People ask me all of the time about how I lost weight and how I got fit. I am reluctant to get on my soapbox about it for an ever-expanding list of reasons, mainly because everyone’s bodies and lifestyles are different, I’m not a doctor and I don’t know everything, I don’t want to sound preachy, and because I hate contributing to the whole body-hating culture that we’ve created in this country.
Still, I know that I have struggled with emotional eating and the whole body battle for my entire life, and I think that maybe, maybe I’ve figured out some things that will help to keep me in the healthy and fit zone for the rest of my life. I say this tentatively, as a person who can’t be sure of this until she’s gone her whole life without any serious or significant weight gain, but, so far, what I’ve learned about myself has been helpful. For that reason, I’m willing to share, but, please know that my opinions are my own and not the gospel, so, in other words, use your own discretion.
1) Instead of overhauling your entire diet, make micro-changes. Yes, it takes longer, but forming habits takes time and practice. It’s also a lot less daunting and more sustainable if you can change little things, week by week. When I first started losing weight, I had discussions with myself as to what I could reasonably change without causing too much “pain” for myself. One week, I would decide to cut out the extra helping of whatever I enjoyed, and focus on savoring the first helping, and drinking a lot of water. The next week, I would decide to cut out “lunch dessert”, or save something sweet, but a little healthier, as my mid-afternoon snack. Tiny changes lead you down the road to healthier eating. Eventually, I was able to embark on a raw food “cleanse” without being upset at all about it.
2) If you’re going to cut stuff out, be wise about it. When I look at a full, “well-rounded” plate of food, with meat, veggies, and potatoes, let’s say, I think, “I’m starving. What’s going to make me feel fullest and feel the best afterward?” Carbs always have to go last, even though they are the most delicious (poor carbies). I’m going to eat the meat and veggies first. If the potato still looks good after all of that, I will take a couple of forkfuls, and push it away, which brings me to…
3) Know your limits. We all agree it is no fun to feel stuffed to the gills. Eating is amazing, glorious, fantastic, and sometimes we can get carried away with tastes, textures, smells. The old standby of putting your fork down or taking a sip of water between bites helps immensely. Or, if you’re with others, try telling a story in the middle of your meal. You’re talking, so that gives your food a while to digest, and your body to register the feeling of satiety. If you’re by yourself, try putting your plate up, mid-meal, and doing some of the dishes, call someone you needed to get back to, or take the dog out to go potty. It’s a good way to stop the wild hunger beast from ripping through more food than your body needs to be satisfied.
4) Don’t set weight loss goals and don’t weigh yourself (at first). This may seem counterintuitive for most, but I wish that everyone would instead focus on how they are FEELING, instead of how much they weigh. Weight is misleading and it is disappointing. Numbers mean different things for different people. Just because your friend who is 5’5″ weighs 120 lbs, doesn’t mean that you are meant to weigh the same at the weight that is healthy for you. Focus on the little changes inside and outside as your body adapts to a healthier lifestyle, and take your measurements instead to track progress, if you’re concerned about it. Sometimes it’s fun to step on the scale after a few months, just to see how much weight you’ve dropped, but it’s just a reference point.
5) Little changes applies to working out too. Please, don’t start a resolution saying you’re going to spend an hour in the gym every day. To most people who aren’t used to it, that feels terrible at first, and it’s not sustainable. Focus on finding something you enjoy doing. Try different things, like playing frisbee, or hiking, or zumba. Not all activity has to be crunching weights at the gym or running your guts out on the treadmill. Start with 15 or 20 minutes and slowly work your way into a longer routine (you will eventually want to work up to being able to work out for 30-60 minutes five days a week). It is awful, terrible and excruciating at first. I get it. I HATED working out for most of my life. Truthfully, though, exercise is not punishment. The funny thing is, once you get past a certain point in your fitness journey, your body actually does crave the exercise, and it responds positively when you do it. That means that exercise WILL eventually feel good to you, even when you’re torturing yourself. Still, start small, and try to focus on happy thoughts while you’re doing it, even if it’s something silly, like cute puppies or that time you and your friend got each other the same gift for Christmas–anything that will make you smile fondly. Your brain will associate exercise with happy things, instead of Hell on Earth, I promise.
6) Be forgiving, but always start over. Life has its ups and downs. Sometimes we eat or drink a little bit more than we meant to. Sometimes there are whole weeks like that, or whole months. It’s okay. Nobody is perfect. Just because you had cookies last night doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself for a week or workout three times a day. They’re just cookies and they don’t have the power to undo all of the positive work you’ve done for yourself so far. Keep going, move forward, and, if you slip up again, it doesn’t matter, keep working at it. Eventually the positives will outweigh (pardon the pun) the negatives.
7) You don’t have to pretend to love yourself. Yeah, I said it. All of that flowery hippie dippy crud out there about loving yourself as you are, and blah, blah, leave it alone. The only thing you’re not allowed to do is hate on yourself. Words are powerful, even if you aren’t saying them out loud. Instead of looking at yourself in the mirror, pouring over ever perceived “flaw” and then trying to “love yourself as-is,” try walking away when the negative self talk starts. When those thoughts crept up, I would say to myself, sometimes out loud, “Hush! I’m working on it” and I would walk my plump butt away from the shiny reflective surface. Those thoughts aren’t helpful, they’re hurtful, and, you know what? By ignoring them, you end up figuring out a way to love yourself, for real.
8) Ditch the Kiera Knightly fantasy. Look, I’d be lying if there wasn’t some part of me who would like to know, for one moment, what it would feel like to be one of those sleek, slim, Hollywood actresses. Reality is that I will probably never know that feeling. Reality is going, “Okay, this is the body type I was dealt. I’m going to work with it and embrace it and make it healthy, because healthy is beautiful.”
9) For the love of God, quit comparing yourself to other people. Everyone is insecure about something. I remember in my early 20s being SO jealous of how skinny and petite a hot guy friend’s girlfriend was, and, meanwhile, little did I know, she was jealous of me because I had big boobs. The point is, just focus on your own stuff and don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing. My favorite saying, which I’ll quote again here, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Teddy Roosevelt.
10) The practice of patience nurtures self love. Sustainable habits, as I’ve said, take time to form. Forget the supermarket shelf headlines of, “Lose 30 lbs in 30 days!” Forming habits is not a “one and done” exercise. You will be tested and you will slip up, and that’s life. You need to figure out a lifestyle that works for you, and it’s probably going to change a bunch of times because your life will change and your body will change, and you’ve just got to roll with the punches. There will be times in your life when you’re thinner, and times when you’ll be heavier. It all evens out in the end, as long as you keep within the balance. Building a solid foundation of good, sustainable principles to live by will help you to be successful at living a healthier, fitter, and happier life.
What about you? Any tips to share?