You can’t really call it “baby weight” when your baby is nine years old, but in my mind, that is what I kept telling myself.
I justified every extra helping, every late afternoon latte or doughnut, every salt bagel smeared in raspberry cream cheese and every bag of salt and vinegar chips washed down with a glass of wine or bottle of beer. Over-indulging became a way of escape or an opportunity to socialize. It was comfortable and routine. After all, I had to feed my family. My children needed all those snacks in the pantry for lunches and play dates. My husband deserved a big pan of lasagna and a hot steamy loaf of fresh garlic bread. I had earned it. I was a grown-up and I could eat whatever I wanted to eat.
Last spring I was fitted for a bridesmaid dress. I am well aware that boutique sizes are typically one size larger than your normal dress size. I was prepared for that. What I was not prepared for was the bridal consultant ordering me a dress almost three sizes larger than what I thought was my normal size. After I politely signed the dress order, I quietly slithered to my car to cry in private. When I got home, I weighed myself for the first time in months. The scale moaned as I stood on its stiff back, barking at me a number I hadn’t seen since my second pregnancy.
I’ll tell you what I had earned — an extra 25 pounds. To make matters even more anxious, my 20th high school reunion was just a couple of months after my cousin’s wedding. There was suddenly a dire need to lose the weight and create a healthier lifestyle.
Most of us have tried at least one diet, and if you are like me, you’ve tried dozens. Fad dieting does not work for me. It makes me feel deprived, depressed and distant. Most of those fad diets can not be sustained for long periods of time and do not create a realistic healthy lifestyle. They are quick fixes, which means I fail and then gain back all the weight I lost. Or, again, if you are like me at all, you actually gain more weight than when you started. I knew the only way to really make a change was to change my attitude and my environment. I promise you, it was not easy and it did not happen overnight. In fact, my family wasn’t even on board in the beginning because it meant changes for them too. But now, my husband is my biggest encourager. And even though I have not reached my goal weight, I have managed to lose 15 pounds and keep it off. Plus, I’ve been able to get back in clothes that I never thought I would wear again.
Here are the top 6 things that have worked for me over the last 6 months to lose weight without losing my mind:
- Clean out your pantry and fridge: Get rid of the junk food, sugary cereals, white flour products, juice and empty calories. My fridge is now full of fresh produce, low-fat dairy items, and unprocessed food. Take the time to wash and cut your produce so that it is easy to grab when you need it. Also, instead of storing things in the bottom drawers of the refrigerator, try putting your ready to eat produce in clear containers on the top shelf. I tend to eat what is at eye level and so do my kids. The pantry still has snacks for lunches, but instead of chips we have pretzels. Instead of buttery crackers full of hydrogenated oils or fillers, we stick to plain whole wheat or whole grain crackers. When you create an environment with only healthy choices, you are less likely to over indulge. Besides, you can’t really eat too many crispy apples. Don’t feel guilty about getting rid of all the “family favorites.” You are creating a healthier environment for them too.
- Grocery shop mostly along the perimeter: All of the fresh produce, dairy, meats, seafood and flash frozen items can be found along the perimeter of your grocery store. The more fresh foods you can put in your body, the better. I also stopped buying all those “diet” foods and just replaced them with fresh food. Besides, those canned or boxed diet foods are more expensive. I also know I can’t avoid all of the center aisles, but now I choose the healthiest option available: whole wheat pasta, brown rice, low-sodium seasonings, etc. Creating a meal plan ahead of time helps too, reducing impulse buying. And remember all the times our mothers used to say, “Don’t go to the grocery store hungry”? Well, it really is true.
- Drink your water: I never realized how much of my calories were consumed in liquid form until I started replacing everything with a glass of water, and I don’t just mean my nightly routine of a glass of wine. Things like sweet ice tea, lattes, flavored coffee, smoothies and soda can have as much calories in one serving as an entire meal. Plus, the hidden sodium in most of them was making me bloat like crazy. As soon as I started downing my recommended 64 ounces of water a day, my clothes started fitting better immediately. At first it was a chore, but then I purchased an inexpensive water bottle that held 24 oz of water at a time and just carried it around with me. I found that as long as I had water in my hand, I would drink it, and now, by the end of the day, I almost always have finished three of those water bottles.
- Make breakfast your largest meal: The best advice I ever received about how to eat was simply this: Eat like a king for breakfast, a queen for lunch and a pauper for dinner. Our metabolism needs to be revved up earlier in the day in order for us to have energy. The calories in the morning and afternoon will get burned through out the day. Unfortunately, the calories we put in our body at night don’t do much for us while we are sleeping. I have replaced my high calorie bagels and cream cheese with low-fat Greek yogurt or steel-cut oatmeal, fresh fruit, turkey bacon or sausage and even a handful of raw veggies. Believe it or not, one of my favorite things to eat in the morning is hummus and carrots. In fact, by eating a healthier and more substantial meal in the morning, I find I am not as hungry by lunch time.
- Be accountable for what goes in your body: I don’t have the time or the money to join an accountability group, but I do see the benefit of weighing myself regularly and being aware of how many calorie I am consuming. Based on my height, age, body shape and frame, I know about how many calories I should be consuming. There are a ton of websites explaining what a healthy weight range looks like and how many calories each of us need to maintain or lose weight. It is different for all people, so do your research before picking a calorie goal. I don’t think it really matters how you keep yourself accountable, just as long as it is easy to keep up with every day. If it becomes too much of a chore, then you will quit. My favorite accountability tool is called My Fitness Pal. It is a free calorie counter, diet and exercise tool that offers an online website as well as an app for most smart phones. What I love about the app version, is being able to log everything immediately and not wait until I get home. Plus, the food data base is amazing and quite extensive which means I can actually look up most restaurants before I get there and choose my meal with confidence. There are a few other similar tools like this one; Spark People has been pretty popular for years, however, I found it’s data base to be less detailed or up-to-date. However, if you are looking for a strong online community to help keep you accountable, Spark People does a much better job of keeping people connected (and it has a more attractive interface).
- Set a goal and tell people about it: It is an obvious truth that we have to burn more calories than we consume, which means changing our diet is not enough. In fact, the more active I am, the more calories I can actually consume. I haven’t had to miss out on social gatherings or holiday meals. I haven’t even had to give up an occasional glass of wine with dinner, but I did have to get more active. For me, it was running. I made a decision to sign-up for my first half-marathon, the Ann Arbor Champions for Charity on June 17th. For you, it might just be to participate in a charity walk or commit to exercising for 15 minutes a day. Whatever you choose, make a plan and tell as many people as possible. I have a running schedule I follow to help train and after every workout my stats gets posted on Facebook. My friends have been great about cheering me on and giving me encouragement. And when they don’t see a workout posted for a few days, they message or call me, asking, “How’s your training going?” It’s harder to quit when you feel like you’ll be letting someone other than yourself down. Plus, by posting my stats on Facebook, or keeping some type of fitness journal, I can see how hard I am truly working. I also love adding my workouts to My Fitness Pal and seeing those calories come off my daily total.
I am a voracious reader, especially of self-help books and magazines. Some of my favorite health & fitness resources are Shape Magazine and their website, Women’s Running Magazine, the book Why Women Need Fat by Lassek & Gaulin, Prevention’s Ultimate Guide to Women’s Health and Wellness, the Restaurant Nutrition app for iPhone and Android.
*Just a reminder: I am not a nutritionist or a doctor, and you should consult with a professional before starting any new exercise or dieting program.