Last week I hit my weight loss goal of forty pounds. It took nine months and a lot of blood, sweat and tears so when folks who haven't seen me in a while ask, "How did you do it?" I'm kinda at a loss for an explanation. After all, it wasn't an overnight thing and it wasn't any one technique that was successful, but a combination of methods...and again a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. Oh yeah, I said that already *grin*
Yesterday, I gave the journey a good long think and compiled a list of things that worked the best for me: an attitude shift, increased exercise, calorie restriction and tracking, intermittent fasting and scheduled splurges.
1. Attitude shift - This might be the hardest part of the whole enchilada...mmm, enchilada...oh, sorry. I got distracted. For me, I had to change the way I thought about myself, about weight loss and about food. First, I had to get rid of negative thoughts that told me I was too old, too set in my ways, and incapable of working out hard enough to get results. The truth is middle aged doesn't have to mean soft around the middle. As for set in my ways--well, the good news is they were MY ways which means just as it was entirely up to me to fall into bad habits, it was entirely up to me to change them. Easier written than done, I know, but still, it was all within my control. And working out hard enough to make a difference, I'll get to that in the next section. The gist of the attitude shift is this: you have to prepare yourself mentally before you ever attempt to change yourself physically. Go into it believing you are worth being the healthiest, most beautiful and happiest person you can be.
2. Increased exercise - There are a lot of myths about exercise these days, many propagated by fitness celebs trying to sell you their product. Same goes for those expensive gyms fees. I managed to lose weight during one of the most financially challenging times of my life. I didn't purchase a thing in terms of exercise equipment, gym memberships or pricey video systems that promise you miraculous results in three months and then hammer your body to get you there and makes you feel like loser if you're in too much pain to continue after a week or so.
What I did do a lot of was WALK. I'm not talking insane marathon walks either, but simply opting to walk anywhere that was within a couple miles of my house. Some days I did take long walks, others I just walked to the store, about twenty minutes round trip. I listened to my body and if I really didn't feel good after about ten minutes of walking, I went home. But you'd be surprised that if you force yourself to get out there for that initial ten minutes with some good music on your mp3 player, you'll usually feel like going farther.
I also danced. A lot. I love to dance and it's something I could do around the house. I will admit I did buy a Samba work out video through Amazon Instant Video for around $10. Dancing makes me feel beautiful and gave me respect for my body even though I wasn't yet at my target weight. The point is, if there is an activity you do enjoy, whether it's tennis, yoga, martial arts or, like me, dancing, work that activity into your fitness regime.
I did some sort of exercise six days a week, not hard, put-yourself-through-hell, aching-all-over-the-next-day exercise, but some sort of physical activity for at least twenty minutes. But when I did feel like doing thirty or forty-five minutes or even an hour, I did.
3. Calorie restriction and tracking - I won't lie, this part was hell the first couple weeks. I was used to overeating so I did feel hungry all the time for a while. Once I got accustomed to eating more appropriate portions, it got much easier and even now when I'm very hungry, a smaller amount of food satisfies me.
What helped me keep track of what I was eating (and also showed me which foods gave me the most bang for my caloric buck) is a website called livestrong.com. It is free unless you find you need the enhanced features (I didn't feel the need to use them). It helped me set a calorie goal and then stick to it. If I did go over my calorie count for the day, it was at least with the full knowledge that I was going to do so.
I also checked out the Calorie Restriction Society's website which has a lot of useful information about high nutrient, low calorie foods: http://www.crsociety.org/
As for cheating on my eating plan, if I decided I wanted to splurge a little on a day that wasn't my cheat day, I would pick out an activity that would burn the extra calories I planned to consume. Bottom line is, you have to eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight.
4. Intermittent fasting - This technique isn't for everyone (please consult your doctor before attempting this) but I found it useful so that I could spread my reduced calories throughout the day. "Fasting" is sort of a misleading word in this technique. It's more like intermittent eating. I know many nutritionists says to graze all day, but I find that grazing (for me) leads to overeating and eating when I'm not truly hungry. I also tend to eat when I'm bored or stressed. To short circuit that behavior, I made a schedule with enough time between each meal to allow my stomach to empty. Also, three days a week, I would put off eating breakfast until 11am. I know, I know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but not when it includes pastries, fatty meats, and processed carbohydrates. Plus, about two or three times a month, I would only eat dinner. Sounds nutty, I know, but it did work
Studies indicate that intermittent fasting is linked to healthier levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides. Our ancient ancestors didn't have constant access to food and I'm not sure that it's healthy for us that we do now, especially the kinds of foods that are readily available at fast food places and convenience stores. Here's the study I read : http://jap.physiology.org/content/99/6/2128.full.
5. Scheduled splurges - Just as I think it's important to control when and how much I eat, I also neeeeeeed days during which I can eat the foods I really miss. For me, this day is Sunday. Again, I don't go nuts and eat everything that crosses my path, but a cheat day is crucial to success. If I told myself I could never have Skittles again or could never drink wine again, I'd say screw it and give up on losing weight. On my cheat day, if I want that bacon cheeseburger, I eat it. If I want wine with my cheeseburger, I drink it. But I also kept track of what I ate on my cheat day just to keep myself accountable. Once I got used to doing without these high calorie foods, I found just a little of them was more than enough to keep the cravings at bay.
Perhaps the most important aspect to my success that I haven't listed thus far was the encouragement of friends and family. Your support system is also key to your success. Whether that comes from a Weight Watchers meeting, an online chat group or the folks who love you at home, you have to find a cheerleader or two to keep you inspired. Even if it's just someone to tell you, "Hey, you look great. Have you lost weight?"
My main cheerleader (but by no means my only one) was my hubby. He, in fact, likes my body when I'm heavier--God, I love that man!--but he did comment often on how much progress I was making and even helped me plan out a budget for all those new clothes I was going to have to buy. He's my rock and I don't think I could've done it without him. But make no mistake about it--YOU are the most important person when it comes to your health and fitness goals. It's your health, your fitness, and your choice. You have the power to shape your body and your future and believing that is half the battle ;)
Have you recently started a fitness regime or weight loss program? Please share with me what's worked for you! I'm always looking for new ideas!