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.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Thank you for your blog and its healthy recommendations. I took notes in my journal and will reread them often to help myself remember what I need to be doing daily and why. I've been doing okay on my plan, but since I can't do a lot of exercises my body is responding slowly. I hope I can lose a little more weight so that moving will be easier for me and cause me less pain. Then I will be able to kick things up a notch and see better results. thanks again! emoticon
    2012 days ago
  • MAYTE1975
    Great post , and so well explained for us newbies in trying to lose weight by changing our lifestyle.

    Thanks emoticon
    2737 days ago
    Thanks, 4AUTIGERS! I'm proud to have been an inspiration. It helps me so much in those moments when a cupcake is looking really, really good. I remember all the positive reinforcement here at Sparkpeople and it's easy to say "No". emoticon
    2738 days ago
  • no profile photo 4AUTIGERS
    Thanks for posting your thoughts. It has been such an encouragement to me.
    2739 days ago
    Thanks, Carolyn170! What's so great about Sparkpeople is there is so much good information and inspiration! emoticon
    2743 days ago
  • CAROLYN170
    Thanks for sharing. This spoke to me in so many ways!!!!
    2744 days ago
    Thanks, Germanlad49! Of course you can add me as a friend emoticon
    2744 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/19/2011 7:27:33 PM
    I am starting today to change my lifestyle and plan my day.Your list will be my inspiration,reading it ,,a lightbulb went off in my head and I had to agree with a lot of your suggestions:) Thank you. I will add you to my Spark friends if this is ok with you:)
    2745 days ago
    Thanks, Rhianonnon and River331! emoticon
    2758 days ago
    excellent post. They should make it an article.
    2758 days ago
    BROKENMOM, I had many of the same starts and stops. Best of luck - you WILL figure out what works for you! emoticon
    2760 days ago
    For the first time, I managed to go over my caloric limits felt the need to try some different foods and starting with a hard boiled egg that threw me over the top in cholesterol. Then I wanted to try some cashews. Good protein but also cholesterol. I also tried out a frozen yogurt that was good,and again, more cholesterol.
    It's not like I splurged and ate lots of anything. Small portions. Just trying to find some new foods that work for me. So the couple of hundred calories I went over are no big deal. To much fat and cholesterol but good protein counts.
    Then back on track tomorrow. Just needed a boost so I figured I'd experiment with some healthy snacks. I don't know how to travel this new road without knowing what my body can tolerate. I have already had to give up all breads, rice's and potatoes to avoid flare ups of fibromyalgia. I am finally finding new substitutes..
    I don't have a problem leaving food on my plate. The clean plate club is closed. I read my labels, track my foods, measuring carefully. Tomorrow I'll find room without going off my new road to try one or two new foods. Sunflower seeds and multigrain cheerios.. So I may go over this weekend but it's all in the learning process. If I don't like something, I can throw it away, no hard done.

    2760 days ago
  • RIVER331
    Great post, thanks!
    2760 days ago
    Thanks, everyone! I'd love to see anything that others have learned.
    2810 days ago
  • no profile photo INDICARGIRL
    emoticon This is a very good blog with lots of helpful relevant information...I've just had a day where I've not tracked , eaten several chunks of choclate , cheese and too much toast so I will be on track tomorrow!
    2810 days ago
    Great post! It really resonated with me - especially the very first point, about not being afraid of hunger. I'm learning that, too, and what an empowering thought it is!
    2810 days ago
    Thanks for sharing with us. I enjoying reading it. I too am learning a lot about myself on this journey.
    2814 days ago
    Congratulations on your achievement!

    I loved your list! This is a great reminder to all of us 'losers'.
    2829 days ago
    2855 days ago
    emoticon Very good points of things I never really thought about before.
    2875 days ago
    Thanks for sharing your experience...

    2889 days ago
    Thanks! We all learn from each other.
    2891 days ago
    Great blog.
    2891 days ago
    So sensible. Thanks for laying it all out here. It's very helpful to read a success story.
    2891 days ago
    Very good post. I have learned and am learning many of those same points. emoticon
    2891 days ago
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