Getting Off to a Good Start—Again

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When it comes to my health and fitness efforts, the start of a new year is usually not a big deal for me any more. It used to be--I have a long history of new years that started with lots of resolutions to eat healthy, exercise, and lose weight. But those good intentions never lasted very long, and I ended most of those years weighing more than when I started, getting myself up to about 400 pounds in the process.

Then something changed. I’m still not sure what it was, exactly—maybe I just got tired of feeling miserable all the time, or scared about what I was doing to my health. Anyway, in 2003, something clicked, and I finally started getting serious about changing my lifestyle, not just my weight. 18 months later, I had lost 170 pounds and gotten myself into pretty good shape for a 55 year old guy. And thanks to Sparkpeople, I was able to keep that weight off for almost 5 years.

But then came 2009…

2009 was a pretty tough year for me, health-wise. I was in the hospital 7 times for a total of more than eight weeks, and I was unable to do much physical activity for many more weeks than that. I had surgery to replace a bad aortic valve in March, a hospital acquired infection in April, a broken ankle in June, a wicked case of sciatica, and several bouts of severe depression and PTSD. My last stay in the hospital just ended on December 28, and I’ve finally got a clean bill of health in terms of getting back to regular exercise.

So here I am, starting this new year the same way I did so many times before: needing to lose weight (I regained 30 pounds in 2009), and very out of shape. Last March, when my health problems started, I was routinely riding my bike about 150 miles/week and hiking up and down mountains another 10 miles or so. Yesterday, it was all I could do to ride my bike 5 miles to the grocery store and back.

It’s very frustrating to be so far from where I was just a year ago. But this time, at least, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it takes to get off to a good start and keep myself going.

The key, I think, is to start with good goals. I could just aim to lose those 30 pounds I regained, and get back to my long bike rides. But I know that when my goal is to “lose weight,” I tend to get obsessed with the scale, and very frustrated when it doesn’t give me the results I want to see. Then I start feeling like I’m depriving myself of what I really want to eat for no good reason—and that’s a one-way ticket to overeating.

I do much better when I set positive goals like getting at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies, using healthy fats, and eating as clean as I can. This makes me feel like I’m doing something positive and healthy for myself, instead of just restricting what I eat to lose weight.

So, I've set my calorie goal at what it would need to be to maintain my weight after I’ve lost the 30 pounds, and I've figured out how many servings of each food group I can have. Instead of “dieting,” I'm going to start eating now the way I’ll be eating when I get to my goal weight, and let my body decide how fast it wants to lose the weight. For me, that takes a lot of the stress, frustration, and resentment out of dieting.

When it comes to exercise, I’m taking the same approach, letting my body decide what and how much it can handle, instead of setting artificial goals in advance. I’m starting with what I can handle now and I'll push myself to do a little more on each ride or each week until I feel like I’m fit enough to do what I need and want to do to live the way I'd like. No more trying to see how many calories I can burn in a day, or trying to keep up with the 30-something crowd. It’s all about being healthy and enjoying myself as much as I can.

How about you? How do you decide what your goals will be? Are they making it easier or harder for you to stick with your plan?

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JUNETTA2002 4/26/2021
Thanks for sharing. Great information Report
NAYPOOIE 3/6/2021
You're a wise man, Dean. Report
Thank you! Report
PATRICIAANN46 1/25/2021
Thank You for a great article. Report
most of this is common sense. However, I don't always follow thru. Report
How can such a brilliant idea be so head-slappingly simple? I feel like I should have thought of this option before! I suddenly feel so much less pressure. :) Report
I am just reading this in December 2019 - I LOVE the ideas here, especially eating at your goal weight's maintenance range all along your weight loss journey. Your body just stops losing and starts maintaining when it gets to the right weight. Such a good way to think of weight loss! Report
Good tips! Report
Very helpful Report
Thanks for the encouragement! Report
thanks for sharing Report
I know exactly how it is to have a bad year and have to start back at square one, especially with exercise. I am definitely goimg to check into eating clean. Report
I use to be the one always talking about losing weight - i could give a class on the subject, and I lost a good amount of weight. Now the new year is here and I've gained about 12pds back, but I also gained an understanding of myself. Yes I want to be comfortable in this body, healthy to have a good life and great mood to enjoy my family & friends but it doesn't mean THIS has to be my life. So in the quest to lose what i gained and to complete my journey I am finding me and loving it.

thanks for this blog
Thanks for your blog - i have gone through the same type of thing - health issues after i just got everything back in shape and into a good routine and habits. 2010 has been rough, and the low back is particularly a difficult thing. I found this website after I decided to to set pretty much same type of goals - stop trying to lose weight and have a set of exercise routines, ang go for Feeling good body/mind/spirit, and listening to my body. My chiropractor said - have you ever seen a cat hold a stretch for more than 30 seconds? listen to the body and don't get upset if it doesn't do what you think it should. Still hard to adjust that "bar" down, but it's smart. Thanks again for sharing! Report
enjoyed your blog, sorry about your health issues I wish you all the best in the future. I am interested in learning more about the concept of "setting my calorie goal to my ideal weight." Any recommended reading material? Report
great blog Report
Coach Dean, I love reading your blogs and your articles. It's like you were put here just for me:-) I find myself at a point where I've had to start at such a low point with physical activity that I also have to take it one workout at a time. Your blog helps me see that it's okay (there are so many people on SP who are able to set such high goals - I love that for them (!) and am positive most of the time, but sometimes find it difficult to stay postive for me:-). Thanks for the reinforcement that it's okay for those of us who aren't in our 20s or 30s, who have some physical difficulties, to start where we are and make those baby steps to get where we want to be. I also hope that you are making progress in your journey and getting closer each day to where you want to be:-) Report
This blog appeared while I was off on a prolonged unhealthy spree; finding it now is a gift (although I wish I'd found it BEFORE I ate that solitary choc. chip cookie in the break room...I would have had my mind in place).

Mix this blog with the blog? article? about eliminating the word 'try' from the sentence "I am going to 'try' to lose weight/become healthier" and that's going to be my new commitment strategy.

Glad 2009 is over for you, Coach, and for me, too. Happy Spring Report
This is an inspiring blog. One of the many things I love about SP is that people are real... no fancy gimmicks, no perfect pictures, no fast weight lose, no magic bullets. Just common sense, lots of research based on science, lots of stories of hard work with set backs that people overcome WITH support. I appreciate all of your articles. I find my self nodding, askign questions, getting inspired from your words.

So, thank you! I hope your health and fitness are where you want them to be these days. Take care... D Report
Welcome back. I feel like a friend has just come back to the neighborhood. Best of luck with your own personal struggles. Report
I had to have my Gallbladder out and from the time I had my last MAJOR attack until I was able to get it out was 3 months, so during the time I regained a lot, so I know what it is to have a real set-back and yet, I'm going to get back to where I was as I won't quit. Report
Great blog. I too often set goals based on the scale and then obsess, backslide (without understanding why) and basically ending up where I started give or take 10 lbs. I like the idea of focusing on small goals. Today I'll focus on eating 5+ fruits and veggies and exercising for 20 min or more. Tomorrow I'll do the same. This is definitely much more manageable than lose 100 lbs (or my normal extreme goal settting of getting myself into shape for some sort of marathon challenge that I never did even when I was in shape). Report
Wow Dean your 2009 sounds pretty familiar. I too had a bad health year and am working to regain some ground this year. Although mine actually started a couple of years ago with the onset of arthritis. I had so much pain I just stopped exercising completely and then the weight came on . That made matters worse of course. I had depression last year as well and after seeing a counselor I decided I was sick and tired of just sitting around feeling helpless about my situation. My doctor gave me an Rx for some decent pain medication and told me about Sparkpeople. I started working out again-slowly. The meds really helped. I have some real excitement and hope now and I feel motivated. I actually started tracking my food this week, something I hate, but oh well. If I'm going to be serious and really want results I have to
do it. I'm hoping once I lose a good part of the weight (about 60 lbs) I can start weaning myself off some of the pain medication. That's my plan anyway. We'll see how it goes. I already have been feeling stronger and more energetic from just working out the past few weeks. I really identified with your blog when you mentioned the long bike rides because that is what I used to love to do. I am hoping to get to that again, but this time I know better than to overdo it. I'll be thinking about you, take care and good luck to you! Report
Thanks for your encouragement. I have a long road ahead of me, but with your help I know I can do it. Report
Great blog. And makes me think of me and my current attitude. I have been sparking for two months now and the scale hasn't moved. I'm drinking water, tracking, exercising, staying positive and trying to stay on track. I DO feel better, more flexible, stronger, firmer so I think I'll just keep at it. Like you said, do what your body needs, and the scale will follow - let's hope so! Report
Coach Dean, I am so glad you are back. I missed you. I enjoy reading your articles. I don't know how I missed this one until now. What you say about eating what you will eat when you are 30 pounds lighter and not worrying about how long it takes to get there makes a lot of sense. I would think it would take some of the stress off of staring at the scale waiting for it to move. I wish you well. Report
Boy this was the perfect day too read your inspirational blog.Thank you for putting it out there.Good luck too you always! Report
Sooooo good to see you back here, Coach! I was worried about you!

I tend to NOT set calorie or weight-loss goals - I find them to be great excuses to back-slide! :) I'm happy just getting in exercise every day, and trying to NOT over-eat as much as I like to! :)
welcome back, Coach Dean!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Gald to hear you have a clean bill of health! Report
I use to buy every book or workout dvd that came out that basically told you you can lose a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of time and read it for maybe a week then push it on the shelf with the rest. So one day I decided to just set a certain amount of calories to eat and walk for 30 on my lunch breaks, jump rope 3 days per week and strength train for 3 days per week and that is working for me. Report
Thanks Coach Dean,
I'm so glad that I got the chance to read your article. It was just what I needed to hear. You can so defeat yourself with unrealistic goals. Now, I feel good when the excercise I do or, the amount of water I drink or, what I choose to eat is at least in "the ballpark" even if it's not perfect. At least it's something. Hope that makes sense ;-) Thanks again and I hope you have a great year this year. Report
Hello Coach Dean! I didn't know you were gone...because I have been so "wishy washy" about my goals and not being consistent with logging on to SparkPeople. I remember reading a few of your articles and being inspired by them. It is great to hear that you are back on the mend and getting your Spark back. I probably would have gained the whole 170 lbs back had I been in your situation! I am going to subscribe to your blogs so I can keep up with what is going on with you. I feel like this is my year to be the best me I can be...and I feel like you are going to be a big part in helping me towards that goal! Thank you so much for your great insight. I have set goals for myself that I think are pretty easy. Eating mostly fresh foods, smaller meals, drinking my water, & doing some kind of exercise daily. I joined the BLC & my first week went great! The support on my team is excellent!
I could write a book but I know you don't have time for I will end in a prayer that 2010 will bring you great health & satisfaction in your achievements!
Coach Dean! Welcome back! Your gentle, kind advice really makes Spark for me, and I'm so glad to see your byline again! I hope you can be as loving to yourself as you are to all of us--then your success is all but guaranteed. Best wishes to you for a healthy 2010. Report
Hey Coach Dean! So glad you are back with us.
Good Attitude! I think you are well on your way! As I say to new people I meet...Good luck on your healthy lifestyle changes! Report
I have saved your blog to my favorites! This is an inspiration to I have had to start again (and again) after having been in the hospital twice in 10 months, and then being diagnosed with fibromyalgia shortly after that...I have to do what my body can handle, and I have to remind myself of this every day. Also the calorie goal...this has to be the most common sense approach out there. Thanks! Glad I read this today! Report
Hey Coach Dean! I had been wondering what happened to you. So glad you're back!
Eating like the thin person you want to become or eating the calories for your goal weight is what the guys at advocate. Great podcast there. I totally agree and that's what I am doing as well. You might find it easier than you think now that you are done with the hospital to lose that weight once you are back to your 'normal' healthy lifestyle.

Take care! Report
Positive goals are a great idea that I need to rely on more often. I also like the idea of eating and exercising like you will after the 20 lbs are gone and letting your body respond accordingly. Report
What a great inspiration you are. All the very best in 2010! Thanks for helping so many of us by sharing your life's ups and downs. Report
What an inspiration you are. Physical limitations (hospital, etc.) can certainly cause a person to lose their momentum and goals which definitely lead to a loss of self-confidence and depression. I admire you for getting started again and you are setting a good example for goal setting and have offered ideas that will be good for me. I will save this post to remind myself what can be done. Report
I like your wise approach! Sorry to hear you have had such a hard year! Keep on inspiring SP to make good choices! Report
Wow.. I love your advice. I think that I set myself up for failure all the time. I too injured myself in 2009. I am ready to move past it, heal, exercise and set myself up for success in 2010. Report
I'd like to echo sentiments of so many others here in wishing you a much better 2010. Your perspective on positive goals and your caloric level really gave me pause. This may be just the way of looking to the future that I need right now. Thanks for such a thought provoking post. Report
You rock and roll! Keep on keeping on!!! Woo hoo!!! Report
I would like to join the crowd that is enthusiastically welcoming you back! Did you have any idea how much we missed you? Thank you for coming back and motivating us with your real-life ups and downs. You speak for so many of us. From reading so many of your blogs, I know that sometimes you have a hard time believing in yourself...know that, during those times, we believe in you. Report
Thanks for the inspiration. I am in a similar situation. Setting small positive realistic goals is a big help. - kat Report
I'm bookmarking your blog, because it was like it was written for me. I had gotten to a weight and fitness level that was very comfortable for me---I wasn't exactly in the govt guidelines but my clothes fit well, I could shop where I wanted and wear nice styles, I wasn't out of breath and walked or rode my bicycle every day. My stress plummeted. It was fantastic.
Then, last year, I had one emergency operation---then a second. And the second was back surgery that was unavoidable. As I lay in bed, I got weaker and weaker. My muscles tightened until moving them made me feel like screaming. My weight had been steadily creeping up during this time---I didn't recognize a photo someone took of me. And then my weight just exploded---twenty pounds in a month. Turns out my thyroid was messed up and while they were digging around looking for what was going on, they also discovered that my joint pain was due to several autoimmune diseases.
So now I'm starting all over again. Using sparkpeople and changing my diet I've already had one surprise: the constant GI problems that were adding to the misery disappeared completely. When I stayed with the healthy food, drank plenty of water, shunned fast food and cokes, my GI system was much happier. I added exercise but it is very painful now. I've been struggling through the pain. Any movement is really tough right now. I stretch daily and intend to build my core strength. So far, without trying to really lose weight, I've dropped five pounds. But I'm really following what you're saying. I don't want it to be about weight loss, but about my health. The extra weight has added to my health woes in a way that I find shocking. My energy level is terrible, my abilty to exercise is so impaired because I have the extra weight.
Thank you so much for writing this and I'm glad I stumbled onto it. I'm going to continue to read about how you handle this since I feel we are going through similar things.
THANK YOU for writing this. Report
What a great article! So motivating and full of common sense ideas learned through experience. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and ideas. Good luck with your goals! Please keep writing about what you learn along the way. You are an inspiration! Report
I also really like the idea of setting positive goals. I'm going to adopt that as well. Report
Thanks for sharing. Report