It’s time to get real. Really real. It’s time to talk about weight.
Now that we’re well into the first month of 2012 (happy new year, by the way!), it seems appropriate to talk about weight/diet/exercise/health. That’s all I see on every blog, magazine, ad, TV show…the world gets weight-obsessed in January and isn’t afraid to make some noise about resolving to lose some pounds as a new year’s resolution. Sure, that eventually tapers off in March, but I figured I’d take some time now to give you my take on the whole issue.
After all, I do have quite a bit of experience. I have blogged before about my battle with weight and health, but I’ll share more of my story here. I never really felt comfortable with my weight. Even as a kid, I felt pudgy. Going into junior high and high school, I felt like I was ginormous, even though I was in no way, shape or form overweight. I constantly compared myself to others, even if their build was different than mine. It was hard to grasp that I was never going to be 5’9” and waif-like. I thought that was the ideal body, and I was destined instead to be 5’5” and chubby.
When I was 17 or so, I started to put on a bit more weight without realizing it. I attribute it to a combination of hormones and being a sulky teenager, using food to feel better. Again, I wasn’t overweight but also was not comfortable in my body and thought I was resigned to this figure forever. In college, like most people, I gained more weight. And, the first couple of years after graduating, I packed on more pounds — no longer did I live with parents who told me when and what to eat, so I developed really bad habits of not eating until 2 or 3 p.m., and then driving through a fast food place for my first meal of the day. I had the false impression that if I ate once a day, I could lose weight. I just didn’t take into consideration that even though I wasn’t eating a lot, I was essentially starving my body and forcing it to hold on to the fat I was gaining by eating McDonalds and Taco Bell every day.
Again, I wasn’t happy with my weight or how I looked, but I sort of felt defeated any time I thought about changing it. ‘I’m not really athletic, so I can’t work out,’ ‘It’s too expensive to buy healthy food,’ ‘I don’t have time to cook and the drive-thru is so convenient.’ — those were the thoughts that kept me in the same place for most of my early and mid-20’s. Then, I got engaged at 23. I realized that getting married not only meant that I was going to spend the rest of my life with the guy I loved (yay!) but also that I was going to be the center of attention as a bride (eek), and I was at my highest ever weight. At this point, I was definitely overweight. Not overweight in the sense that you could look at me and immediately think I needed some sort of medical intervention, but it was absolutely starting to show that I was “plus size.”
I told myself I had to lose weight for the wedding. I’d learned not really to allow myself to be photographed from the waist down, or to spend too much time analyzing “candid” pictures I was tagged in on Facebook, but you can’t really hide your figure if you’re a bride. I either was going to do something about my weight, or I was going to stay in the same place and be forced to hide the photos from my big day for years to come, rather than treasuring and displaying them.
Initially, I didn’t know where to start. I thought getting 100-calorie snack packs of cookies and chips was the way to go so I could still eat the foods I was used to eating, just in smaller portions. It turns out, that was completely the wrong philosophy. I had to flip my way of thinking and choose to change my lifestyle, rather than finding little loopholes and cheats to lose weight. I not only had to see a smaller number on the scale and a smaller size in my jeans — I had to commit to a healthy way of life.
I did end up losing weight for the wedding, although not as much as I would have liked. But I felt beautiful that day, and that’s really all that matters. Plus, I didn’t revert to my old eating habits after the wedding just because the cameras stopped flashing. I liked the progress I was making and wanted to see if I could lose even more weight. I took on what I could, when I could, as I felt comfortable, and here I am, three-and-a-half years later and down 60 or so pounds. I’m at my lowest adult weight (even less than I weighed in high school), and even more importantly, in the normal range for my height and build. I feel better, I look better, and I am better.
So, how did I do it? I thought I’d break down a few of the things that worked best for me. Keep in mind, none of these are quick fixes. You’re not going to lose 10 pounds in 10 days with this plan. I did this gradually, over several years, and have really worked to implement it into my life so that it’s not a “diet” that I can eventually mess up. This is just who I am and how I am now. And, I’m not a medical professional — this is real advice from a real person, and of course, consult your physician before making any changes in your lifestyle.
Eat (and drink) real food. I can’t emphasize enough how wrong I think it is for someone to think they can eat things like Oreos, Doritos, French fries, etc., and lose weight/be healthy. Even if those things are packaged in “100 calorie” or “snack size” bags, they’re not healthy. Do research and educate yourself on what makes up a healthy diet. I really like www.toneitup.com and www.livestrong.com as sources of nutritional information. Read labels and be very critical, not only about how much you put into your body, but what you take in as well. And soda? Just ditch that entirely, even if it’s diet (don’t even get me started on aspartame and artificial sweeteners.)
Pace yourself. Before I started to change my diet, I had no regular eating schedule. As I mentioned before, sometimes I wouldn’t eat a bite until well after noon, and I’d snack into the late hours. My body never knew when to expect food, and that negatively impacted my metabolism. I was able to lose weight without getting on a consistent eating schedule, but I started to lose even more (and to feel better and more energized throughout the day) when I began to eat five small meals a day. I’ve been doing this for about 6 months now, and each month, I’ve lost between 2-4 pounds without a plateau. I sort of follow the Tone It Up philosophy of beginning the day (first thing when I wake up, around 6 a.m. on weekdays and 10-11 a.m. on weekends) with a protein-packed breakfast (usually a cup of Kashi Go Lean cereal with unsweetened almond milk, a small protein pancake, or an egg white scramble with veggies), followed by a morning snack (most days, it’s a venti iced nonfat latte from Starbucks sweetened with agave nectar along with a piece of fruit or a Greek yogurt), then lunch (lots of greens and a lean protein), an afternoon snack (almost always a Larabar or Luna protein bar) and then dinner (again, a lean protein and lots of greens and veggies). I really stick to that, with small exceptions here and there — although those exceptions are not crazy whims of eating a bag of chips for lunch instead of a salad. My exceptions are more like drinking a second cup of coffee or tea at some point during the day.
Track your progress. When I was my heaviest, I avoided the scale. It felt like knowing that number would crush my perception of how I looked, as if a glance in the mirror couldn’t tell me what I knew, deep down. I began weighing myself daily about 6 months ago, because I knew I was losing weight, but I was bad at guessing how much, and I really had no concept of what kind of impact my choices each day had on my weight. I want to say upfront that I don’t think daily weigh-ins should be seen as an obsessive sort of behavior. I’m sure they can be for some, but for me, it’s just a means to keep track of what I’m doing and how it’s impacting me. I don’t fall into a deep depression or cave in to negative behaviors if the number goes up — I’m just able to reflect on what I might have done the day before that contributed to the increase. I weigh myself each morning under the same conditions to make sure my results are comparable, and I note it in a Word document. Then, it’s out of the way, and on with the rest of my day. In addition to being a good way to track my progress, I think it’s also a good part of my daily routine — it sets me up for success because one of the first things I do is think about making healthy eating choices. Of course, the number on the scale isn’t the best indicator of overall health, and you should consider many other factors, like how you feel, but it’s a good way to get a quick snapshot of how your choices impact things.
Make informed choices. Although I am more conscious of the food I eat now, and I aim to have more (if not all) organic, “real” food in my diet, I don’t want to give the impression that I never eat at restaurants or visit Starbucks (I make a daily Sbux run, in fact). I do. And, I don’t use those times as opportunities to pig out on junk. Now that I am more informed on what foods I want to eat, and which foods/chemicals/ingredients I don’t want in my diet, I’m able to find something I want to eat on just about any menu. I’m not afraid to ask for sauce or dressing on the side, or for grilled meat instead of fried. Most places will do any of that if you ask. Don’t make the same mistake I did years ago and use the convenience aspect of restaurants and fast food to stay stuck in an unhealthy cycle of eating. Arm yourself with knowledge (like the nutritional data I suggested above, or knowing what factors make you bloat or gain weight, if you’re keeping track of your progress as I mentioned before), and give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in any environment.
I know that none of this mentions exercise. And, to be honest, my work up until this point hasn’t really considered exercise. I have made it a goal for myself to begin regular walking/jogging/running so that I can build endurance and strength, and hopefully tone things up. If you’re looking to lose weight or improve your health, I wish you all kinds of luck and would be happy to try to answer any questions you have, from my experience. Again, I’m by no means an expert, but I have been on this journey with success for a few years now, so I may be able to help in some way.