Julia Havey ate way too much ice cream, and she needed to stop. It was as simple as that.
At 290 pounds, she had spent years popping diet pills and cycling on and off fad diets that required counting calories, ditching carbs or adhering to strict meal plans. Drastic measures always brought failure.
But one thing she knew on that January day back in 1994 was that her daily ice cream consumption had to end — even if it was the only bad habit she could kick.
After a month, her clothes were looser, and she had hope. Why not take aim at another vice? She cut back on frequent fast-food meals with her two kids. The Nashville mother began cooking more often, soon lost 15 or 20 pounds and had more energy. Slowly, she started exercising. As she lost weight, she gained confidence. One small victory built on another.
Fifteen months later, she had lost 130 pounds. And she hadn’t even gone on an actual diet. Instead, she had changed her lifestyle, a few degrees at a time.
Havey, 48, has kept the weight off for 15 years. She outlines the approach she stumbled upon so long ago in the new edition of her 2006 book The Vice-Busting Diet, and is in Toronto this weekend spreading her message at the National Women’s Show.
It’s a diet in name (for marketing purposes only, she stresses), but not in practice because it focuses on lifestyle changes rather than a strict eating regime or fanatical workout routines.
There’s no measuring of protein portions, planning what you’re going to eat for dinner next Monday, or tracking caloric intake.
The reason, says Havey, is when people jump into strict diets they can’t possibly stick to for the rest of their lives and go off them, “they generally revert back to their old lifestyle” — and regain what they lost.
“We live in a society that sets people up to gain weight,” she says, citing oversized portions, fast food, soft drinks, excess salt and sugar and too much screen time. The only answer is adopting habits that can last for life.
To Havey, the top three villains are soft drinks, fast food and television. Tackling those is the foundation of her approach. She also promotes PGX, a soluble fibre supplement that expands in the gut, creating a feeling of fullness and helping control hunger throughout the day.
Here are Havey’s first three steps, introduced one week at a time as part of her 12-week program. Weeks 4 to 12 build on these basics, making one change weekly to slowly adopt healthier eating habits and boost physical activity.
Drink lots of water: Take your current weight, divide it in two and that’s the number of ounces you should swallow each day. It helps reduce hunger, flushes out your system and most importantly, forces you to reduce soft drinks or sugary designer coffees that add empty calories. Drinking two glasses of water in the half hour before each meal will help you eat less.
Bust one food vice: Get rid of one specific food you eat regularly that’s low in nutrition and high in calories. Then find a substitute. Munch an apple or carrot sticks instead of the daily bag of chips. Keep it simple and just start with one.
Replace sedentary TV time with exercise: That doesn’t mean no television at all, it means no TV until you’ve done your daily exercise. (If you must, you can get on the treadmill while watching.) Don’t launch into ferocious interval training at the gym. Instead, choose exercise you enjoy, like walking or biking, and build gradually so you don’t burn out and quit. Start with a minimum of an hour three times a week.