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Posted on Jan 30, 2013 in Food | 29 comments

Semi Homemade Dieting with Gretchen

One of the first things I came to realize when I started this blog (oh so many eons ago) is that when it comes to weight loss–and healthy living in general–everybody’s got an opinion. Everyone has a different method that worked for them, everyone has feelings about this or that or the other. Low fat! Low carb! Paleo! Atkins! South Beach! Weight Watchers! Jenny Craig! Home food delivery services! Gluten-free! No sugar! Cheat days! Meatless Mondays! 100% clean eating! Don’t eat white colored foods! Only drink clear liquids!

And, sure, that’s a lot of options (and really I’ve just skimmed the surface), but it’s kind of a great thing, right? I mean, it’s wonderful that there are so many different methods and programs and diets and lifestyles that people who are looking to lose weight, get fitter, feel better, whatever, have to choose from. The thing is, once you become open about your own health/weight loss goals (like by, um, writing a blog about it, I guess?) all those opinions… start heading your way. And that’s when it starts to get a little overwhelming.

For a long time, I’ve been pretty firm in the mindset that I don’t *NEED* a program in order to lose weight. I considered myself the queen (princess?) of fad diets for so long, once I started this blog I swore (in the dramatic, stamp my foot on the ground, fist in the air kind of way) never to rely on another person or program or instructional pamphlet again. I mean, sure, calorie counting in and of itself is a kind of method, I suppose, but it’s not dictated by anyone other than myself and, like, science. And I don’t need to pay anybody to do it. But, that said, we all know that for the past year+ my weight has just been going in circles without any real PROGRESS. And not trying something on principle or out of stubbornness is pretty bratty (though, let’s be honest, so am I). But! I really am trying to become more open minded about the whole thing. A few of you guys have encouraged me to give Weight Watchers a try, others continue to show what the golden rules of Paleo can lead to. And I really am looking into things and trying to figure out what might work best for me, because I don’t want to be stuck anymore. But in the meantime, until that point, I know I just have to try–and I mean really TRY, not the complacent half-assery that I’ve been doing for the past Lord-knows-how-long–to stick with what I know works. What worked for me in the past, and what should work for me again if I actually stuck with it for more than like, a day. (And I’m three days strong so far, so HA!)

See, pretty much every single thing in my life boils down to the fact that I am incredibly lazy. So when we talk about cooking at home, sure, I get my moments where I want to play Top Chef in the kitchen and craft transcendentally delicious meals with plating so beautiful it would bring a tear to Tom Colicchio’s eye. But most of the time I’d rather zap up a bowl of Chef Boyardee in the microwave and call it dinner. Mmm-mmm-good? You betcha. Healthy? Not so much. And sure, I bet there are a lot of you out there that are like, well, you just have to MAKE yourself be good. You just have to FORCE yourself to cook at home 6/7 nights a week and to buy only “good” things at the grocery store and be healthy… and eventually you’ll train yourself to WANT those things. But, and here’s where that innate brattiness comes back in, I don’t like to be forced to do anything. In fact, I my innate response to trying to make myself do something is to say, “Screw you, self! I do what I want!” and then order a pizza.

So, instead, I find the happy balance. I embrace the fact that I’m never going to be the kind of person who hand-prepares 100% of her meals, and when I do, they’re not always going to be infallibly mean, clean, and green. But most of the time, they’ll probably be pretty close. So isn’t that good enough? I mean, hey, if Sandra Lee can make an entire Food Network show out of mixing homemade with store-bought, why can’t my diet be like that too?


Let’s take what I ate yesterday, for example. For breakfast, I had two strips of local bacon, a slice of whole wheat bread with Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter, and a bosc pear. For lunch, I had fresh strawberries and some chili that I bought from the farmer’s market. For my snacks, I had a laughing cow cheese wedge and an entire container of hummus with baby carrots (granted, I should NOT have had the entire container, but let’s not really focus on that) Then, for dinner, I cooked up a thai chicken sausage (that I also got at the farmer’s market), 1/2 a cup of coconut rice, and a salad with red onion, pineapple, and poppyseed dressing.


And yes, I’m a terrible blogger and only managed to take pictures of my dinner. HOWEVER! If we look at everything I ate yesterday, I think I struck a pretty good balance between whole, clean foods (pears, strawberries, carrots, hummus, salad, and arguably, bacon) and convenience foods (bread, laughing cow, salad dressing, and arguably, white rice). The chili and chicken sausage I’m torn on because I did buy them pre-made (essentially) but they were made from all whole foods with no preservatives or unpronounceable things on the label. So you guys can decide, haha. Regardless, I came in with my net calories for the day being around 1562, and was pretty happy about the amount of food I got to eat.

So! What I’m trying to say with this overly wordy post is that, until I decide to really commit to a different way of managing my diet–and I honestly am looking into various options–I think I’m okay with sticking with what I know. A happy mash-up of convenience and clean–a semi-homemade diet. Still with room for eating out upon occasion because, as you all know, I fracking love to eat out.

What diet/program/lifestyle/food philosophy (ha!) do you subscribe to? And I’m interested in hearing whether you consider it to be for life, or if it’s for weight-loss specific purposes.


  1. I struggle with laziness on a regular basis. I overslept? Might as well drive-thru my breakfast. Make dinner? Psh, popcorn or cereal is fine. It’s a terrible cycle to reach for something easy instead of pushing myself to do what is “harder” and actually cook. And I LOVE to cook and usually like whatever I make myself so it’s not even that I don’t have the skills or time (except in the morning).

    I’m generally not a believer in “diet plans” but I can’t deny that I saw great results with paleo. I just felt like crap while I was doing it which is not what I usually hear from the people who really like it.I have considered going back on it again just to lose weight but I really want to learn moderation more than just teaching myself to eliminate entire food groups. I feel it’s easier to just say no to something than it is to say “one bite” you know?

    • See, I’m like the opposite way. I can’t say “no” in any kind of finite way, because it just makes me want that thing more. It makes me glad that I’ve never tried drugs, because I feel like I would become an addict LIKETHAT.

  2. I’ve never really subscribed to a program before.. and as a result I ate a lot of junk! Right now I am testing out an anti-inflammatory diet to (hopefully) help with some persistent pain and circulation issues I have in one of my hands. Basically you test different foods to see how your body responds to them, and if it responds poorly you stop eating it. Eating foods that don’t cause you inflammation is supposed to help with chronic illnesses and diseases as well as weight loss.

  3. Hi Gretchen,
    First off, thank you! for continuing to blog during all your weight loss ups, downs, and plateaus. I started a blog when I was doing well and have lost all momentum now that life is back in the way. I totally get your re-commitment. And, I think that trying again and again is what life’s all about. Right now, my weight loss philosophy is that you can, and should, pick and choose bits from many different plans, diets, etc. Pick the parts that will fit best in your life and make your eating habits your own. I have never, ever, been able to “make” myself do something that didn’t fit my personality for very long.
    Have you heard of “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat” by Michelle May? The basic gist of it is that you learn to listen to your hunger and craving cues and give your body what it needs, when it needs it. You eventually learn to listen to your own body.

  4. I tried Atkins once and lost around 30 lbs really fast, but as soon as I started eating “normally” again, the weight (and more) came right back on.

    Sooooo, now I stick to just eating healthy. Staying away from sweets (most days, I allow myself a treat on the weekends) and eating lots of veggies. I get my carbs, but always in the whole grain or fruit variety.

    Diet programs and all that jazz are just too exhausting for me. I like just knowing what is good for my body and aiming for that!

  5. Last spring I had great success with focusing my diet on “clean eating”: lots of vegetables and fruit, lean proteins about once a day or less if it was meat (more if a vegan option), reduced dairy consumption to one per day, and major strides in moderation–I didn’t cut anything out. I didn’t count calories (I hate that), just tried to eat intuitively. It was awesome. Until my stress levels became so high because of a work project that I fell back to my stress eating ways–lots of ice cream (convenient meal!), frozen pizza, and cheese. Now I’ve joined Weight Watchers and I am eating pretty much what I ate last spring and losing the same amount of weight, except I am tracking everything with their proprietary Points and paying to go to meetings to weigh-in publicly. I have no idea why I cannot do this on my own. I plan to stick with WW until I reach a milestone, then switch to the online version and simultaneously track in WW and SparkPeople so I can see the calories comparison.

    If I had not joined WW (or maybe tracked through Spark People) I would not be losing weight now. I don’t know why I can’t do it on my own right now. The extra benefit of tracking with a food budget is that I am also being more fiscally responsible now. Which is awesome.

    I do think you could do Paleo while being on WW–you choose what you eat and nothing is off limits.

    WW is working for me now, so that’s what I’m sticking to for now. When I’m ready for something else, I’ll start that.

  6. You know what they say about opinions. But I’ve already said the word a**hole too many times on your blog, so I’ll leave it at that.

    That having been said, my diet is one of maintaining rather than losing, so that makes things a bit easier for me. My strategy is to aim for a healthy balance of “I do what I want and then order a pizza!” and “Yesterday I ordered that pizza, so today I should convince my pizza-centric brain that salads are delicious.” And then I make a salad that actually IS delicious, and everybody wins. (I think I just called my brain an “everybody.”)

    I learned early on that completely depriving myself of foods I crave (chocolate! CHEESE!) just makes me crave them more, and then eat them more, and then shame spiral more. Sure, if I cut all the unncessaries like chocolate and cheese out of my diet completely, my body would look better. But on my insides I’d be all like OH GOD I WANT CHOCOLATE SO BAD. I WOULD DO TERRIBLE THINGS FOR A SPRINKLING OF PARMESAN. And that’s no good. So I try in my everyday habits to strike a balance between being comfortable with what I’m eating and how often I’m exercising, and comfortable with how my body looks and feels as a result of that eating and exercising.

    Sometimes I’m not totally happy with the way I look, but I’m happy with giving myself a break from the gym for a while; sometimes I’m happy with the way I look, but I want to be eating more cake. There’s a give and take, and I try to strike a balance with being, if not ecstatic, at least comfortable with the way I look, and with the way I eat and exercise at the same time. I like to think of my body and my brain like a good marriage: keeping them happy requires compromise, respect, and a mutual love of pizza.

  7. I decided to try WW online (again) back in November and decided last week that I was going to go back to counting calories on MFP. I lost 35lbs last year counting calories and I know I can lose even more this year 🙂

  8. I struggle with following a plan as well. I find it is almost easier if I do something like Paleo–where whole food groups are just off-limits–than if I try to count calories or WW points. One slice of bread so easily turns into 5 for me.

    Ok, I need to know where you got the Thai Chicken Sausage–it sounds yum. Which market, and which vendor?

  9. I’ve been doing Weight Watchers for the last year and a half, and I absolutely love it. I love the online tools, the support at meetings, and the way the program works. I made the decision to join when calorie counting on my own (via SparkPeople) just wasn’t working for me anymore. The thing that I love most about WW is that nothing is truly off limits. I cook most of my meals at home because I truly love doing it, but I still throw a frozen pizza in the oven from time to time or go out for a burger and fries.

    I think regardless of what method or program you choose the real deciding factor in your success is your attitude/ mindset and committment to actually doing it. A friend of mine wrote a post not long ago about recommitting to weight loss. (You can check out her post here: http://www.oddduckblog.com/being-honest-about-losing-weight/)

    She made the point that when you’ve been losing weight for a long time and you’ve established so many of those healthy lifestyle habits it becomes easy to get complacent and lose the mindset of being in “weight loss mode.” After reading and digesting her post I realized I’ve totally lost the weight loss mindset. Early this month, after basically maintaining for the last 6 months, I really recommitted myself mentally to the idea of being in “weight loss mode” and I’ve dropped 5lbs in 3 weeks This is something that probably hasn’t happened in the last year.

  10. My freezer is what helps me keep away from processed foods and restaurants (within reason, anyway…sometimes you’ve just got to eat out/heat up a can of soup).

    I make and freeze all kinds of things: breakfast (NOT egg mcmuffins – named by my husband, sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits), lunches (burritos mostly), and dinners (lasagna, marinara sauce in portioned containers, vegetarian enchiladas, “refried” beans, mexican rice, and so on). This lets me have a healthy meal, for cheaper than elsewhere, that’s just as convenient. As long as I remember to take the foil off before putting it in the oven, it takes a really long time to cook a casserole when the heat is largely reflected off the top…

  11. I honestly think if you are struggling with getting on and off the wagon a program is more what you need than not. I followed Weight Watchers and lost 150#s on it and kept it off, I found the program to be workable in most social settings and loose enough to make good choices throughout the day regardless of what situation I was in.

    I found that every time I was going to “invent” something that I found myself ass over apple-cart in eating mass quantities of healthy food. With the mindset I was making better choices but even those choices were not good because I was eating far too much.

    Weight loss is a slippery slope for a lot of people but the science behind it is pretty simple. Calories in versus calories out and once you master that you can move on to the more in depth parts of the equation. What foods fuel YOUR body the best, what is a livable approach for the rest of your life not just when you are in diet mode or looking to shed a few pounds.

    I noticed every time I did things half way I got half the results I knew I was capable of. It is a mental battle either you want it bad enough or you don’t. I decided at some point that I was only tricking and cheating myself by not doing things to the fullest.

    I believe the biggest part of the battle is keeping the weight off once you have gotten to goal. Thankfully I changed my entire lifestyle and never looked back.

  12. Wow- your eats put mine to shame. I hear you though on sticking with what works for YOU as everyone is different. It’s great that everyone is willing to share what has worked for them (and therefore, recommends that specific program)… but everyone’s different.

    For me, I calorie-count…and I like it. I have toyed with doing WW, but calculating points and all that jazz just sounds too complicated- so I stick with simple calorie counting. I also don’t have to worry about eating too many fruits and veggies just because they’re “free points.”

    I think store-bought foods are perfect for keeping sanity and staying on track. Laughing Cow Cheese- amazing lower calorie addition to any meal! Store bought PB- I’m ALL about it (Especially PB & Co. Love all the flavors!). I try to eat “clean” but I also want to be sane and happy. Good luck! 🙂

  13. From the description of what you ate, 1562 calories sounds really great!

    I’m definitely one of those people that if I try to follow anything too strictly then I will only feel deprived and sabotage myself. It seems weird, but I’ve actually found a way to make that work for me in trying different “diets.” I like to read about what the diet is involves and try incorporating aspects of it into my day-to-day eating. Sometimes I’ll try following them exactly for a couple of weeks, just to see how it works and makes me feel. In this way I think I’ve gotten to a point where I have a lot of good habits built in to the way I’m eating, and I definitely don’t feel deprived.

    I do still always have the spells where I just don’t feel like cooking everything myself, so when that happens I try to turn to “clean” pre-made foods. A lot like the items you bought at the farmer’s marker, if I know the food I’m eating is made from real foods and doesn’t contain artificial stuff then I still feel pretty good about it. If I want a frozen pizza, I’ll have one… I’ll just buy a Kashi pizza, try not to eat the whole thing myself, and make a salad to go on the side.

    p.s. right now I’m semi-following the “Flat Belly Diet” it’s very interesting with the idea of making sure you have a healthy fat at every meal. So far it makes me feel pretty satisfied all day.

  14. In semi-related news, I have a whole long-ass post in the hopper about how sick I am of people saying you that all you need is a “lifestyle change” and you’ll lose weight. That’d not always true. Maybe at first. And maybe if you were living a drastically unhealthy lifestyle to begin with. But eventually that “lifestyle change” weight stops coming off and you have to (four-letter word alert) DIET. And I don’t think there is anything wrong or taboo or unhealthy about that.

    • I cannot wait for that post! I’ve totally been considering writing that post myself but wasn’t sure if I even wanted to go there!

    • Dude. So. True. I’m nowhere NEAR the unhealthy person I used to be. But after a while, changing all your habits to healthy ones doesn’t mean the weight’s gonna keep falling off. I can’t wait to read your post on the subject. <3

  15. Gretchen, I am so happy that you wrote this post! I don’t follow a plan either because I know I can’t follow something that specific. I, like you, try to balance my entire day’s intake with healthy fats, veggies & fruits, healthy grains, etc. and if some “bad” things seep in, its okay because it is more about balance and nutrition than chastising ourselves for eating. I am susceptible to the convenience foods (frozen meat substitutes, lean cuisines)and also laziness (popcorn and cheese stick is balanced..right) but we can only do our best each day and move on from there.

    Thank you for blogging your experience!

  16. Gretchen – I really appreciate your honest attitude towards weight loss, healthy living and semi-homemade dieting LOL… Semi-homemade is my life!

    Like you said there are SO many options out there… it is hard to decide which program or lifestyle is “the one”. Right now, I’m just trying to find balance like you are. 🙂

  17. I’ve tried different programs, and personally found the most success from counting calories and answering to a diet buddy. But I fully believe that different programs work differently for different people. The trick is to find what works for you!

  18. I like your semi-homemade diet! That is sort of what I do…and I’m only now beginning to blog about it. Used to the word “diet” was scary and meant I didn’t want to talk about it. Now I’m all about embracing it. And it’s not a diet..it’s a lifestyle! Some clean eating, some indulging when I need it most, calorie-counting, carb-counting, fat-reducing, and all that jazz. For me, it’s important to find a happy place to be consistent and then those changes stick.

  19. check out fat2fitradio, it is an older show (podcast) but the theory of the two guys is very appealing:
    eat and move like the person you want to be.

    That means find out the BMR of the weight you want to have for the rest of your life and eat that amount of calories from now on. Eventually you will get there. And stay there. And the more you move the more you can eat.

    I am about your hight and for me that means eating almost 2000 cal/day with modest sport/training.
    And i can totally live on 2000 cal for the rest of my life, it is a lot of food compared to all those horrible diets i ever did in my life

  20. Even if people don’t admit it I think we are subject to the whole wanting to be able to call ourselves something. I personally stick to a paleo type diet but I definitely think about hm am I really paleo when sometimes all I want to do is split a family size bag of doritos and a roll of pre made chocolate chip cookies with my bf on a Friday night? Does that make me a bad person?!

    I am starting to come to terms with the fact that in order to enjoy life and say yes to more things (like a night out on the town) I need to give myself a little wiggle room and not feel bad about it. So I do prepare myself breakfast, lunch, and dinner just about every day but sometimes I just can’t because a friend needs a girls night out and its at 5pm and I am going to have to eat at some point, and that is okay.

    It’s easier for me to skip eating junk food by leveling with myself where else I could be putting that money instead of eating and then feeling like I need to run more. Plus I like seeing how many days I can go with out using my credit card after I buy groceries, silly? yes. necessary when living in this area to watch your pennies? ABSOLUTELY.

  21. Three years ago I lost 35 pounds by eating mindfully – eating at the table versus in the car, in front of the tv, while emailing, etc. I also started a running program and was up to about 3-4 miles/3-4 times per week. I slowly started eating in front of the computer, the tv, wasn’t consistent with exercise and well, the weight came back. I’m back to exercising and hoping the mindful eating will follow.

  22. I have had great success with just counting calories using MyFitnessPal. I eat pretty much what I want. I did increase my intake of fruits and vegetables. The only 2 big things I gave up were drinking soda & going to “fast food” restaurants. I still go out to other restaurants but I try to only go once a month. So far it’s worked for me & I have lost 69 lbs. I am aiming to lose another 40. Exercise has also played a huge role & I love running !

  23. I so relate.

    The phrase ‘set yourself up for success’ gets thrown around a lot with regard to weight loss. In order to do that, I think you have to know yourself. Specific plans work for some people, but we’re all different and we have to find our own way.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think that all ‘convenience’ foods are necessarily evil. For years, I wouldn’t buy bag salads/salad kits because they tasted funny and how hard is it to make a salad anyway? But somehow these days assembling a salad can seem like to much, and if it is a choice between salad from a bag and no salad at all, I figure I’m better off opening that bag.

    True, Chef Boyardee for dinner every day is probably not the best plan. But if you truly enjoy it, having it once in a while is not the end of the world.

  24. Ahaha, Gretchen, the way you write about your inner thought process is so perfect. Nobody’s exactly the same person they were in high school, but you’ve definitely kept a lot of the good old Gretchen.

    To answer the question: my two guidelines are vegan & whole foods. I’m not 100% in either, but it feels good and it’s simple enough to follow stress-free. I should mention that I’m not eating for weight loss, more for “optimal health” if we want to get buzzwordy. But as someone interested in a career in healthcare, I do keep up with the research, and Ornish/Campbell/Barnard are big influences on my thinking in this respect.

    For the laziness thing, I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but have you tried preparing multiple meals at once? One of my resolutions for the year is to eat out less, which means packing lunches for work. On Monday, I made a giant jar of peanut sauce (my fav) and a big pot of rice. Each evening I steam some vegetables and bake some tempeh or tofu, and I have another day’s lunch in 10 minutes. You just have to be OK eating the same thing all the time. (I, uh, really like peanut sauce.)

    Final note: an earlier commenter wrote about mindful eating. Buddy at Zen Habits just wrote a great post on the benefits of eating as meditation (as opposed to compulsion). Mindfulness is something I’m trying to cultivate, and I’m sure it would do great things in diet and beyond.


  25. I can’t say enough good things about WW!! You can follow the program and still live–socialize, have treats…nothing is off limits. I’ve lost just over 100lbs on the program

  26. I don’t believe in plans. Things never go according to them. My mom’s bf just told me I need to make a workout plan to run my 10 soon. I just feel that if I go to the gym more than not going to the gym and I’m getting my money’s worth, that’s my “plan.” Just like with eating healthier. I know I need to eat healthier but I don’t like making a plan. I’ll get eat a salad when I want and I’ll have fries with it when I want.

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