How To Lose Weight and Keep It Off For Good

November 20th, 2010 | Posted by Alison Spath in Weight Loss

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 babyI 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.

Educate Yourself

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.

Find Support

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.

Greens Everyday

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

Thank you Jillian Michaels for cluing me in on the wonder that is Human Growth Hormone and the role insulin plays on the release of HGH.

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!

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16 Responses

  • Awesome post, Alison! We have been on very similar journeys… For me, I think the most important point is your last one. I think it’s so important to realize that life is never perfect and neither are we. It’s okay to not be “perfect.” Choosing good, healthy foods 90% of the time is a great accomplishment! I used to beat myself up for being “bad” and that really set me up for bad choices and a bad cycle… Luckily, I have learned not to do that anymore.

    Have a great weekend!

  • Fallon says:

    Great post. This is something I’ve struggled with for a while. I may not be 100% perfect but I try my best everyday. I think I’m slowly getting the idea of fueling properly and eating what my body really needs. Protein, protein, protein!

  • Daniel says:

    Though there are a few points and statements I don’t agree with, I really enjoyed reading this post and I think your advice is quite nice and concise! Like the above commenters have mentioned, and I think a good piece of advice for any change in dietary habits, don’t give up if something doesn’t go “perfectly.” So many people up and quit – “Oh, I had a brownie, might as well have 11 because I failed now.” Just move past it, realize your mistake, learn from it, and do better next time.

    • Alison says:

      OK Daniel, I’m intrigued with what you disagree with! Not because I WANT TO FIGHT but because I’m curious to hear your thoughts/experience.

      I have totally been in that place of “Well, I had 1 cookie, might as well have 10 more because I blew it/this is my chance.” Reading Intuitive Eating totally fixed me in that respect.

      And you are totally right. Just because you have get a flat tire doesn’t mean you get out of the car and slash the other three. Fix the flat and then get back in the car and keep on driving.

      • Daniel says:

        Haha, I love the tire analogy. I actually picture someone getting really pissed, getting out of their car, and slashing the other tires. Anyways there are a few things that it’s not that I fully disagree with them, it’s just that I tend to change the wording a little.

        The out-of-sight-out-of-mind trick works, but I think it would be even better to start at the beginning and work to prevent yourself from buying and bringing the crap food into your house in the first place. I know you mention it in a later point, but I think maybe they should be lumped together.

        I think 4-5 meals a day is acceptable, it just all comes down to portion control and really learning to eat when you’re hungry and not [insert other emotion here].

        As far as the time of day goes for eating, though I’m not 100% certain what the scientific literature says for the effects of hormones and insulin, etc. (and I’m not about to consider Jillian Michaels the same as scientific evidence), I am confident that if you’re hungry, then eat, it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon, your body doesn’t care and if you eat before bed you’re not going to “store more food/”carbs”/calories as fat.” So long as calories in are equal to or less than calories out, you’re not going to gain weight.

        Aside from that, again, I really do agree with the points you brought up! They’re wonderful and I think very helpful for anyone who’s in a situation where they struggle with weight loss.

  • Kenzie says:

    For months (probably since June/Julyish) on end now I have been counting my calories using The Daily Plate. It’s made me feel better now that I’m more knowledgeable about food and portion sizes. BUT – I’ve been eating this way for MONTHS, and everyday I eat enough calories to “lose a pound a week.” According to that math, well, I should weight negative pounds by now (…slight exaggeration), but I don’t. At best my weight fluctuation is a couple pounds lower. I even ran a half-marathon during this time, and I make sure my carb, fat, and protein ratios are near perfect. I’m even hungry ALL the time, but I push past it because I have this goal. This… entirely unreachable goal.

    So, now that I’ve whined my still-uncomfortably-large butt off, do you or anybody else have any advice? What am I doing wrong? I feel like I’ve made all these sacrifices in hopes of getting to the maintenance stage and finally getting to a point where I’m comfortable with my body. I’m still going to keep trying because I have that teeny-tiny hope that randomly one day all the weight will drop off due to my months (did I mention MONTHS?!) of effort, but I will greatly appreciate any and all advice.

    • Alison says:

      Kenzie – have you lost ANY weight since you started, besides the few pounds you mentioned? Did you at least lose some weight in the beginning but are now at a plateau trying to lose the rest of it? How much do you have to/want to lose? I do know that the last 10 lbs is much different animal than having to lose say, 30, 50 or 100 lbs.

      I am of course not a medical professional, but have read enough times in various places that if you are “doing everything right” and still are not losing any weight, having your thyroid checked might be a good idea.

      Also, a high calorie day now and then is good and something I definitely do from time to time. You take your running into account with your calorie counting, right? Going TOO LOW can halt weight loss too.

      I have been at that “hungry all the time” place and it totally sucks and is very distracting. Eating more fat and protein has helped with that, as well as eating only nutrient dense foods.

      Hope this helps some. Feel free to email me if you want to talk more.

      • Kenzie says:

        So, I set out with the goal of losing 20-ish lbs, which isn’t that much. I started off between 147-150 and now my weight fluctuates between 139-142, which is definitely an improvement but for 4-5 months effort, I was hoping to be at my goal already.

        It’s funny that you mention that too few calories can halt weight loss. My fiance was just trying to convince me of this, and when I told him that you had mentioned that he just threw his hands up into the air in a rather celebratory fashion. I’m going try allowing myself some more calories by incorporating more fruits and veggies. I definitely do take my exercise into account and allow high calorie days here and there (after all, it was my birthday this week and next week is Thanksgiving… I don’t really have a choice!).

        Thanks for your input. I’ve been feeling disheartened and really hungry lately, so I couldn’t help but let off some steam on your blog. Hope you don’t mind. :)

        • Alison says:

          Vent away my friend!

          A few other thoughts:

          Do you do any cross training/anything other than running? Try something NEW every week… keeps things interesting and keeps your body and muscles guessing too! I’ve had to get creative this past week and half here and I’ve enjoyed JUST WALKING, or finding a good set of stairs or bleachers to climb up and down a bunch of times. I’ve been doing more Pilates and yoga too now that it’s getting colder.

          Mix it up! Calories, exercise, foods, all of it! If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you always got, right? Right.

          Congrats on what you have lost! And good luck with last of it, I know how frustrating it can be… but that frustration usually means something good is on the horizon.

  • Libby says:

    Just have to say how much I love (and needed) this post. Will definitely bookmark this one to re-read when the going gets tough :-).


  • Sharon says:

    I need help after this weekend. I think i might be playing my find support card. Keep the phone close. I am haveing a hard time with my sweet tooth! I’m going on a NO SWEETS for a week (Yes, Thanksgiving week) bindge! I too think i’ll be bookmarking this post to come back to and remind myself of these things. Thanks!

  • Holly says:

    this is a great post – i think most of the ideas on here are excellent tools to keep in mind when losing weight. my biggest tip is that not everything works for anybody – everyone should take these tips, find out what ones work for them + their lifestyle and continue to build on healthy habits. bravo ms. alison!!!

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