Once upon a time I was that girl who tried and tried to lose weight and never saw any real, lasting results. While I never had a huge amount of weight to lose, I did know I wanted to be slimmer than I was for what felt like the majority of my life.
The post-pregnancy weight was always a little scary but eventually came off after each pregnancy with the addition of some moderate exercise. Then in early 2008 when I found myself back at my post-pregnancy weight and I hadn’t just had a baby – I knew it was time to get serious.
And then I figured, you know what? I’m gonna lose this “baby weight” (again, with no new baby to speak of) and then get those forever-stubborn 20 pounds off this time while I’m at it. I was determined to lose the weight that I’d never been able to lose in the past and get to a healthy, “normal” weight.
What I didn’t realize then was that this was the very beginning of a journey. A personal evolution that would eventually lead to lasting lifestyle changes that would be imperative to maintaining my weight loss. I’ve been able to keep the weight off with relative ease because I am now living an entirely new kind of life – a healthier one.
If I were to condense everything I’ve learned these past couple years into one (not so tiny) post – it’d look a little something like this:
(in the order I learned them)
Stop Drinking Your Calories
Soda has to go. There was definitely a time in my life when I was a regular soda drinker. It took a while, but I honestly don’t miss it at all anymore. Soda is big, but I also had to ditch the bottled juice, sweetened iced tea, lemonade, Vitamin Water, all of it! It had to go.
There are of course some exceptions to this “don’t drink your calories” rule and that includes: fresh vegetable and fruit juice from the juicer, smoothies as a snack or fast meal, cream in coffee, Kombucha, the occasional glass of wine and whatever calories might be in my saliva. Beyond that it’s seltzer or water.
No More Empty Calories
As a pre-teen and teen of the 90’s, I was part of the Susan Powter, Stop the Insanity, Fat Free!! madness. I use to be the fat free candy queen. Gummy bears. Gummy worms. Gummy strawberries. It’s FAT FREEEEE! I can eat as much as I want! Calories? What the hell are calories? Oh you just burn those off. Sugar? What? Sugar is good! Chomp chomp swallow.
The fact that I don’t have Type II Diabetes is a small miracle. So yeah, Candy Time is now over. Chocolate is the only exception I really make to the candy rule, and even then it’s almost exclusively 70% cocoa content or higher.
(And please, let the record state that I said “candy” – not dessert!)
Learn to Love Exercise
I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike, but when I was ready to get serious about losing weight, I knew I needed something a bit more intense – so I started running. At first, it totally sucked. Totally. I stuck with it though, and it became tolerable, and then somewhere along the way I figured out how to love running.
I now enjoy being active in any sense and try to fit in some physical activity every day – be it a real work out, something NEAT or even just a short walk.
And while it seems counter-intuitive, when you exercise regularly, you are rewarded with more energy. Regular exercise lead to sleeping better, which in turn made my workouts feel easier. This fueled my motivation to eat better, which played a role in better sleep, now I’ve got even more energy, which meant being happy and eager to work out.
This is the kind of cycle a girl could get use to.
Set a Goal
This is a part of Learning to Love Exercise. A real goal can keep you motivated on those days you’re just not feeling it.
I happened to pick running a marathon, because there’s no way someone trains to run a marathon and doesn’t lose weight, right? Well, not exactly. I set that goal in 2007 and had to bail on my first training attempt. Still, it got me running again and was enough to er… get me off and running. Even a 5K or 10K can be a great place to start.
Read, read, read. Study like this is the biggest most important test you’ve ever had to take – because it is! Understanding the science behind weight loss was a real turning point in my journey to my healthy weight. Read books, blogs, weight loss websites. Listen to weight loss podcasts. Magazines can be good but I tend to find them full of Lose Weight Fast! strategies instead of stuff that lasts.
Talk to people who have been successful at what you want to achieve – I love to learn by watching what other people do, especially successful people!
Eat to Fuel Your Workouts
This goes along with Educating Yourself and Learning to Love Exercise too. The Runner’s World forums were full of people who loved to talk about what they ate and how it made them feel. Runners love nut butters! And bananas! And bagels! I could get use to this.
Count Your Calories
Counting calories can be tedious and sucky. But changing your mind set and looking at it from a scientific perspective can help a lot with that.
First, I had to figure out how many calories a day I was supposed to be eating. Then I started paying attention to how many calories were in the foods I was eating. And what’s this BMR nonsense?
This too is a part of Educating Yourself. Understanding what your portion sizes should look like and how quickly calories can add up is one HUGE piece of the puzzle to making lasting change. You don’t have to count calories forever. I certainly didn’t. Do it long enough to so that you develop a new awareness to how much food you really need, what’s “worth it” and what’s not. You need to understand where you’ve gone wrong in the past in order to do it right from now on.
Keep a Food Journal
A little notebook and a little calculator with just a touch of OCD and you’re on your way to figuring out why you are or aren’t losing weight. Simply writing down the foods that you eat and skipping the math part can help you feel more accountable and discover where calories are sneaking in. You won’t have to do it forever, just long enough to help you figure out what’s going on and why what you’re doing is or isn’t working. There are lots of websites and apps available to do this online now, I really like The Daily Plate and have heard great things about My Fitness Pal.
Stop the Mindless Snacking
“Every calorie counts.”
Turns out that this is not one of those things people say that doesn’t actually mean anything. No, really! Calories! Count! This fact escaped me for so long I almost feel like idiot for not realizing it sooner.
When I started writing down every calorie I consumed into my little notebook, it put an end to all sorts of mindless eating. No more sticking my hand in a cracker box just cause it’s sitting there on the counter. No more eating the kids leftovers, mainly because I can’t find “PB & J crust” on any calorie counting website. No more eating the M&M’s I find in between the couch cushions either. Eat when you’re truly hungry, not because “it’s there”.
Get Food Out of Sight
One easy way to Stop the Mindless Snacking? Get food off the counter and into the cupboard. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not one of those things people say that doesn’t actually mean anything.
The mere sight of food can trick you into thinking you’re hungry. This is programmed into us thanks to evolution and our desire to survive. Put it away and save yourself from from being triggered as you walk through the kitchen with a basket of laundry when just a minute ago food and eating was the last thing on your mind.
Three Meals a Day, Maybe a Snack
Eat breakfast. <eat nothing> Eat Lunch. <eat nothing> Eat a Snack. <eat nothing> Eat Dinner. <go to bed>
This is absolutely one of the best habits I’ve ever put into place. Really, it’s just about waiting to eat until you’re truly hungry! If that means two snacks, so be it. But reining in the mindless, eating-between-meals beast is a huge part of my success at maintaining my weight.
No Eating Unless You’re Truly Hungry
Did I say this already? It still deserves it’s own bullet point: waiting to eat until I feel physical signs of hunger is definitely something I’ve gotten better at and was one of those little changes that can make a real difference. If I feel “sorta hungry” but I’m not sure, I’ll drink something because I’m probably just thirsty. Usually seltzer or a cup of hot tea makes things more interesting than just plain old water, and it almost always does the trick of squelching feelings that I might mistake as hunger.
If that feeling doesn’t go away then I ask myself if a pile of broccoli sounds good. If the answer is “no”, then I’m not really hungry. Now it’s time to dig deep and ask myself if something else is going on. Am I just bored? Lonely? Stressed? Here’s my opportunity to figure out what it is that I’m truly hungry for. <insert a more personal growth here>
I do sometimes eat pre-emptively, like if I’m leaving for a while and know I’ll be hungry soon or won’t have an abundance of time or healthy options available later. Better to eat now and save myself from getting into trouble when I’m out or getting too hungry before I’m home again. Getting overly hungry can get me into trouble too.
Pack Your Own Food
The saying “I’m sorta hungry, let’s swing through Taco Bell/Wendy’s/Mini-mart cause it’s right here” will now be replaced with “Where’s that almond butter I packed? Did you eat my banana?” A little planning and forethought can potentially save you a bunch of calories – and money too.
Enjoy Food More
Once I hit my healthy weight and my focus shifted to maintaining my weight, I started finding new ways to enjoy food. I bought pretty plates, interesting bowls and cute little dishes. I began reading food blogs and started getting more creative in the kitchen. These things helped me feel more emotionally satisfied from the food I was eating and therefore satisfying a different kind of hunger.
Finding other people that were going through the same thing and the same struggles was very rewarding. Knowing you are not alone can really help. Blogs, forums, people in real life. Plus I love
stealing hearing other people’s awesome ideas and morphing them into something that will work for me.
If I thought running felt good after I started eating more complex carbs, I had no idea what was in store once I started eating leafy green vegetables every day.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a salad – you can stuff some lettuce in your sandwich, mixed greens in your wrap, spinach in your smoothie, add something greened and steamed to your dinner. Don’t sweat it too much if you miss a day, but I aim for at least something green each day and feel a lot better because of it.
Reduce Processed Foods, Even Organic Processed Foods
Organic processed foods were my way station between conventionally processed junk to a diet made up largely of whole foods. Organic-processed-stuff is of course still processed. While these are certainly preferable to the conventional alternative, I started to see that they played too large a role in my daily diet and had to be nixed from day-to-day eating.
I get a much bigger bang for my caloric buck with fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs and sprouted grains.
Resist Temptation at the Grocery Store
I finally figured out that it was much easier to resist temptation at the store than it was to resist it in my own kitchen. If it’s something you’re going to have use willpower to avoid later, then don’t even buy it. If it’s not in my cupboard then I’m not going to be able to succumb to that bowl (or three) of Heart to Heart I’d otherwise give in to at 9:30 on a Tuesday night.
I like to think of willpower is a muscle – a muscle that gets tired after a while. Over use any muscle and eventually it’s gonna snap.
No Eating Right Before Bed
Sort of hungry before bed? Then it means I didn’t eat enough at dinner or ate dinner too early. Fix that tomorrow.
Truly hungry before bed? Eat something that is largely protein and fat and light on carbs to avoid a big release of insulin. Insulin suppresses the release of HGH. You get your biggest release of HGH about 90 minutes after you fall asleep – provided you don’t have a ton of insulin coursing through your veins!
Nothing is Off Limits
Birthday cake at a party, pie at Thanksgiving, ice cream for a treat, cookies for breakfast. It’s gonna be OK as long as you don’t eat it every day.
Rules are Made to be Broken
I’ve been on this journey for years now. These changes did not happen overnight and I still don’t get it right 100% of the time. I still make exceptions to almost everything I’ve listed here – that’s life.
And remember: This is what worked for me, what I do may or may not work for you. We are each on our own journey – just keep experimenting, keep working, keep going until you figure out what works and what doesn’t. Each day holds the potential to getting one step closer to living the life you want to live and being that person you want to be.
Got questions? Have anything to add from your own personal journeys? I’d love to hear it. I want to swipe your good ideas too!