaning. First up:

Reason #1: I stopped cooking

I’m not sure when I stopped cooking, but I suspect it was a gradual thing. When you regain weight it’s usually because of gradual changes, not because of any sudden spectacular moment of change. Ironically, whenever people would ask me about my weight loss they always wanted to know what my turning point was, as if they expected there had to be a sudden spectacular moment of change. I don’t think that’s how people typically operate. For the most part I think we change gradually, like children growing ever so slightly taller every day, not noticing how different you are until the aunt you only see once a year exclaims, “You’ve gotten so tall!”

When I first started to lose weight, I became smitten with cooking. It was an interesting new thing I’d never bothered with before outside of microwaving a pizza or boiling Ramen noodles. (Oh who am I kidding? I usually ate Ramen noodles raw. CRUNCH!) It was fun for the first few years, but then it became more and more like a chore. The same thing happened when I learned to drive. I would have driven anyone anywhere when I was 16 because it was so cool to be behind the wheel. Nowadays driving is just another task on the list of things I do because I am an adult, right up there with complaining about traffic.

I realize there are people who lose weight and maintain that weight without doing any cooking. It’s possible to eat well without owning a skillet, but I think it’s easier when you do.

Cooking requires planning

If I’m cooking my own meals I have to have materials on hand for those meals. That means I have to buy things ahead of time from the grocery store. This forces me to plan ahead which helps prevent me from eating something bad because it happened to be fast and convenient.

When I cook, I control what’s in my meal

If I’m cooking my own food, I know what is in it. I can make a good guess at how calorie-dense it is. I can make sure to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil instead of lard or Crisco or some other trans-fat atrocity. I know it wasn’t drenched in butter, even if that’s what makes restaurant food taste so good.

I can eat leftovers later

If I’m taking the time to cook something, I can cook a large portion. That means I’ll have leftovers later, so I’m getting several meals from the same time it would have taken me to cook just one meal.

Solution: I’ve started cooking again.

Ever since I got back from the holidays I have been doing a lot more cooking. It’s been pretty basic stuff like whole grain-spaghetti that only requires me to boil water and microwave some turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s. I’ve been doing a lot of stir-fry too because all you have to do is stir and fry.

What’s strange is that the cooking thing just kind of happened without me making it an official goal. One day I got hungry, but I was out of TV dinners or anything else I could quickly microwave, and I really, really, really didn’t want to leave the house, so I broke down and was like, “Fine! I will cook something! I’ll probably starve to death in the 15 minutes it takes to prepare it, but I have no other options!” So I grilled a chicken breast and microwaved some green beans and made some couscous and it was all rather delicious. It reminded me that, oh yeah, I used to cook stuff all the time. And yes, it is work, and no, I still don’t find it all that fun, but it’s probably a worthwhile endeavor. So I have been cooking more often and eating better as a result.

It also helps that I haven’t been keeping many just-microwave-it types of food in the house. When microwaving something isn’t an option, I’m basically forced to cook. I supposed I could call for take-out, but I’ve been keeping that off-limits in case of a total food emergency that would otherwise leave me eating the crumbs that collect under the stove-top burner coils.

Although this has definitely been good for me, the downsides are that 1) It’s definitely work, and 2) I’ve noticed I’ve had to run my dishwasher a lot more often. Cleaning up after you cook is not fun and might have been one of the reasons I stopped in the first place. 3) I haven’t cooked anything that takes longer than 10-15 minutes, which is limiting my options. If I don’t branch out I’m going to get really sick of stir-fry soon. Still, it’s better than nothing!

I suspect my improved eating might be a result of the hedonistic chocolate rampage that some people call “Christmas” and I call “sugar-geddon” and is best illustrated by this photo:


Is a Whitman’s Sampler really still a “sampler” when it’s as big as your abdomen? I don’t know. I do know that the box was so big it was difficult to match the items in the chart to the actual chocolates. I had to start counting columns and rows to figure out where the vanilla cream was.

Anyway, I ate so much chocolate and pumpkin pie and cheesecake over the holidays that by the time I got home I had no desire to eat any of it again in the near future. I’ve been eating healthier in January than I have for months, maybe years, and it’s all been strangely easy. I’ve seriously wondered if my lack of appetite is the first warning sign of some terrible disease that is slowly killing me, but also making me thinner. I suppose that’s a sign of how screwed up my natural eating instincts are, that I feel like I need to go to the doctor and say, “Help! I don’t feel like eating chocolate. Something is terribly wrong with me!” It’s more likely that now that I’ve been off sugar for awhile I don’t crave it like I used to. Sugar can cause an addictive cycle that’s hard to break.

So that’s where I am right now. One bad habit down. Several more to discover and conquer, yet again. I will let you know how it goes.

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  1. NewMe says

    There is a sort of upside to having to clean the mess you create by cooking: cleaning up the kitchen is actually exercise. Just trying to find an upside to something I hate to do as much as anyone …:)

  2. says

    I cook the whole flat of (boneless, skinless) chicken breasts when I walk in the door from the grocery. I personally lightly spray 9×13 and bake at 350 degrees. If the are the thin sliced breasts, I turn them over after 25 minutes and cook for another 20 or so. If thicker kind, I cook for 1 hour plus, without turning.

    I then put all of them (cooked) in the refrigerator.

    Meals are VERY quick and simple if the meat is cooked. And there is one pan clean up for chicken.

  3. barbara says

    Hi Jennette! Cooking one’s own meals is absolutely, I have learned, a key factor in weight loss and weight maintenance. I bring my lunch every day. My co-workers are amazed by this. They think I spend hours toiling over the stove. But I don’t. My formula for every lunch is: 1 of these (proteins), 1 of these (whole grain starch/beans) and 1 of these (vegetables/salad). Then, some fruit and some almonds, and an occasional treat. If I do all the prep on the weekends (shop, wash lettuce, cook beans, etc.), it takes me about 5 minutes, while my coffee water is coming to a boil, to assemble the 1-1-1 into my plastic container. it is literally that simple. And it’s good. So much better than the stuff I could buy. And I figure i save about $50 a week not buying lunch. Good luck!

  4. Janis says

    Two words for you: “Crock” and “pot.” The best way in the world to feed oneself. Some meat, some veg, some water and a bit of spices or bouillon. Stick it all in there, turn it on low, come back 8 hours later and eat. Put the rest in some tupperware containers, and you have lunch for three days at least, and if you use one of the plastic liners, you have ZERO CLEAN UP. Not even one dish.

  5. says

    Great post Jennette. I hear you! And top work on the cooking.

    Also “Is a Whitman’s Sampler really still a “sampler” when it’s as big as your abdomen?” made me ROFL.

  6. Teresa says

    I totally got the Russel Stover version of that box for Christmas. It was delicious, but I told my husband flat out NO CANDY for Valentine’s Day. I also dislike cooking and cleaning except for special occasions, and prefer convenience meals. It’s a pain, but you are absolutely right that cooking is key to keeping weight under control. Thanks for your honesty and openness in you struggle with weight and pain. Sometimes the “after” story doesn’t go as planned and it’s refreshing to find someone who is willing to talk about it honestly.

  7. Lorelei says

    This is awesome to read. I am normally too lazy/tired to even enter my kitchen, but it does make a huge difference when I do. This is a good reminder that yeah, it’s hard, but yeah, it’s possible.

  8. Rebecca in SoCal says

    I am not at a healthy weight (understatement), but I was proudly telling my doctor that I have maintained my weight for years at an age when many women gain (I can use “it’s harder to lose at this age” as an excuse).

    That Whitman’s Sampler reminded me of a pitfall I avoided this holiday season: the Costco imported variety cookies in a pretty metal box. I also can’t buy the Pepperidge Farm assorted cookies. I have realized that I “need” to have one of each…I want to keep it all even, you know? I realized that applies to other food, too. A key to weight control (for me) is routine. It makes food to be less about entertainment and more about nutrition. It’s not fun, but neither is being “morbidly obese.”

    Oh, and fiber. I’ve started paying attention to that, which has me ordering differently when I do eat out.

    Keep up the good habits!

  9. Sheryl says

    Hi, lost your bookmark for a long time when my computer died — glad to find you again. I’ve had the same thing — hard to maintain a weight loss without constant attention. We are not a number on a scale! You have overcome so much — celebrate yourself at any weight.

  10. says

    Good stuff…when I am cooking most days of the week I maintain or lose weight much more easily. Also, planning ahead makes it SO much less likely for me to reach for junky food. If I already have the ingredients and the plan to make turkey tacos for lunch….I’ll probably actually do it. Thanks for the insight and reminder. :)

  11. Kimberly says

    I love that you wrote this post. The feel-good mania surrounding weight loss never really touches on the real life ongoing battles that we face. When people ask me about my own weight loss I always mention you as my inspiration. You are a real person, not a made for TV special, that showed me that I could do this myself. I have complete faith that you will conquer the bad habits and find your way back.

  12. Kate says

    I gained a lot of weight over the holidays when I decided to “sample” the Lindt chocolates to be sure they were right as gifts. I found that eating the chocolates, some pizza, and other items quickly put on all the weight I lost on a juice fast. So I went on another one after the holidays to get off all that weight again. The good news is that I don’t want the chocolate any more. The sugar craving is completely gone. Even interest in pizza. And dairy. After juicing 30 days, I seem to want healthier plant-based vegan options. I don’t even want to eat the entire Costco-sized container of cashews in my kitchen.

    I discovered that processed foods was a big part of my weight gain. I had to cook or prepare my own foods and get a lot more fruits and vegetables into my day. I did a year of green smoothies before I went to green juice. Now I can’t do without it. Or carrot juice. And I actually really like salads, which I didn’t when I was much younger. Also I am so into quinoa. I just love it and make a big batch of it daily. I usually add coconut oil, lots of kale, and often other veggies. I can make a big batch that I can use for days.

  13. Kerri says

    Good post. Have you thought about getting a pressure cooker? Food is cooked much more quickly and it’s all in one pot. I recommend Lorna Sass, and as resources.

  14. karen says

    You are doing a great job- both internal: taking care of yourself, and external- serve as an inspiration. Great honest post.
    Btw, I’m a new reader of your blog, and so happy i came across it :-)
    Ive learned about it after i bought your book off the new audio- kindle application.


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