I’m going to begin this blog with a disclaimer: I am not a diet expert. I haven’t devoted my career to helping people take control of their weight, and I haven’t performed extensive research on the topic.
I am, however, a surgeon, and I know from experience what it takes to manage your weight while working in medicine. After being overweight for more than a decade, I lost thirty pounds in less than six months, and I’ve maintained that weight loss ever since. And while exercise played a pivotal role (more on that in a later blog), redesigning my diet was key.
Here’s how I did it:
#1. I Ate More Plant-Based Foods
My favorite foods used to be bacon, sausage, and cheese. I ate them constantly -- at home, while I traveled, at medical conferences, and during my shifts at the hospital. I ate these foods so frequently that my taste buds regularly requested them. Thus, when I changed my diet, I had to teach my brain to overpower my taste buds.
I did this by increasing my intake of plant-based foods. Every evening I ate a large salad topped with healthy fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I still added “less healthy” toppings such as chicken, steak, cheese, and pasta, but the vegetables balance them out.
#2. I Stopped Eating when I Felt Full
Eating when you’re already full isn’t something your body does naturally; it’s a habit you learned. For example, growing up my parents made a big deal about finishing everything on our plate. This lesson is ingrained in my brain, so to this day I have a tendency to continue eating until my plate is clean, even if my stomach is full.
If this is a problem for you, recognizing the issue is the first step. The next step is changing the habit. A great strategy is to pause halfway through your meal to check in with your level of fullness. Or, you can try only filling your plate halfway in the first place.
#3. I Reduced my Consumption of Sweets and Soda
I used to eat oatmeal raisin cookies all day long because they were always available in the surgeon’s lounge. Every time I passed through I grabbed one without even thinking about it. At home, I loved eating ice cream and chocolate. Our kids are rarely offered soda, and when they had it available, they had a one soda maximum per day rule. I was exempt. I was famous in our family for my Dr. Pepper addiction.
It was too overwhelming to stop eating these foods cold turkey, so instead I slowly reduced the amount I consumed. I started by cutting down from several cans of soda a day to one a day. A few months later I reduced to two cans a week, then to one a week, and so forth.
#4. I Drank Loads of Water
Not only do I drink water for the health benefits, I also use it to avoid overeating. For example, before dinner I fill my stomach partway with water first. That way when I eat, I reach a satisfied state sooner.
#5. I Made Unhealthy Snacks Less Available
You can keep your snacking habit and still lose weight by making unhealthy snacks less available. The best option is to avoid unhealthy snacks altogether, but if that’s not possible, pause before you indulge. Take 10-15 seconds to consciously make a healthier snack choice.
#6. I was More Careful when On-Call
Being on-call is challenging for a few reasons. First, it keeps you awake longer, so you’re exposed to hunger more often. Second, your surgical cases aren’t scheduled around mealtimes, so you’re forced to skip meals. And third, the desire for quick food when you’re finally able to eat exposes you to unhealthy choices, whether it’s at a restaurant or in the surgeon’s lounge. I addressed this challenge by planning out my meals in advance and being very aware of what I consumed during my on-call days. It required a bit more focus, but it was well worth it, especially when I hit my target weight.
There you have it -- the six strategies that helped me lose thirty pounds in less than a year. I share them not so you can follow them exactly, but to encourage you to design your own healthier way of eating. Start with your first step, then keep adding on and moving forward with YOUR goal in mind.
How many of these steps will you incorporate into your own new diet? What additional strategies can you think of to manage your weight while working in medicine?