Amongst the myriad of ways that Covid has affected our lives this past year, unwanted weight gain has been a reality for many of us. Much of our energy was focused on procuring food for family trapped at home and much time was spent in the kitchen preparing meals. Boredom combined with anxiety created a recipe for plenty of mindless snacking. Armonk resident Lyssa Weiss, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., is the owner of Skinny Jeans Nutrition, LLC and a weight loss coach who specializes in emotional eating. I spoke with her about how she keeps herself accountable and helps her clients control their weight through Covid.
As a wife and mother of two with a busy career, Weiss is relatable. She understands her clients’ weight loss struggles because she herself lost 50 pounds, has kept it off for 27 years, and considers herself a food addict in recovery. “I had to change my thinking about food, overeating, and dieting in order to keep the weight off,” Weiss shares. “Once you learn to think differently, you literally become a happier version of yourself.”
Creating Good Habits
Weiss admits that at the start of the pandemic, her family, like everyone else’s, often found themselves in the kitchen with everyone on different eating schedules and generally bonding around meals. She quickly established boundaries and used the clock as a schedule, limiting herself to specific mealtimes and snack times. “My family was in the kitchen cooking and that was not going to change so I had to change. If there was lasagna, I made sure there was something else I can eat… and taking care of myself the way I would take care of my child if they had a special dietary need.”
Weiss promotes creating good habits and she practices what she preaches. She keeps a daily food record, mapping out her food for the day and budgets her calories accordingly. She calls it “calorie accounting” and teaches her clients that “it’s like money in a bank where you only have $1200 or 1200 calories to spend each day and you must budget that in planning your meals.”
Other helpful habits Weiss encourages include eating off a smaller plate to help control portion sizes and serving meals buffet style which forces you to stand up to get a second helping.
As we lounge around in sweatpants without social engagements on our schedule, it is difficult to stay motivated through this pandemic. Weiss advises clients to look to the future. “You don’t want to compound the pain of social isolation with the feeling that you also hate how you look and feel.”
Weiss understands that everyone has slip-ups but advises us to move past them. “Willpower does not work in dieting. I call it skill-power, and it’s a skill to not let your slip-up become your stopping point. I mess up like everyone else,” she concedes, “but I pick myself up the next day. I don’t let it become a week or a month or a pandemic of slip-ups.”
Avoiding Bad Boyfriend Foods
Weiss does not label certain foods good or bad, but she explains that how we behave around certain foods is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. She calls foods that we lose our sensibilities around ‘bad boyfriend foods’. “Whenever you get involved with these foods, it ends badly with you overeating them. One girl’s bad boyfriend food could be cookies while another’s could be grapes. It is not about the food, but rather how you behave around the food.”
To resist the pull towards these bad boyfriend foods, Weiss recommends keeping your kitchen clean of them since “we eat with our eyes.” In her own household, she stores her kids’ snacks in separate drawers from her own “safe foods” to avoid temptation.
Enjoyable snacks, however, that one will not overeat, are encouraged by Weiss. “Your day should be 80/20; 80% should be nutritious food and 20% should be fun treats because research shows that people who include treats in their diet stick to their food plan better.”
Find a Vice
As a specialist in emotional eating, Weiss travels two lanes in her office. Besides focusing on which foods to eat for weight loss, she explains why clients turn to food to change the way they are feeling whether lonely, tired, overwhelmed, or worried.
For example, those who claim hunger as they reach for the cookie jar, skipping the low-calorie food, such as an apple, are not experiencing physical hunger. “That’s just mindless grazing. Boredom and fear-based eating have been the two biggest culprits of over-eating during this pandemic.”
To combat this, Weiss suggests finding something else to compete with the act of eating so that you don’t turn to food “for a dopamine hit” when you’re simply bored. Instead, she urges, “find a vice that lights you up that is as quick and accessible as eating.” Weiss’s suggestions include watching Netflix shows, taking online courses, talking to friends, or starting a new hobby.
Besides seeing clients in her private practice, Weiss is generous with weight loss advice on her public Facebook page [Lyssa Dansky Weiss] where she runs a private weight loss support community, and on Instagram @lyssaweiss. Weiss is also the author of the book The Skinny Jeans Diet (Harper Collins). For more information, visit www.lyssaweiss.com.
Lyssa Weiss’s Buffalo Chicken Wings
1/2 of recipe (5 wings): 215 calories, 5.5g total fat, 16g carbs, 4g fiber, 1g sugars, 27g protein
15-20 reduced-fat BBQ baked potato chips or popped chips
Dash onion powder
Dash garlic powder
Dash cayenne pepper
Dash each salt and black pepper
8 oz. raw boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 10 nugget-size bites
3 tbsp. Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.
In a blender/food processor or in a ziplock bag with a spoon, grind/pound chips into crumbs. Transfer to a wide bowl and mix in seasonings.
Place chicken nuggets in a large bowl. Top with sauce and toss to coat.
One at a time, shake nuggets to remove excess sauce and coat with crumbs. Evenly lay on the baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes. Flip chicken. Bake until cooked through and crispy, about 6 minutes. Eat!
(You can also make this in the air fryer. Bake for 10 minutes at 350.)