How to (not) make this year different from the last [insert current age here] years*:
1. About six weeks before your birthday, get inspired to lose weight. Visualize yourself in a perfect little black dress, at a restaurant you can't afford and don't really like, preferably six inches taller/shorter than you actually are.
2. Go gung ho. Throw out everything in your pantry and spend $300 at the grocery store stocking up on magic organicalishous tofu, vegetables you've never heard of, and eight dollar cleansing crackers (they have ten different seeds on them, so they must be good!)
3. Hit the gym for 90 minutes.
4. Okay, that didn't work so well.
5. Hit the gym for 20 minutes. Act all disgusted with yourself for not being a triathlete yet.
6. Look at yourself in the mirror. Be sure to focus on all your bulges and how you have that one weird little wrinkle of fat under your left butt cheek. Stick your belly out as far as it'll go. Measure. Suck in your belly. Measure. Take the Santa-belly as your starting measurement.
7. Make dinner. Regret throwing out that box of Frosted Flakes.
8. Go to bed mentally exhausted. You can do this... only six weeks until your birthday and LBD-land.
9. Wake up the next morning. Weigh yourself. Up?? WTF?
10. Follow the same plan. Except the gym part. You could only do 20 minutes yesterday, so what's the point? Maybe you'll lose some weight tomorrow and you'll be able to do that 90 minutes on the treadmill.
11. Eat perfectly. Hate it.
12. Weigh in the next morning. Up again? Your body is obviously broken. It's impossible for you to lose weight. It's gotta be something medical.
13. Birthday in 5.5 weeks. So tired of this. Out of planned meals. Stop at 7-11 on the way home and pick up kraft dinner. And a bag of chips.
15. Birthday in 5 weeks. That will be your new start day. It's going to be different this time. You'll track everything. Work out a perfect fitness plan. This year, it's going to be different. This year, you're not going to eat pizza and you're going to exercise every single day and you're going to finally lose the weight. You have a start date. You have a goal. You have 365 days to get your sh*t together and by the time you hit [current age + 2] you'll have a perfect life.
16. Order a pizza to celebrate and to enjoy the crap food while you still can.
* Results may not be typical.
It took me over ten years to figure out that significant start dates and deadlines don't work for me. Oh, they're great for a lot of people - Sometimes you need that extra push, whether it's New Year's, a birthday, a big life change. Sometimes a deadline can be a great motivator to push yourself extra hard.
With me, not so much.
Every birthday I went through the steps above. I'd be getting fat and sluggish by mid-summer and determined to hit my next year of life healthier than before. It's good timing - right as the seasons are starting to change and right before my annual physical in October. I'd jump in, last for half a week (or maybe a full week if I was really determined), and when I didn't see results that matched my unrealistic expectations, I'd give up.
After all, what's the point of just being healthier and smaller when you hit your deadline if you can't be perfect? All or nothing, pass or fail is totally the way to go when it comes to making long term changes, right?
So, every year I'd be pissed off with myself by the time my birthday rolled around, because even though it's just an arbitrary date on the calendar, it represented another year wasted with poor health. I watched my 20's go by that way, year after year.
Today, September 1st, was always superbinge day. I'd pick up the phone, order a feast of all the bad foods I ever wanted, and stuff myself all day long. After all, tomorrow would be a new start -the first day of a new year of life instead of the last day of a throw-away year - and I might as well enjoy this stuff while I'm still able. Next year, this day will be different. I'll be healthy, fit, skinny, and I'll eat well. I'll be able to shop for cute clothes to celebrate my birthday, and I won't look back at 365 wasted days of being fat. This year will be awesome! Now pass me a breadstick!
Somehow, this year, I pulled it off.
Except I didn't start on my birthday last year. I can't really remember what I was doing around this time; I know that I was pretty sick of how I was feeling. I was getting even fatter, staying above 160 regularly for the first time in my life. My BMI was in the obese category often enough that I couldn't call it a fluke anymore. I had an annoying rash on my belly from where my biggest work pants were painfully digging into my skin and rubbing all day long, but I refused to buy a bigger pair.
Things were just starting to settle after an expensive and chaotic move. Nick had just found a job in the city with crappy hours, and we were adjusting to that. We were starting to form rough wedding plans, and had our first post-move-in trip together scheduled for October. We kind of talked about joining weight watchers together once things settled down and we'd recovered financially. We were both fat and tired, but looking forward to exciting things over the next several years.
I had tentatively used the gym in my building a couple times, and it was disastrous. I think I was finally at the point where I knew it was time to stop lying to myself about the effort I was putting into making changes, but I was also convinced that medical issues would keep me from losing weight. I was prepared for an upcoming appointment with my doctor, and this time I wanted to be honest with her. I would share the same plan I always shared when she asked what I was doing for weight loss, but this time I actually had to do it. For real. How it looked on paper didn't mean anything to anyone if my body knew the truth.
But I wasn't ready yet in September. So I ordered more pizza.
It took lots of talk and frustration and a good October vacation before I finally got around to signing up for SparkPeople again on October 25th, 2010. This was hardly my first time here, so it was easy enough to get back into it under a new name. It was also well past that important birthday start day, and I'd already been poking away at better eating and trying to exercise. It all started with very little fanfare, but it's still going to this day, 10 months later.
What was different this time?
I lived normally for that first week. This is so hard to do when you're fired up and ready to make a change. Often, the first week on spark is a picture of perfection, with workouts you nailed and meals that look like they came out of a healthy living magazine. My first week back shows exactly zero workouts and a few 1000+ calorie meals. It's hard to see those numbers in front of you, but establishing a baseline of what I was doing was so important in making changes. I thought I wasn't that bad... the numbers showed something different.
I let myself be worse than I thought I was. It actually took me a couple months to learn how to suck at fitness and eating. When you have the knowledge in your head, it's very difficult to accept that your body might not match what your brain thinks you should be doing. I still say that the hardest single fitness challenge I've had in this whole process was allowing myself to walk on a treadmill for 20 minutes instead of running. I needed to break myself down to a level far below where I thought I should be so I could build myself up again properly. It's a huge blow to the ego, and one that a lot of us aren't willing to take.
Sometimes it really does feel better to just give up entirely than to admit that you're not as good as you thought you were.
I learned how to cook a chicken breast. This seems like such a small thing, but I also had the all or nothing attitude when it came to food. I was a novice cook (that might be overly generous), and healthy food was intimidating. I pictured myself having to learn to throw together healthy meals on the fly and to perfectly balance everything. To have a plan ahead of time, with back-ups in place. It was overwhelming.
Instead of becoming a chef overnight, I went back to basics and learned to make one reasonably healthy dish: A baked chicken breast, 35 minutes in the oven at 400. Half a cup of a starchy side, preferably without extra fats. Half a plate of steamed veggies, 20-25 minutes in the steamer, either fresh or frozen. It's about as basic as you can get, but I took that template and expanded on it. Now, on those nights when I have no desire to make anything healthy, I have something just as easy and mindless as stopping by McDonald's, but a hell of a lot healthier.
I accepted that it's slow. Not just weight loss... I was fortunate that the early-diet weight gain that a lot of us have happened before I got really serious about it. I gained eight pounds when I started working out, and I think that's what freaked me out into being honest with myself. I didn't know what was going on at the time, so I really thought something was wrong with me. That's a big part of the reason I decided to track accurately, because that upswing scared me. By the time I got into a regular workout routine with Spark, I was losing weight at a fairly reasonable pace.
My goals were simple five pound marks. I didn't look at the overall picture, since I had my doubts that I'd ever get to my goal of 130. It didn't sink in that actual weight loss was really happening until I weighed in at 149.9 on Christmas day. Up until that point, any weight loss had always seemed like damage control; I'd always pictured myself at 150 (which is what my driver's license still says to this day) no matter how much the scale kept creeping up, and weight above that was just extra temporary weight that I'd accidentally packed on. Dipping below 150 made it real, because suddenly I was no longer getting rid of fluff weight... I was actually changing my body.
I got to know my body. This is where Special Snowflake syndrome helped me a bit. I accepted that I had some medical issues that would make weight loss difficult, so I kept a close eye on how my body responded to what I was doing. That's where the daily weigh-ins and tracking came in. I identified when I lose and when I plateau during the month, and I adjusted my plan around that. It helped me mentally, because I accepted that some things were out of my control, and that fluctuations or multi-week plateaus weren't happening because I was doing something wrong. Instead of being a reason to give up, they became a reason to push harder.
I set specific goals based on actions rather than weight. The first was C25K, which I began in November when I realized that I was really doing things wrong when it came to running. Once I got to the 5k mark, I got it into my head that I could do a sprint triathlon in my gym if I worked up to it. After that, I impulsively signed up for a 10k race. Now, it's a half marathon. When those frustrating plateaus did hit, I immediately switched to a solid fitness goal. I still monitored my weight the whole time, but the focus became pushing my body to do something I couldn't before. The weight followed.
So, now I'm sitting at September 1st again. Tonight should have been a throw-away pizza night, a day of treating myself because I deserved it. I might have signed up for Spark again today and written an enthusiastic blog about how this year was going to be different. By my 33rd birthday in 2012, I'd be fit, healthy and skinny. This year, I'd have the added incentive of a major life change happening in a few weeks, and if my birthday didn't push me into action, starting married life would.
Instead, I'll wake up tomorrow at 32 weighing about 30% less than I did at this time last year. I'll eat normally, hit the gym and probably wear something cute that actually fits. It doesn't need to be a fresh new year, because I'm still pretty damn happy with the current one. There's no big start, no parade of good intentions or the need to make this a turning point in my life. Turns out real change (for me, at least), was a lot quieter than all that. You don't need permission from a date on the calendar to make something happen - you just have to do it.
I hate it when corporate slogans are right.