Common wisdom for careers is “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I write about food and travel because I’ve always had a fascination with other cultures’ foods. What do they eat over there? What do royal people eat? What do movie stars eat? What do people who live on mountains or in deserts or by the sea eat? Then, there’s the accompanying, “Who does it the best? What’s the finest and/or most authentic example?” Then, add to that curiosity that I’m not sporty at all and don’t particularly enjoy going to the gym. Over the years, I really gained weight. When I was young, those “Hollywood” juice fasts seemed to help shed pounds. Soon, they would come back . . . plus some. Even bouts with stomach flu didn’t do much!
Then, I had the opportunity to try Selvera, a comprehensive approach to losing weight. It’s individualized and private, so you’re not getting embarrassed in front of a group. There are several components, including tech components:
- You work with a registered dietician. Mine is Amanda Foti, a nationally recognized expert. Your dietician gets real-time reports through tech tools (see below) and talks with you once a week on your cell phone. You can also send emails at any time.
- You receive a scale that sends weight, body fat percentage, heart rate and room air quality data to your dietician.
- You receive a pedometer that also sends data back to your dietician. You set your goals with your counselor, but in general, the 10,000 steps (5 miles) plan with some weight lifting for sculpture never hurt anybody (or hardly)!
- They have an app that graphs how you’re doing and also, you input the foods you eat – learning their “key” system and that data goes back to your dietician.
- They have prepackaged meals you can order.
I didn’t try the meals, but I tried some snacks, including protein shakes, bars and cereal. The shakes are convenient, because they are a powder formulation in a plastic bottle that you can add water to anywhere. They pretty much taste like that type of shakes taste: pleasant, but not particularly crave-worthy. Sweets aren’t my total downfall, so the bars didn’t really do it for me. Maybe if they were a big bar of caramel, it would be different. The cereal was like a regular flake cereal – nothing weird or seed-filled. It was a little shocking to see what a proper cereal portion is! Big hint: it’s not so big.
I have a love-hate relationship with the tech stuff. I’ll admit it flat-out: I’m not good with tech stuff, though I like what they can do. My husband has to set alarm clocks. I recently had to change the time on our oven and even that necessitated a call to the customer service center. Selvera used to partner with Withings before creating their own house brand equipment.
- I’ve tried just the Withings scale, but both the Withings and Selvera pedometer watch. I love having an accurate digital scale that relates my weight, body fat percentage and heart rate in real time to my counselor.
- I had a Withings pedometer at first. It was always double counting my steps, which I had to ‘fess up to. Also, as I don’t always like wearing a sporty watch, it was cool that you could clip the mechanism to a purse, for instance. Well, I wore the mechanism to a travel press luncheon in DC, where it promptly popped off, never to be seen again. I tend to lose little things; maybe it’s my poor eyesight. The Selvera watch seems to be more accurate. Snap it on securely, as I’ve seen it pop off. I would also say that the UBS charger could be redesigned, as the mechanism doesn’t snap in securely and can pop out. It’s about the size and look of a piece of licorice. It charges from dead pretty quickly, in about an hour.
- My favorite tech part is their amazing app, that allows you to manually input data (just in case), has a whole directory of foods and their appropriate key size and category, progress graphs and a lot more.
Your dietician counselor designs a weekly key system appropriate for your goals and lifestyle. Mine was eating 5 protein keys, 5 fiber keys and three fat keys a week, with 3 “discretion” keys and 3 “alcohol” keys. I knew some nutritional concepts – for instance, that a creamy, fatty Pina Colada is not the same as a glass of dry white wine. But other nutrition info, I was wrong about . . . for decades! They consider peanut butter butter a protein, while I always thought it was more of a fat. I lived off cheese for years and years, thinking meat was a hard to digest protein, while cheese was better. Wrong! Cheese, in most cases, is a fat. Your portion should be like how you butter a roll, not a half brick of Cheddar. Though I would eat too much of some things (cheese), I really wasn’t eating enough protein or fiber. My grandfather had taught me to “always eat a hot vegetable and a salad at dinner”. What I didn’t know is I need to be eating some fruit and vegetables all day! Also, women tend not to eat enough protein: we’re conditioned to think eating meat is indelicate. Something else I learned: the bacon and hard salamis that I love are more like fats than proteins!
I like talking to my counselor, because I can ask about problems or weird diet trends I read about or find out about certain foods I like. It turns out this Viking bread I enjoy is really good for me – even though the sugar content from carrots is high, but this Arab yogurt drink I am addicted to is high in fat and salt. So, I make adjustments. Not everything that’s marketed as “healthy” is.
I don’t like working out. Also, I live on top of a big hill where it’s fun to walk down and I want a shuttle bus for going back up. When you’re overweight, it’s even harder, because you have to carry YOU! I occasionally renew my membership at a gym owned by a guy who set a bazillion Olympic medal records. If he put dime one into it, I can’t see it. They don’t even have towel service! It’s painted battleship gray in most parts and the locker rooms are dingy. But, everybody has to work out: you, you and me, too. I downloaded cadences from an Army run session and listen to it as I walk on a treadmill. Nothing fancy, but the point is to do it regularly. I find myself carrying heavy bags around more often than concerted weight sessions, though I do have cute hand weights I got at a sporting goods store.
I also learned that it’s not just “the skinny people” who watch their weight and work out. In my mind, I used to envy say, NFL linebackers, thinking they could eat anything they liked in any amount. Maybe in the past, but not now! With the scientific advances in nutrition, they now know that certain foods enhance performance and when millions of dollars are on the line, they want every advantage they can get! I read about people like Ray Lewis eating egg white omelets and think, “That’s not fair! Nobody gets to eat what they want all the time!” But that’s just the way it is. Kind of like, nobody’s grandma will live forever. At least on the Selvera program, they feel there are healthy fats and I don’t have to separate egg yolks, using them as hair conditioner. They don’t go in for the fake “diet” foods either, like 100 calories junk food snacks.
As a global traveler and travel writer, how did this change me and my behavior?
- I’m more cognizant of eating more fiber when out and about. This helps me to be more regular, fight off jet-lag and foreign colds a little bit, as well as have better skin.
- When there are things that go above my key allowance, I try to keep it to a bite or two. I’ve definitely sworn off the “clean plate” club: I’ll either save things for leftovers, give it to the dog or really, just forget about it. Just because a given restaurant’s portions are over-large to attract a certain crowd, doesn’t mean I have to eat like there’s no tomorrow.
- I try to stay away from restaurants or situations where it’s too overwhelming for me to eat properly, at least without making a stink about it. There’s a chain restaurant with “Factory” in its name where technically, a person could order a half salad or something, maybe. But nobody does! If I’m at a place where I genuinely love the food, but it’s not slenderizing – like my favorite historic deli – I eat a half sandwich, maybe throwing away half the bread. I make sure to follow up with lots and lots of water.
- I don’t make my lifestyle change a big point of conversation. If something’s not worth it – my in-laws are big on grocery store sheet cakes and ice cream, for example – I just take the cup of coffee accompanying it. When I found out in Fiji that the tropical drinks weren’t made from fresh, local wild fruit and rather, from a US company’s can, I stopped drinking. I’m not a fanatic, either. I once spent the day with a model for Chanel and she ignored house-made ice cream stops and drink stops, instead requesting an espresso at each place with a twist of lemon. Abroad, I need my sugar and domestically, give me my cream and Splenda!
- There’s a company that takes travel writers to learn about different cities or regions in the country, but notoriously takes them to restaurants that are pretty much serving up all “discretions” – doughy, fried everything. It’s cheaper that way! We’re talking several meals each day for several days. I’ve been ignoring their emails. Not only do I not care to write about such stuff, but also, it’s not good for me. The only cultural exception I’d suggest is something I learned about on my own — the fair food in Springfield, Illinois: Land of Lincoln. Farmers there eat mostly processed food, because their land is too valuable for commercial commodity crops to putz about with heirloom tomatoes. I think that’s interesting, from a sociological point of view.
- It takes time to adjust to proper portions of food. We all know about the thumb, palm and hand method of measuring foods, but we don’t do it. Do I? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If I did it all the time, I’d get even better results. For some people, it may take a few days to adjust to smaller portions. For some people (like me!), a few weeks. I had always heard, “only eat when you’re hungry”. So, I was legitimately hungry, even though overeating. It was hard to stop. Why? Because, I learned, your stomach is a muscle. The only muscle I had worked out diligently over the years was my tummy! It took almost 2 months to atrophy. I don’t eat huge portions anymore. I might eat too many rich foods and not work out enough, but rarely am I eating boatloads of food.
- You’re not supposed to eat late at night. That’s been hard for me to break, but I try to fill up mostly on fancy flavored dessert teas and maybe just have a yogurt or something. Republic of Tea makes great substitutes for hot cider and cocoa, which I find myself wanting in the wee hours.
- I’m not perfect. I sometimes stray far from my goals and then, guess where it shows up? Actually, it took months for me to see results. It was so much time that I almost gave up, thinking, “I guess I just have to look a certain way now.” What’s really important to know – that I learned from my counselor – is due to women not having the same muscle content and metabolism of men, it takes longer to lose weight! You see those commercials on tv for diet pills for women, but they’re probably just dangerous diuretics. But I promise: if you keep doing what you’re supposed to do, Selvera will work.
- Flying and traveling will put on crazy amounts of weight! Restaurant food and many ethnic foods contain a lot more salt than you probably normally eat and they may also have MSG. Something about pressurized air cabins may also make you retain water. Don’t be shocked at putting on 10 pounds in a week! Just go back to drinking your waters and teas (most of your beverages should be non-caloric, even though the European style of tomato juice with salt and pepper is so tasty), cut down on “discretions”. You’ll probably go back “down” in a week.