Friends and relatives have been amazed and impressed that I have lost 50 pounds over the past year. I have been thrilled that I have accomplished this without using expensive prescription or over the counter medications or meal plans, and without suffering. There is a constant barrage of commercials for all kinds of diet pills and even more these days for expensive meal plans. Too many people substitute money for discipline. A year ago I decided that there was a much more sensible and cost effective way to lose substantial weight.

I have focused on using a set of readily available products that are regularly on sale and for which there are frequent coupons in local newspaper supplements. What is even more important is that there are frozen meals that are remarkably diverse and great tasting.

Several companies offer frozen meals that are very, very healthy, with low fat and salt contents, healthy vegetables, high fiber content, and calories in the range of 200 to 350. True, the portions are modest, but their great taste offsets this. And besides, the point of using these frozen meals is that they get you in the habit of feeling satisfied with smaller portions. Most of these healthy frozen meals allow you to have some rice or pasta to satisfy normal cravings for carbs.

Here are my favorite brands of frozen meals that I heartily recommend.

Lean Cuisine is my favorite, mainly because of the great variety of meals, allowing me to focus on chicken or fish meals, because I try to minimize beef and pork. Their sauces are wonderful, true restaurant quality. Two particularly terrific meals are the salmon with basil at just 220 calories and tortilla crusted fish at 330 calories. In the Asian class the chicken teriyaki stir fry at 300 calories and the sesame stir fry with chicken at 300 calories are excellent.

Healthy Choice is another great product. In addition to the conventional frozen meals, with a small dessert, they have a set of Caf Steamers, especially great Asian style ones. If you love Chinese food, these Asian dishes are for you. The General Tso's Spicy Chicken dish at 310 calories and Sweet Sesame Chicken at 300 calories, for example, are marvelous. They are wonderfully seasoned. Among the regular meals, the Lemmon Pepper Fish at 320 calories is a favorite.

Safeway has a house brand called Eating Right and their frozen meals are some of the most tasty and sophisticated, covering a very broad range of styles. Their product labeling is superb, allowing you to easily see their main advantages, such as high protein, high fiber and low fat features. Their lemon grass chicken at 230 calories and chicken with peanut sauce at 280 calories are to die for.

Another preferred option is WeightWatchers Smart Ones frozen meals. Many of their meals have a lot of pasta because of an Italian style; they are very, very good, but tend to be on the high side of a good calorie range. Their lasagna and pasta primavera are terrific. They also have a wonderful hamburger meal to satisfy a craving for meat, and with a low calorie level. They also have some Mexican style meals that are truly exceptional, especially if you like something on the spicy side.

Lean Pockets are another great product, with each package containing two items. One sandwich makes for a great breakfast or lunch, with just over 200 calories. They now have some whole grain versions with better fiber content. They all taste great and are surprisingly filling.

I want to emphasize that all supermarkets, discount stores like Target and Costco, and other grocery stores have large selections of frozen meals, but careful examination of the labels reveals that they have high fat and salt contents and often high carb levels that produce high calories. One can easily get suckered into meals with 500 to 1,000 or more calories. In other words, not all good looking packages of frozen meals are in the same ball park. The worst trap is to buy relatively large packages that contain enough food for several meals. The absolutely best strategy is only to buy single meal packages and not get tempted to eat a lot of food.

A great goal is to eat about 1,000 calories a day. I eat one or two of these frozen meals every day. This allows me to eat other foods that fit into a low carb, low fat, high fiber, and low calorie style of eating, including some terrific nonfat cheeses and yogurts, and high fiber/low calorie breads along with salads and great can soups, typically about 100 to 200 calories.

Finally, a word about cost. I have made it an absolute policy not to spend more than $2 per frozen meal. In fact, over time I spend significantly less. How? First, I always watch for sales. All the main brands go on sale regularly, and when they are $2 or less I stock up. I also save coupons and hold them until the sales. This really gets the average cost down. A short time ago, for example, I averaged just $1.20 for Healthy Choice meals by taking advantage of a terrific sale. Over a week I bought 15 of them. When Lean Pockets are on sale for $2 the cost per item is just one dollar. All frozen meals are best and most conveniently heated in a microwave oven in just a few minutes, which also means less costly energy use.

I emphasize that I live in a relatively high living cost area, but usually once or twice a month one of the big name stores has one of the preferred brands on sale. My freezer is always packed with frozen meals, which gives me incredible choice for whatever type and style of food I prefer at any given time. From fish, to Mexican, to Italian, to Asian and others, I have so much choice that I always feel satisfied. This removes temptation to eat out in a restaurant.

Of course, in addition to relying on frozen meals I also exercise every day. And I was motivated initially by surviving a heart attack. Still, I now have learned to do what I had not done for the many decades during which my weight steadily increased. I eat well but sensibly and at a modest cost, no more than home cooked meals. And so can you. And if you follow this regimen, then you can do what I do once or twice a month: I cheat by having a high calorie, less healthy meal, either at home or at a restaurant, or at least a fancy, high calorie dessert. Within a day or two of going back to my healthy style my weight is back to normal. And gradually I am still losing a little more weight every month or so. I know this because the other important behavior is to regularly weigh yourself under exactly the same conditions.

Do all of this and you too can feel great when you donate a lot of large size clothing to Goodwill or some other charity. And it's nice to feel a whole lot lighter, which makes regular exercise much easier.

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