For most of my adult life, I’ve been overweight. It all started when I had my first child 15 years ago. I gained 40 pounds with that pregnancy. When I got pregnant a year later, I gained another 40. While I managed to lose a few pounds afterwards, I never really got back to my pre-pregnancy weight.
Several years later, I ate my way through a rough divorce. Not long after my divorce, I got laid off from my job. And ate some more. I had to sell my house and move to an apartment, and, well, I’m sure you can see where I’m going here. I began using food as comfort until that comfort reached unhealthy levels.
I realized that I was madly unhappy and it wasn’t just with the way I looked. I changed careers, started going to Curves during my lunch hour, and attended Weight Watchers meetings. I lost 25 pounds. I started to feel pretty good about myself.
After a few years, I got remarried and pregnant again. Guess what? I gained 30 pounds. Another year later, another blessing. And another 35 pounds. I quickly gained back all the weight I had lost and then some. In fact, somehow I ballooned up to 250 pounds! My doctor gave me a warning: four bouts of gestational diabetes combined with my unhealthy eating had left me pre-diabetic. If I didn’t lose 10% of my body weight, I’d have to start a diabetes regime.
A memory flashed through my mind. It was an image of my grandfather laying in a hospital bed. He was in his mid 60s and had just had both of his feet amputated due to complications of diabetes. He had tears in his eyes and said that his life was over. That was not going to be me, I resolved. I was serious this time. But with four kids at home, I thought that I didn’t have time to exercise and eat healthy. Instead, I looked for an easy, “magic” solution to lose weight.
I looked for the “magic pill” for four years, but never found it. I tried every diet, pill, and fad product that came my way to no avail. After about four years of this nonsense, I had an “aha!” moment and realized that there is no one thing that will help me lose the excess weight that I’ve carried with me most of my adult life. Instead, I made 10 significant lifestyle changes that helped me to lose 80 pounds in six months. I’ve got just 30 more to go to reach my goal!
Since enough people have asked me what my “secret” is, I figured I’d share it. I should mention that I’m not a doctor. And you should probably see a doctor if you’re thinking of starting a similar weight loss program. I also want to clarify that while I mention several products that I use by name, I am not paid to endorse these items, and I do not receive any benefit (like free products) for mentioning them. These are just items that I’ve used successfully and personally like. Feel free to research and share any comparable products or services that have worked for you in the comments.
Step 1: Wear a bodybugg LINK by Body Media.
If you’ve ever seen the Biggest Loser, you’ll know what these neat little gadgets are: a small arm band that you wear all day that tracks your steps taken and calories burned. I honestly don’t know what I did before it. With the bodybugg, I’m able to see exactly how many calories I burn, and enter the food I eat to make sure that I’m eating the right number of calories to support my weight loss goals. I actually find myself trying to walk further or take more steps as a result of wearing this little tool. The bodybugg sells for around $120 and the software membership is $6.95/month after the first three months.
Step 2: Drink Shakeology.
One of the biggest problems I’ve always faced during “diets” is cravings. I always felt hungry. Unsatisfied. Yearning. I read about Shakeology in the May 2011 issue of O Magazine and decided to check it out. I did some research and liked everything about it except the price. I couldn’t possibly justify spending $129 a month for a shake!! I mean, how would I be able to afford my $4.55 grande caramel macchiato with sugar free vanilla and soy milk every day? Desperate, I finally decided that I owed it to myself to take a chance on it (it has a money-back guarantee), and placed my order. I’ve been drinking it for breakfast every day since. And guess what? It gives me so much energy, I don’t need a Starbucks run every day. And my cravings? Gone. I mean it. Totally, completely gone. I can walk by a plate of cupcakes and not even give them a second glance. My kid’s Easter candy wasn’t pilfered by me this year. Their Halloween candy? I threw most of it away. If you knew me, you’d know how huge that is. But you don’t, so I’ll just have to let my weight loss speak for itself!
A few of my favorite things!
Step 3: Get some exercise.
I really wanted to start exercising but I was too embarrassed by the way I looked to go to the gym. Whether they were or not, all I saw were people staring and laughing at me. Sure, it was probably just paranoia, but I’m the kind of person who can’t perform if I feel uncomfortable, so I knew that wasn’t going to work for me. So, I began an exercise routine by simply walking. Everywhere. I walked my kids the two miles (roundtrip) to and from school every day. I walked to the pharmacy. I walked to the park. If it was less than a mile away, we walked there. This had other benefits, too. Of course, I saved money on gas, and helped the Earth a little bit. But all this walking helped me start losing weight and gain endurance. Once I had that under my belt, I ordered a workout program to do at home. Using Les Mills PUMP not only made me physically stronger, but it also helped me to gain more confidence and increased my endurance even more. Before long, I decided to attend free workouts twice a week in my hometown. This helped me meet other people struggling with weight and helped motivate me.
Step 4: Find like-minded people who share your commitment to health and will support you.
I never realized it before, but most of my day was consumed with food. I’d get up and wonder what I was going to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’d plan errands around making stops at my favorite food establishments. Visits with friends and relatives always involved some sort of food, and I’m not talking about the healthy kinds. Sure, it’s OK to have something special every once and awhile. But this was my life every day. As I began getting healthier, I steered clear of my favorite food haunts. I stayed away from the dessert table at functions. I said no to the birthday cake. At events, I’d bring healthy snacks or volunteer to bring the coffee. When friends and workout buddies saw my commitment, they encouraged me. Not just verbally, but physically – by coming to workouts, or finding active things to do. The group of people I work out with twice a week have been an amazing support group and I’ve found that meeting with a small group of committed fitness seekers keeps me on track. We share our challenges, successes, and goals, but do it in a fitness setting. I’ve come to really look forward to my twice-weekly workouts, instead of dreading working out.
Step 5: See a nutritionist.
If you have insurance, and are overweight, your insurance plan will probably pay for you to have a consultation with a registered dietician or nutritionist. If so, I highly suggest doing it! I’ve been meeting with the same woman for the past two years and found her not just a valuable source of information, but also an amazing support network. When I recently reached a point where my weight hit a plateau, she suggested some ideas to get me back on track that worked. Some of her other suggestions are described in more detail below.
Step 6: Eat every 2-3 hours and eat S-L-O-W-L-Y!
Because Shakeology was curbing my appetite and cravings, I’d try to skip meals. This was a BAD IDEA! But by the time 5:00 rolled around, I’d be so ravenous that I’d eat everything in sight. The nutritionist suggested I eat something every 2-3 hours, whether I’m hungry or not, and to eat SLOWLY. When you have kids, it’s pretty easy to get used to inhaling your food, but now I make eating a priority. I take the time to sit down at the table and enjoy what I’m eating. I also make sure to keep healthy snacks in my car, so I never have to resort to getting something unhealthy. I really like the 100 calorie mini protein bars that Lara makes and the 100 calorie granola bars from KIND. I throw a few of those in my car, and am all set!
So you can get an idea of what I eat in a day, here’s a sample:
Breakfast: Chocolate Shakeology (vegan) made with 4 ounces of unsweetened almond milk and 4 ounces of coconut water.
Morning snacks: 1 cup of Chobani Greek yogurt with KIND granola or flax seeds.
Lunch: Cup of tomato soup and half a grilled (soy) cheese sandwich
Afternoon snack: cup of coffee or carrots and hummus or handful or almonds/trail mix
Dinner: 4 ounces of chicken thighs with broccoli and a spoonful of noodles
Evening snack: Edy’s sugar free popsicle or KIND mini granola bar or a sugar free pudding/Jello
You’ll notice that I don’t measure stuff. I probably should. And as you can see, I’m not exactly starving! Initially, I admit that I was bored by eating the same things all the time, but I’ve actually found that I enjoy not having to think about what I’m going to eat at my next meal and it makes grocery shopping a bit easier for me now that I know what I’m going to eat on a daily basis.
Step 7: Count every (I mean EVERY!) calorie.
One of the prerequisites I had to fulfill before meeting with the nutritionist was to keep a food journal of everything I ate in a week. By that, I mean EVERYTHING. That includes the leftovers I was eating off my kid’s plates each night. And the spoonful of Nutella right from the jar. Oh, and that handful of Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, too. All that. I was shocked, no, horrified, to discover that these little nibbles – that I didn’t even consider “real” food – added up to 1,000 calories a DAY! That was almost as much as the nutritionist thought I should be eating in a day! I quickly learned to throw whatever my kids didn’t eat away right after mealtimes to avoid the temptation. I also began religiously tracking everything that went into my mouth. I began making decisions: would I rather have that 500 calorie donut that would leave me hungry again in 10 minutes or have a mini granola bar and full dinner later? In the beginning, I’m confess: this step was a pain. But pretty soon, I found that I automatically made the right decisions without even thinking about it. I still make sure to log all my food in the bodybugg app to make sure I’m eating the right amount for the amount of calories I burn daily but it’s gotten much easier for me now to stay within my range than it was in the beginning.
Step 8: Don’t drink and eat at the same time.
One of the most helpful tips I got from the nutritionist was not to eat and drink at the same time. Think about it for a minute. You sit down to eat dinner. You have your big glass of water or milk or wine – whatever it is. As you eat, you drink several glasses. Where does it go? Into your stomach, where it mixes with your food and expands your belly. Does that mean I don’t ever have anything to drink while I eat? No. If we go out for dinner, I’ll have a single glass of wine throughout the course of the evening. For dinner. I have a cup with about 2 ounces of water in it to wash down my food afterwards. And if I’m getting a cup of coffee, then that’s my snack. I don’t have anything else with it. I believe this has helped to shrink my stomach.
Step 9: Track your progress by taking measurements and pictures.
Scales lie. Really. They do! When I first started my voyage to get healthy and fit, my once snug size 22 clothing was becoming baggy. But the scale wasn’t showing much weight loss, for whatever reason. Was it the muscle that I was getting which weighs more than fat? Maybe I had water bloat? Was I getting my period? I don’t know. But thankfully, I was taking my measurements monthly and photographs, so I could see the difference in myself, even if the scale wouldn’t give me any satisfaction. Eventually this changed, thankfully, but I still keep taking my measurements and pictures.
Step 10: Find things (NOT food) to motivate you.
During my previous attempts at weight loss, I would reward myself for small weight losses with food. This seemed perfectly reasonable to me yet couldn’t be any more wrong. This time around, I don’t have any of the cravings, and because I don’t have the cravings, I found that I didn’t need to reward my weight loss with a sweet treat. Instead, I’ve found other things to motivate me: a mani/pedi, a new pair of pants, or purse. Sometimes my reward is just taking some time for myself and a bubble bath! (If you have kids, you’ll understand why this is a treat!) Recently, I reached a big milestone: 80 pounds down! I went from a size 22 to a 12! But I realized that I had indeed reached a new point in my life when I wanted to reward myself with a new pair of sneakers – instead of a brownie.
I realize that these 10 steps may seem overwhelming and daunting to some. It’s a lot to do and many new routines to take on. That’s OK. You can do it. If these 10 steps seem like too much, try doing one for a week and then add a second one the next week. You wouldn’t get up and run a marathon one day without any training, so don’t think you have to do them all tomorrow. Do what feels right for you. You may not find that Shakeology works for you. Or maybe you like going to the gym. My attempt in sharing my story was to detail the things that worked for me.
It’s a cliché, but remember that losing weight isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. I know I’ll always have to watch what I eat and exercise. The difference is that now I’m able to realize this and I’m OK with it. In fact, I actually enjoy exercise and eating healthy! Good luck on your trip!