What I've learned on my weight loss journey
Monday, April 25, 2011
I thought I'd make a list of what I have learned in the past 18 months. I've gone from 310 pounds to 200, with another 50 pounds to lose. Maybe something will resonate with some of you who are just beginning your journey or feel stuck. This is what worked for me, but the number one lesson I have learned is that everyone has different needs, so you need to develop a plan that fits your life.
1. Don't be afraid to be hungry. I'm often hungry, but I don't let it get to me. In my head, I think of hunger as my body's way of telling me it wants more fuel, but if I don't give it some food, it will turn to the stored fuel in my body. Since I exercise often, I am keeping up my muscle tone, so my body isn't getting fuel from muscle, but from fat.
I think it's the fear of being hungry that prevents people from starting and continuing with an eating plan that allows them to lose weight. Being occasionally hungry isn't that big a deal.
2. It's not a diet - it's a plan. I almost said lifestyle instead of plan, but that sounds so overused. Unfortunately, lifestyle is exactly what it is. It's a complete change to your eating, every meal, every day. I can not consider this to be temporary - I will never go back to eating whatever I want, when I want - even though my calories will increase once I go into maintenance mode.
3. Don't deprive yourself. I will not succeed if I'm thinking of foods that I'm not "allowed" to eat. I eat whatever I want, but some foods require planning. I adore pizza, but I have to make plans for when I have it. I can not live without chocolate and I work it into my plan so I don't miss it. I might only have two Hershey kisses every week instead of an entire chocolate bar, but I get my chocolate fix and keep on my plan.
4. You have to think about food all the time. This is an irritation, but I have to be aware of what I eat all the time. I have some friends who would love to lose weight, but they have no interest in logging their food - too much trouble for them. It is annoying to have to be thinking of food so often, but I'm not thinking of what I can't eat, but rather planning what I will eat. I usually have a fairly good idea in the morning of what I will eat that day, except for when I travel, but even then I try to make a plan for what I will have while eating out.
5. Exercise or eating better don't work by themselves - the combination is the only answer. I was exercising with a trainer for nearly two years before I changed to my present eating plan, and while I was getting in better shape, I wasn't losing much weight. The reverse is also true - reducing calories is not enough to lose significant weight without also exercising.
6. Be honest with yourself. This is not meant in just a negative sense. It's important to be honest to know your limits and what food you have to keep in your plan. At the same time, it's critical to be brutally honest when you're not seeing the success you're expecting. Have you exercised enough? Have you eliminated enough calories? Are your goals realistic? You have to recognize those times when you are just rationalizing your poor choices or when you are finding excuses to go off the plan.
7. Forgive yourself if you slip, and get back on the plan. You will fail occasionally and either skip exercise or eat more than you should. It's just a matter of when, not if. When it happens, let it go and get back on plan. Don't use a slip as an excuse to give up. Just because you made one bad choice, you don't have to continue making bad choices. One meal, one day of over-eating or even one weekend is not going to make you gain all the weight back. It's not the bad choice that puts the weight back on, it's the way you react to that choice. Get back on the plan and move on.
8. Don't freak out over the scale. I measure my progress in several ways, and my weight is just one. I am tracking my blood pressure, my waist and hip measurements, and my weekly fitness/cardio minutes. My weight fluctuates often because of the weather, water retention, altitude and my travel schedule. As long as I see an overall downward trend, I don't get upset if I go up and down in the short term.
9. Know what motivates you. Some people can give up carbs and lose weight, while others need more balance. Atkins works great for some, but not everyone. Some people have to choose a method that takes the choice out of their control, like Nutri-System or surgery. It's important to understand what plan will work for you and your lifestyle. If I didn't travel so much, Nutri-System would probably be a great option for me since that plan offers pre-packaged meals that have the right nutritional balance. I know I would never like Atkins because I would miss bread too much. My sister can lose weight if she cuts out bread and sweets, but that would not work for me.
You might need to try several approaches before you find what works for you. If something doesn't work, however, be sure to take the time to understand why it didn't work. Was it too restrictive, or did the plan eliminate something you missed, or did it include foods you didn't like? What was the reason you determined it didn't work - was it because you kept forgetting to log your food, or were you confused by the system? With the internet, there are dozens of weight-loss plans at your disposal, so keep at it until you find the plan that works for you. But remember item 6 above - it's important to be honest with yourself about why something does or does not work.
10. Read labels for everything. I check labels for four key items - serving size, calories, fat and sodium. Serving sizes are critical - will you be satisfied with 1/2 cup of cooked pasta? It's important to know whether a serving will satisfy you, and many serving sizes have been reduced to keep the other numbers low. Once you start reading labels, you might be surprised by how much sodium there is in food. I love cottage cheese, but I can't even have the low-fat version because it is very high in sodium. I will get it occasionally to calm the craving, but not nearly as often as I would like :(. I only eat 30-35 grams of fat per day, about half the amount in a typical daily allowance, and I have to be careful to stay within that limit. I have been surprised by the fat in some foods.
11. Don't be afraid to throw food away. Restaurants are notorious for huge portions, and many of us hear our mother's voice in our heads, reminding us that wasting food is bad, especially when there is so much hunger in the world.
I travel almost every week for work and stay in a hotel, so taking my leftovers home from the restaurant is not an option. I nearly always order just an appetizer and a salad or soup and salad, and rarely order entrees anymore. When I do get an entree, I've learned to be OK with walking away with food on my plate.
12. Learn not to finish everything - a couple bites can be enough. As a long-time member of the Clean Plate Club, I have a hard time leaving food on my plate (also see item 11). But if I want to taste something, I can have a couple bites, satisfy my taste buds, but stay within my plan. It's hard and I have to consciously remember not to eat everything, but it helps keep me from craving my favorite foods. Of course, it takes a lot of control, and I often have to throw the remaining food away instead of saving it as leftovers. I've read on some message boards that people dump a bunch of salt or vinegar on the remaining food to remove any temptation!
13. Give yourself time for the plan to work. I know it's a cliche, but your weight gain probably took months or years, and taking it off will require at least as much time. You won't see results in a week, but usually in a month you will begin to notice a change. You will need time, but also remember you're not on a diet; the changes you are making are permanent lifestyle changes.