My journey began two years ago and still continues today. Weight loss for me has been about changing my lifestyle slowly so I can maintain and continue losing weight without getting too overwhelmed. I do not advocate the “10 lbs in 10 days” approach because it is usually not sustainable over the long term and after 10 days of deprivation, I am desperate to eat everything and pack on those pounds I managed to lose. I wanted to share some of the things I have done and some insights I discovered on my journey.
I started having weight problems as a child with the “pudgy tummy”. Even while playing sports in high school I was still on the bigger side. When I stopped playing sports in college, my weight crept up on me through poor eating choices and very little movement. I would eat three or four bowls of cereal for snacks and would wipe out half a large pizza and liter of soda, no problem. After an incredibly stressful three years with my husband where we moved twice, both went to school full-time and worked, I had packed on an additional 45 lbs on top of college weight gain for a total of 75 lbs overweight, according to my BMI.
I was painfully aware of my weight gain and was self-conscious about always being the heaviest person in the room, but felt like it would be too hard to do the changes needed. Needing to lose 75 lbs was daunting. During this time, I decided to become a hairstylist and going to beauty school brought a sharper focus upon on how I looked because of all the mirrors. It was a chubby girl’s nightmare to be around so many mirrors, using them on a regular basis. I knew I needed to lose weight to be comfortable looking at not only myself, but other people as well, in the mirror.
Whenever someone asks how I did it, I answer “the slow hard way.” Over two years I modified my behavior in small ways that added up to a big change. It started with drinking soda only when we went out to eat never at home and we started to increase our activity level. My mom read an article about someone who walked 1000 miles in a year by walking three miles a day and challenged us to try. I found inspiration through the competition and seeing the progress helped motivate me to get out and walk almost every day and to gradually increase the length of the walk, as well. At the end of the year, I had reached 711 miles! I started out with an average of two miles every two days and gradually added more. On those days that I didn’t feel motivated, I would say to myself, just walk one mile and then if you don’t feel like it you can just quit. Some days I did quit and some days I continued, but I always got in one solid mile.
With my increase in activity, I knew I also needed to also alter my eating patterns and for that, I needed knowledge about eating. I read books and websites to educate myself on food and eating, tracked my calories to learn portions and how much I can eat through a day. The one thing I have always been shocked by is how little food we actually need throughout the day, especially if you are eating high calorie foods. Weaning your way down is hard, but taking it in steps makes it easier. I used mycaloriecounter.com and they have a feature that tells you how many calories you need to eat to loose weight, but not starve.
The second great thing I learned was to really pay attention to what is in what you are eating. Like all the books say, “read labels” and that is one of the most important thing I still do. Sugar for me is the one thing I really look for on labels since it is high calorie and totally over-used in our culture. It is amazing where they sneak in that high fructose corn syrup! Yogurt was my love, but the sugar content of strawberry yogurt is usually higher than 20 grams. So, I learned how to enjoy Greek yogurt, which only has about five grams, first by mixing in a lot of fruit and slowly cutting it down. I did this process with most of my food, slowly switching to whole grains, adding more vegetables and fruit, and watering down my juice. Sometimes just a splash of juice added to water is all you need for refreshment and satisfaction. I really try to avoid drinking my calories as eating is more satisfying to me than drinking. Plus, those high sugar items really do make my blood sugar spike and crash, causing me to eat more food when I am on my downswing.
Eating out is always tricky, but luckily we only eat out about one or two times a week. Simply being aware of approximately how many calories are in my favorite meals deters me from most of the high calorie choices. We stopped going to any fast food place other than Subway, Panera or Jimmy Johns, but I still try to choose wisely because there are high calorie options anywhere you go and often they are the ones you think would be the better option. Vanilla lattes were my favorite treat, so I started getting the smaller size, then switched to skim milk, then stopped getting the vanilla shot. You get used to what you eat and crave the things you are eating on a regular basis- if you change what you are eating, you can change some of what you crave. Now, If I run out of fruit I go through withdrawal!
I became a vegetarian this last year and it was great to cut out a lot of my higher fat options, as well as introducing me to many more vegetables. I plan our meals and cook them on Sundays and eat the left-overs throughout the week. Frozen vegetables are my go-to when I do not have the time to cut up vegetables. If I do get a craving for something, I go small. When ice cream is needed, get the small plain cone. Dying for chocolate? Find a place the sells individual squares of the Ghirardelli or other high quality small bars. Knowing how I am, I cannot keep sweets in the house because there is no way I will eat just one. I learned as I discovered more about my eating patterns, habits and needs was to find something that worked for me that I could manage while still pushing myself slightly to keep making those positive changes.
We walked more over the months and soon my husband and I were walking at least three miles five days a week- sometimes covering over six miles some days. We loved the chance to get to talk together and the time always flew by, but when we couldn’t walk together I really enjoyed listening to books on tape that I would rent from the library and download to my iPod. The last 20 lbs were the most challenging and on the advice of others, I started weight lifting. That is one thing I really wish I had started at the beginning. It is so true that muscle mass helps burn calories, makes you more toned, and helps make exercising easier. I bought subscriptions to a couple magazines that provide weight routines every month that I could rotate through so I would not get bored. I now rotate weight lifting with walking every other day, only drink water or tea throughout the day, and really pay attention to my portions.
The hardest part of losing weight is of course getting discouraged. My husband can attest to the fact that I went through bouts of “oh my gosh this is great!” and “I am such a looser, it is never going to happen” almost every week, if not most days for the last two years. That scale did not go smoothly down, but rather wavered between many ups and downs. I still have a hard time not beating myself up if I make poor choices or don’t exercise for a few days in a row. I found it helpful to think of my healthy choices as things I wanted to do not only for losing weight, but also to make me more healthy in other ways such as not getting the sugar highs and crashes. I always wished that simply passing up an ice cream cone would automatically drop one pound off, but unfortunately I found out that the world is not that nice. But if you pass up five ice cream cones, you avoid gaining that pound. I also wished I had known that it gets easier. Every time you choose to eat the healthy item or exercise, it gets easier to eat it or exercise again the next time. Healthy food really does taste great once you have trained your taste buds away from the intense flavors of the highly processed food.
Shopping for a size small dress when I used to wear a size 20 feels like a great accomplishment. Being overweight my whole life, I have a hard time thinking someone else might look at me and see a healthy, fit person. The best complement happened the other day when someone I didn’t know said I reminded her of a friend who is a fitness teacher. This has been a long, gradual process for me, but it worked. I looked forward to sharing my journey in the hope that someone else might find encouragement. Thanks so much for reading—Amy